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Few combine the art of living well with the science of living long as successfully as Deborah Szekely. The 85-year-old founder of two seminal spas — Rancho La Puerta and Golden Door (which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year)—is as high energy as the cross-training regimens she helped create. Here, Szekely shares her credo for a life well-lived.
This story first appeared in the February 8, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
How do you define beauty?
The person who emanates, radiates, a kind of peaceful beauty. A comforting beauty. I find these people to be much more interested in me and the other people they meet, and what they can learn about us, rather than focusing on themselves. They are interested in helping others.
What’s the key to longevity?
Balance! An old house, beautiful as it may be, takes more maintenance year to year. Not doctor visits, but preventive maintenance, daily—especially maintaining awareness and listening to the messages of the body.
What’s your regimen for nurturing mind, body and soul?
It begins in the morning. Be aware. Say “Good Morning!” whether you say it out loud at the top of your lungs or within. Your salutation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because you expect to have a wonderful day. I’m also very aware of nature, and seek it out with a walk in the garden or a walk with my dogs. That first hour of the day is so precious in terms of getting you off on the right foot.
Whom do you seek out for advice?
I’m a generalist. I know a little bit about a lot of things. I’m a knowledge omnivore. Every specialist knows more than I do. It’s not whom I seek out, it’s how many. I seek out the many who specialize and I open my own mind to endless possibilities so I can adapt and adopt what they tell me.
What inspires you?
Music and nature. It depends on my mood. Sometimes it’s listening to a great mass or Gregorian chants. Often it’s a walk in the park. And sometimes I guess it’s playing with my dogs….I have four!
Where is your favorite place?
My home. My gardens.
Do you have a motto?
Although I love the one my husband and I have used for years, “siempre mejor,” which means ‘‘always better,” and which I see as “always changing,” the one I use most is from Aldous Huxley. He often said, “Experience is how you use it.” And Aldous, who was a great friend, would then follow up and say, “…and a bad experience is often the best because of what you can learn from it.”
How do you determine creativity? How do you channel your creativity?
I have a grasshopper mind. Everything I see relates to something else. My creativity is not channeled. It’s all over the place.
What does success mean to you?
My greatest satisfaction is in changing peoples’ lives; knowing that after a week at Golden Door or the Ranch, or even a dinner party at my house, people will look at things in a different way.
If you could change one thing in the world what would that be?
The quality and scope of every child’s education. Not just math and science, but art and music and drama, and most of all, respecting and appreciating and understanding the different cultures in the world.
If you could change one thing in your life what would it be?
I have one real, real regret. I’m extremely jealous of everyone with a large family. If I had it to do over again I would have had lots of children.
Mind or matter?
Feeding the spirit is much more important than feeding the body. It’s the inquiring mind that opens up the future. If the body is as healthy as the mind, there is no horizon.