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A Desert Journey

A Desert Journey


The Mii Amo spa in Sedona, Ariz., is famous for packages designed to lead people through a spiritual as well as physical transformation. One writer relinquishes herself to the journey and recounts her days in one of the world's most beautiful destination resorts.

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 a 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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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