Photograph by Patrick Frilet, Corbis
Madame Kimberly, in her office at the psychic center of Sedona, Arizona, flips over a tarot card, studies it briefly, then asks me, "Did you recently lose your job?" I wonder if she's reading her cards or just the newspapers. Given the state of the economy, a psychic has a better than even chance of getting that one right. "Not yet," I reply, "but I'll call my boss for confirmation as soon as we're done." When she tells me, "You'll be shedding some old friends but adding some new ones," I'm reminded of a fortune-teller I visited in Los Angeles during an election year. I asked who her crystal ball said would be the next President. She said: "I have a feeling about one person...but I forgot his name." Great, a psychic who can see the future but can't remember it.
If it's really possible to peer into the future, to look into the rearview mirror of past lives, or even to get in touch with your present inner self by reading your chakras, then Sedona is the place to do it. This small resort community nestled in the dramatic red rock formations south of Flagstaff (and 84 miles from Grand Canyon National Park) is a mecca for spirituality and alternative healing. The place has psychic centers like Seattle has coffee shops. Or, as I like to say: Sedona is the woo-woo capital of the United States.
With so many spiritual guides standing by and, as their brochures state, accepting major credit cards, I feel compelled to seek their help in finding myself. However, after my less than insightful session with Madame Kimberly, I opt to avoid tarot cards and palmistry, where the readings seem to be of the one-size-fits-all variety. But where to begin? There are signs offering crystal massages, spiritual acupuncture, chakra tests, brain education (as opposed to?), vortex teas, astrological readings, holistic counseling, and past-life regression therapy. Then I see an offer I can't refuse.
How often do you get to buy a pair of angel wings? Never, I thought. Don't you have to earn them, like that guy helping Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life? And yet the sign in the window reads, "Angel Wing Sale." Only one? Did some angel hock a wing and now flies around in circles? The store is called Angels of Enlightenment. Needing answers, I step inside.
The angel wings appear to be glued-together chicken feathers attached to a cord that can be hung from a key chain or mirror. My initial disappointment in this apparently not-so-divine souvenir quickly gives way to excitement. The shop also sells something called the Aura Report, a new avenue into the metaphysical world. Using a special camera that sees what the human eye can't, Angel of Enlightenment Shane Niewolny will take a picture that presents a visual representation of the essence of my personality. I work for the National Geographic Society, and we pride ourselves on being camera experts, but I've never seen a camera around the office that will capture an image of your aura, as this device purports to do. So I pays my money.
The video monitor is flashing my image like a psychedelic rock concert. Apparently even my chakras have ADD and can't stay with one color for more than a few seconds. When Niewolny freezes the picture, a rainbow covers my top half and a blue band my lower half. Chakras, I learn, are energy vortexes, or force fields, residing in your torso from the crown to the root. (That should be enough conversation fodder to get me through an entire Hollywood party, should I ever get invited to one.)
Niewolny hands me a printout of the results and explains what it all means. Apparently there is a period of peace and healing and cloud contemplation ahead, but my mind locks in on only one comment. Niewolny says, "I can't really predict your future career," and I'm thinking: "Forget my aura; just look at me. This gray hair means if there's a career beyond this one, it will be writing a column at the retirement home. Duh!"
A little farther down the street, the Sedona Crystal Vortex offers some hands-on therapy involving crystals, heart reading, healing oils, chakras, psychics, and deep-tissue Shiatsu massage. I'm not sure if all those words belong together or if they're in the right order, but they are listed as techniques and skills employed in an hour and a half session with Gita. The massage is excellent, complete with various rocks and crystals being placed on my chakras and on some non-chakra parts as well.
My last stop is for some past-life therapy with Valyra Bacigalupi. I'm hoping this hypnosis session exploring my previous lives will reveal that I was Alexander the Great, Thomas Jefferson, or at minimum a pirate who buried chests of gold and jewels that have yet to be discovered, and that I'll now remember where I hid them. Unfortunately, I seem to be stuck in this life, and Bacigalupi can only take me back far enough to reconnect with memories of some old girlfriends.
I'm beginning to realize that the psychic tour—taking a trip without leaving your chair—isn't for me. As incongruous as it may sound, I need something more active to help me relax. And while Sedona is the perfect place to launch an inner journey, it also turns out to have just what I need as well. I call Niewolny, my aura reader, who doubles as a hiking guide and leader of vortex tours. According to various spiritual gurus, not only do people have energy force fields, so, too, does the Earth. They're also called vortexes, and Sedona has more than its share, so many in fact that it's said to be vortex central for the entire country.
Niewolny meets me early the next morning to lead me up a small sandstone formation, a vortex point, from where we will watch the sunrise over the geometric red rock bluffs across the valley. I don't know what role the vortex plays, but I know a brisk hike at 4,500 feet elevation helps get my heart started and the crisp clean air helps clear the mind. And when that's combined with the spectacular scene unfolding before me as the sun's early golden rays begin to light up this little corner of the world, I'm at last able to relax, meditate, and connect with my inner being. At this moment I don't worry about my next career or past lives, chakras, crystal vibrations, acupunctured spirit, brain education, nor the hues of my aura. I'm merely content to be here among the red rocks, centered in a beautiful place.
Contributing editor Boyd Matson hosts National Geographic Weekend on radio.
Shop National Geographic