"You're a teacher, a guider. You transmit energy. You also have a deep connection to the spirit world, to spirits," says spiritual adviser Leon Pelletier, as he analyzes a Polaroid of my aura. That's right, a Polaroid of my aura.
I had just undergone an otherworldly photo shoot. I'd stepped right up to a deep purple chair, placed my palms on an outline of hands and poof, moments later, there was a blurry vision of my face enveloped by hues of blue and white with a dollop of light pink.
Now, I'm no New Age devotee — heck, I barely downward dog. But I am curious about spiritual pursuits. So on a trip to Arizona, I decided to stop in Sedona to have my "aura" photographed before hiking the area's famed "energy vortexes."
A post-hike photo would determine if my soul had been reconfigured. If I didn't come out healed, revitalized and with a pink-hued aura — considered the color of unconditional love and harmony in spiritual circles — at least I'd have seen some stunning scenery.
I'm slightly perplexed by Pelletier's analysis of my connection to the spirit world since the only spirits I seem to know well are gin and vodka. But as I sit in his dimly lit office, adorned with butterfly cutouts, transcendental music providing a solemn soundtrack to his assessment and sandalwood incense wafting through the air, I'm pretty sure he's not talking cocktails.
I can't exactly suspend my suspension of disbelief now though, so I head off with Pelletier to hike Cathedral Rock. A landmark of Sedona's skyline and one of the most photographed sights in Arizona, Cathedral Rock is located in the Coconino National Forest, just over a two-hour drive from Phoenix. Cathedral is considered one of the four main energy vortexes in Sedona. (Note to the grammar police: They are referred to as vortexes, not vortices.)
A vortex, according to believers, is an area of invisible, swirling energy emanating from the earth that produces an uplifting, healing, rejuvenating sensation. The source is unknown and not scientifically proven, but that hasn't stopped Sedona from building a culture and tourism industry around it.
The city, with a population of just over 10,000, is a place where crystal merchants, aging hippies and the unapologetically wacky converge. It seems like every other person is a healer or a psychic; many say they were drawn here by the city's mystical powers. And whether you believe in auras or not, Cathedral Rock stuns the senses.
A gleaming sun beams over mustard-red buttes, spires and mesas that surround the city like the ruins of fortress walls. The air is warm but crisp. The silence of the vast desert landscape is interrupted only by calls from wildlife, the rustling of birds through trees and the occasional human passer-by. Everywhere you turn, a cartoon-like pinnacle stands higher than the next.
As we begin our ascent upon the rusty red rocks, I expect to see Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote scoot by with a trail of "meep, meep" as they scuffle up dust from the rocks, which get their trademark coloring from iron ore.
According to Pelletier, Cathedral Rock is a "feminine" energy source, which can help build qualities like kindness, compassion, patience, and the ability to let others need you and depend on you. I could stand to refine my so-called lady-like attributes, so I say bring it! Of course I'm skeptical — but open to the possibilities nonetheless. And I have to admit I'm surprised to feel an odd tingling sensation in my fingers as we begin our walk.
Pelletier says we're close to an "energy spring." He attributes a juniper tree's twisted trunks and branches to the vortex energy and asks if I'd like to sit near the tree and undergo "integrated energy therapy." Huh?
You mean hiking these rocks doesn't provide enough purported healing? But when in Sedona...
So I nestle into a spot on a rock. Pelletier asks me to come up with something I'd like to see manifest in my life. Ryan Gosling, the dreamy actor, I mutter.
He starts what sounds like a prayer — minus references to God — and says he's tapping into nine "cellular memory" areas: guilt, shame, "shoulds," distrust, threat, heartache, anger, stress, and fear, while asking for the reverse of each feeling.
No desert lizard appears as Prince Charming but we continue our ascent. There is no distinct path so we create our own, hopping from rock to rock and latching onto rock faces to pull ourselves higher and higher. We finally reach a summit of sorts, nestled between two massive pinnacles. All I can see for miles are the orange-red rocks interspersed with lush greenery.
I can't say I felt the vortexes but it's hard not to be affected by the beauty of this landscape. I sit for a while and take it all in as a vulture loops through the sky in the distance. After a while we begin our descent, and were back on solid ground 90 minutes later.
As I posed for my post-hike aura picture in Pelletier's office, my muscles ached, my skin glistened with sweat and my voice was hoarse from dehydration. But my photo emanated magenta with streaks of orangey-pink. Apparently, I had done it.
"You now have the energy of unconditional love. You've built a deeper connection to spirituality. Orange is the energy of creation. You've wiped the slate clean and come out a new person," said Pelletier.
I can't say I felt like an entirely new being, but I definitely felt a renewed appreciation for Mother Earth in all her glory, and amid my fatigue from the hike, I also felt renewed and content. I'm not holding out hope for Ryan Gosling to "manifest" in my life. But I do have some pretty spectacular photos to make him jealous if we ever do meet.