IN THE BELLY OF THE EARTH

My sister and I decided to move our hangout from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea in the Jordan Rift Valley, a deep fault that stretches out all the way down to Africa, separating the African and Arabic tectonic plates.

Ruth got accommodation in Hotel Daniel, one of an island of hotels in this, the lowest place in the world, and earlier today she drove us down from the Judean Hills, turned right at the Dead Sea and motored along my favorite drive in the world, the Dead Sea on our left, the Judean Hills on our right, past Ein Gedi and Masada till we arrived in the cluster of hotels on the shore of this most salty of seas, almost ten times as salty as the ocean. Here you stay afloat without swimming, in fact without doing anything.

Not doing anything, I believe, is the point. After 35 years of meditation, that’s still not easy for me to do.

“You’re going to blog?” my sister asked, shaking her head before I even responded. In fact, I’m the only one with a computer in the big, broad, upholstered lobby. Everybody else, probably with no or little meditation practice, knows how to do nothing.

I’m looking out the enormous windows at the Dead Sea, flat and a little gray in this hamsin weather, hot, dry winds blowing. A mere 104 degrees outside, going up to 111 on Thursday and Friday. I know, I know, the amount of energy it takes to air-condition these hotels and keep us all comfortable, well-fed, and feeling fine about the world is hard to imagine, comparable, in my limited experience, only to Las Vegas. But no casinos here. Instead we have spas, with warm sulfur water piped from the Sea into indoor pools and mud packs made from the black mud by the beach.

My eyes, however, veer towards the long, narrow road behind the pool and the beach that crosses the Dead Sea and stretches out, I believe, all the way towards Jordan on the other side. Naturally, it’s made of salt, and perhaps at sunset, when it’ll be a mere 95 or so, I will walk alongside the banks of white salt melting into the salty-bitter water, and see how far I can get. Better take a bottle of water.

I have a long history with this place, the bottom of our earth. When you drive down from Jerusalem, big blue signs inform you that you’re now at Sea Level, and the road keeps on going down till it reaches the Dead Sea, over 1,400 feet below sea level. At that point life feels different. It’s too hot to think, dangerous to expend too much energy. It’s a place for mystics and lazy people, hard on hyperactive folks like me..

I know, Jericho and its fallen walls are not too far from here, and Masada, where the Jews lasted for three years besieged by Roman legions, is only 10 minutes away. History happened here, but the place beggars history.

Somewhere in our body (usually the belly) is the place where the moment called Eve and the moment called the world meet with no problems at all, no tension or animosity, just Happy Together as the Monkees sang lifetimes ago. I think of the Dead Sea as that place on the earth’s body.

At 110 degrees you don’t sweat because it’s dry. Your eyes scan for the long-horned ibex climbing the mountains. If your joints hurt or if you have arthritis, the water heals you. Many years ago I spent an entire summer here untangling agricultural fencing, refused to wear a hat, and my hair turned effortlessly blonde.

Maybe later, closer to twilight, I will try to cross the border between two countries locked in conflict for years by walking far enough on a long, narrow bar of salt. No passport or visa needed.