What I learned in Sedona

Sedona, Arizona is one of my favorite places, and one of the most special places on earth. I have been there many times since my first visit in 2001.  Home to the most incredibly beautiful red rock mountains, gorgeous desert landscapes, and a population that seems to be inundated with seekers, mystics, healers and the like, Sedona definitely has a ‘spiritual’ vibe that is unmistakable. It is widely believed that the land itself of Sedona contains ‘vortexes’: swirling, vibratory, healing ‘channels’ that seem to be a part of its very landscape; and I wanted to experience what this place claimed itself to be.

I traveled alone, relatively ‘new’ to spirituality, unsure of what I was looking for, but not entirely a novice. I had practiced meditation on and off, for some years, and was at that time, a Reiki practioner. Nevertheless, I was definitely on a ‘quest’; for what, I didn’t know. To this day, I have no idea of how Sedona even came into my consciousness, I just found myself, one day, intent on going there.

When I arrived, as soon as I saw the first mountain as I turned onto the Sedona exit traveling on HWY 179, I could not believe it. It was just so unspeakably beautiful. But I had NO IDEA why I was here, and I was staying for an entire week. I was going to be in a tiny motel downtown, as opposed to one of the luxurious spas that most vacationers frequent, and I had no agenda whatsoever other than to ‘experience’ this place. I figured I would go to a ‘healer’ or two (the local population seemed to be teeming with them), maybe get a massage, hike and relax.

I spent the first few days just walking around, hiking the well-marked trails and getting very quiet. More quiet in fact than I had ever been in my entire life. It was so awe-inspiring to be in this landscape, so peaceful, so vast (you could go on a hike and not see another living soul for hours). And I just wandered, hiked, sat on rocks, washed my feet in mountain springs, laid in the sun, and became friendly with the occasional fly or gnat that seemed to be attracted to the sweat on my body.

And then… I began to have conversations with myself. I would ask a question about what I didn’t understand about life, my relationships and friends in NYC, my family, my career, and I would immediately get an answer. The answers came in a friendly voice (different from my acerbic, city tone, but definitely still my voice), and they made a kind of fundamental, pithy sense. Nothing earth-shattering, not incredibly enlightening, but clear and kind and manageable and comforting and reasonable. And a little weird. I was, after all, talking to myself. The voice didn’t seem ‘spiritual’, it was just kind of pleasent; it felt like ‘Jonathan, relaxed’.  And I thought, ‘it’s nice to be on vacation’.

And then I went to Boynton Canyon. 

I was told that this is a popular, relatively easy, but long hike with just a few steep parts at the very end. ‘Why not’, I thought, ‘what the hell else am I gonna do here’? I arrived at the entrance of the trail early on my fifth day in Sedona. And I began. The tiny trail I followed to the top took over two hours. It was very gradual, very pretty, surrounded by forest that made it impossible to have any perspective of where I was or where I was going. I still had the talking-to-myself-in-Jonathan-calm-voice-thing going on, but at that point in seemed familiar, and frankly, kind of boring. And then I got to the top.

I climbed the ‘steep part’, and found myself alone on thousands of yards of flat red rock, surrounded by forest, so high up that I couldn’t believe it (I had been climbing at such a gradual pace I didn’t realize where I was going). I was in the sky. And I could do nothing but sit there and take it in. And then, something weird happened:

My consciousness total changed, everything seemed totally foreign, I felt kind of light-headed, nauseous, and oddly happy all at once. And I then experienced, became one with, communed with, merged with…..IT. Yes, IT (capital letters on purpose). Call It – God, Higher Self, Buddha, Jesus, Divine Mind, The Mother, whatever, I was with IT. This happened spontaneously, faster than conscious thought. Uncontrived. Unexplainable. Sensations in my body that I had never felt. Unfathomable peace in my heart. Connection and understanding and harmony and joy with the world, the universe, my enemies, my friends, my past, my present, my future. Total oneness with all that is. And EVERYTHING made sense. And I realized this: I. Am. Never. Alone. 

I. Was. With. IT. 

And then, something even weirder happened:

I knew that I was with IT, and IT knew that I knew that this was happening. And I knew that IT knew!!!!! (You may have to read this last sentence slowly a few times). And it was all unmistakable. 

And I sat for an hour or so on this stunning precipice, in blissful connection to all that is, and all that I am. It was incredible. A milestone, a victory, an enlightenment experience.  

And then…………………………………………………….I became neurotic!

As I walked back down the mountain, through the narrow trail, I began to think: ‘I must hold on to this feeling, this connection, this new perspective. But I know it’s going to go away soon. It may stay while I’m in Sedona, but once I get back to NYC, I know I’m going to be screwed. But if I could keep it, If I could somehow, right here and now, integrate it, I would be happy for the rest of my life. I would never worry. I would never feel out-of-sorts, lonely, confused, sad again. I would always have the answer, and I would be SO POWERFUL’.

So as soon as I got back to my hotel, I made an appointment with a healer for that night.

I found her on the internet, and she was exteremly impressive. A licensed CSW with certifications in Hypnosis (which is what I wanted her to use on me), NLP, Shamanic Healing, Reiki, Sound Healing, EMDR, you name it. And my intention in going to her was for her to hypnotize my IT experience, and all I learned from it, into me. I wanted it integrated deeply, implanted, permanently into my subconscious.

I arrived at her small home in the suburbs of Sedona at 8pm, only about four hours after IT had happened. She greeted me warmly and walked me around her home to her covered back porch. The view looked on the canyon where IT had happened. There was a fire going, some candles, sage burning, and we sat opposite each other at a small table.

Physically, she wasnt what I expected. I had the image of a croney ‘medicine woman’, or a clinical East European Hypnotist, with maybe an accent. But she was pure American, really pretty, actually kind of gorgeous, in great shape, smartly dressed, early 40’s. And she seemed CALM. Like the calmest person I had ever met. Not spacey, or cold, or indifferent, just present and SO CALM. As I sat down, and took in the night sky, the candles etc, and thought ‘I know this woman can help me’. 

‘What can I help you with’? She said, ‘Why did you want to come see me?’

I then launched into, without pause, the entire story of my life. I told her everything I could think of: my upbringing, my parents, my family, my acting, my talent, all the mistakes I had made, my life in NYC, my sexuality, my relationships, my achievements, my regrets, my budding spiritual life, my confusion, my worries about finances, my bad habits, my triumphs. Everything. This concluded with a complete re-telling, in as much detail as I could, of the entire IT experience. After all, it had just happened four hours prior.

Then I said, ‘So, I have come to you in order to keep the new awareness that I have just acquired from my IT experience. I want you to hypnotize me so that it becomes permanently ingrained. So that I never forget it. So that I go back to NYC, or anywhere in the world, for the rest of my life, always walking with the knowledge that I am connected to everything. That I am never alone, that I am protected, that the answers are always right there, that I am powerful, and complete, and loved, and safe, and at peace. I feel that now, here in Sedona, but I know it’s going to go away. And I have heard that hypnosis helps ‘implant’ new thought-forms into your psyche. So, will you help me? Does all this make sense?!?!’

She had been silent the whole time, just listening. Calm. Poker face. And the she said, ‘I can help you’. Relieved, I said, Oh my God, thank you so much! What do we do, do you do the hypnosis out here?!

She then took out a notepad that was in front of her on the table. It had been there the whole time as if she would, at any moment, take notes. She picked it up, and so I couldn’t see what she was writing, and began to, it seemed, draw something on the paper. It took 30 seconds, she held the paper to her chest, so I couldn’t see it.

And then she said, ‘You know this session is 150 dollars’?

I said, a bit taken back, ‘Yes! I have the money right here’!

I can’t hypnotize you, she said, but I have been sitting here listening to you for an hour, and it’s important that you pay me for my time. But I CAN help you. 

‘OK….?’, I replied.

Then she turned the paper that she had drawn on over so that I could see it. And what was on there was not a drawing at all. It was two words written in block letters, taking up the entire page. And the words were:

CHOOSE AGAIN

‘Choose again?’, I said.

She said, ‘Yes, choose again. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You just have to remember, whenever you forget what you learned on that mountain today, to CHOOSE AGAIN. We spend our lives learning and forgetting, being in the light and then the dark, being absolutely sure of things and then plagued with doubt, holding firmly to beliefs that help us grow, and then totally discounting them. In the end, there is only one thing to do. Choose Again. Its always a CHOICE. In any given moment. Always. You just – Choose. Again’.

A pause. We both looked at each other. She shrugged, as if to say ‘sorry it’s not ‘deeper’, but that’s all I got’. Then the space between us filled with that sober clarity that happens when a mental fog lifts as you are pervaded by real, unmistakable Truth.

And at that moment, we both spontaneously, at the exact same time, burst out laughing. Uproarious, sloppy, tearful, cracking up.

I hugged her, payed her, and I went back to my motel.

And that’s what I learned in Sedona, and it cost me 150 bucks.

Trauma and the creation of the false self

Trauma is an event (or series of events) which threatens life. Classic examples of trauma include physical and sexual abuse, incest, sudden lose of a loved one, an accident, fighting in war, being the victim of violent crime, and surgery – the body under anesthesia still knows on some level that it’s being cut open.

When trauma happens during childhood development it can have deleterious life-long effects. In addition to the previous examples, children can also be deeply traumatized by a host of seemingly ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ circumstances such as living in an unstable home, domestic fighting, alcoholism or drug use in the family, divorce of parents, bullying from peers, and confusion about sexual identity. Even being sent away to a boarding school, or being subjected to extreme temperatures can be traumatic for a child.

There are two responses that occur during trauma – ‘fight’ and ‘flight’. These reactions are ‘wired’ into our biology; adrenalin and cortisol levels rise, breathing accelerates, muscles engage and our bodies instantaneously engage in either aggression, or getting away as fast as possible. But Dr. Peter Levine, in his book HEALING TRAUMA, describes a third reaction that can also occur, and its this reaction that can be utterly devastating to the normal development of a child. Levine calls this the ‘immobilization response’ – it’s when the child does nothing. For a myriad of reasons, aggression or flight do not seem to be viable options for the child, or he intuits that either reaction could ultimately cause him more suffering. So the child does nothing. This immobilization is a defense mechanism that seems to happen automatically.

Levine saw this mirrored in nature. A Gazelle, when hunted and chased by a tiger, knowing that there was no escape would, before the tiger had actually gotten hold of him, simply lay down and give himself to the tiger. The Gazelle’s biology sends an instantaneous signal for it to stop fleeing in order to minimize the inevitable pain and terror of being ripped apart. Conversely, this immobilization can cause the tiger to be confused, to pause, and the gazelle is given an opportunity to possibly get away. It’s like a small ‘death’ before an actual death, and it is experienced in humans similarly.

During immobilization, conscious awareness leaves the body. Psychotherapy calls this ‘disassociation’ – a part of our consciousness, our ‘spirit’, separates from the body in order to endure the trauma. The last place you want to be during a car crash is in your body, and nature seems to help make this happen. From a shamanic perspective, this loss of consciousness is called ‘soul loss’; a piece of our vital essence splinters from us. But the trauma remains in the body. When clients come to me because they have ‘bad energy’ or think they are being ‘haunted’ by ‘evil spirits’, often my first instinct is that they have trauma trapped in their body. And from a Shamanic perspective, that is essentially what is happening.

This process of disassociation, of soul loss, wreaks havoc on the child’s development of self. It greatly compromises the natural and biological intuitive system that we all possess – the part of us that, when functioning normally, tells us that we are in danger, that someone or something is bad for us, that we are being violated, even that we are angry. Without a healthy and functioning intuitive system, we go through life defenseless, vulnerable and without clear direction.

This is why so many of my clients; intelligent, educated, often extremely gifted people, have no idea what they want to do with their lives. They have little sense of purpose, no clarity on what is good for them or what they truly want, they are in jobs they hate, in relationships that are damaging etc.

In addition to a dysfunction in the intuitive system, trauma causes another problem, and this is perhaps the most important factor in how trauma creates the false self. Children are incredibly adaptive, but they lack the intellectual capacity and autonomy to see the truth about their situation. In other words, they are unable to understand that it is the perpetrator that is at fault. And they begin to draw conclusions about what has happened to them, laying the blame entirely on themselves. After all, from a child’s perspective, a parent (or any adult) is a magical person who seems to know everything, who feeds and clothes them, has taught them language, potty training etc. The child simply can’t understand that he is not the one at fault.

Children therefore, have no other alternative but to begin to draw false conclusions and create misperceptions about themselves and the world. And because this process is happening during formative years (they are called formative for a reason), these become the foundation of the child’s core beliefs. These beliefs look like this: ‘there is something wrong with me’, ‘I deserve to be hit’, ‘I’m a bad girl’, ‘I’m unloveable’, ‘relationships are violent’, ‘I don’t deserve any better’, ‘the world is unsafe’, ‘the world is cruel’, ‘women don’t like me’, ‘men don’t like me’, ‘I’m dirty’, ‘the way to get through life is to be as quiet as possible’, ‘my only power is when I am sexual’, ‘I have to be perfect’, ‘I’m a failure at everything’, and on and on.

This mis-knowledge, this fundamental mis-take, becomes the basic groundwork for the development of the self. And, these beliefs become as ingrained and automatic as recognizing ‘that is a cat’, or ‘this color is red’. A persona, an entire sense of self, is created that has absolutely nothing to do with reality. And it becomes habituated and totally unconscious.

Negative beliefs and misperceptions, unexamined, will remain with us forever. This is why people, even with an ‘adult’ understanding of what happened to them, having even forgiven their perpetrators, will still attract (and unconsciously seek out) energy, relationships, situations, careers, addictions etc. that mirror and support the fundamental negativity that they acquired during trauma. This follows the Freudian model of seeking that which will help us ‘work through’ what was dysfunctional or incomplete in our early primary relationships.

But healing is about being in present time. This means knowing where your energy is going, having an intimate awareness of what thought forms you give clout to, and what perceptions and beliefs about yourself and the world that you are currently ‘financing’. It means facing squarely all the ways in which you compromise yourself, and calling your soul back to you with bravery and purpose. If ANYTHING in your energy, your psyche, and the world that you have created for yourself is not serving you, is antithetical to your true nature, and is not leading you to your heart’s content, it must be consciously released, and vigilantly guarded against returning. This takes time and it takes effort. But it’s way better than letting a terrified child run your show.

You CAN come back to yourself, your true self, after trauma. You can at anytime begin the process of finding out who you actually are. And when you take even one small step in this direction, you will find to your surprise, that the universe will help you in ways that you never imagined. And there just may come a time when you say ‘thank you’ for ALL OF IT (even the bad stuff), and go on your merry way.

Alice Miller, psychotherapist and author: 

The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body. And although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feeling manipulated, our conceptions confused and our body tricked with medication. But someday, our body will present it’s bill. For it is as incorruptible as a child. Who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses. And it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.