I stayed on a seventy-acre property tucked inside Boynton Canyon, an area some Native American tribes believe to be so sacred they won’t even reside there. The Yavapai-Apache, in fact, consider this canyon the birthplace of their people. It is also a vortex site, a place where concentrated subtle energy supposedly emanates from deep within the earth. Some believe these vortexes can have a mystical, balancing, and/or healing effect.
The Yavapai-Apache consider Boynton Canyon their Garden of Eden. According to legend, Yavapai-Apache prophets predicted that a great flood would destroy their tribe. A wise man of the tribe created a boat out of a cottonwood log and put his young daughter into it, along with a bird, some food, and other provisions, so she could ride safely to another place and create a new world. When the waters receded, this “First Woman” found herself in what is now Boynton Canyon. But she became lonely and wanted a son, so she performed ceremonies and, with the help of the sun and rain gods, conceived. Thus, the tribe was reborn. (I find it interesting how many elements in this story—a great flood, a boat, a virgin birth, new life—are also found in other faith traditions.)
I read somewhere that the construction of the resort where we stayed had the blessing of the spirit keepers of the region, though certain conditions had to be met. There had to be free access to the canyon to everyone, including the medicine men, so they could conduct prayer ceremonies at certain times of the year. (Apparently previous owners, who had planned to build a gambling casino on the property, had cut off the path and placed a gate at the entrance.)
Though some preservationists would have preferred no commercial property had been built in the canyon, I think the resort has done a commendable job of incorporating Native American programs and ceremonies into their impressive list of daily activities to honor the native tribes of the area and to preserve their culture and history. I participated in a “smudging” ritual one morning, a cleansing and purification ceremony, in which the meditation guide waved a smoking sage stick around my body, reminiscent of the incense used in some Catholic services. This was followed by a prayer of gratitude for Father Sky and Mother Earth and for all humanity.
But my favorite activity was listening to an informal lecture (in a tipi erected on the resort’s grounds) by a Native American. Aaron, the speaker (part Navaho, part Ute), talked about the history and culture of the Native Americans in the area and about the sun dances still performed during different times throughout the summer. These are all-day ceremonies of fasting and praying and singing and sweating--for four days straight in oppressive heat. During the ceremonies, tribe members pray for peace and healing, for their families and the nation. The dancers are not chosen; they are called to this sacrificial act. Some tribes still conduct piercing ceremonies as an act of suffering for their people and an offering of self to the Great Spirit.
What touched me about Aaron was his obvious love for his people. He told our small group that he wanted everyone to remember his people this time every year. “Remember that someone cares,” he said, choking back tears. “Someone is dancing.”
I came to Sedona imagining climbing red rocks until I reached one of the famous energy vortex centers, then sitting in a lotus position and meditating my way into a state of spiritual enlightenment. Or, if that failed, I imagined visiting a palm reader or having a Tarot card reading (when in Rome, as they say) to gain some new insight about myself, my future.
What I got from the trip was something far better. Aaron reminded me that Sedona isn’t about vortexes or crystals or Prickly Pear Margaritas (yum) or Pink Jeep rides (though I highly recommend the Broken Arrow tour!). It’s about oneness. Our connection to the earth, sun, moon, and stars--and each other. As Aaron said, pointing to his heart, “It’s about what’s in here. We all beat to the same rhythm.”
This trip gave me, among many things, a deeper reverence for other spiritual traditions, particularly ones firmly rooted in and connected to nature. I even have a less cynical attitude toward New Agers. (Our not-so-PC Pink Jeep tour guide referred to Sedona as a bowl of cereal: “You’ve got your fruits, nuts, and flakes.”) But aren’t we all in this together? Aren’t we all just trying our best to figure out life and how we fit into it? The truth is, no matter what faith we practice or spiritual belief system we embrace, it’s still one great big mystery.
Elizabeth Hardwick wrote in Sleepless Nights, “When you travel your first discovery is that you do not exist.” Traveling encourages self-forgetfulness, opens our minds to a new way of thinking and our eyes to a new way of seeing. Always a humbling experience.