It was hard to tell which was brighter at Starr Pass' monthly Full Moon Beer Meditations: the full moon, the saline pool lit up with a rotating selection of soothing colors, or the smiles and personalities of the women in charge, Julie Vernon and Marissa Bernal.
The monthly event has so many features tacked onto it that it's easy to lose track: it's meditation, but you're drinking beer. But you're also doing it underneath the full moon. But you're also doing it in the water (if you want).
Vernon, who leads the meditation, is best-described as a ball of light. If you thank her for something—like smudging you with Palo Santo as you enter the pool area, or for answering a question—she dissolves into a contagious melody of laughter and hand-clasping, and thanks you for letting her smudge you, or for asking a question, or for existing. She tells all of us that we have "radiant imaginations," and makes everyone feel nice.
As Sunny Wilson, who attends the event "religiously" every month, told me from the saline jacuzzi, her beer just an arm's length away, "it's just so peaceful and lovely."
Bernal, the Hashani spa manager at Starr Pass, plays the part of the elegant hostess: she's walking around and checking in with attendees (most of whom she knows by name) to see that everyone is comfortable, to ask about people's days and, of course, to see if anyone needs refills on their beer.
Vernon used to work at Hashani as a massage therapist and yoga and meditation instructor, so she and Bernal have known each other since the spa's pre-opening in 2004. The two friends started brainstorming about putting together a new program earlier this year, and it debuted in March.
"One of the things we knew we wanted to do was bring beer into the meditation and focus on the medicinal and healing aspects of beer," Bernal says. "It's such a cool feeling to see something that we thought of together come to fruition."
Aside from the beer helping to loosen everybody up a little, apparently, meditating with beer is already a common practice, and has been for a long time—monks have been brewing their own beer for centuries. In a way, the fact that beer and meditation don't seem to go together is also part of the point.
"Any aspect of our day can be mindful, even having a beer," Vernon explains.
She makes you think about beer in layers: all of the hops, barley and yeast that went into it, the sunshine that helped it grow, the farmers that harvested it all, the brewers who made it. Of course, that's not such a far-flung subject to think about, considering Vernon co-owns Crooked Tooth Brewing Co. with her husband Ben and their friends JoDee and Armando (Junior) Basurto.
So not only did Vernon have a hand in brewing the beer, but this month's recipe, the Wiracocha, is actually her baby, according to Junior. It's an imperial porter with Palo Santo (a tree native to South America, and the same stuff Vernon smudges guests with when they walk in), and there's notes of vanilla, earthiness and the chocolate milk you used to make on weekend mornings while you sat at the kitchen table with your dad (more on that later).
Wiracocha, she explains, as we all settle in around or in the pool and jacuzzi, is known in some Peruvian cultures as the substance from which all things are created. Or some call it the eighth chakra, which sort of floats around above our heads and connects everything. Vernon points out that the saline in our blood is just like the saline in the pool, and that the groundedness we find in meditation is like the groundedness of the Palo Santo (being a tree, it's good at being grounded," she laughs.)
As I chat with patrons and employees (employees tell me from their pool noodle perches—with equal parts guilt and glee—that, yes, they're on the clock) several tell me that the beer tastes different when reflected on meditatively than it does during the casual pre-meditation drinking.
"It reminded me of my grandparents [during meditation]," said Natalie Ventura, a massage therapist at the spa. "You have a different taste and a different vision than when you first start.... You get a lot of growth from it."
For me, holding the beer in my mouth transported me blissfully back to the kitchen of my childhood home, where I used to watch my glass of milk darken as I stirred in my Nesquick. It was partly the chocolate notes of the beer, but partly, I think, the nostalgia that was dredged up by all of that mindful reflection.
I'm surprised how much drinking liquid during meditation, maybe any liquid, was conducive to the meditation process, at least for me. Vernon tells us to visualize the full moon pouring into our bodies and spreading out from our heart centers to our tummies to the tips of our toes; a cold drink on a warm night helps make the metaphor feel a little more concrete.
Reyes Dorame, a burly tattooed guy in a tank top that says "Spiritual Gangster" is there with his girlfriend, Adriana Figuero, who's an aesthetician at the spa. Oddly enough, it's he, not she, who is into meditation—he's been doing it for about two years. He says the practice has made him a more altruistic and mindful person, and that the setting for the event is a definite bonus.
"It makes the experience a little bit better," he says, "But not as much as the beer."