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Issue: April Newsletter
At Home in the Desert

By Rob Porteous
One day, when I was 13 and living in Israel, my Uncle Emil took my mum and me on a trip into the desert. We set out from the dusty, sandy little town of Beesheva (which means, my uncle explained, ‘seven wells’) into a harsh landscape of hills and canyons – bare yellow rock sparsely dotted with a low, spiny desert bush. The surface of the ground was like rough sandpaper. Dry watercourses tumbled into valleys and rose again in sharp ridges. It was a day, as I recall, of khamsin, the hot wind from the south that stifles the air.

Immediately in this landscape I felt at home. I couldn’t have told you why, but something in my heart resonated with the bare hills around me. It was as if I’d lived in this world all my life without knowing it.

Eight years later, when I was volunteering at kibbitz Ga’aton in northern Israel after I left university, I accompanied a friend, who was returning to South Africa, on a bus journey to Eilat. In the middle of the desert, in a place I didn’t know existed, suddenly there were people outside the bus and a few huts. This was Mitzpeh Ramon. I wondered how on earth people could live in such a remote place, with no more than two or three buses a week to connect them to the world beyond the desert. Then the bus made the long descent into the makhtesh ha gadol, the big canyon. It was as if we had dropped through the rough surface of life into a deeper level of being.

When I went back to Mitzpeh Ramon last year for Ya’Acov’s workshop, I found a complete town, with a bank and supermarket, a synagogue, street lights and stray cats. It was odd, like something out of a dream. The town had completely changed, but the desert remained the same, uncompromisingly itself.

This year, again, I went back to delve into The Alchemist’s Garden through the chambers of the heart. In one of the hangars of the spice quarter, that was once the ‘industrial zone’, we danced on Friday evening deep into the night. Outside a fierce wind blew; inside a wood burning stove kept us warm, plus the heat of more than eighty bodies dancing together. It was, for me, a wonderful experience of dropping deep into the heart.

A few years ago I would have said I don’t get on with ritual, just as a few years before that I would have said I don’t know how to dance. Now I know that when we dive into ceremony I really feel at home. My heart was open. In the round where we danced the relationship with self I felt incredible fear; when we danced with community as our focus, I experienced great sadness, followed by a fierce anger that flowed out of me into movement. The following morning, in our final dance together, I felt huge joy.

There’s still a part of me that wants to be rescued in the difficult places; but I am learning that if I simply stay with what is and let it move through me, it will change. I can hold myself in the place of fear, now, and keep myself safe.

There’s also a part of me that thinks I should be better at small talk, the casual chatter of the every-day. But I know my heart is in the deep place where I can meet another face to face in the reality of what is, without disguise. It’s at the heart of the work I do as a counsellor. It’s at the heart of who I am.

On the Saturday morning after the ceremony it rained. It was amazing to see the road streaming with water; an image, perhaps, of how healing can come even in the harshest environment.

This poem, that I wrote around the time of the workshop, expresses something of that energy.


The Wound that Becomes a Gift

The wound that is just a wound is a place

to which I unconsciously return, time

after time.- blindly- without knowing why.

In a chaotic, jumbled amalgam

of events and choices, I find myself

repeatedly back on familiar ground,

bewildered by the pain, the dread, the hate.

The wound that becomes a gift is a grace

I consciously begin to know; a rhyme

and reason of my life, a melody,

a rhythm that expresses who I am.

For in the dark place where I lose myself

I hear the faint reverberating sound

of love that nourishes each earthly state.



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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www. schoolofmovementmedicine.com