In the desert

It’s sunny every day here. In the Netherlands I check the weather report all the time, weather changes from day to day, from morning to evening, sometimes from hour to hour, varying in temperature, rain or sunshine. In Neot Semadar, in the desert, the sun shines and the skies are blue every day, and the temperature gets to about 25 degrees in the shade.

It stands out to me that some of the people are wearing scarves and long sleeves. I guess for them it’s cool now, compared to the heat of the summer months. Funny how their winter days are hotter than our hottest summer days. Everything is relative.

This has been one of the recurring themes since I’m here, that everything is relative.

On my third or fourth day I found it absolutely unacceptable and unbearable that, just as everyone else, I also need to wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. – six days a week, and work eight to ten hours every day. Saturday is the only free day. I felt revolted and seriously considered asking for a couple of mornings off, if not for a full day. Now, a week later, I find it doable. As I said earlier to a friend, “I made my peace with the fucking schedule”.

I find it difficult to be here. The schedule leaves not much time and not much energy for yourself. Everyone works really, really, really, really hard. Last week I seriously considered leaving and started looking for other options of volunteering in Israel. But then I noticed the people I was working with that day – their eyes were shining, they were friendly, warm and kind. They had an inner calm that I so, so longed for.

Neot Semadar was founded as a school for those that want to learn about themselves. So called “conditions” are put on life, limits, edges, things that will squeeze you and make you uncomfortable and then you can learn about yourself. Because you can only learn about your edges by touching them. Some questions that I have asked myself so far: Could I feel free despite this draconic schedule? Is it possible to feel happy regardless of my circumstances? What actually causes my feeling bad – is it what I have to do (the outside) or is it something in me?Ā  Reflecting is much encouraged here, in this school of the self. The invitation is to say yes, to let go, to be flexible, to look at yourself, to push your limits, to stay mindful. Every day around noon work-teams have a longer break of about 30 minutes when they sit together and share, reflecting on whatever is alive, either situations that arose during work or more personal issues. Work-teams also sometimes choose a week-long focus (for example, the focus of the kitchen team this week is being warm, welcoming hosts and being mindful of the difference between meaningful conversation and unnecessary chatter).

So far my time here has been a roller coaster, a constant alternation between the ups – nice days, nice moments of meeting lovely people, of feeling relaxed and calm, of enjoying the sunshine, the dates, the amazing landscape (I am, after all, in a lush, abundant oasis in the middle of the desert), the swimming in the lake, the picking olives and the general peace and quiet which comes with a place like this (which is also starting to reflect in myself) – and the downs, intense feelings of frustration, loneliness (sometimes people speak in Hebrew and don’t translate, which can feel quite isolating), tiredness, annoyance, wishing to go away, criticising this place, criticising myself, eating all the chocolate I brought with me (only two bars, luckily and sadly at the same time šŸ™‚ ) in an attempt to gain some extra energy and/or some emotional comfort.

I do feel that I’m learning. I do feel that something in me is relaxing and healing.

I think it would be easier to accept the ‘conditions’Ā  if this was called an ashram and the work was called karma yoga- because that’s really what it is.

So Iā€™m willing to give it a try for these two months. I am already surprised to see that I have surrendered to this crazy schedule which now seems normal, that I have started to enjoy my days and that I even have some extra energy in my free time.


  1. laura says:

    It is indeed, I realised it as well after a couple of weeks, that time is just a convention and technically we are just waking up a little bit before sunrise (which makes a lot of sense) and calling it 5:30 a.m., while we could also call it 7 a.m. or 11 a.m. or whatever else šŸ™‚

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