"Spa spirituality" is usually thought of as the natural consequence of taking a healthy break from daily routines and recharging mind, body, and soul, aided by the kind of classes most spas today provide in meditation and spiritual disciplines like t'ai-chi and yoga. Time for the nurture and nourishment of self and spirit is the legitimate lure of a spa vacation. Community is rarely thought of as one of the benefits of a spa, yet I think it's one of the most rewarding aspects of the experience.

Home Is Where
the Spa Is

Since 1985, I've been going to the destination spa Rancho La Puerta, just below the border in Tecate, Mexico. I've often joked that I love it because it reminds me of Camp Chank-tun-un-gi, a Boy Scout camp in Indiana where I spent many summers. In fact, there are many true parallels in both experiences--not just the hiking and physical exercise but also the sense of camaraderie, the community spirit that arises among people who haven't known one another before but have come to a particular place with similar agendas.

There are no creeds, chants, or liturgies; the text is in the rocks and flowers that border the hiking trails on Mt. Cuchama.

Most people don't go to spas to meet people. The gender ratio is overwhelmingly female. Women don't go looking for a mate but are more likely to see it as a place to relax from such concerns. The men who go understand--or soon learn--that the women are not there to impress or please them. If anything, they want to take a break from all that.

(Still, when men and women are in the same place, romantic connections sometimes occur. Digby Diehl, the writer and former editor of The Los Angeles Times Book Review, met his wife at Rancho. And, on one of my trips there, I met a woman with whom I carried on a bicoastal romance for several years. I remain friends with her and her family, who are all Ranch returnees. But those cases are exceptions to the rule.)

Dan Wakefield's book "New York in the Fifties" is the basis of a documentary film shown on The Sundance Channel. Visit his website.

The common experience of Rancho is meeting people just as they are, without pretension, makeup, or starch, sweating in T-shirts and shorts, layered with dust from the mountain hike, sharing similar sensations of aching limbs, sore feet, and heavy breathing. You also see these same people transformed, emerging from showers, Jacuzzis, and saunas, smiling and fresh on the way to dinner.

Home Is Where
the Spa Is

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