Solace for the Soul
A Beliefnet interview with the foremost pioneer in holistic destination retreats.
Deborah Szekely began her long and successful career in 1940 when she and her husband started Rancho La Puerta, originally a health camp in Tecate, Mexico. She went on to found the Golden Door, which became internationally known for its luxurious accommodations, lavish services, and innovative mind-body programs. Beliefnet producer Anne Simpkinson spoke with her about the evolution of holistic destination spas.
Many spas today teach spiritual disciplines such as yoga, t'ai-chi, and meditation. But your facilities, first Rancho La Puerta, then the Golden Door, were pioneers in this area.
Rancho La Puerta was originally called the Essene School of Life. We were strict vegetarians. We meditated. We greeted the morning sun on the mountain, and we thanked the evening star.
A series of stories from the 1949 San Diego Union newspaper described your group as "a cult," a "strange grape juice drinking sect," an "occult school of preventive therapy."
Yes, they called us a cult. I hated the name, but that's what they called us. Our program was based on simplicity and reverence for nature. My husband wrote about angels, Mother Nature, God, and we meditated on these forces each day. We were very metaphysical. We got less so as our guests changed. Originally, 80% of our guests were Europeans who had read my husband's books and expected that kind of retreat. That core is still part of the Ranch and the Door.
Guests who come to the Ranch today feel a spiritual quality in our classes, in the labyrinth, but it's not as obvious; it's more subliminal. It is also, I think, the accumulated aura of the Ranch--what is built from tens of thousands of people coming to restore [themselves].
You said that the metaphysical programs have lessened over time. What was the next phase? Was there more of a fitness orientation?
Fitness was always key. I mean, you went up on the mountain and, in those days, you could swim in our river. I had come out of school very recently--I was 18--so I divided the day into active hours and passive hours; you know, like school periods. Health was present in the beginning but alternated with more spiritual things.