“I’m going to sit under my giant oak tree and be more present.”
The spiritual-seekers of Sedona
On the edge of Sedona, Arizona, a purple building announces itself with a big hand-painted sign: Center for the New Age. The air outside smells like traffic and incense. On the wall inside, near shelves full of crystals, jewelry, and self-help books, is a grid of faces, each advertising a psychic reader, aura photographer, or ufo tour guide.
Sedona became the nucleus of the New Age movement in the 1980s, when local psychic Page Bryant popularized the term “vortex.” Bryant believed that the Earth itself is alive, that there are sacred places in Sedona where the physical and spiritual planes connect, and that those connections result in swirling electromagnetic energy. In 1987, thousands of New Agers came for the Harmonic Convergence, an astrological event that was supposed to bring universal peace and love. The most tangible result from that night: Many never left.
For decades, more people continued to arrive, to heal and to be healed. According to the Vortex Map available in the lobby of every hotel in town, there are four main energy vortexes in Sedona. They now attract 3 million visitors annually. In the high season, tourists outnumber the city’s 10,500 residents 3-to-1. As more come, Sedona, too, has changed. Longtime resident Barbara Matsuura, who practices reiki and qi gong, works from a quiet studio and garden in her home. A few months ago, the forest behind her house was cut to clear the ground for a 6,500-square-foot building, a future rental property for spiritual retreats, with eight bedrooms, three bunkrooms, and ten bathrooms.
Today, the Center for the New Age is one of many such hubs in Sedona. Throughout the area, healers offer a range of services: Poranguí McGrew does sound healing with a didgeridoo. June Rettinger de Arballo offers Native American–inspired blessing ceremonies. Jenna Gene LeVee does pet reiki. Marrian “Sista” Efua leads Inner Healing Retreats for women of color. Elizabeth Silk brings clients to her custom indoor sweat lodge.
Tourists visit in search of a reprieve but also a transformation, a way to start experiencing the world differently. Waiting for a UFO tour to begin, Estella Matthews says, “Every time you turn on the TV station, somebody got shot. You don’t hear about any of the good stuff anymore. There’s just so much negativity around us. There needs to be something more positive that we just don’t know about yet, and it could be in outer space.”
After a forest bathing session at L’Auberge de Sedona, Jenn O’Brien says, “Living in the Hudson Valley, nature is in my backyard, and I don’t use it. Going home, I’m going to the creek behind my house. I’m going to sit under my giant oak tree and be more present, and a little bit more grounded, and thankful.”