Four and a half years ago, I was gearing up for my favorite kind of adventure — a long distance hike across Israel with my buddy Keith and our mentor Oshik, a man roughly 20 years our senior, who once lived alone in the Carmel forest for six months and made fire with sticks as if they were blow torches.
This particular four-day hike, the Yam le Yam (Sea to Sea) trail, started on the Mediterranean Sea north of Tel Aviv, cut through the gorgeous Galil region and ended at the Sea of Galilee, the very water walked on by Jesus. We parked our car near the trailhead, unloaded our 60-gallon hiking packs, and found a nice place to sit down and eat breakfast before commencing our journey together. Oshik had been teaching us how to make fire using traditional methods (bow drill and hand drill), and Keith and I were so excited to use our newfound primitive technology to light the gas stove that would boil our tea. Keith pulled out his bow drill kit, and we started to unpack the food for our picnic.
Then something unexpected harshed our buzz. Much to our shock and horror, Oshik pulled out a plastic baggy, the one he always took with him on hiking trips; it contained all the things he wanted to keep dry, even in a downpour. He took out a little, black Bic lighter before Keith could put his bow drill kit together, seemingly oblivious to the ceremonial fire starting Keith and I were planning.
We felt betrayed. “Oshik, what is that?! We said no lighters on this trip!” I said.
“Right, no lighters for you two,” responded Oshik, who could light a fire with a hand drill in under 30 seconds.
“That’s cheating!” exclaimed Keith, never one for cutting corners.
Oshik responded, as he often did, to his two petulant students with the calm, steady presence that made him the kind of person we admired.
“Look, let me tell you both something,” he started. “You learn to make fire with the bow drill so that you can use the lighter … and be grateful for it; so grateful that there’s something in this world that makes your life even a little bit easier.”
This lesson was lost on me at the time, though hearing it had the effect I sometimes experience when someone I respect tells me something I know will make sense later on in life. In the moment, I couldn’t see past my own progressive-millennial-intelligentsia critique of the unnatural horrors of modern comfort and consumption. The lighter represented yet another unneeded single-use plastic thing to me, but to Oshik, an undeniable master of fire, the lighter represented a great triumph of Man: a tool that allows us to conjure an element with a single flick of the thumb.
He lit the gas stove with the lighter and took special glee and joy in the miracle of having a steaming cup of tea in all of our hands within a few minutes, while Keith and I struggled to release our expectations of enjoying a primitive pilgrimage through the land of Jesus during which we would transport ourselves back in time, before the existential crises of our generation ever existed.
We were two zen students getting hit over the head by our master.
Later that year, upon returning to the United States from Israel, I took a road trip across the eastern United States with a different friend to check out an ecovillage with a glowing word-of-mouth reputation — Dancing Rabbit, the place I am fortunate enough to call home these days.
For much of my 20s, it seemed clear to me that rejecting the unethical and degenerative modern culture I grew up in, and finding a place to live out a life of pure and right livelihood, was my calling. Now that I’ve found such a place, it seems to me that heaven is not something one experiences as a result of configuring one’s external circumstances.
I must confess to you that at present, I don’t know why I’m here; here at Dancing Rabbit, or on Earth. My old, altruistic mission statements no longer feel true or authentic leaving my lips.
However, through substantial experiential discomfort, as all growth comes, it is being revealed to me that one of the reasons I’m here at Dancing Rabbit is to heal my own ingratitude.
This rather uncomfortable process happens against the will of my entitled ego every day here. It happens when the challenges of our do-it-yourself ethos illuminate the privilege of living at this time in human history. A paltry potato harvest brings gratitude for access to abundant food distribution networks. Refilling our sink-water basin from of our rain barrels brings gratitude for the reliable phenomenon of running water. Cooperatively running a part-time dairy brings gratitude for the efficiency of industrial scale.
The healing happens while bearing witness to small miracles. The other day I watched three men of unimpressive physical stature move thousands of pounds of machinery from a shop to the top of a flat-bed trailer with a skid loader, some pieces of wood, and a few straps. Modern pyramid builders, all. For days at a time I worry myself that our plants have surely all died off in protest of my lack of weed and moisture control, only to bring in yet another harvest of more tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers than we can eat.
Sometimes I’m healed by the kindness of my neighbors and co-collaborators. Ted’s default response to a 5-gallon batch of milk (read: would-be cheese), obtained through a part-time job’s worth of other people’s labor, having become more cultured than desired under my watch, and then getting fed directly to the pigs, is to wholeheartedly thank me for continuing to help him make cheese.
My ingratitude is routinely shattered into pieces by the humble and direct happenings of my Dancing Rabbit life, along with all the self-defeating victim stories I like to tell myself about the sad state of my insignificant existence.
The other day, my friend and neighbor Hassan threw a housewarming party here at DR. It was cozy, fun, and organic in the way our social gatherings here at DR tend to be. Fifteen to twenty of us gathered in his charming 450-sq ft. strawbale house where we snacked, drank, and layed out colorful mosaics to be used in his current, under-construction house project.
It wasn’t long before my attention became fixed on Hassan’s hand drill collection. After a couple minutes discussing the various plants that make good hand drills, a few of us took turns spinning the long drill into the notch on the “motherboard,” slowly accumulating fine dust that would eventually serve as tinder for the ember to be produced from the building friction. Ten minutes later, Hassan and another Rabbit teamed up to make that pile of dust glow.
Merriment filled the room.
Something forgotten was restored.
I felt grateful for how far we’ve come, and for the generations of humans that helped us get here from there.
I felt joy at being here.
Do you crave the joy that Avi described? Do you appreciate confronting the challenging lessons that life has to offer? Dancing Rabbit could also be the place for you. During your two-week visit to our community, you’ll have a chance to learn a little about our approach to communication, conflict resolution, and perhaps even join a personal growth work group for an engaging session, along with much, much more. Your final chance to visit our village in 2019 starts on October 6th; don’t miss out. We can’t wait to meet you.