One of my many assignments in the army was patrolling the Arava and the Negev desert from the Dead Sea in the north to the resort town of Eilat in the south, situated at the northern tip of the Red Sea. I loved the desert; I always did. There is something in its vastness, dryness and mysteriousness that have always drawn, enticed and soothed me. Backpacking and riding motorcycles or jeeps in the desert have been a big draw in my life and probably will always be. There were times when we finished our patrol in Eilat. As we arrived, tired and dust-coated from a long, rough day often with searing desert winds, we pointed our jeep straight for the beach. What a joy it was to plunge into the pure, cool, blue waters of the Red Sea. That sensation as I dove deep was a kind of ecstasy.
As part of me being an oceanographer, I was also a deep-sea diver where I regularly dove the spectacular coral reef in the warm and clear waters (up to 300 feet visibility) amid brilliantly colored fish, turtles and eels. I also dove with sharks in Ras Muhammad off the tip of Sinai next to beautiful and rarely visited or touched coral reef. But most thrilling and risky was adventure-diving (with the standard of air mixture of 21% oxygen, 78% nitrogen) the Blue Hole, also known as “The World’s Most Dangerous Dive Site” with the nickname “Diver’s Cemetery” with a depth of over 200 feet (60 meter)! It is estimated that it claimed the lives of 130 to 200 divers in recent years, primarily due to Nitrogen Narcosis.
At the age of 26-27, my work with growing fish as a protein source eventually brought me to East Africa where I tried to put into practice some of our theories in regions where the people’s diet was poor in protein. I had many humbling attempts to alleviate suffering and starvation by developing small, family-sized fishponds where the fish were entirely fed by agricultural and kitchen waste.
In addition to my scientific activities (age 26-27), I also drove safaris in Kenya and Tanzania across the vast savannahs and landscapes of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Nakuru, and Lake Turkana. The parade of life and the seemingly endless herds of lions, giraffes, zebras, elephants, wildebeests, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, and buffalos were everywhere. To this day, I vividly remember the hundreds of seasonally migrating zebras and wildebeests that did not make it to the next watering hole. This significantly influenced me and much of my psychology work as I thought of the interconnectedness of life and death and how often thoughts of mortality unconsciously influence our actions and thoughts.
Spending time by Lake Turkana (age 26), also known as Lake Rudolf, fishing for Nile Perch and Nile Tilapia and encountering Nile crocodiles was another transformative experience. The surrounding desert was harsh and awe-inspiring, as were the crocodiles found in great abundance in the lake. The scorpions and vipers that ring the rocky shores completed the cruel and truly inhospitable scene.
Some time later, I returned to Lake Turkana as the driver of a safari (age 27) made up of Israeli tourists, where, against my judgment and instincts, I followed the guide as he walked the entire group through the crocodile-infested waters of the shallow lake to El-Molo Island, rarely visited or touched at that time by Western or even Eastern Africa civilizations.
Living among the Maasai in Kenya and observing their relationships to the land, animals, each other, and the spirit world was a fascinating anthropological adventure. The photo depicts a ritual of drawing blood from a cow and mixing it with her milk to come up with the ultimate ‘protein shake’.
There’s never a dull moment living in Africa, and not just in the wild. One can encounter wonders in the urban landscape, as well. On one of my morning jogs in a Nairobi suburb, I bumped into a woman feeding a … giraffe. In this photo, her family was visited for dinner by the young giraffe, which they had rescued and taken care of.
I was around 27 years old traveling in East Africa, hiking, climbing mountains, scaling rocks, riding small motorcycles (pikipiki), studying fish-ponds, driving safaris, canoeing on the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria and ‘socializing’ with crocodiles in Lake Turkana. I found out that, apparently, the anti-malarial Chloroquine pills that I had been taking were no defense to the disease carrying mosquitoes I encountered after crossing the border into Tanzania, as I ended up coming down with a serious case of malaria. It was fortunate as I got the illness while visiting a friend who happened to be researching malaria at none other than the East Africa Institute for Tropical Diseases. I was fantastically cared for medically and felt super safe as I was seen by several highly experienced doctors and researchers who were top experts in the treatment and study of malaria. There was a surreal atmosphere as they had seen thousands of cases like mine over the years and could predict to the second when the high fever (107°F) would turn to chilling cold and visa versa. After a couple of weeks of intense sickness, I recovered enough to where I could continue to travel throughout East Africa. It took me many months to gain my full vision and strength.
Spending time on the car-less island of Lamu, situated off the coast of Kenya in the Indian Ocean, was a remarkable experience. Built of coral and mangrove timber, the unique town of Lamu, is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. I still vividly remember the simple and beautiful construction of the city with its hearty inner courtyards, pleasant looking verandas and elaborately carved wooden doors.
Staying consistent with how I have traveled in the past, I decided that I wanted to explore further than the already remote location of Lamu. My precious fellow traveler and I got a tiny 20 ft. sailing boat to spend the day on the next island, that not only did not have cars, but in fact, did not have houses, animals or people either. We could not even identify its name on the map.
After my adventures in Africa finally came to a close, I spent some time in England and northern Europe. In London, living in the Kilburn area, I spent a few months exploring this historic city in all its surprising variety. I had many memorable moments there – afterall London is a world center of all the Arts – but the pinnacle perhaps was when I saw the legendary Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in one of their dazzling ballet performances.
Another boundary to be experienced was the Na Pali coast in Kauai, Hawaii, which is considered “the Everest of sea kayaking”. My son, Eitan, who was only 12 at the time, and I went on a demanding, 17 mile kayak trip, where the cusp of the Mammoth Mountains slopes into the ocean. It was an incredible day with breathtaking 2,000 foot sea cliffs, cool lava-formed sea caves and mile-high waterfalls plummeting into the blue Pacific.
Eitan has always been adventurous. Here he is at age 11, fearlessly joining me (the first time for both of us) paragliding in tandem off Sonoma Mountain. And there was another mountain in our future: It was with Eitan that I summited Mount Kilimanjaro 2007, as we shall see. In later years, Eitan pursued skydiving, catcher in trapeze, commanding sailboats and scuba-diving, worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and much more.
Eitan’s bar-mitzvah reminded me how as a young man I often spent time in the desert, enjoying the dry heat and powerful, arid landscape. I rode motorcycles (and camels) and drove jeeps in the Sinai and Negev Deserts, as well as hiking and backpacking. I was once drawn to a sacred place there: Saint Catherine’s Monastery located on Mount Sinai, which, according to some Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, was the place where the Ten Commandments were given.
In 2007, after finishing my fourth book on Boundaries in Therapy, published by the America Psychological Association (APA), watching the movie Motorcycle Diaries threw me into an “existential funk” that sent me searching for meaning and new experiences of beauty, adventure, connection, and heights. The result was my resolve to explore the challenging ‘altitude boundaries’ of air, or lack of, by climbing the awesome heights of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest stand-alone mountain in the world–also known as the “Roof of Africa” in Tanzania. I undertook this journey with my oldest son, Eitan (14 at the time) and our dear family friend Sarah (24). We departed in June 2007 and took a seven-day journey on the Rongai (northern) Route up this magically impressive mountain. Starting at the northern side, our trail passed through stunning coniferous forest and offered fantastic views along the way. While not ‘technical,’ the climb was steep, long, and challenging. After summiting Kilimanjaro, we proceeded on a Safari at the spectacular Serengeti and the Nogorongoro Crater game reserves, the same route that I drove safaris on as a 26–year-old.
At 18,000 feet, where the oxygen level drops from the normal of 20.9% at sea level to as low as ‘effective oxygen %’ level of 10.5, I could not tell right from left, or front from back. Oddly enough, and rather disorientingly, I also could not tell the difference between up from down. We all succeeded in reaching the summit (at 19,341 feet or 5,892 meters) and took in the spectacular view of the earth’s curve from this truly magnificent height. While there was very little air to breath, the three of us were nevertheless permeated with a deep sense of care, support, camaraderie and love. Needless to say, the experience also re-affirmed the boundless connection between father and son.
As Eitan and I were training for the Kilimanjaro climb, many friends and acquaintances confronted me. They wanted to know why at the age of 57, after having suffered a major cardiac arrest, I was so keen on risking my life with this climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro alongside my 14-year-old son. After growing tired of the questioning, and what felt like narrow-mindedness, lack of imagination, and subtle guilt-inducing harassment, I started responding with, “You are absolutely right. I may die on the mountain! However, can you think of a better place to die than on top of the highest, most gorgeous, stand-alone mountain in the world?”
When people continued to challenge me about having my 14-year-old son with me on this venture, supposedly risking my life, I came up with this response, which I told the ‘concerned/questioning ones’: “If I am to ‘glamorously’ die on top of spectacular Kilimanjaro, I will be cremated there, and my ashes will be placed in a Tanzanian ebony box. Eitan will bring me down the mountain and back home in this beautiful small carved memento.” This ebony box story was repeated whenever I was confronted or accused of being irresponsible by friends, colleagues, and guest at dinner tables. While Eitan did not seem to be flabbergasted, distressed or upset by this story, many other people did.
The final twist to this story came at 18,000 feet, where I became disoriented and suddenly unable to breath and experiencing severe heart pains. This was a clear sign of (another) potential heart failure. Instead of asking Eitan who, according to plan had carried my nitro (Nitroglycerin), to stay nearby and be ready to hand it to me, I found myself believing my absurd story and (yes, sincerely) telling myself “There is no better place to die…” Miraculously, I survived, in spite of myself.
In 2008 I was invited to give a keynote address at the Social Workers Annual Convention in Anchorage, Alaska. Being there, I heard ‘the call of the wild’ and took the opportunity to go embark on another adventure, this time backpacking on the vast glaciers of Alaska. For a person who thrives at 114° F, the subfreezing temperatures of the glaciers, with their bear footprints, provided an exciting challenge. I decided to hire a guide to take me backpacking on the Matanuska Glacier. As the temperature dropped into the low teens at night, we heard the deep, resounding reverberations of glaciers cracking, like tectonic movements rumbling far inside the earth. The sounds and vibrations evoked in me a deep sense of awe and wonder, as if I were tapping into something larger than life itself. By day, learning glacier survival techniques for climbing the ice was another exhilarating experience. All told, this endeavor opened a new world for me. I am used to and feel very much at home at the desert, in the mountains, or on and under the ocean. But being on a slippery ice surface was an utterly new sensation and way of being, affording me a new relationship to ‘the earth’… calling for great precision, and technical awareness. I was delighted to learn these new skills practice this level of physical attentiveness.
While my keynote addresses focusing on introducing psychotherapists in Alaska to the legitimized view of flexible therapeutic boundaries (such as unavoidable multiple relationships, home visits, therapy sessions outside the office, gifts, bartering, etc.) the subfreezing temperatures and bone-piercing windchill factor while camping on the ice gave me a glimpse of the edges of human endurance. I was deeply impressed by the awesome power, immensity and out-of-this-world experience of these glaciers.
Before I had gone on this glacier journey, I had asked my family over dinner whether it was time for me to walk on the ice, as the old Eskimo legend is told, and feed myself to the bears so that my sons could ‘hunt the bear to feed the tribe.’ They nodded with a smile, knowing too well that I would very likely return to regale and ‘feed’ them with stories of yet another amazing adventure!
When I was invited to speak on the Digital Divide in Singapore in 2009, as usual, I looked around for possible local adventures in that part of the world and decided to do some jungle trekking in the tropical forests of Malaysia. Endless drenching by the monsoons in a remote jungle area gave me a new sense of what rain can be. Despite my efforts, the leeches were undeterred. The main reason for my trip to Malaysia was to walk the stunning longest suspension bridge in the world in the Titiwangsa Mountains. However walking on this amazing bridge was not possible, at that time, because the bridge was closed due to the monsoons.
Turning 60, and now living closer to the Pacific Ocean, I purchased a 2007 classic-looking Triumph Bonneville motorcycle (850 cc) that I could ride along the ocean and also teach my boys (15 and 18) the love of motorcycles as my dad did with me.
With the motorcycle, I also acquired an 18 foot ocean kayak that gives me freedom and much needed humility. I found keeping myself in the kayak in rough water simply impossible.
Being in this part of Asia, I also could not miss the opportunity to experience that wonder of the world (age 60), the Great Wall of China. (Reluctantly, I had to give up the idea of retracing the steps of Gengis Khan and his journey from Mongolia towards the Great Wall.) Stretching over 5,000 miles through treacherous terrain, this wall is undeniably the ultimate physical boundary.
In August 2012 my son, Eitan (19), and I (62) went to the highest ‘ridable’ road on earth at 18,380 feet above sea level – in the Himalayas on … motorcycles. The two-week adventure turned out to be one of the most physically and mentally onerous experiences of my life. Driving the narrow, rocky roads often bordered by cliffs falling thousands of feet (with no guard rails), blind corners, reckless, over-loaded trucks, long days of riding through endless potholes, and water crossings turned out to be an unparalleled adventure and realization of a dream.
The enormity and grandeur of the Himalayas are incomparable and so are the centuries-old sacred Buddhist temples and monasteries we visited. Sometimes it felt like we were riding the clouds. The trip evoked in me such humility and helped me come to terms with physical and age-related limitations (age 62). Ultimately, once again, we looked death straight in the eyes (or at least around every blind corner). And, of course, it also intensified a special connection with my son. In contrast to my experience, Eitan found the trip joyous and quite easy.
I took my first ever cruise in July 2014, where I was the teacher of a Continuing Education Ethics class, “Conducting Therapy in the Digital Age”, on a cruise from Seattle to Alaska. Teaching a large, lively class of 40 mental health professionals was intense and rewarding and being on a cruise ship was ‘anthropologically’ fascinating as I got to be a ‘participant- observer’ of cruise culture.
I taught my second 14 hour workshop on Ethics aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas That same year, in December, I taught my second 14 hour workshop on Ethics, this time aboard the Royal Caribbean’s “Allure of the Seas” (2015), and this time in the Caribbean. It was a unique experience being among 8,000 (yes, 8,000!) passengers and crew and, like the last cruise, it was an anthropologically instructive experience.
In 2019 I had the golden opportunity to fulfill a dream I have had since I was a 21-year-old Israeli merchant marine wishing to sail through the majestic and iconic Panama Canal. I was thrilled to be invited to crew for my son, Eitan (who lives on his beautiful 36-ft. sailboat in San Diego), who was hired to transport a 47ft sailboat from Baltimore to San Francisco. The Panama Canal certainly deserves its impressive rating as one of the top ‘Wonders of the World’. Eitan, a competent captain, led us through the 50 miles long perfectly designed three locks going up from the Atlantic Ocean side to the impressive and enormous man-made lake at the top, and then through three impeccably constructed locks down toward the Pacific Ocean side. This was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience in many ways.
Not too long after crewing for Eitan on the majestic Panama Canal in 2019, he and I joined up for another fantastic nautical journey, this one off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island. On this three-day trip I enjoyed the great pleasure of crewing for him on a 44-ft. catamaran headed to Martha’s Vineyard, passing along neighboring islands off the coast of Rhode Island.
Sailing with Eitan, just the two of us together on the magnificent Atlantic, opened a special door to our hearts, as it reminded us of the many adventures we have taken together, including kayaking 17 miles along the Na Pali Coast off of magical Kauai, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and many more. The meaningful connection and deep conversations we had into the night were precious beyond words. What was at one time a father to child relationship has now morphed into that of man and man.
My 2019 trip to Israel had a different flavor than previous ones, as this time I traveled alone. This afforded me the chance to spend quality time with my sister, and to fulfill a yearning to revisit and re-experience the Negev desert via off-road motorcycle. My body and psyche clearly remembered the long and exciting days that I had spent as a young man navigating and exploring the dirt roads, creeks, springs, and craters of that awesome landscape. To start the adventure, my nephews Tal, Shay, Leor and young Ely had planned an exciting day along the steep slopes of Jerusalem, so that I could prepare for the desert ride. I rented a Yamaha WR250 dual-sport off-road motorcycle and headed with them to the Jerusalem hills. It turned out I was indeed in need of this ‘prep’ trip, as I flew off the bike at least half a dozen times, landing on my shoulders, my recently replaced knees, my back and, yes, even on my head (again). I ended up in ‘urgent care,’ where they put me on antibiotics via an IV drip. Miraculously, I sustained no broken bones and no damage to my ‘new’ knees, although who knows what it did to my head! A couple of days later the five of us headed south to our ‘real’ destination, the stunningly powerful Negev Desert, with three dirt bikes and a 4×4 pickup truck trailing us with food, water, tents, etc. The ride, the awesome landscape, the challenges, the comradery, and the conversations with these generous and capable young men was immensely gratifying.
It has been interesting for me to contemplate this adventure at this point in my life, now pushing 70. My friend Garry Cooper describes this part of my character as “Roaring toward the precipice, twisting the throttle wide open to either soar over the abyss or crash in a blaze of adrenaline and glory.” “Twisting the throttle wide open” had a different feel to it this time. Now, death did not seem so remote or abstract. Looking it in the eyes I still felt a sense of calm, but gone was the former strain of defiance or romance. Stripped bare through the hard cast of age, death is simply an objectively possible outcome!
Mid-March 2020 was a perfect time to fly to the Bahamas for another long weekend of sailing with Eitan on a 40 ft catamaran, this time around the Bahamas Islands. It was an odd time on the planet, as the worries and concerns around coronavirus pandemic had not taken hold yet. Eitan got a few days off from his 1st mate position on a giant 130 ft. mega yacht that was docked at Nassau.
As we tend to do on such trips, we took our time sailing in the clear/shallow water all around the gorgeous Bahama islands while enjoying peaceful weather, great conversations, sweet long silent periods, and variety of colorful tropical fish and spring-time bird flocks.
Re-entering the world via flights to Florida and back home to California was like entering a war zone of Humanity vs. Coronavirus, or more accurately entering a brave new world where humans are forced to encounter the inevitable and most denied facts of life: Death (especially of old people) is part of life not necessary always to be feared, combated and avoided but also to be… celebrated.
Selling the Zur Institute, Inc. after a quarter century of intense, challenging and highly rewarding engagement, opened up a huge psychic space and time for the ‘new’. Then, launching Project Insights has been a creative challenge and exercise in the rare commodity of… patience.
I have been training for a potential dream-challenge of posting a stake in the South Pole as well as hike, kayak, camp there and hang out with the penguins for my 70th birthday. Obviously, with the current (mid 2020) COVID-19 hysteria it is hard to know when this plan will materialize.
Exploring boundaries has taken another dimension for me these days. This time, it is to the limitless expanse of the heavens and the incredible, awe inspiring view from far-above. I started taking pilot lessons as I am exploring getting a pilot license to fly small planes high and to exotic faraway places. Hard to know where it may lead.
In Sept. 2021 Jennifer and I joined Eitan and his friend, Amanda, for a fantastic sailing week on a 46ft catamaran on the Sea of Cortez (Mexico). It was a wonderful break from a tormented and hostile divided world around the complex coronavirus related issues of life-death-health-fear-trust-responsibility and much more. Sailing, swimming, snorkeling and some hikes in the powerful-arid-rocky landscape cleared my heads and refreshed my spirit as I was looking for ways to find meaning and joy in a tormented world.