This morning I stopped by the horse ranch I volunteer at to say hello and drop off some brownies for my friend Jim. As I drove there and as I walked around outside with the horses, I felt sick and nauseous for no reason, though one conversation with Jim changed that explanation of the anxiety that has been making me sick for about a month.
There was a reason I was sick. I was not happy.
Not just today, not just speaking in general terms. In life. And, I realized, there was a reason for that, too.
Being sick with IBS has trapped my mind in a vicious cycle in which I am always so concerned about getting sick that the thoughts alone make me sick. I have been living with extreme caution these past few months, not wanting to do anything that would put me out on a limb, not wanting to take risks for fear of having my stomach hurt more or my blood pressure plummet which would leave me shaky and dizzy for hours. I am incredibly spontaneous and impulsive, and lately that just hasn’t been me. And it’s been making me miserable.
“Do what makes you happy,” Jim had said to me. And so, as I was driving away from the ranch around 11 o’clock this morning, on a whim, out of nowhere, I thought, I’m going to Sedona.
I had been meaning to go for weeks, because if there is any little town (besides Carefree) that makes me happy, it’s that place. If there is any place where I could sit quietly with my thoughts and just detox for a bit, it’s Sedona. Of course I was going. There was no question.
Now, of course, this is where logic kicked in for a moment or two. Oh, it’s too late in the day to go there now, my nitpicky little mind chided me, you don’t have your contacts case and glasses in case your eyes start hurting… you’re already not doing so well today and you should probably go lie and bed and feel sorry for yourself. No traveling today.
Then the wilder, more impulsive part of my mind started taking over.
I had just stopped for food at Fry’s since I was lightheaded and had also bought a big water bottle since the water I brought with me had all but boiled in my car. I had my phone and my wallet and my sunglasses. I was wearing jeans and converse shoes so I could hike. Why did I need to go home to get anything? I’d just drive up there. I’d just enjoy the car ride as I always do. Sedona has always been fun for me; there was no reason why I would make myself sick with worry if I were there.
And, that part of mind continued to tell me, bad or risky things can always happen, but so can things that are good. And unless you venture out and take a chance, you’ll never discover either one.
So I turned my car north and drove just over an hour to Sedona, not giving it another thought, not listening to the new, anxious side of my brain whimpering. I drove. I didn’t think. I just drove.
And it was everything I needed to do.
I love driving far more than any normal human being should, and if there is any journey that is more therapeutic and calming than the trip to Sedona, I have yet to find it.
The road to Sedona is the I-17, which has a number of names. It’s Interstate 17, the Black Canyon Freeway, the Maricopa Freeway in some parts, the Veteran’s Memorial Highway in others. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a beautiful drive. Although the highway runs beside some little towns, most of the land on either side is uninhabited and wild once you pass the Carefree Highway. It’s fascinating to see the geography of Arizona change as you head north. The picture-perfect Sonoran desert landscape merges with hills of rock and valleys that are filled with oddly named little trenches: Horsethief Basin, Bumble Bee Pass, Bloody Basin, etc. Plateaus in the distance give way to the Bradshaw Mountains that you have to drive over in order to reach the yellow-grassed plains that rest at a higher elevation.
Today, the Gladiator Wildfire was clearly visible as I passed through these mountains and entered the plains. I hadn’t heard of any wildfire before starting the drive, and in fact would not even know the name of the fire until later when I stopped at a rest area on the way back home and found a large bulletin regarding fire information posted near the restrooms. As I made my way through the plains onward to Sedona, however, I could see a dangerous amount of smoke to the west near the city of Crown King. The amount of damage wildfires can do is very humbling and frightening, and I was sincerely grateful that I was safe in my car, miles away.
These plains of yellowed grass begin to merge into a dark green forest as you continue to drive north on the I-17. The trees dot the grass and gradually become more clumped together until suddenly you’re driving through quite another mountain range through a thick forest. After weaving around another little city or two and driving through a combination of trees, hills, and roadwork, you exit the I-17 and drive on the SR-179, the road that pulls you around little bends and dips in the landscape until bam! there lie the red rocks. They emerge out of nothing and are simply there, towering above the ground. And nestled in these breathtaking red cliffs lies the beautiful little town of Sedona.
Sedona is pieced together beautifully by roundabouts, and although it is now a touristy little town, there are still places that are easily accessible if one simply wants to sit and reflect instead of shop. Stop number one for me was the Airport Vortex, my favorite place in Sedona. There are several of these vortexes scattered around the town, and they are defined as swirling centers of energy that emerge from the earth itself. The plants that grow in vortexes are twisted. The atmosphere within and around them is very spiritual, powerful, and healing. The Airport Vortex itself is a mound of sorts that turns into a cliff once one reaches the top because it overlooks a vast amount of Sedona. It is surrounded by hiking grounds and scenic little spots families like to get their pictures taken at. The little cliff takes some work to hike, but if one knows where to jump and climb, reaching the top is fairly easy and worth the ascent.
Now, to me and countless others who love and all but worship the Earth, the energy within the rocks and the ground at the Vortex has always made the area a quiet, almost sacred place, like one might consider a chapel. Any given time I am at the top of the Vortex, I am able to close my eyes and be close to the Earth and be comforted by the wind and the sun; I am able to be alone with my thoughts no matter how many people are around me and simply look out at Sedona and marvel at its beauty. I can think. I can be healed.
Today, I was bitterly disappointed. A large family that consisted of a mom, a dad, an aunt and uncle or two, and all of the children in between them were already at the top of the cliff as I began my climb. This would not have been anything out of the ordinary – if they all hadn’t been shouting, screeching, yelling back to one another at the top of their lungs all throughout the hike. All during my visit there I could hear nothing but the moms of the group hollering at their (teenage) children to stay as far from the edges of the cliff as they could, their squealing about how they were terrified of heights and jokes about how they’d all fall off and become pancakes (the cliff is not steep nor too high up). I heard nothing but the yelling of the kids wanting to know when they were leaving, the bellows of the dads playing around with their cameras and making fun of their wives. Their voices pierced the near holy stillness that made the Vortex all that it was. By the time I had reached the top and had nestled myself within the side of the cliff at my favorite little crook where I could overlook Sedona, the group’s cackling and clamoring had gone up a notch to the point where I could focus on absolutely nothing but them.
The several people who had made the climb with me or had been there already slowly and regrettably left one by one, clearly disgusted with the way the group was acting. I wanted to leave, too, but I thought that I had not driven all the way to Sedona to come to my favorite place and leave after a few minutes, so I tried to sit it out.
Now, if I were who I was several months before now, or were in a worse mood today, I might have turned and asked the group to shut up, please, because they were disrespecting a hallowed ground and I couldn’t hear myself think. But I was a broken person at this point; my walls had come down like they always do when I’m at the Vortex. The family’s disrespect of the immensity and beauty of the place might have made me angry another day, but today it just made me sad. So after ten minutes of hearing, “It looks like a mini Grand Canyon!” and “Brianna, Brianna! Come back and take pictures with me! Briaaaaaaanna!!” and “I’m gonna pee my pants, we’re up so high!” I quietly and sadly left my little spot and started my decent down the cliff back to the little parking lot. So much for soul searching, I thought to myself.
As I descended, I noticed an older, gray-haired man sitting in the shade of a clump of trees toward the bottom of the cliff where the ground spread out into a hiking trail. He, too, was watching the happenings of the family on top of the cliff with a small frown on his face. I finally climbed down and took a last, regretful look behind me to the beautiful Vortex I would have to visit another day. The man must have seen the sadness on my face because as I turned to head to the parking lot, he spoke to me.
“Excuse me,” were his words and, surprised, I turned to him. “Are you into rocks and minerals at all?”
I was taken aback. “Well,” I said uncertainly, “they certainly are beautiful to look at.”
The man smiled a little. He held out his hand to me; resting on his palm was a small, blackened stone. “This is a part of a meteor, one that fell to earth a long time ago and left a creator just over those mountains,” he said softly. “This is the spirit of Sedona, right here.”
I smiled a little then, too. “I came here looking just for that.” The echo of one of the women cackling behind me reached us then.
The man nodded as though he understood completely, which he probably did. “Here.” He placed the little stone in my hand. “Wrap your fingers around it.”
I did so without any hesitation. I had stopped thinking logically hours ago. As I held the stone, I felt a little rush of warmth in my palm, an uncanny sensation that spread through the rest of me instantly. I had been feeling a little faint in the heat, and within moments the weakness in my limbs was ebbing away. It was very subtle, but it was there.
“Do you feel that sort of tingling in your hand?” the man asked, and I nodded. “That is the spirit of Sedona. That’s the energy of the earth you’re feeling, wrapping itself around you. It never leaves.”
Somebody in the group gave a shriek of laughter up above and one of the teenagers was complaining loudly about something just then, but I barely heard them. I was focusing on the little stone in my hand.
I looked at the man as he told me that the same material of the rock had been found in Israel, too, and in other little sections of the world besides Sedona. As I considered this and held onto the little rock as though my life depended on it, I told him, “Our planet is amazing, isn’t it?”
He nodded again. “Yes, yes it is.”
I thanked him and gave him back the stone. I wanted to tell him how grateful I was that he had spoken to me, how he had changed my negative experience into a positive one without trying and with the same gentle demeanor the Vortex had always instilled in me. Instead I could only smile gratefully, wish him a wonderful day, and walk back to my car, my palm still tingling.
The spirit of Sedona is the spirit that surrounds those of us who are willing to listen to what the Earth has to say. And I learned something today. I don’t need to be on top of a cliff to find it.
After visiting my favorite New Age gift shop in Sedona, I decided to stop by the Chapel of the Holy Cross before heading home. This chapel was built into the mesas and blends in beautifully with the tall red rocks, yet it manages to stand out in its own modest way. Although the place is a tourist attraction, it is still a chapel, and people treat it as such by talking quietly around it and speaking in whispers, if at all, while inside. Unlike the atmosphere I had just experienced at the Vortex, today was no exception.
I am very uneasy when I am within religious buildings, but the chapel has always been an exception. It is very calming and welcoming to me, despite its Roman Catholic roots. The sculptor of the place said it best: “Though Catholic in faith, as a work of art the Chapel has a universal appeal. Its doors will ever be open to one and all, regardless of creed, that God may come to life in the souls of all men and be a living reality.”
I climbed my way up to it, took a picture or two of the view from the mesas where it rested, then proceeded to sit inside the chapel for a long time. People came and went, some tactfully taking pictures, some praying on the kneelers in front of the pews, some lighting candles to the sides of the altar at the front. It was roughly 95 degrees outside and, since the chapel is very open and there is no air conditioning inside, it was a little uncomfortable for a while. But somehow the stifling air went away after a time, or maybe I just forgot to notice it. I was so lost in thought, for once not thinking of the past or the present, but rather on what was going on around me, what was happening in the present. I was so focused on living in the moment that I didn’t think about getting sick. I didn’t think about going back to school, or going back to work, or anything else that would have otherwise caused me stress. I breathed. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I simply sat and breathed.
It hit me very suddenly as I finally left Sedona. Focusing on what life is going to bring us doesn’t do us any service, because if we keep looking too far ahead, we’ll miss what’s going on right in front of us. Little miracles happen each day and we miss them because we are so caught up in making money in order to survive, planning ahead for the future, reliving what cannot be changed in the past. Experiences that are too rich and wonderful for words are waiting for us to throw ourselves into them, but we will never reach them if we are too busy cowering in fear. Sometimes listening to what logic has to say is matched by the need to listen to our hearts. Sometimes the need to listen to our hearts is stronger than anything else by far.
Words cannot describe how grateful I am to that little part of me that impulsively drove to Sedona. I have realized that defeating my anxiety is going to be a tricky journey, but as I made the drive home today, I was comforted by the fact that I have survived much, much worse and can get through anything.
It is ironic and fitting to me that I drove home through the progressively worse smoke of the Gladiator Wildfire. As awful and destructive humans and animals alike find wildfires to be, I can imagine that the planet sees them as cleansing and healing. Through the death of one cycle of life comes another beginning, another chance. When one door closes, another door opens. Life is terrible, beautiful, and surprising in that way, depending on the time and the place and the perspective. But one thing is for sure: if we get too caught up in the troubles of the past and the future, we’re going to miss every part of the present.
As the saying goes, “Enjoy the little things in life, for someday you will realize they were the big things.”
For Amber N. Wish you were there with me today, Six.
And for Jim G. Thank you for always believing in me.