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Fitness and Focus in Arizona

by Matthew Wexler
Cactus Garden in the Arizona desert

Arizona has a wonderful array of spas, hotels, and delectable dining options for travelers looking to relax and rejuvenate.

Matthew Wexler

How nice for you. You’re a 3¼,” says Cindy Nichols, meditation facilitator, hypnotherapist, and inspirational consultant. I’m sitting across the table from her as she stares with precision at the results of her numerological calculation. She then pulls the corresponding Tarot cards: the Empress, the Magician, and the Emperor.

I do my best to hide my cynicism. I’m a New Yorker, after all, and generally fall into the spiritual camp of “what you see is what you get.” But I’ve come to Arizona’s desert to shake a feeling that’s been in my gut for some time—a gloomy haze of foreboding that I haven’t been able to put my finger on. Cindy continues as we ensconce ourselves in a cozy room at The Phoenician’s (6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona. Tel: 480-941-8200. www.thephoenician.com) luxurious spa, which after a day of pampering could make me believe just about anything.

“Until you take your last breath you will always be creating,” says Cindy of the Empress card, which evokes intuitiveness
and a potential susceptibility to other people’s actions. By contrast, the Emperor provides a more grounded, logical perspective, asking me to create structure, while the Magician, tucked snuggly between the two, is the alchemist and offers me, as Cindy describes, an “IV drip from God.”

The Phoenician Resort Scottsdale, Arizona

The Phoenician

It’s a bold statement, and for the next hour we hover over the cards as she tosses out buzzwords like “refined diplomacy” and my forthcoming five-year numerical cycle that will bring me into a “space of authenticity.” Much of her observations resonate as I deepen my breath and sip on herbal tea, but I also wonder how much of my personality is nature versus nurture? I have often been pegged as “sensitive.” Numerous comparative studies over the years exploring gay men’s amygdala (the set of neurons that are instrumental in the processing of emotions) imply that I might be more in line with straight women because of my gay brain. I always wondered why Terms of Endearment was my favorite film, and now I know. As I continue to ponder this idea of nature versus nurture, I wonder if some outdoor activity might help clear my mental cobwebs. As the late afternoon sun soars overhead, I make my way to Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, Arizona. Tel: 480-941-1225. www.dbg.org). Dating back more than 70 years, the garden encompasses 140 acres (55 of which are cultivated) and showcases more than 50,000 plants. I am struck by the natural beauty as well as the resiliency of these native species. Phoenix weather patterns are not for the faint of heart, plant or otherwise. Average summer high temperatures often soar above 100 degrees, and while I’m fortunate to be visiting in early winter when a cool breeze blows in at dusk, my botanical counterparts are in for the long haul. Five trails offer in-depth access to desert plants and wildflowers with an ever-changing landscape throughout the seasons, but it is Bruce Munro’s exhibit Sonoran Light at Desert Botanical Garden that I find the most inspiring.

Installation at the Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona

Bruce Munro Light Installation at the Desert Botanical Garden
Photo by: Bruce Munro

Munro’s eight, large-scale light installations use hundreds of miles of illuminated fiber optics in various implementations ranging from “Water-Towers,” which consists of 58 colorful towers nestled amid the saguaro cacti, to “Field of Light,” a cascade of 30,000 glowing bulbs that dot the Garden Butte hillside. It is nothing short of breathtaking, and an example of the artist’s tumultuous journey. Munro earned a Fine Arts degree, but like many pursuing an artistic career he worked a variety of odd jobs ranging from cook to aerobics instructor (it was the 80s, after all). His connection to nature began as simple notes in a sketchbook as he continued with small creative projects while supporting his family.


Profoundly affected after his father’s death in 1999, Munro spent the next year or so contemplating if and how he would ever find a means of expression. He also credits this time for the development of “increased sensitivity and capacity for compassion.” Darkness overtakes the gardens and my steps become cautious, illuminated by Munro’s towering installations.

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