I am, at best, a deeply dubious person when it comes to the unseen and unknown. Astrology? Ghosts? Crystals? I beg your pardon, but show me the proof. It’s not for lack of want that I don’t believe these entities and energies could exist, it’s simply a feeling in my gut. An instinct of doubt. I read my horoscope mining for revelations, but I can’t help but think it sounds boilerplate. I hear a creak in the floorboard and hope for a supernatural sighting, but nothing manifests. If it demands a spiritual or scientific leap of faith I try, but it’s difficult for me to authentically embrace.
So, as I was packing my bags for a four-day trip to experience and write about L’auberge de Sedona’s metaphysical programming, I wrestled with whether I was the best woman for the job. The property recently unveiled its Paths of Possibilities, comprised of five paths: self love, restorative, soulful, nature-inspired, and surround. Each path consists of a guided experience (think: sound baths, tarot readings, or crystal meditation) plus a signature spa treatment and nourishing lunch, all themed around the chosen path. Beyond this, other a la carte activities offered like vortex hikes, breath work, energy healing, and chakra yoga are all aimed to heal what ails you and to harness self-exploration.
Wellness getaways centered around mystical or spiritual healing are great in concept (I write about them not infrequently!) but they can put an almost toxic amount of pressure on the traveler to come away from the ordeal with an epiphany. And, yes, I felt pressure to feel something from this particular experience. The city considers itself something of a ‘spiritual Mecca’ and even after returning home, several friends asked if my visit was mystical. My answer to that? Read on. Plus, I throw in some practical takeaways that one can expect from a trip to the natural splendor Sedona, Arizona.
The Wonder That Is Sedona
When permitted, visiting landscapes that are held as sacred by indigenous communities can be a profound experience. That, above any sort of new age healing, is where I find the most powerful link between humanity and the natural world. The people of the Sinagua, Yavapai-Apache, Hopi, and Navajo tribes have a deep connection to these lands and you can feel said connection reverberating throughout the red rock canyons.
Also within these red rock landscapes are ‘vortexes’; supposed portals of spiraling, emanating energy that can leave one spiritually enlightened. Yes, I was dubious. Still am, in fact. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t eager to set off into the wilderness with Jason from Trail Lovers to see if my consciousness might be expanded.
It wasn’t more than a minute of beginning the Mescal Trail when we crossed paths with Robert, a retiree who Jason exclaimed was a treat to run into and who regularly plays his flute at the sacred Kachina Woman, a nearby Hopi nation site. He eagerly handed each of us a flat red rock carved into a heart shape accompanied by a verbal reminder that we are all magical beings. “There has never been someone exactly like you in the history of mankind and there never will be again,” he said while looking at me directly in the eyes. If someone had been reaping the benefits of the vortexes, it was most decidedly Robert.
From there, the magic continued to unfold. Majestic rock formations rising from sprawling canyons were dotted with cactuses and cypress trees; truly, the beauty of Sedona can’t be overstated. And with 400 miles of hiking trails, it’s not difficult to understand why this landscape left me with a sense of wonderment. “I’m going to stop talking now and let’s approach this vortex area quietly and with intention, it’s really powerful here,” Jason said as we wound around a steep corner overlooking a seemingly infinite expanse. I may not have been spiraled into the sky by a helix of mystic energy, but I felt a subtle, silent power in its stead. After a few minutes of walking we paused, closed our eyes, and did box breathing (in for four seconds, hold for four, out for four, hold for four, and repeat). This exercise, which we practiced one more time in front of Cathedral Rock, exaggerated all of my other senses. “You have the ability to escape time in Sedona,” Jason told me. As I gazed out over this otherworldly landscape that formed three million years ago, I was — at least briefly — present in the moment.
You Can’t Force It, But Be Open
Back at L’Auberge, I participated in a spate of classes and treatments that were focused on the metaphysical. I learned about chakras and hand-crafted a bracelet with beads according to the different chakra colors, I lied on the floor as a practitioner bathed me in the sound and vibration of flutes and singing bowls (also adjusted according to each of my chakras), and relished in a turquoise and sage hydration treatment at the spa. Every time the word ‘heal’ or ‘energy’ was spoken I felt a teeny alarm bell go off. But rather than relinquishing power to my inner skeptic, I leaned into the experience — never forcing myself to feel a certain way, but rather, approaching it with a spacious, open mind. Once I let go of my urge to doubt and exchanged it with curiosity, I felt more compassionate and empathetic to those around me.
The Length Of Your Trip Matters
A salient takeaway from my metaphysical getaway is that the length of the trip matters. It’s not exactly realistic to expect any sort of transformation to occur during an overnight stay, and I myself didn’t start to feel any real internal shifts until a few days in. “By day two or three, people tend to have an emotional reaction in Sedona,” Jason told me. “This area relies upon subtle energy. This is the stuff that’s perfect for delayed reaction.” When I heard this, I didn’t understand what he meant, until later that evening.
The Magic Happens In Those Quiet Moments
I came on this trip angling for an ah-ha moment. A revelation that would render my mind and heart forever enlightened. That didn’t happen. But at a creative journaling session with artist Libby Caldwell, I surprised myself. We began seated by the water (L’auberge de Sedona is situated on the banks of Oak Creek), identifying a vignette that resonated with us and letting that manifest on the empty page. "Don’t judge it. Pick a color or a shape and bring that to the canvas,” Libby instructed. I loved the way the rushing stream coated a nearby smooth rock, and let that inform my first entry.
Once inside the property’s Creekhouse, we transitioned to a therapeutic technique. Libby asked us to choose a color that positively stood out to us (a “yes color,” as she phrased it). Using that hue, we were then told to draw a shape that made us feel good. Easy enough. The next step was its inverse — to think of an uncomfortable or painful emotion, choose a color that represents it, and to create a form that embodies that thought.
To preface my reaction to this exercise, 2022 was my hardest year yet. I had some challenging life events take place that I’ll spare you the details on, but nonetheless it brought emotional ammunition to the table. As I finalized my shape I felt a lump harden in my throat, an uncomfortable tickle on my nose bridge, and a wave of emotion rush over. From there, we were told to cut up the painful image until it no longer ‘looked’ like the negative thought, glue those pieces on the page, and fill in the empty space with our joyful color that was previously selected.
I returned to my cottage after the session and, to my surprise, burst into tears. I had a visceral sensation of washing away those dark feelings, letting them be taken by the tide. The release I felt from this experience didn’t resolve my pain, but sort of kicked it loose. “Think of emotions as color and people as color and your days will be easier,” Libby said. On the heels of all of this, I think she’s on to something.
It’s OK To Not ‘Buy In’ To Everything
By the end of the trip, I did have one revelation. It was the realization that the pressure I felt to have a spiritual awakening was hindering the spiritual experience itself. The moment I let go of expectations, I felt free. Free to ugly cry in my cottage, free to savor the mushroom agnolotti with lamb from Cress On Oak Creek executive chef Shawn Applin, and free to be open to the possibility that just because I can’t see it, doesn’t mean there isn’t something brewing beneath the surface.
It snowed the morning I left, leaving the entire landscape blanketed in thick white powder. At the risk of seeming overly on the nose, it felt like a metaphor. A fresh slate to bookend a surprisingly meaningful ‘path’ I had taken. When I arrived home and began sharing these details with my partner and friends, the experience and its takeaways remained sacred.
I didn’t master the metaphysical experience by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s sort of the point, it seems — if enlightenment was so comfortably achieved, the world (and the people in it) would be quite different. Instead, I got a series of brief glimpses at what self-exploration looks and feels like, and that’s enough for me to continue searching.