So You Want to Ride the Vortex June 16, 2017

The landscape on the 90-minute drive from suburban Scottsdale to Sedona, Arizona, reminded me of  north-central Mexico, where you really shouldn’t drive casually these days because the drug cartels might take a notion to kill you.

I lived in Mexico years ago and loved my pre-cartel travels, enjoying the barren hills, the cactus, the wide blue skies, deep culture and wonderful people. Now here we were in similar hills with no visible drug traffickers and an entire lack of roadblocks bristling with guns (although I imagine there were traffickers skulking). Divided into three cars, we were entirely free, blasting country music as we rose into the cactus hills, red-tailed hawks riding the thermals above.

Our hockey team had sadly lost a few players who needed to go home, so eleven of us made the trip to the Enchantment Resort and Spa in the red hills of Sedona, switch-backing up and down and up again before arriving at an extraordinary hotel backed by eroded peaks.

Mystical peaks, according to local people. As we checked into our two casitas, staff said that the hills directly behind the hotel were the site of a famous vortex—Sedona being a New Age town offering classes in meditation, massage and um, past-life regression. Offered in the shops are crystals and native American-themed works, some of them actually by native Americans.

The nearest vortex sat between in the Boynton Canyon trail leading to the Kachina Woman massif above the hotel and the nearby Warrior Man, an outcrop of phallic-looking rock (see above). Between them, we were told, is a concentration of healing energy identified by the Hopi people. It draws people from all over, including a man who climbs the Kachina Woman to play his flute from its crest.

After unloading our hockey bags, our amoeba broke apart. Kate and I decided to climb the Boynton trail, knowing that if we hit the pool first, we probably wouldn’t leave.

There’s an entrance to the trail behind the hotel spa, and it rose gently at first through desert scrubland with cacti and lizards and small bushes. The cacti were blooming beautifully in yellows and pinks and reds. Soon the trail got a little steeper, although the hike is very mild and short, and pretty much everyone should be able to do it.

The Flute Player’s heart

Partway up, we met the flute-playing man coming down, a very calm and sweet person who advised us to open ourselves to the healing power of the vortex. He gave each of us a heart carved from red sandstone before continuing on his way down. We’d missed his flute playing, although later what sounded like pan pipes wavered in the distance as we sat on level ground between the Woman and the Warrior.

Kate decided to hike a little further while I sat alone in the shade, no one else nearby. It was a very beautiful and peaceful place: Sedona is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. And since I’m happy to take any help on offer, life being what it is, I took the flute-playing man’s advice and opened myself up to whatever power might choose to find me.

As I meditated, something strange happened. It was a very still hot day, but a cool wind suddenly blew around flanks of the Kachina woman like an invisible horse and rider. It sped toward and around me, powerful and fresh, making me shiver with delight. The wind didn’t last very long, a minute or less. Yet I felt better afterwards, much stronger and clearer, and I’ve felt that way since.

Kate felt it, too. We didn’t say anything to each other when she rejoined me. But later, when someone asked about the hike, we both mentioned the wind unprompted.

I had one similar experience years ago on a freak bus travelling from Kathmandu through Nepal and northern India on a four-day trip to New Delhi. At one stop by the side of the road, a group of Tibetan monks got on, most of them young, one an older man and obviously the leader.

I was sick, suffering badly from stomach problems and increasingly weak. Finally, I couldn’t make it off the bus when everyone else piled out to get food. Not quite everyone. I soon realized the older monk was sitting not far away and met his smile, rolling my eyes at the absurdity of it all. As I did, he looked at me and through me, and I fell immediately asleep. When I woke up, I was well and the monks were gone.

So here I had my Sedona moment, too, despite my reflexive irony at a New Age-y vibe.

Not that I’m ready to succumb entirely. We went to the spa after our hike, relaxing for hours in its quiet pool and hot tub. Afterward, we decided to take a guided meditation class. I meditate at home so I knew what to expect, and liked the teacher. But she burned sage in the small, circular, red-dirt-floored room—it looked like a circular sauna with benches—and I began to cough, eventually having to slip out to get a drink of water.

Afterwards, the teacher told me, “Don’t be alarmed at the coughing. Sometimes you have to get rid of something when you meditate.” I smiled politely, thinking, And sometimes smoke makes you cough.