When I arrived in Sedona last Friday, I knew it only as a place of beauty with a special affinity among “spiritual” people. As a meditator, I’m thought to be very spiritual, and many of my friends were surprised to hear I’d never been here before. It’s true that I’ve long wanted to see Sedona for its natural beauty, but the spiritual aspect has never been a huge draw. I’m mostly a scientific realist and so I’m a little turned off by people that ascribe special powers to crystals, rock formations and the like. Nonetheless, I came to Sedona in need of deep psychic healing and willing to accept it from any source, even rocks.
As you drive into the little town of Sedona - it’s a town, not a National Park, I learned - you notice immediately signs advertising the sale of “healing tools.” There are many restaurants focused on serving healthy, natural foods that are designed to nourish the body and mind. I believe there is great wisdom in the ayurvedic approach to food, and I try to eat vegan for the environment (this speech by Joaquin Phoenix converted me), so to have these options readily available here is a great benefit. That said, when a place relies solely on the spiritual in (perhaps defiant) exclusion of the scientific — when it takes an anti-mask stance through a pandemic, for example — the environment poisons the food with a bitter taste. We need science and spirituality to lead a fulfilling life, both should be prized and neither discarded.
All of this is somewhat secondary to the main reason I came here: to experience the rejuvenating power of a week spent in nature. Visible from almost every part of town, giant red rock formations create immediate feelings of awe. If you stay in town, most trailheads are within a 20 minute drive (many within 10), so you can easily do multiple hikes a day and still take your meals slowly at a restaurant. So far we’ve had early dinners each day to give us time for another sunset hike to end the day.
Sedona is home to multiple “vortices” – special sites where an invisible energy vortex allows a natural connection to forces that promote healing, deepen meditation, inspire spiritual awakenings, and so on. The easiest to reach of these, and the only one I’ve visited so far, sits near the tiny airport on the mesa next to town. We reached it about 15 minutes after parking. It was near sunset and the light on the red rock cliffs was strikingly beautiful. We didn’t feel anything special from the vortex, but it could have been due to all the people milling around us talking, playing music on their phones and generally interfering with the magic of the place. Probably these places are best experienced alone or in small groups, and mostly in silence.
Given these crowds, we chose less popular hikes for the weekend days and were greatly rewarded for it. Sunday morning we woke at 4:30 am to be on the trailhead before sunrise. Neither me nor my partner are early risers, but it was far less painful than we expected. When we were the first car to park at the trailhead and saw the early morning light casting a soft, welcoming glow over the mountainsides, the excitement and joy washed away any sleepiness.
There’s still a chill in the air in the early morning, which is perfect for long desert hikes with little shade. As we started breaking through cobwebs crossing the trail, we knew we had the place to ourselves. And what a place. On all sides, red and white cliffs surrounded us, with fascinating pillars, faces and spires carved by the wind. The sun had risen, but was still blocked by the high cliffs on the east for the first half of the hike until we reached a natural viewing spot from a central cliff with 360-degree views.
The sun just started to peek over the cliff as we sat for a snack, warming our backs as we took in the view. Normally too bright to look at without sunglasses, at this hour the rock faces were lit perfectly to enjoy by naked eye, with shadows adding contrast and depth. We sat and took it in slowly, watching the scenery slowly come to life. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had on a hike.
As we sat there, we thought of the original people who settled in this land. To them it was sacred – a place to be protected, undisturbed, because of the power and beauty it holds. We felt a bite of sadness as we thought of the modern relationship to nature, and to technology, wondering if we are all losing sight in the midst of our busy schedules of the things that truly matter to us as humans. I don’t believe in going back to any “golden age.” I believe we should always be working towards a better future, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from history better ways to relate to nature and each other.
I felt a small but meaningful amount of renewal — a renewal of spirit — while walking that trail to Brin Mesa. My mind was clean, my heart full. I’ve long believed in the restorative power of nature. When I lived in the big city, I would try to plan weekly excursions into nature, even if only for a couple hours. I always felt refreshed and uplifted by this, without any special effort on my part. It happens naturally (pun intended).
I’m only two days in, but I’m excited at what this week in nature will bring for me. I don’t expect a panacea, and I know there will be more work for me to do on the other end. But we have to remember that nature can be an important part of our healing process. It’s always there to offer us a new perspective, or remind us of an old forgotten one - a perspective that contains what truly matters.
I can’t put into words how nature has this effect. Maybe it's an energy vortex, maybe it's the way we experience beauty, or maybe it’s just our shared, fundamental composition: life rejoicing in life. If you are feeling disconnected from something you can’t describe, it may be that you are missing nature. Even as we come out of the pandemic eventually and settle back into busy lives, I want to urge you to reserve a sacred space for nature. It will bring you benefits.
So get out there, while you can. Breathe in the air, take in the beauty. Let yourself be healed and renewed and your perspective enlarged. Rejoice in life and all its magic and mystery. You’ll be better for it. Let’s work to create a world where all can enjoy nature, as a birthright, and make sure it never comes with a price tag only the few can afford.