Have you ever been to Sedona, Arizona? After my first visit there, I vote that it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. Bill and I recently returned from a long weekend there with my cousins, our dear friends.
Before the trip, the four of us shared our intentions for vacation with each other. They mostly included exploring and adventuring, hanging together, laughing (which is always a given with us), freedom from schedules, and just “being.”
Sedona is known as one of the world’s spiritual centers—complete with healing retreats, alternative therapies, and metaphysical influences. Even knowing all that, the four of us still unanimously voted that our first stop after we landed in Phoenix would be—not a mud bath or a massage—but lunch at In-N-Out Burger! If you’ve had one of their burgers, you know what I’m talkin’ about! Bill mapped it all out ahead of time and found the perfect spot for our lunch that was between the airport and Sedona. We don’t have the luxury of In-N-Out in Minnesota; it’s all about priorities!
One of the things about Sedona that intrigued us was the four main vortex sites. Their Chamber of Commerce website describes these vortex areas as “enhanced energy locations that facilitate prayer, meditation, mind/body healing, and exploring your relationship with your Soul and the divine.” The website goes on to say that each person will experience a vortex differently, and possible reactions include: new insights, intense feelings of joy or release, sense of well-being, a physical healing, and new or heightened spiritual awareness. Pretty cool!
So we had to check it out.
A vortex experience
The most powerful experience for me was the morning we visited the Cathedral Rock vortex, which ran alongside the magnificent red rocks and the Oak Creek River. We drove to the area, and the four of us hiked in the morning sun to make our way to the powerful spiritual spot highlighted in our brochure.
As with each vortex we had experienced before, the closer you get, you begin to see a myriad of hand-made miniature rock towers built by tourists who had traveled the path before.
Building these structures is a way to focus on the present and calmly breathe in the now. I was struck by how the farther and farther we hiked, the more of these towers were along our path.
So each of us in the group quietly built our own unique tower.
Then, the coolest thing happened. The four of us—who love spending every moment together and love to laugh at our million-and-one inside jokes–magically went our own way…without saying a word. We each split up as though we were called to a certain individual spot to just “be” by ourselves.
As I walked toward the spot meant for me, I stopped in my tracks—in awe—at the sheer volume of hand-made structures which confidently stood in front of me, behind me, and all around me. There were hundreds, then thousands, of miniature shrines made out of rocks, each reflecting the individuality of their builder. Here, each person could made their presence known; leaving their mark on the earth saying: “I was here.”
It left me speechless. A calm and peaceful joy came over me.
How on earth did all these fragile towers stay standing, I wondered? Surely, I thought—rain or wind or even a kid running through might knock them all down.
But that didn’t happen here.
The scene reminded me of a visiting a vast military cemetery—where as far as your eyes can see, there are rows and rows of tombstones. Each tombstone represents a life. A life of stories, experiences, challenges, dreams, loves, valor, and humility. And similar to the rock temples, each tombstone whispers: “I was here.”
This moment amongst the statues was particularly poignant for me. Less than an hour prior, I had received an urgent phone call in our room from my mom. She told me the terribly sad news that a young woman back home who used to be a part of our family…had shot and killed herself.
Alone with my thoughts in this spot, all kinds of feelings and images ran through my head as I stood there. Shock. Tragedy. Violence. Sadness. Grief. Pain. Confusion.
There are no coincidences that I learned of this tragedy just as we were leaving for a spiritual hike…and then on our way to the granddaddy of them all: The Grand Canyon.
So these moments to myself became priceless. I stood on the edge of the river and listened to the sounds of “life” in the clear water, roaring through the river.
On the river’s edge, I noticed how each rock sculpture was individual and unique…yet part of a whole. None of us could exist without each other, without our community.
I thought about how my friend who was no longer here on earth with us had previously separated herself from her larger community. I said a prayer for her.
I stood there, taken aback, for a long time. I don’t know how long, but I know it was long enough for the morning sun to scorch my face and give me a give me a great farmer’s tan with my short-sleeved t-shirt.
Then coming out of my meditation and back to our surroundings, I took several deep breaths and cleared the tears from behind my sunglasses. I stretched to bring myself back into my body and then slowly turned my head to scan the area.
I smiled when I saw my cousin upstream from me, alone, staring at the river.
I knew that he, too, was in his own space, and seeing him reminded me of the rock towers all around us—whatever he was experiencing or thinking about might have been light years away from what I was experiencing, but we were a part of a ‘whole’ there in that spiritual area together.
I became ready and eager to leave my little place and connect with my beloved travel partners.
“We were here”
Magically, the four of us convened in the middle of the area at about the same time, ready to move on. First, without saying anything again, each couple took a little side trip off the path. From there, Bill and I knelt down and built our own rock tower together, taking turns stacking the rocks, one by one. Even though we had previously assembled our own individual towers, we wanted to build one together which said: “We were here.”
And simultaneously, my cousin left his mark of his love for his wife in one of the big red rocks as his way of saying “We were here.”
Pretty cool. We were then all ready to finish the hike back along the river to our car. Next up: The Grand Canyon. In the long car ride taking us north, I was very quiet as I processed life, death, community, the present, and the significant mark we each make in our own little world.
And right there in the back of our van, I quietly gave thanks for my life and all its beauty, full of people I love and a universe that fully supports every move I make. What a true gift.
Author’s Note: Vacations and retreats can be a great way to take a break from responsibility and connect with the present and what’s important to you, reflecting on the bigger picture of life. Here’s another article you might like: Vacation: The Perfect Prescription.