There is an oasis in the middle of the Judean desert called Ein Gedi. Israelis built a kibbutz there many decades ago and transformed it into an internationally recognized botanical garden where the most astonishing species of flowers, coexist alongside the richest varieties of cacti and palm trees. The whole place is a version of the Garden of Eden by the shores of the Dead Sea. It is warm and beautiful, and it is where we spent the last couple of days. We are SO lucky!
Yesterday, we drove fifteen minutes from the kibbutz to ascend King Herod’s desert fortress of Masada. As our little group was climbing up the steep “snake path” I found myself transported 2,000 years earlier, connected to those who made the journey up endless times, bringing to Herod’s palace the finest mosaic pieces, construction supplies, and dozens of amphorae filled with the best Italian wine money could buy. What Herod had built there, in the middle of the unbearably hot desert, is nothing short of a miracle and an incredible feat of human engineering genius. But history only remembers the end results, only celebrates the accomplishments, and rarely accounts for the human cost associated with them. That is because history is of the mind. History is goal oriented, result focused, legacy preoccupied; and all these are the concern of the mind, of the ego. The ego needs to leave behind a physical proof of its existence as a postponement of its death, an extension of its life into eternity. The cost to others, the cost to the biosphere, becomes simply labeled as collateral damage.
The spiritual path represents the very opposite. The spiritual path is concerned with the journey itself and sets no goal, no end point. Spirituality goes up the “snake path” just because it goes up the “snake path,” preoccupied with taking one step at a time, one breath at a time. One on the spiritual path doesn’t care to check how far high the mountain one has already managed to climb or how much is still left. These questions are irrelevant. Taking the next step is all that matters, all that is. If we engage in spirituality because we want to achieve something, our very concern with a specific outcome is what will continue to keep us from experiencing it. Rather than seeking to leave a legacy, one on the spiritual path seeks to leave no footprint behind.
Perhaps traveling through Israel allows for this kind of spiritual connection to take place. Almost every site we visit, every place we travel through, sends us hundreds or thousands of years in the past. We climb Masada and we are transported through time. Imagining King Herod’s laborers walking side by side with us on the “snake path,” we participate in a cosmic dance where past, present and future collapse in the Eternal now. We have no goal but to be present to the experience, looking at the same mosaic than Herod himself looked at; gazing down the fortress at the remnants of the Roman military camps during the last siege of Masada in the year 73, just like our ancestors the Sicari did before being overrun by the then unstoppable power of Rome.
Perhaps the age of military fortresses is coming to an end. I pray that what one is able to witness in the Judean desert by the Dead Sea represents the beginning of a transition in human consciousness; that we—as a human species—are moving away from the ruin of the megalomaniac palace builders and closer to the life-affirming botanical gardens growers, moving away from Masada and toward Kibbutz Ein Gedi. And don’t think that the thought of moving to the Kibbutz didn’t cross our minds either. It is so beautiful here!