Three Days by the Sea
By Miriam Kates Lock
Last year I read "A Year by the Sea" by Joan Anderson. "A Year by the Sea" is an inspiring book about a creative and brave woman who made the decision to spend a year alone in her family cottage in Cape Cod. Joan's two sons were grown; she was in the throes of what is typically known as the "empty nest syndrome". Realizing that she had been neglecting her own personal needs for too long, she surprised both herself and her husband, who had just accepted a job in another city. She decided to take a year off from her marriage, to be with herself and to explore her own potential.
Joan's year alone was a year of self-discovery, a turning point in her life. When she and her husband reunited at the end of the year, they had both grown and changed, which only proved to make their relationship better.
I found Joan Anderson's book absorbing and intriguing. What Joan Anderson did, I have thought many times of doing, in some form or another. This year we had our 29th anniversary. My three children are 25, 22 and 17, certainly not babies. So it was just a matter of gathering up my self-assurance and positive energy and beginning to plan.
Well, I finally did it. I finally went away by all by myself, sans husband and kids; no, not for a year like Joan Anderson (let's not go overboard) but for 3 whole days.
As soon as I was really and truly on my way, all I could think was, "What took me so long?"
Next year I will stay even longer.
If you read popular women's magazines, you will know that you can always find articles about how to spice up your marriage or deepen your relationship. I have read hundreds of articles advising women to plan a romantic get-away with her husband, because that that is, after all what should do the trick. (Some articles advise the man to plan the get-away, but we all know that most men do not read these kinds of articles.) But how many of these articles advise a get-away without him? You know - a get away from him so you can refresh yourself, recharge your batteries, and maybe even make him miss you a little?
It could be a vacation with your sister or your best friend, but I recommend doing it alone.
Being alone is highly underestimated. I do not mean being alone when you wish you could be together. There is a huge difference between alone and lonely, which is not, as a rule, a happy state. I am talking about being alone because you have chosen to be with yourself.
There is a Hasidic practice known as hitbodidut, a form of secluded meditation and prayer. That is what I did on my vacation, in my own way. I totally felt the presence of G-d where I went
..to a classy hotel in Ein Bokek at the Dead Sea.
I did not go camping in the woods or sleep on the seashore in a sleeping bag, but what I did is what I needed to do a delicious combination of being pampered and being alone. The Prima Spa Club was just the answer for me.
The Dead Sea, known for its mineral content and healing qualities, is also the lowest spot on earth, but for me
being there was a real "high".
I had no alarm clock, no calls, and kept my cell-phone off except for the late evening, when I called home to "check in".......I just did whatever I wanted to do, floating in the Dead Sea at eight in the morning, swimming, getting a massage, resting, reading a good book and writing. I called my vacation an "aloneness and writing retreat". It was a much-needed vacation away from everything, including the people I love. My time was totally my own, no demands and two fabulous healthy meals a day, which was more than enough (breakfast at 10:30, ice-cream cone at five, and dinner at eight).
The Dead Sea, in addition to being the Earth's largest natural reservoir of 26 different minerals and trace elements, has a spiritual, meditative quality unlike that of any other body of water in the world. Even the air is different at the Dead Sea. It feels like a whole other world. Although the temperature was more than 40 C. most of the day, the heat is a dry heat and did not bother me like it does at home. While floating on my back in the sea at 8:30 in the morning, I noticed an electronic sign in the distance, announcing the temperature: 36 C. already. I continued to float, closing my eyes and silently meditating. As a wife and mother of three children, busy with work and home and family and all sorts of personal projects, being alone with me is a total novelty. Aloneness feeds my soul.
The stark coffee-colored mountains at the Dead Sea have a unique simple beauty, different from the green beauty of the Galilee hills or those surrounding Jerusalem. These mountains are an empty canvas, one I can paint on. They are the perfect mountains for a pre-Rosh Hashana retreat, a time for pondering my dreams and wishes, and reminding myself all that I have to be thankful for; thinking about what I would like to change or make better in my life.
I went to the Dead Sea at the end of July, and it was the height of the summer. I wasn't at all thinking of my trip as connected to Rosh Hashana. But now that it is Elul and Rosh Hashana is only a short distance away, I realize that for me, the heat of the summer is a prelude to the contemplation of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And so was my retreat to the Dead Sea.
I came home relaxed and happy to see my husband and children. And proud of myself for having accomplished something I had imagined doing for a long time.
Here is a poem I wrote while on my retreat:
a sea of prayer
the dead sea never jumps
with waves like the mediterranean
who plays games with the children
throwing high walls of turquoise
into the sky in a dance
the dead sea though not a dancer
is alive with a beating heart
she breathes and watches
she stands still and waits
for me to approach and
float upon her magic waters
she is teeming with truth
about to be revealed
I move towards her with reverence
for she is a sea of prayer
the setting sun drops
diamonds of light
upon her waters
September 3, 2007
from the August 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine