Finding and losing myself in the Negev desert

Exile from Babylon.

Babylon, in biblical imagery, is the city of the abyss, sensual pleasure, appearance, and image. It is a city, an enemy of God and His people. For me, it is Tel Aviv. Where I live, yet, in total opposition with what I truly love. The desert.

I’ll try to “tell” the desert here, but “telling” the desert is telling the ineffective and intimate at both times. It’s like trying to pronounce the unpronounceable. The desert can be described scientifically, geologically. One can describe its flowers, its buds and winds, its dry rats, its tigers and scorpions, its minerals, and hot sun. But the mystical resonance of this place is difficult to describe. You must live in the desert, to fully understand its vertiginous silent experience.

The magic and beauty of the desert appear in its seemingly monotonous landscape. A monotony that highlights the slightest sign of life — a Bedouin, a llama, a tree, a bush, a dwelling that merges with the environment. Some call it a non-place but that would be a mistake. A “non-place” is an airport by excellence, a shopping center, a place that is similar to so many others in the world. The desert is **the **place which does not resemble any other. Hot, brutal, curved, subliminal. The desert is a Spatio-temporal drift, where time and space are one, where time and space don’t really matter.

My history with the desert started when I made my “Aliyah.”

In Hebrew, it is the word used to talk about the fact of moving to Israel for a Jewish person. To “rise” in Israel. I always wanted to connect to the land of my ancestors. My first experience in the Negev, the largest desert region in Southern Israel, was unforgettable. I stopped breathing and I felt connected to this land very strongly: knowing I found my true place, my sacred axis that could reconnect me to spirituality. It appeared to be so much bigger than me, gigantic and it immediately brought me back to my little human condition.

When I was a student in the “Negev Capital,” Beersheva, I decided to take an internship on the campus of Sde Boker, in the middle of the Negev. Not that this internship was actually interesting, but during my lunch break I could at least just sit at Ben Gurion’s Tomb, facing Tzin desert, and cry.

The desert has become my initiatory journey and the source of my endless introspection. I had to get lost, abandon myself to the desert; the final place of perdition to truly get myself back. In the desert, I had to accept to destroy everything I’ve built in order to be reborn like a phoenix, or a Scorpio. It allowed me to be reborn from fresh and pure ashes, devoid of any imprint and influence of a sick society.

I love to be reminded of how little I am. Babylon often plays with my own mirror, and lets me believe that I am “someone,” that I “have.” The desert brings me back to my real place with its aggressive silence, reminding me that I am just some dust in the wind. It is a lesson of humility and respect for nature. The desert is my favorite paradox.

A few years after this experience in Beersheva, I decided I had to leave Babylon to experience something that would change my life. I moved to Mitzpe Ramon, in a magic place called “Hetz BaSheket,” the Silent Arrow, a Bedouin camp that welcomed young travelers looking for a silent and meditative adventure. I was a volunteer there and I lived in a tent, with no electricity, just this thing above my head and some food. It was very lonely, with the exception of Dror, the owner who had built the place with his own hand.

In a way Hetz BaSheket became my exodus, bringing up all the chaos that is in me.

With its arid and icy winds that blew up my face, the dust which choked me. When I was volunteering in Hetz BaSheket, during these three long months, there were three most memorable days. Three days of a sand storm in which I could not breathe, I could not see. I was wearing this old and dusty scarf on my face, protecting my nose and mouth from eating sand. But when this chaos was all over, after the storm, the sun brought total peace.

People often ask me “but what are you going to do in the desert ?”– In the collective imagination, the desert rhymes with boredom, loneliness, extreme cold, or extreme heat. And for those who cannot live with silence, the desert is an entirely too difficult ordeal. They have no idea how this place stimulates my creativity and artistic touch, how it helps me focus when everything else is too messed up. Every time I go back to the desert, I feel like I am recharging the batteries that were emptied in Babylon.

The desert has taught me more than school. It is a school of humility and wisdom. It brings the necessary awareness of the fragility of human existence; a concept often forgotten in Babylon. Spirituality, nature, silence, and absolute calm are the necessary elements to an inner journey, from the darkness of the depth of our thoughts, to solitary and intoxicating daydreams, to the light of a rebirth guided by inner peace and calm.

Be certain that this experience cannot be improvised.

The desert requires a time of adaptation. Three months was enough. This crying silence is not easy to live with for those who cannot bear their own presence.

My first month in Hetz Basheket was all strange and new. I was excited by every new rock I was discovering, just trying to get used to what silence really meant.

The second month was about learning to communicate with the silence and live with it in perfect harmony. The little bluebird is coming to drink some of the water I would prepare at 5 AM. The wind rose up when the sun came down around 5 PM. Silence is so loud in the desert. It makes so many people crazy. Learning how to love yourself is a prerequisite for truly living the desert experience. I was lucky that I always had a good esteem of myself, even if I had so many things to work on.

The last month however was long and challenging. Suddenly questioning: where do I belong? should I return to Babylon or should I stay here? I was tempted to stay in the desert, but I was so afraid to get lost.

Because the desert leaves room for self-abandonment, it can also lead to perdition. There are many people that I have met on my journey who have been damaged by the desert. They have lost all reason, all balance, they have isolated themselves to such an extent that their social relations have become difficult or nonexistent. I remember this old crazy man telling me he had become a “prisoner of Zion”. We are human beings above all, and the social bond is what defines our humanity. It’s an element to never forget while entering the desert because we can all be tempted by this isolation. I have been too.

You can be tempted to believe you are superior — choosing to live far from materiality and social conditioning often leads you to believe that you are better, but you are not.

The desert should be a lesson in humility and tolerance, acceptance. Not the opposite. The people of the desert are the most sensitive humans that I have met. Social relations are forged in the desert without the artifacts of Babylon and the city. Relationships are pure and desert residents are all unique, with a very difficult background most of the time. Choosing to live a life in the desert is to flee the alienation of Babylon.

I finally chose to return to Babylon after three months. But I knew that I should get back to the desert every three months, to remind me all the time of who I am, and how tiny we, humans, are. It is a necessary reminder. Seven years after this experience in Hetz Basheket, I still go every year, a few times a year. I said to Dror back then, that I will never bring any friend or family to this place that was too intimate and secret to me. I told him that, if one day I do bring someone, he will know that this person is the love of my life.

Last year, I celebrated my twenty-ninth birthday. I am a Scorpio, so I hate my birthday and generally do not celebrate it. But this year was different. I decided I would invite all my closest friends to Hetz Basheket. They were all so shocked.

“Are you sure?” they asked.

Because they knew. They all knew what this place meant to me. It was like allowing them into my secret garden, to include them in something that I cherish so much, that I had kept secret and elusive for so many years, and that I had not wanted to share. But this year it felt natural. On the day of my birthday, I was quite stressed. Were they going to be intrusive? Will I regret it? Will they respect my silence? Will they understand? Will they appreciate it as much as I do? Will they be happy?

Spoiler. This day was one of the most magic I could imagine, and definitely the most beautiful birthday of my life. I am so glad I succeeded in sharing this pure love, with the persons I love most, with respect. They were all extremely grateful I shared this special moment with them, in a place I love so much. This birthday, after seven years of going alone to the desert every three months, taught me that this beautiful silence could be shared, and should be.

I am coming back to you soon, my dear desert.

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