Of all the things I miss most about living in Colorado, even more than those epic days of skiing with friends, is the magical and sacred village of Crestone.
Crestone? Where’s that? Perhaps you already know and if so, you are one of the lucky ones. If not, keep reading because there is a whole new world out your backdoor that you have to discover.
Nestled in the jagged and wild Sangre de Cristo mountains, on the edge of the vast and windy San Luis Valley lies a small old mining town with a population under 1000 people (and many of those are not year-round residents). Perhaps that doesn’t sound so different from other mountain hamlets you’ve driven through, but this is not just a place you drive through. You have to know where you are going to get to Crestone, for there is only a small sign that designates the turn on the single road that passes that way.
Crestone is situated on land that has always been considered sacred to the native tribes of the area. Apparently the whole San Luis Valley was a no-battle zone on which there was a pact that members of any tribe could come to hunt but that all fighting was forbidden. Just south of Crestone are the surreal Great Sand Dunes and Mount Blanca, a 14,000 + foot peak that was sacred to the Navajo.
Today in Crestone and the surrounding area of Baca Grande there are 23 established spiritual centers. From Hindu temples and ashrams, abbeys to dojos, there are Tibetan, Shinto and Zen Buddhists, Sufis, Carmelites, Native American elders, shamans, nuns and priests. There are stupas, prayer-wheels, ziggurats, labyrinths and caves fulls of crystals. In this small and isolated village there are hundreds of gifted and tuned-in healers. There are a number of talented yoga instructors in the area as well, including Annie Pace, who was one of the first women to be certified to teach Ashtanga Yoga by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
I was fortunate enough to discover Crestone when I was a freshman at Colorado College. I was taking a seminar on “Theories and Practices of Nonviolence” and my class was a on a week-long retreat at our school’s Baca campus. Each day we visited with different members of the Crestone spiritual community and one morning we attended puja and arati at the Haidakhandi Universal Ashram.
Sitting there in the Divine Mother Temple I was overwhelmed with awe and longing for the simple beauty, love and devotion of life at the ashram. Over the course of the next 4 years I spent many long weekends and summer weeks visiting the ashram and making friends with so many amazing spiritual seekers living and traveling through the town. Crestone became my haven, a place to which I could escape from my wild life and reconnect with the Divine and reconnect with my Self.
On one of my early visits to Crestone I met a couple who run a massage school called the Crestone Healing Arts Center. I attended one of their amazing Kundalini Yoga retreats and was totally blown away by the teachings of Yogi Bhajan and by this beautiful couple sharing the practice with me. Over time I developed a relationship with these teachers and became a Kundalini Yoga instructor myself.
When I’m in Crestone I feel almost stoned off the high-frequency energy of the place. Like Sedona, Crestone is considered a vortex. Unlike Sedona, there is nothing plastic, touristy or overdone about Crestone. It’s still rough and a bit dirty. I love this about Crestone – it feels like another world in another dimension, but yet it feels more real and authentic than anywhere else I’ve ever been.
The most extended and profound amount of time that I spent in Crestone was in 2010 when I became a student of Dan and Sue Retuta at the Crestone Healing Arts Center.
The program that they run is very unique and intimate because they only accept a maximum of 12 students at a time. It’s a 12 week session and the students all live together at the center, the “dojo”. Undergoing training with Dan is intense and powerful. The aim is not to just leave the school a great massage therapist, but to graduate with a deeper understanding of oneself and a personal experiential understanding of healing.
My fellow classmates and I would often joke that we weren’t really at a “massage school” at all but rather at a Jedi training program. (Crazy stuff happens in Crestone, it’s a place where there are veritably more spirits present than humans!) Every morning before class we would be led in 2 hour of Qi Gong, Tai Chi or Kundalini Yoga. This experience really drilled home for me the necessity of having one’s own dedicated, grounding practice in order to be the most present and virtuous practitioner for one’s clients or students.
At CHAC, I learned how to offer high-quality massage, reflexology, acupressure, Reiki and more. I learned anatomy, herbalism, physiology, 5 element Traditional Chinese Medicine, aromatherapy and more. I attended fire ceremonies, sweat lodges and empowerments with the High Llama of Bhutan on the weekends. I worked hard, slept little and studied and practiced continually. But more than all the book learning and hands-on therapeutic work, I learned about myself.
I learned about the effect my intentions and my thoughts have on my body and psyche. I learned about taking responsibility for my own bullsh*t and thus how to take responsibility for my own healing and personal growth. I learned what it’s like to truly love and be loved by learning how to surrender myself to the flow of Grace. My gratitude for these lessons learned at CHAC is never-ending. To be under the guidance of such a powerful and knowledgeable guide as Dan Retuta was an incredible blessing. It’s not everyday that you find a real teacher who is a master healer willing to share his gifts with others so humbly and with such pure devotion.
I learned more about myself in those 12 weeks at Crestone Healing Arts Center than I did in the 20 years of private-school education and 400+ hours of Yoga Teacher Training combined – and that’s no lie.
And you know why?
I learned how to tell the truth there.
So often it seems like everyone feels that they have to go to India or Peru or Tibet or somewhere exotic in order to be in a sacred place or study with master teachers. I love traveling for sure, and I’m not denying the power of visiting and studying in such places, I just always think it’s important to open our eyes to the teachers and invaluable experiences that are right around the corner.
So before you get your passports out, take a look around you, you will be amazed at the resources available close to home. And if you’re ever in the Rocky Mountains, and the time is right, go experience Crestone for yourself.
You won’t be disappointed.
(All the photos are my personal pictures taken in Crestone)