Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Turn in Sedona

Boynton Canyon
Sedona, a funky little Arizona town of about 10,000, has for years been famous as a pilgrimage site for New Age seekers, aging hippies, hikers, and the simply curious. But until 1987 when its popularity exploded, the place had been largely unknown. 1987 was the year of the Harmonic Convergence when hopeful souls traveled to places around the planet expecting the emergence of global harmony and love. In Sedona, hundreds stood before a rock formation know as Bell Rock, waiting for its top to spring open and reveal an alien spacecraft. (Like advent religionists everywhere, some may be waiting still.)

It was about this time that one Page Bryant a Sedona psychic and metaphysician, dubbed the town’s “energy centers” vortexes (sic). Indeed, the notion is thought to have originated with her, at least in the case of Sedona.

But what is a vortex?

A vortex à la Sedona is imagined to be a swirling funnel-like center of terrestrial or psychic energy emanating from the earth in specific locations (Sedona has four.) Many believe that visiting a vortex can confer all sorts of benefits, such as amplifying spiritual awareness, balancing chakras, assisting in the release of traumas, or connecting to mystic realms. You may feel as though you're breathing deeper, that your thoughts are clearer. There may be a rush of energy or a feeling of peace. Some say that because vortexes are spinning whirlwinds of energy, people who visit them can be “a little unbalanced at times.” (If you were all in a twirl to begin with, that might be most of the time.)
Boynton Canyon

Around the globe there are purportedly only a handful of these vortex centers, the strongest being in Sedona; Cairo, Egypt; and the Bermuda Triangle. Renowned Swiss psychologist Carl Jung found the mere idea of visiting the city of Rome so overwhelming that he fell into a faint simply buying tickets for the trip. So perhaps Rome should be included as well. The same might be said of Jerusalem – for millennia, the scene of so much exuberant fantasy and violent extremity you’d expect a vortex the size of a miles-wide Kansas wedge twister.

Who knows? There might be a vortex right in your own back yard!

Of course, apart from drain plug whirlpools, aircraft turbulence, and the occasional dust devil or tornado, there’re no actual vortices in any of these places – energy being only a measure of the capacity to do work, not a thing in itself. The term vortex has simply been borrowed from fluid dynamics to describe the effect that Sedona’s magnificent landscape has upon the visitor, a sense of being swept up and carried away by the region’s stunning natural beauty – the Stendhal syndrome gone pastural, you might say. A few years ago, USA Today called Sedona the most beautiful place in America.

Vortex at Kachina Woman rock formation, Boynton Canyon
Maybe space aliens enjoy the scenery, too – UFO-spotting parties are common in Sedona. You  can also partake of drumming circles, starlight fire ceremonies (of divers types), sage cleanses, channeling lectures, yoga retreats, past-life consultancies, Reiki healing, Tarot readings, and the like. All sorts of paranormal phenomena have been described in and around Sedona.

Unfortunately, the Sedona experience isn’t always benign. Several years ago during a makeshift sweat-lodge ceremony, an ersatz affair that had nothing to do with Native American practice, three people died and eighteen others were hospitalized for injuries. Hikers periodically fall from heights, suffering injury or death. At 4,300 feet above sea-level, some falls might conceivably be related to light-headedness on account of the altitude. If you arrive from sea-level, full acclimatization to a new elevation can take days or even weeks.

Recently one fine autumn morning, I set out on a hike up Boynton Canyon, home to one of Sedona’s four major vortexes. Since Boynton’s is a vortex of “balanced energy,” I anticipated no problems keeping my, well, balance over the rocky path. And indeed, at first the going was smooth.
Peyote Pete all in a whorl

If the altitude wasn’t breathtaking (I live at sea-level), the scenery certainly was. Interspersed with sculpturesque rock spires, buttes, and mesas, the canyon walls of rust-colored Coconino sandstone rise up some 1,200 feet into the turquoise Arizona sky. Winding over dusty orange-red terrain, and flanked by oak and pine, the trail passes through stands of manzanita, yucca, opuntia cacti, and Arizona cypress. Here and there can be seen Utah and one seed junipers whose twisted trunks add imaginative fuel to the idea of vortexes. In places, even the landscape looks twisted. The deep red color for which Sedona is famous is due to the hematite or iron oxide – literally rust – in certain of the rock strata.

It was upon my approach to a rock formation known as Kachina Woman, a stone spire that skirts the Boynton vortex, that the drama began. As I broached the energy field, my eyes seemed to bug out like yo-yos, my fingers curl into magnetized loops giving off sparks. What’s left of my hair stood on end and flared rust-red. Overtaken by a sensation of floating, I grabbed a convenient tree branch to keep from spiraling aloft. For a while I just hung there bobbing in the breeze like one of those helium-filled Mylar party balloons.

Table top feminine energy, Enchantment
 Resort, Sedona
Slowly coming to my senses, I at last recalled stepping down hard from a low drop-off and impaling myself on a Peyote button – resulting in an untimely contagion of mescaline. The drug had taken a while to wear off.

In the end, psychedelics and all, it seemed well worth the trip. At least I hadn’t fallen off a cliff.

But with three million tourists visiting Sedona yearly and movie stars keeping homes there, you wonder how it can last. Will the New Age vibe endure, or will the vortexes be short-circuited like power lines downed in a rain storm – becoming nothing more than a marketing meme? Will the crystals go dark, the pyramids collapse? Will Sedona’s shamans and soothsayers find themselves yearning for alien abduction?

Only the future will tell. For answers right now, though, you could go here. Or here. Or here. Or here.