Do you ever feel like there is a cage around you? Like you can carry it around but sometimes it gets heavy and tires you down. Perhaps it restrains you from moving in a comfortable way or running to what you really desire. I hadn’t really thought of myself in a cage at all before going to Zorba, a Festival in an Ashram in the Negev. I was unaware of this weight and constraint. Unaware of the energy I was wasting on thoughts and worries and food that are toxic to my being.
The music was pounding and my heart beat was in sync as my arms flowed freely and I felt my feet discover new bumps on the desert ground. I was blindfolded from seeing the outside world and forced only to look inside. To feel the music pulsing through my body, to feel the tension of being nervous and shy, to feel my muscles tense when I felt maybe I would bump someone. I looked deep inside myself as if my thoughts were separate from my rhythmic body movements. That is when I felt it, I swear I could even see it. My cage was opened and my body and mind were free and relaxed. Tension turned into excitement. Stiff calculated movements flowed as if I had been moving this way since birth. We did this dance practice for an hour. During that hour of dancing in the dark I dug deep and felt completely open to my emotions, good and bad as they rushed around. After the music stopped and we laid on our backs looking towards the sky I felt freer than I have ever felt. I felt connected and light. This was the true start of my spiritual high at Zorba.
Let me rewind a bit. Zorba is a festival that is held twice a year. The Ashram Bmidbar (In the Negev) also has other weekend workshops. Naomi Zaslow and I had heard from students last year how amazing the festival was so we excitedly signed up to go over Sukkot. The ride down rt 90 along the Dead Sea was breath taking. We arrived at the Festival set up our tents and went to explore.
Laura (L) and Naomi (R) at Zorba.
The grounds consist of a multitude of tents which they call “Olamim,” worlds. There is a Yoga world, a rebirthing world, a Buddah stage, a healthy eating world, a mystical world and many more. All throughout the day and night you are free to decide which lessons to attend. I was lucky enough to attend two amazing sessions at the healthy eating tent where I took lessons on the benefits of adding more raw food to your diet as well as having a love relationship with your hunger and food. I also took a few free dancing and meditation sessions as I described in the beginning. These were probably the most impactful because the was no real language barrier with dancing and I was able to just let go and feel uninhibited in front of strangers. It was in the dance sessions and the chakra breathing that I discovered what it means to be spiritually high. Our body and mind does not need any substance to feel incredibly good and free. After some of these sessions I felt such intense changes of being recharged spiritually and energetically. I think it is sad that our society runs so fast to using substances to achieve this feeling when there are natural and healthy ways to achieve it.
Lately I have been struggling with the intense sadness of loss because of the passing of my Uncle. It has been physically painful for me to recite the mourners Kaddish with meaning. Sometimes I feel like it comes out robotically and on these days I am grateful because I didn’t have to feel. During a music meditation I had a breakthrough with the mourners Kaddish and tefillah in general. I was standing eyes closed breathing to the music when I had the urged to recite Mincha. Under my breath I went through the service as best as my memory served me. Pausing from traditional text in my head and switching to personal prayer with ease. I was so grateful of the baby steps I have been taking to make prayer meaningful so I would be able to experience such a reward. I came to the time where I would be saying Kaddish in a minyan. A release shot throughout my body as tears rolled down my face and I recited word by word with each breath the mourners Kaddish. Though I was only whispering and no one was answering me I felt as though I was in the presence of a minyan that was also connected to themselves and G-d. I felt the pain more intensely and real than I had expected. When I finished I was out of breath and my body felt like it had run a marathon. I laid on the ground and felt my heart beat against the ground, as it soothed me into a meditative state.
On Shabbat I felt so connected to myself and to Israel. Naomi and I sat in front of our tent dressed in white flowy dresses and lit Shabbat candles that we placed in the center of a rock heart pattern. As people passed, some completely unaware that Shabbat was upon us, we wished them a Shabbat Shalom. There warm smiles and returned wishes were beautiful. The majority of people at the festival were very secular Israelis, but we were all still Jews with a spiritual connection to something. Some people gathered together to make Kiddush and we swayed to drum beats of Shabbat zmirrot. That night I layed out in the desert and stared at the expansive sky. I felt like I was lying amongst my ancestors who wandered the Negev during Biblical times. It was almost like that part in the Lion King when Musafa tells Simba that they can see their ancestors in the stars if they just look hard enough. I felt that laying there open to feeling the energy of the ground I was able to connect with generations of Israelites.
I have so much more I would like to share about this amazing experience. If anyone is interesting in going I would love to talk to you. I see though that recharges like this festival are needed in our busy lives. This was an extreme example, camping for three days at an ashram. In smaller doses though I think even going alone to the park and sitting with yourself and your thoughts can give you the recharge we need in our lives. I hope to take the idea of balance, openness and energy from my experience at Zorba.
I hope everyone had a very Happy Sukkot vacation and I look forward to dancing forward in life with you all.