Spiritual Sedona

[Written by Mary McLean]

“I’m not very spiritual,” said Ken, a retired businessman. “She’s more so,” he smiled, and glanced at his wife, Mary Lou. “But there’s something I feel in my body and my mind that seems to draw me to Sedona and almost demands I look deeper into my spiritual being. The scenery is beautiful, but that’s not what it is – behind it is the feeling of spirit.”  Mary Lou quickly added, “To me, all of Sedona is a vortex!”

The Rise in Spiritual Travel

Ah, the vortexes. Google “spiritual travel” and you’ll find a flood of sites recommending places to go for spiritual illumination – with Sedona prominent among them. On NBC News Online, Yahoo! News, Sherman Travel, and indie travel site, Bootsnall, Sedona ranks up there with Mt. Kailash, The Vatican, Glastonbury Tor, Ayers Rock, and Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment, as one of earth’s sacred spots and/or spiritual destinations.

Travel has always been a means for self-discovery, but if you suspect that this proliferation of information for spiritual travel indicates an increased interest, you’re right. Though there are no solid statistics yet available on this travel niche, reported estimates of people on some sort of spiritual trek range from 300 million in 2007 to, more recently, approximately 600 million annual religious and spiritual voyages. It’s an understatement to say that the tourism industry is well aware that spiritual tourism has become a hot trend.

There seems to be good reason.  Our increasingly fragmented and fast paced lives have created and will continue to create such stress that the World Health Organization predicts depression and mental health problems will be the second-largest disease by 2020.

In spite of international tensions and economic troubles, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reports that, “With a record 467 million tourists traveling in the first half of 2012, international tourism remains firmly on track to reach one billion tourists by the end of the year. In 2011, travel for leisure, recreation and holidays accounted for just over half of all international tourist arrivals (51% or 505 million arrivals). Some 15% of international tourists reported travelling for business and professional purposes, and another 27% travelled for other purposes, such as visiting friends and relatives, religious reasons and pilgrimages, health treatment, etc.” The remaining 7% is “not specified.” Thus, even a conservative percentage of the 51% and 27% statistics would indicate a healthy number of travelers seeking a spiritually oriented experience and/or destination.

And that includes Sedona. Jennifer Wesselhoff, President and CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, quoted visitor surveys indicating that “visitation for spiritual/metaphysical [purposes] has grown from an average of 7% in 2005 to an average of 21% in 2011/12.” In addition, she says, “Almost 10% of our members have spiritual/metaphysical businesses.”

Seeking One’s Truth through Travel

What is “spiritual tourism?”  It received a boost from Elizabeth Gilbert’s 1996 book, Eat Pray Love, a New York Times bestseller for 187 weeks and a solid testimony to people’s yearning for spiritual self-understanding through, you guessed it, travel.  There are many definitions of “spiritual tourism,” but whether it’s to experiment with new perspectives, find solace and peace from the madding crowd, recharge one’s spirit and mind, find stimulation for a mundane, unsatisfactory life in a new environment, seek personal liberation, sort out life’s problems, or countless other reasons, one goal of spiritual travel seems to underlie all others – to find one’s authentic self and one’s place in the world. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And disconnecting from one’s familiar environment has proven helpful throughout the ages to help discern one’s true self.

What do people seek in their destination?  They usually gravitate toward something authentic and real that is rooted in that particular place, whether through history or reputation – and all such places seem to have one thing in common: an integral physical and/or energetic beauty and grandeur. Of course, the extraordinary spiritual experience is highly valued.

Celeste’s experience

When Celeste, a Michigan attorney, was asked what made her Sedona trip spiritual, she replied, “Three things – the beauty, the amazing energy that gives me a sense of timelessness and is so calming and centering, and the Native American history and traditions.” Any special experiences?  “Well, yes.” She looked nervous. “I had an amazing vision at Boynton Canyon. About my life here as an Indian. I thought I was going crazy until I told my friend who lives here. She just said, ‘oh, that’s great.’”

It has been said that a pilgrim is part tourist and a tourist is part pilgrim. Is there really much of a difference?  One visitor said it all.

Paule’s experience

“I teach rites of passage,” said Paule of Quebec. “Each year I bring a group to Sedona for this. It’s really a pilgrimage, as in ancient times, for regeneration and renewal, an inner journey combined with travel. You feel the energy of the land inside and out – and it’s very transformative! People love it here.”

The Lure of Transformation in Sedona

It’s no wonder Sedona has become world famous. Its powerful energies and its long history of sacred use, first recognized by the Native Americans and rooted in their traditions, has captured the world’s attention and provided the foundation for a cornucopia of advanced healing arts geared toward the spiritual pilgrim. Since many visitors (and residents) partake of these modalities, we asked some practitioners about the transformations they’ve witnessed in people.

 “Profound changes can occur, anything is possible when people are open to their super conscious,” said Rahelio, a shamanic guide. Through shamanic techniques that include conscious breathing, drumming, etc., he connects people to the healing energies of the land, guides them to an altered state, and helps them break out of negative programming to reach their authentic self.  “It’s about claiming their power to take responsibility for the creation of their life,” he emphasized. After one session, an “infertile” woman called a month later with “expectant” news. “Anything can be healed when the subconscious mind lines up with positive intent.” One man had an extreme fear of death. A strange voice mumbled, “He doesn’t deserve to live,” during the session.  It was an entity. “I dialogued with this spirit and got rid of it,” said Rahelio. The man’s outlook was vastly improved after the session.

Many people connect spirituality to the healing energies of the land.

Genia Sullivan, Director of Education at Sedona Mago Retreat, said that participants attend mostly for two reasons: they feel a need to quiet their mind and reconnect with themselves, or they have recently suffered through a difficult life event and want to recover their wholeness. “They already realize their answers are within, but that’s hard to do with all of life’s distractions. The most results come when participants go within to get a message from their soul.” One attendee had had a difficult divorce, had stuffed everything inside, and felt selfish if she focused on herself. Through the profound energy of the land and specific meditation and instruction, she released and accepted her feelings without judgment and felt the love in her soul. These realizations helped her gain self-acceptance and the conviction that her soul is her partner in life that could help her navigate everything. “She even started to see her divorce as a blessing,” Genia smiled. “It was amazing.”

Carl’s experience

Some are led here for very different spiritual reasons. Carl, from Denver, said, “I’m not spiritual, but my wife felt a lot of spiritual energy here and spent as much time here as possible. I’d really like to understand that more. She’s in the car.” Could she join us? “It’s her ashes – I’ve come back to bury her at Cathedral Rock. I’ve found the perfect spot,” he smiled.

After extraordinary spiritual experiences that changed her world, Dr. Karen von Merveldt-Guevara ventured outside the boundaries of traditional medicine to practice holistic healing bridging Western, Eastern, and Tribal medicine. “It’s physics,” she says, “and it’s been around a long time. I can connect to the subconscious mind and see the disease from all angles – emotional, ancestral, physical, and beyond.” One patient had neurological problems similar to Parkinson’s and now walks independently and engages in sports. Through her healing methods, and by reactivating memory, Karen helped one woman with a history of sexual abuse come to peace within and let the trauma go during the session. “This kind of healing happens when you make peace with the darkness and can accept it with love,” she said.

While it’s true there are world class healers in Sedona who travel to reach an international clientele, many would agree that it’s the land, the red rocks, and the earth energies here that provide a powerful base for opening one’s heart and mind to allow personal transformation. This, indeed, is the authentic Sedona.

 And for Angus….

“It’s the beauty of the area, you can travel anywhere in Sedona and feel its uniqueness,” Angus of Edinburgh said in a thick brogue. “The hiking is amazing, you feel totally away from the rest of the world, and it’s the feeling of God when you see the area, especially Bell Rock and Airport Mesa. It’s truly recharging for the soul.”