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Day 1 and Arrival: the magic of excitement

Categories: Midd Blogosphere
Hebron

A beautiful window of a building in Hebron

I arrived at the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport in Israel at 00.15 on the 23rd of May after what I know was the longest and most stressful travel experience I’ve ever had. It all started in New York as I was told I can not board my flight to Moscow as my flight to Tel Aviv would depart from an airport different from the one I would land at and I did not have a Russian visa to be able to travel between the two. After much stress and some tears, I paid an extra fee and got a ticket for another flight from Moscow to Tel Aviv. My first flight of at least 10 hours went by in sleeping and reading books. The Russian carrier Transaereo did not bother to entertain us which was rather unfortunate as I had another 14 hours to spend at the Moscow airport and yet nothing once I read the two books I had on the plane.

A view from Al Khalil/ Hebron

A view from Al Khalil/ Hebron

I felt very anxious all through my flight to Tel Aviv. As I got of the plane I joined the longest cue I’ve seen at an airport and waited. Everyone showed their documents, answered a few questions and went through. Once it was my turn, I passed my passport. I was asked about my father’s and my grandfather’s names and was immediately addressed to a nearby room where I had to go to be questioned. In fact, apart from the anxiety of not knowing whether you’ll be let in the country or not, the process was not as scary and dramatic as I had it described by others or imagined it. The Israeli staff was quite understanding and friendly. I still had to wait two hours to get my passport, though.

I managed to call my friend Gal who had told me he was going to pick me up from the airport and was readily going to wait for him to come in the next couple of hours. Instead, just five minutes later he showed up and surprised me saying he had been waiting for hours for me to arrive and had even called the emigration office to ask whether they had me! :)

In the morning Gal and his mom left me at the Tel Aviv’s bus station and went to a wedding. As my two miserable suitcases were all broken, I was struggling to make it to the other side of the street but a dark-haired girl helped me carry one. As we talked I was very self-conscious about saying I was half-Palestinian and that I was going to the West Bank as I had no idea if she was an Arab or an Israeli or if it mattered at all. Her name was Nour.

Checkpoint at Hebron nearby the infamous Hebron Mosque

Checkpoint at Hebron nearby the infamous Hebron Mosque

As I got off at Jerusalem I went ahead to get the last bus to Hebron for the day. A cute Boston University rugby guy called Tony helped me with my suitcase and I waited for the Israeli bus to Al Khalil (this is the Arabic name of Hebron).  I wanted to go to the bathroom but I couldn’t leave my suitcases as Nour had told me I should not leave my luggage unattended even for a minute unless I want to get myself into a lot of trouble. In the meantime, another Arab girl asked me to look after her bags which I agreed to do. As she took a while, I grew anxious… She came back soon, but I couldn’t help but acknowledge how all of that was making me feel even after being in the country for just a couple of hours! Since both Israeli and Arabs helped me and welcomed me I felt It was important to yet again remind myself to not project anything to people and simply see them as individuals and not in their stereotypical roles of “oppressors”, “victims”, “terrorists”…

DSCF9044|My colleague Anas from the Hebron Youth Development Resource Center where I’ll be working in the next two months came to pick me up and drove me to the organization’s premises nearby the Northern entrance of the city. I learned from him that some relatives of mine on my father’s side had called him to tell him to “take care of me”. It was clear to me my mom wouldn’t do it as she knows very well how I detest any form of patronizing. I got somewhat mad that someone is giving their permission to someone else to patronize ME, which I will not allow, especially if it exhibits itself in ways that are limiting to my free actions and unrespectful of my free judgement.

Soon after I had arrived, Anas and his friend Muotaz, the other intern- Marin and I went to Betlehem for dinner.

I was suddenly overcome by so much joy and excitement, we frequently stopped the car to just gaze and take photos! I haven’t laughed so badly in months: I was telling Anas he’s giving me stomachache out of laughter!

DSCF9052

Sunset nearby Betlehem

I had forgotten to awe at the new things I see. To be grateful. To be trully excited even if it is annoying for the people around me (Anas and Moutaz were making fun of me for being so excitable. Someone else recently told me he has traveled so much now, there is nothing to be excited about anymore. I think I felt this for a while, too). I think you need a certain sense of comfort and ease, and peace of mind to be able to exercise your excitement.

Excitement, however, is for me one of the most crucial qualities of being alive.

This is sooooo cooool!

This is sooooo cooool!


Inside

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Maggie NazerAs I was growing up people were continuously telling me I thought too much. “Is it I who thinks too much or is it that others think too little?”- I frequently asked myself and chose to view it as a sign for supremacy. My ideas encapsulated me. My excitement to create and love made my thoughts spiral endlessly in the silence of the late night’s darkness. I burned in flames every night trying to put myself to sleep.  In times of pain I drowned in my mind’s ceaseless stream of chattering and the more I fought the voice inside of me, the stronger it grew. I lied in my bed sweating, excruciated by the dominance of my mind over me.

At the age of 18 I started practicing meditation. Or at least I got the intention to do so. A website miraculously found online aspired to teach me how to quiet my mind and offered me to travel to Thailand and partake in a meditation retreat with the same objective. Unsure of the possibility of taming my mind, I let my adventurous Self prevail over my doubtfulness and decided to give it a try.

Listening to the guided meditations offered by Thai Buddhist monks through the online platform, called Peace Revolution, I copied their posture, closed my eyes and waited for the miracle to happen.  And, indeed, as I purposefully closed my eyes, some quiet joy entered my body and made it soften. The first couple of minutes were always excitingly pleasing, but I could hardly go any further. Soon my mind would once again get flooded by thoughts: unexpected, unwanted guests who came with the promise to stay for a while, yet refused to leave… As if stabbed with knives, my back hurt because of the posture and I had to move…  The short, yet draining battle with my mind left me even more agitated and I inwardly counted the time left before the end of the meditation, unable to focus or relax.

But while meditation itself brought me on the verge of pain, my practice of mindfulness which I viewed as “meditation in action” was thriving. I had long ago held interest in exercising consciousness and learning to be present through various exercises. Leaving home for school in the mornings, for instance, I tried to stay away from daydreaming by picking up a color and counting how many people I would see wearing clothes in this color throughout the day.  Moreover, Peace Revolution posed daily questions challenging me to become more mindful of the ways many aspects of my day-to-day life such as clothing, eating habits, quality of social interactions benefit or harm myself and others. Slowly, my restlessness started peeling off as I learned to slow down and breathe.

Maggie Nazer with peace RevolutionA couple of months later I flew to Thailand for Peace revolution’s Peace fellowship/meditation retreat. The remote island Ko Yao Noi welcomed 20 of us, young people from around the world excited to follow the ancient “Know Thyself” and embark on a 2-week-journey in stillness. A journey within. Building on the premise that words are not the only way we can communicate and create connectedness, the first day started with a variety of games we played in groups to explore alternative ways of communication. The daily program of the retreat included five 1-hour-guided meditation sessions, conversations with the Buddhist monks, yoga and service. While rather symbolic, our service duties including sweeping of the floors in the meditation rooms let us observe how mindfulness transforms even the smallest “least meaningful” everyday actions into opportunities to enjoy being present and create peace and love through care. The jungle and the palms, forming a tunnel we walked into to reach the small hubs that accommodated us, and which palms I reasonably feared for they were the natural habitat of some of the many kinds of poisonous snakes living in Thailand, made mindfulness a matter of life and death.

In a couple of days I transformed into a sponge- observing and absorbing everything that was within and outside of me, I felt the abundance of live being revealed in everything around me. The need to talk gradually became less and less obvious; I felt my whole being was now illuminating love and light. Despite I strived in any other aspect, my meditations were just as difficult as when I was practicing back home. Reading about meditation and talking about it with people for months had given birth to many expectations and I was subconsciously putting lots of pressure on myself. Yet, I kept on trying.

It was yet another humid afternoon and the island had fallen into silence, exhausted by the heat. We had all gathered for our afternoon meditation and LP John was ready to start his guidance. It all started as it always did: letting go of all tension in the body, greeting the present moment and trying to stay with it, to be with it… I told myself I had nothing to lose, I had nothing to achieve or prove, or aim for. When thoughts arose and started pulling me towards one or another direction, I came back to my center which interestingly didn’t reside in the lower part of my stomach, but pulsated from between my eyes. With my thoughts settled, I stayed still, almost breathless and felt the expansion of the mind, its unfolding and attempting to embrace my whole being full of fears, insecurities, and judgment, and with it- even the whole world. On the bottom of it all rested love waiting to be awakened…

By the time the session finished I felt reluctant to open my eyes. Time had forgotten its existence and I was now floating in a state of bliss I hadn’t known before. As the monk was getting ready to start his presentation on certain aspects of Buddhism and the life of the Buddha, I slowly opened my eyes. Sitting in the lotus position without making a single adjustment, I listened to my teacher attentively, my mind being more awakened than ever.

Maggie Nazer meditatingThere was no judgment, no doubt. Just deep, uninterrupted acceptance and resonance with the environment.

The feeling stayed with me for the rest of the night and then slowly departed me in my sleep.

The long trip I have embarked on brought me the furthest I had gone- home. Inside.


Metta Orientation

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Amidst all the confusion and exhaustion of Orientation our Middview trips made it possible for us to run away from shaking hands and urging to remember as many names as possible. This was an opportunity to ground yourself, reflect on what being yourself at this new place would be like and in the same time- spend time and get truly close to a small group of wonderful people.

Meditation, yoga, camp fire, marshmallows, sleeping in yurds, making a compost, picking herbs and veggies, sharing fears, sharing most personal stories all contributed to the magical experience we created during our long weekend at the Metta Earth Institute in Vermont. See the photos and feel the positive vibes!

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The road less travelled

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Although being completely flexible in my travel plans and adding more to my itinerary as the minutes pass, I had no doubt I wanted to do the Camino de Santiago- the medieval pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostella, where St James is believed to be buried.

In the end it all started insanely- it was a Friday afternoon when I learnt that my boss doesn’t need me for the next week. In two hours I managed to find an internet club (I had no phone, no camera or laptop!), call a couchsurfer in Leon who promised to give me his bike so that I could do the camino, get to the house of my current couchsurfer, get just a little bit of luggage and then leave for Leon.

966218_10201192897295529_1302176923_oCamino de Santiago is a great metaphor for Life, itself. You walk it alone, yet the people around you are your most valuable resource- people always help each other out, recharge each other’s energy and courage. You are more mindful, more present, more thankful. Despite I had no raincoat, no mountain equipment, no previous experience in mountain biking, no idea I had to cross mountains, no expectation it could snow in May, I did reach Santiago. With my own tempo and with my own lessons to learn. Going beyond my own stereotypes for myself and how far I could get.

♥Maggie Nazer is a social entrepreneur, activist, blogger and current Middlebury college student.