Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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December 27, 2013

Bringing the vacation home

— — I brought my vacation home with me, which is pretty unusual. I think most people would agree the benefits of a trip away dissipate as soon as you walk into the laundry room or sit down at your work desk.

But this time, the benefits have hung in the air like the dry desert dust that clung to our clothes. Miraval Spa and Resort outside Tucson, Ariz., offers an escape from the daily grind to anyone celebrating a happy milestone or processing a difficult transition or loss.

During our one-week visit, I squeezed in as many of the offerings as I could, obsessively carrying around my guide and schedule booklet so I wouldn’t miss anything I had highlighted. We took advantage of it all — high wire challenge courses, fitness, yoga and meditation classes, delicious, healthy food, six-mile hikes in the beautifully prickly Arizona foothills, spa treatments, and sessions about physical, emotional, financial and spiritual well-being. Topping it off, we were spending a week with dear friends in a place where you also connect quickly and easily with welcoming and transparent strangers.

Part of the experience is the people who happen to be there with you swinging on a giant scarf during Aerial Yoga, climbing a 30-foot telephone pole or sitting in a class called “Grief, Loss, and Letting Go.” Whether it is the instructor or another guest, you are certain to learn something. Sometimes it is during a hike in the high desert, the place I bonded with a woman who lost her son 13 years ago. Or during one classroom assignment, I connected briefly with another woman via a conversation delivered mostly in mime. It was sort of like playing charades but instead of guessing movie or book titles you are guessing personal details about the individual, who they are, how others perceive them, and who they want to become.

These discussions in class or while scaling 3,700-foot peaks are heightened by the immediate intimacy, the short-term bond you share with an open-minded stranger who is there to learn about themselves and others. And you learn about yourself by learning about others, so most folks are willing to invest the energy, connect without previous common bonds. You may find yourself suddenly saying to someone something you’ve not said aloud to anyone else.

You can avoid those classes if you want. You don’t have to attend Unleash the Power of the Soul with Tejpal, Mindful Stress Mastery, or the ABCs of Emotional Intelligence with Anne Parker. Instead, you can sweat through classes such as Power, Punch, Plié or the TRX Endurance Circuit. But pushing myself physically, I discovered, was also great for me mentally and emotionally.

At least, that’s what I was telling myself when I climbed that aforementioned 30-foot telephone pole. But that’s only where the experience started. Called Face to Face, this challenge course offers the chance to “explore the balance between self-care and support of others as you move in pairs across cables suspended 30 feet off the ground.” So, there we were, my husband and me, the two of us trying to stretch our arms up straight, angling in toward each other and creating a support while we stood on two separate cables and tried to take a few steps sideways down the two cables which, by design, were getting wider and further away from each other. I was exploring terror and fear rather than self-care and support, but even that experience was good for me. We were secured by a harness, of course, and when my violently shaking legs were no longer useful for self-care or support for anyone we were safely “belayed” down to the ground.

What I gained during that week of challenges, education, physical activity and peaceful introspection were valuable mementos and transformative souvenirs from a “working vacation” of sorts. I gained new perspective about some high-wire challenges I face in real life. I discovered better ways of facing my fears, staying mindful in the moment, and returning to that quiet peaceful place when life swirls around me.

When our friends suggested this trip almost a year ago, it seemed like a great escape. Although we did get away for a break, we discovered ways of packing meaningful mental keepsakes in our luggage and escaping with the escape back home. Few vacations offer the opportunity to have mini-mind retreats when returning to real life.

It is a completely different challenge course to keep a vacation mindset at home but, after that 30-foot telephone pole and cable, I feel like I’m up to it.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at

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