The Sedona Vedic Astrology Conference (SVAC) is held annually in Arizona, USA and is hosted by Dr Dennis Harness and is supported by top Jyotish astrologers from around the world.
Although I am not a Vedic astrologer, I can’t help but fawn over Dennis: he is not only a brilliant astrologer and a wonderful person but I credit him for helping me overcome my resistance to the sidereal zodiac and its accompanying techniques. I’ll never forget the moment when my astro brother Ian Waisler and I picked up his book in Cape Town and the two of us began hacking away at the meaning of the Nakshatras. I even devised a little mnemonic device to help remember their order.
Dennis also committed to coming to Kolkata in 2018 (he’s coming again in 2020) and was a huge emotional support to a very exhausted me who was struggling to hold things together by the end of a very long week at IVC 2018. Even though Dennis knew I was not a Vedic astrologer, he still invited me to speak at his conference (and even invited me back for 2019!) What can I say? I love this man!
I always promise myself that I won’t get “too personal” in my reviews. But astrology conferences are personal experiences and they just wouldn’t be worth attending if they were any other way. I’m NOT a Vedic astrologer (I’ll say again!) but, as you shall see, that didn’t stop me from learning an awful lot!
So here I go being all “personal” again. . .
If you’re curious about astrology conferences, I’ve written reviews of my favourites!
United Astrology Conference, various locations in the US, every four years in May
Northwest Astrology Conference, Seattle Washington, every year in June
International Society for Astrological Research, various locations in the US, every other year in the autumn
Institute of Vedic Culture (IVC), Kolkata India, 4-9 February 2020
Kepler Institute, Belgrade Serbia, every year in March
Associação Portuguesa de Astrologia, ASPAS, Maia Portugal, 23 and 24 March 2019
Associazione Cultural Jayavidya, Perugia Italy, every year in June
State of the Art Astrology, Buffalo NY every year in October
Astrology Restored, Cape Town, next one in 2020
My lecture schedule for 2019 and beyond is here
SVAC marked the end of a long period of grounding in London (5 months!). It was the longest I had been in one place for some time. Back in June 2018, with those 5 months ahead of me, I could only think it seemed like a very long time until Sedona! But, to my surprise, the time passed very quickly and “grounding” came to mean something completely different to me. I got caught up on a lot of “stuff” as well as made a lot of plans. And of course, consequently filled my schedule for the foreseeable future right up!
So I was a little caught off guard when I realized, in mid November, that the SVAC was coming up way faster than I had thought possible.
“Oh dear Goddess, Alex,” I thought to myself, “Pull your finger out and book those flights!” I was lucky enough to still get a great deal on flights but there had to be a few compromises:
I’ve travelled enough now to trust Jupiter would look out for me. I figured I’d spend the night at O’Hare airport rather than risk getting lost in Chicago in the middle of the night. However, as luck would have it, my friend Dawn offered to meet up for dinner in Chicago and then offered her couch for the night. I could not have thanked Jove enough for all her kindness and hospitality.
There was even a snowstorm! I could almost be back in Michigan (actually I was very close)!
Our mutual connection was Donna Van Toen (who has sadly died since). I’m so glad Dawn and I were able to honour Donna by toasting to her. I think we were both shocked Donna left us so soon afterwards.
Of course, being jet lagged, I went to bed at about 8:30pm and woke up at 3am. I figured I should start tackling some data so hit the laptop and did quite a lot of work before heading to the airport.
I still had no idea how the hell I was going to get from Phoenix to Sedona.
Again, fortunately divine intervention came in the form of a different Dennis who would land a few hours after me and was going to be renting a car.
“So what kind of music do you like?” Dennis asked as we settled in the rented car for the drive to Sedona.
“Oh. . .jazz and R and B. . .” I hate putting my musical tastes in a box as much as I hate putting my astrological tastes in one.
Fortunately, Dennis paid absolutely no mind to my preferences and turned on some trance music.
“Gosh, that’s different,” I thought to myself. It would be the theme for the weekend.
And it was best bloody car ride of my life! It was snowing lightly and beyond the headlights, we could almost make out the big rocks of Sedona.
But that could have been my imagination!
We arrived at the Poco Diablo Resort some time near 3am and I felt dreadful that I would have to wake up my roommates Laura and Carlton. To my surprise, they were wide-awake and up for a gab.
The last time I had spent significant time with Laura was back in India. A lot had happened since then and let’s just say we had a lot to talk about!
In the morning, I headed out in my workout clothes to see who else was up. The first people I meet? David and Fei Cochrane!! Of course we had much to catch up on.
After exercising my jaw, it was time to check out the gym and to see what was around us. Just beyond the pool was a wonderful view of Bell Rock. After pounding it out on the treadmill, I went to the showers and used what had to be the best smelling shampoo and shower gel ever (the perks of staying in 5 star resort!). Then I borrowed one of the hotel’s fluffy robes and made my way to the Jacuzzi.
I love jacuzzis. I especially love outdoor jacuzzis in cold weather. There’s just something special about being almost completely submerged in hot water yet still breathing in cold air. The last time I was in an outdoor jacuzzi in cold weather must have been when I was living in Michigan, some 30 years before. I should have known this latest sojourn into a jacuzzi would be a part of an unintentional cleansing ritual.
After the gym, the shower, the session in the Jacuzzi, a good swim and another shower, I was just drying my hair when the roomies said they were headed to town for some lunch and would I like a lift.
After getting the best flight deals, rule number one to keeping conference expenses to a minimum is to always try to find a roommate.
Rule number two is to avoid hotel food/drink where you can and in particular, avoid buffets (shudder). Don’t get me started on the price of drinks in hotels! Rip-off!!
So what can I say? Me and the roomies stocked up during our excursion and saved a bundle of money.
Rule number three and the most important: share everything. This also applies not only to the goodies procured from the shopping excursion but to affairs of the heart and then some. Laura and I confided a lot to each other, made plans for the future and healed a lot of hurt from the past (I was still stinging a bit from IVC 2018). By the end of the conference, we would be firm good friends.
When I hear of “Native American Ceremonies” (insert tribe), my heart always sinks. Being Ojibwa, I know very well the controversies that come when sharing culture with “outsiders”. In my own tribe, my ancestors had the Ojibwa culture beaten right out of them so there’s a natural wariness of outsiders. I don’t think hooting over getting White Man’s money at the end of an evening at the casino makes up for anything even though it’s kinda funny on the surface.
So I wasn’t sure how to feel about a Hopi ceremony at an astrology conference.
Nevertheless, as luck would again have it, I found myself pretty much with an unobstructed view for the opening ceremony. I had even offered my seat to people arriving after me but no one wanted it.
It was as if the gods wanted me to see something.
At the speaker’s request, I won’t give too many details about what was said or done in the ceremony. I will say this lost Ojibwa girl opened her heart and received some powerful ancestral blessings.
Back in India, when I received the honourary PhD, I found myself unable to speak. I felt like an idiot but there, in the audience, were my two deceased grandmothers both looking at me as if they had something to say. I’ve been an astrologer for so long, I really don’t worry about looking like a nutcase in front of non astrologers but when astrologers look at me like I’ve lost my mind, it’s something different.
There was a message I was supposed to understand—and somehow these events were connected but I couldn’t work out how.
I met up with my buddy Naomi after the Hopi ceremony. Naomi and had met for the first time at ISAR 2014. I stayed with her in Texas a few weeks later, met again a few months later in Kolkata 2015, later in 2015 in London and yet again in Cape Town later that year. Besides Nick and Ana, she is my only 4-continent buddy.
So of course, we had to have dinner together.
I was feeling a little fragile after the ceremony but seeing Naomi again eased my troubled mind—until we were presented with the food menu.
American menus, like grocery stores, always make me feel a little overwhelmed. Decisions, decisions, decisions. . .
Clam Chowder! I tried to remember the last time I had decent clam chowder (American food SUCKS in England).
With a piping hot bowl of chowder in front of me, I could finally focus on Naomi’s news. Strange how a few years between visits seems like no time at all. It was great to see her again.
I was on to lecture first thing on Saturday morning and needed to go over my lecture one last time before going to bed. We’d catch up more later.
Did I deliver a kick ass lecture? Oh yes I did!
After my lecture, Naomi and I went exploring through the hills of Sedona.
“Watch out for the rattlesnakes!” I called to Naomi as we hiked over rough terrain. The last time I was in Sedona (in September 2014), this was an important piece of information. I actually thought I might be being helpful.
“Alex,” she said, “The snakes have gone back to their caves by this time of year.”
“Oh,” I said, like I saw rattlesnakes every day. “I knew that.”
We saw some simply stunning scenery and again ate food like you can’t get in England. We also went to the banks of the river and performed our own little ceremony. During Laura Harness’ talk (which was the same time as mine so I didn’t get a chance to see it), Naomi picked up some great tips for exploring the area and she did her best to pass on the information to me. Apparently, on the bank of the river, you’re meant to take a rock, give the rock the resentments you’ve been harbouring and then throw it over your shoulder into the river.
Let’s just say I let a few things go.
Sunday morning came and it was time to say goodbye to my roommates Laura and Carlton. I really felt as if we had bonded and already I was looking forward to seeing them in September 2019 when I would be speaking for Laura’s group in LA.
After a few more lectures, Naomi called me for lunch.
“Tell me Alex,” she said over tacos, “How’s the teaching really going?”
I don’t know, maybe I had previously bitched too much to Naomi about my teaching career as it stood a few years ago. She seemed to expect me to say it was awful and I couldn’t wait to retire. I told her how happy I was, how I was where I liked it to be and how much more in control I felt. Naomi beamed at me.
The friend who celebrates your successes with you is a true friend indeed.
On Sunday evening, Komilla Sutton and a group of her students were waiting for me to join them for dinner. Naomi had a previously arranged meet up so I had been at a bit of a loose end.
Like Naomi, Komilla is someone I see everywhere. The first time I met Komilla was back around 2004 at an astrology conference. I was a scholarship winner and it was my first conference. I had seen Komilla for the first time from far off: she had been wearing an all white shalwar kameez and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she came closer and closer until she was standing right in front of me. Until that moment, she was probably the most exotic woman I had ever met. And she was selling raffle tickets. Entranced, I automatically bought several tickets and was uncharacteristically speechless as she chatted to people nearby.
“Stop staring!” someone had scolded me. But I couldn’t help it. There was a meaning in it but of course, at that time, I had no idea of the connections I would eventually make to India.
And I ended up winning first prize for that raffle!
At the restaurant table, I was still trying to make sense of what that Hopi ceremony was trying to tell me. Talk swung around to education and I mentioned that I was the last in my first grade classroom to read but by the time I had finished high school, I had read every single classic on the school library’s shelf. I spoke of the difficulty in being caught between cultures and how one side of my family valued the written word whilst the other side didn’t.
Things were starting to swish around inside my head.
I mentioned that neither of my parents had finished high school so it was some irony that I had found my way out of the small town I was raised in and consequently out of that small town mindset and into . . . something else.
As I listened to my new friends speak about their Vedic adventures, I began to feel like I didn’t have an education at all. I was going to have to do something about that.
The etymology of the word “read” is a fascinating one. The meaning is related to the word “riddle” in some languages. Like a code. And not unlike astrology. Astrologers read charts, right? And do we all agree?
When I was a kid pretending I didn’t care that my first grade teacher was popping veins and screaming that those symbols meant something, reading was something I wasn’t sure I needed. Did the symbols have to mean what everyone else said they should mean? I remember thinking that learning to read would mean giving up on something else. I didn’t know what that “something else” would have been but I was thinking I was getting it as I dined with my Vedic friends.
Who the hell can tell me what those astrological symbols mean with the confidence my first grade teacher had? Well, it seems to me, a lot of astrologers feel perfectly comfortable not only telling someone what to see and how to say it but what to do with it too. In fact, I took an awful lot of exams just to prove I could read the astrological symbols like my astrology teachers.
But watching my first grade teacher all those years ago, I realized that if I wanted to be a teacher too (my mother still has the evidence: that same year, I had declared—in writing—that I wanted to be a teacher), I was going to have to get with it. The rest, as they say, is history. I learned how to read. And of course, I became an astrologer too.
Komilla and I made plans to meet up in London for a different Vedic astrology conference and then in San Francisco later this year. It’s very difficult to convey how I want to look at astrology from a different perspective. I can only see I feel it within. And that it feels right.
My life appears to be marked by interrupted messages. I had no idea what to do with my reflections on reading. I had no idea what my grandmothers wanted in India but I was soon going to get the meaning of the message.
After I had packed and was waiting in the lobby to leave, I suddenly again felt the grounding I had felt during the Hopi ceremony: the completely unshakeable feeling that I was of the earth. It didn’t matter where I came from, what I called home or where I thought I was visiting or what I had learned. My body was of the earth and would return to the earth and wherever I thought I belonged did not matter one little bit.
The rest of the message came very gradually and only after listening to a few lectures. I was starting to understand more about Vedic astrology. It seems to me so far it’s a bit like learning French or any other language. I now understand I spend far too much time looking for proof and not enough time feeling it.
I am immensely impressed by Vedic astrologers’ devotion to astrology. Theirs is a whole body approach to the universe so lacking in Western practice. They feel it and they live astrology.
“We take the wisdom from the stars,” my new friend Matteo told me as I was getting ready to leave Sedona. He gestured as if taking something from the sky and putting it into his heart. I was profoundly moved.
Yeah, I thought. Too bloody right. It was time to up my astrological game. I’ll be delving into Nakshatras, yoga, mantras and more in 2019. I can’t wait to be more involved with SVAC.
My grandmothers were telling me in India that there is more than one side to anything in this world. To understand one side is not to be at war with the other. The half breed in me should have known this all along.
People sometimes ask me if I ever get tired of astrology conferences. I can honestly say I don’t.