A Desert Journey

By Rachel Dowd

Originally published on Advocate.com January 06 2009 1:00 AM ET

Let’s be
honest -- Mii Amo doesn’t have to try very hard.
Tucked in Boynton Canyon, 110 miles north of Phoenix
and 4,600 miles above sea level, the destination spa
is cradled on all sides by scorched red rock and an
impossibly blue southwestern sky. The air smells of dried
sage and sandalwood, and adjacent to the nearby trails
leading deep into the Secret Mountain Wilderness is a
spire of rock known as Kuchina Woman that marks a
place Native Americans and New Agers honor for its
heightened spiritual energy. To the Apache, this is
the place where a woman came to rest after a great
flood, and after she made love to the sun, their tribe
was born.

With that kind of
vibe going for it, Mii Amo would be forgiven for
throwing up a few yurts, drawing a prayer circle in the
sand, passing out a handful of edible twigs, and
calling it a day. But they didn’t.

Instead, Mii Amo,
which to the Yuman Indians means “continue
one’s path, moving forward, or journey,”
built six adobe casitas containing 14 spa guest rooms
and two suites (all outfitted with down featherbeds,
fireplaces, patios or balconies, and extra-deep bathtubs).
The operators designed a spa with two swimming pools
-- one indoor, the other outside -- sauna, whirlpool,
and steam; 19 interior treatment rooms; five private
outdoor “wickiups”; a gym; a library; and
a yoga studio. They erected a Crystal Grotto for
meditation and daily intentions, and -- naturally -- a
prayer circle. They cooked up a menu of Asian and
southwestern fare made from local organic produce in an open
kitchen. You can eat at a long communal table or take
meals outside on the patio, where the view any time of
the day or night is breathtaking.

With amenities so
well-covered, the only real question at Mii Amo is
where you’re going to go, spiritually speaking, that
is. The resort offers five “Journeys,”
or spa packages -- Healthy Lifestyle, Rejuvenation,
De-Stress Mind & Body, Spiritual Exploration, and
Ayurvedic Balance. A Journey can last three, four, or
seven nights (price for single occupancy starts at
$2,178) and includes use of all facilities, a spa robe
-- pretty much all you wear -- three daily meals, and
a selection of treatments, specifically designed to fit
whichever path you choose.

You can also
select your own treatments à la carte, but as
an urban woman in desperate need of perspective,
I opted for four nights of Spiritual Exploration
and threw myself in the hands of Mii Amo's
well-trained staff. What follows is a travelogue of that
journey, which, for all the luxury, nourishment, and
magnificent scenery that accompanied it, proved most
profound internally.

 

Itinerary:

Sunday 3:30 p.m.
Orientation

4:45 p.m. Aroma
Massage

Monday 9:45 a.m.
Cranial

1:15 p.m. mii amo
spirit

5:30 p.m. Flower
Bath

Tuesday 1:45 p.m.
Tarot Reading

3 p.m. Watsu

Wednesday 7:30
a.m. Hike the Red Rocks

1:45 p.m. Reiki

3 p.m. Harmony

 

Sunday

After a two-hour
drive in 100-degree heat, I’m greeted in Mii
Amo’s driveway by a woman who welcomes me with
a strand of beads made by Hopi Indians -- turquoise
alternating with wood. We take a quick tour of the
facilities, she shows me to my casita, and within moments of
stripping out of my skirt and tank top, I’m
alone in the whirlpool. Similarly, no one is in the
steam room or sauna, where I could have stayed forever. Off
to an aromatherapy massage, in which I keep coming out of a
dream state filled randomly with flashes of people I
haven’t thought of in years. Dinner that night
is a butter lettuce salad and fresh spinach and penne
pasta with shredded parmesan cheese. I keep expecting hordes
of people, but it’s quiet. Walking back to my
room in a light, warm breeze, I finally notice the
stars. When is the last time I saw stars? There’s no
smog here. It’s just black sky and stars. Back in my
room, housekeeping has left a journal on my pillow.
The bed is soft and warm and I’m exhausted. I
fall asleep with the screen door open -- nothing but the
sound of wind. I can relax here. 

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Monday

Wake up at 6 a.m.
and head to Sunrise Yoga thinking I’ll need to step
it up -- it’s been a week since my last
class. But it’s gentle and forgiving, so I let
go of my expectations and self-judgment and just
stretch. Afterward, I head to the Crystal Grotto. I write
the day’s intention (apropos of this
morning’s class, I choose “surrender”)
and drop it into a woven basket before entering the
Grotto. The temperature is cool and the air feels
suddenly crisp. A woman enters and leads a short
meditation before bathing those of us meditating in burning
sage. Off to breakfast outside on the patio -- tofu
scramble with tamari, toast, and coffee -- where I
meet two men who are at the spa with their service
dog, Finney. Water aerobics in the pool behind us seems out
of place somehow. I lose the neck pain that’s
been bothering me for weeks during my cranial
treatment, though I fall asleep through most of it.
After a light lunch, 90 minutes of oils and crystals applied
to each chakra makes up the foundation of the mii amo
spirit massage. As the therapist begins to describe
the essence of each chakra, Technicolor flashes appear
before my closed eyes. No falling asleep in this one! The
flower bath of rose petals and salts is luxurious, though
hardly as illuminating as the mii amo. The thearpist
drops desert larkspur flower essence under my tongue
for “graceful passage” before giving me
Voices of Flowers by Rhonda Pallas Downey so I
can learn how to use flower essences to heal. Dinner with a
new friend, Amy, who tells tales of healing retreats
in Thailand. Tonight on my pillow is a spray for
pillows and linens made from essential oils like ylang
ylang, sweet orange, and lavender.

Tuesday

Start with the
morning with Sunrise Yoga followed by meditation in the
Grotto. Today’s intention: honesty. After a pancake
breakfast I’m off to Tarot Reading, which is
both delightful and depressing. “You need to look
in the periphery for what you seek,” the
reader says to me. “Move the expectations
aside and allow for other possibilities to feed your
hunger.” Is this a translation for
“You’re not going to get what you’re
going for, so change the plan?” The thunderbolt card
bodes well for my career; the dreamer card leads to a
conversation about stress, abundance, and integration.
I pick the conditioning card, which pictures a lion
tethered to a group of lambs. The reader tells me that
the lion has been raised by these lambs and he
doesn’t know how powerful he is until one day
he sees his reflection in a creek. Now he knows, but
he’s chained to the lambs. “I never say
this,” she says slowly. “But I think you need
counseling.” “That’s what my therapist
says,” I answer. But she’s not laughing.
Yikes.

Off to Watsu,
which sounds like something like shiatsu in water. The
therapist is a beautiful silver fox with an accent that
sounds Norwegian. Light rain begins to fall as he
explains that during this treatment “we are
going to be very close. At one point I’ll ask you to
straddle my legs.” How bad can this be? As he
begins moving me around a heated pool -- alternately
stretching and cradling me -- I suddenly realize I’m
back in the womb. It feels like I’m flying.
Suddenly I am nothing but potential. My chakras begin
to illuminate like a light show; pressing the back of
my occipital bones sends a shot of blue light up my neck. As
he spins me in a circle, I see red. Pure joy. As we
finish, he guides me toward the side of the pool. I
stay crouched to keep my shoulders under the water. I
open my eyes slowly, and he’s watching me. Behind him
the red rocks loom, and the sun has begun to peek out
of the clouds. I wish we could start over. I am
transformed. Later that night, Amy says she
hadn’t expected him to be that good-looking.
“A little unnerving,” she says.

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Wednesday

Hiked the red
rocks off campus in the morning, the first time I took my
camera out of its case. Followed the excursion with a vortex
walk, which tried to put a little science in the
theory of concentrated energy bodies. I mostly watched
the wind rustle the leaves on the trees. It’s
beautiful here. A light lunch and on to Reiki, which I slept
through. It’s pretty subtle stuff anyway. Then
Harmony, the signature treatment at Mii Amo. If Watsu
was life-changing, this ought to be downright
metaphysical.

She gives me my
aura color: coral, meaning power, leadership, passion,
protection. Then it begins. This isn’t just body
work. “Life is not your enemy,” she
says. “You are life. You look at a river and think,
I’ll build a canal and show the river where it
should go,
or I’ll build a dam and
stop its flow altogether.
Instead of just
watching. What’s going on there?” I begin
to tell her -- a perfect stranger -- about my childhood and
my fears and my hopes. And she tells me what she sees;
she reads my aura and the energy radiating from my
chakras. This definitely isn’t your average
hot-stone massage -- it’s intuitive therapy. Once the
tears begin, they don’t stop for the remainder
of the 90-minute session. On the way out, my eyes
puffy and nose red, she hands me a piece of paper with
books and CDs I may find interesting when I’m
ready for them. “Go let yourself be
sad,” she says. I walk back to my room and get into
bed. How could this journey have taken such a wrong
turn?

I get up
determined to shake this feeling with a walk along Boynton
Trail. When I return I see Amy, eyes puffy. I think I know
where she’s been.

Thursday

Nothing soothes a
wounded heart quite like a featherbed. I wake up with a
feeling of gratitude. It’s true I hadn’t
anticipated tears on this trip. But now, after a quiet
night of sleep in the high desert, that seems naive.
How could I have said goodbye to an old me without them? I
have been on the best kind of journey -- one that
forces you to reexamine what you think, challenges
what you feel, and leaves you forever changed -- while
being nurtured along the way.