Fire and Shock

After 8 months in India of stretching regime for the spine and two seasons in the Bone and Body Clinic, I finally leave the subcontinent and head to Portugal. My initial reason for coming here is another Gurdjieff Movement retreat, that is to take place in a little meditation centre called Karuna (=compassion). I arrive to the little town of Monchique a few days before, and spend my days mostly in solitude, working (for money) and practicing (for the soul).

One day Boaz, a friend and the organizer of the retreat, sends me a whatsapp message to check if I am alright. “Alright?” I ask. “There are fires in three directions around Monchique”, he replied. Oh, im here and i didn’t even know…

The day passes by. I sit outside in the balcony of the guest house, typing, typing on the laptop with little stretches in between. By the end of three hours I stand up, pack my things, and realise that the keyboard of the laptop is dirty of little dust particles. How could it got so dirty? it wasn’t like this when I sat down here… I look at the table, the sofa, and everything around me, had this tiny particles of… ash? I touch it with my fingertips. Yes. Ash. So the fire is really close, if ash is falling on me from the sky, now I understand why Boaz was concerned…

Later on in bed at night, I think to myself- what will happen if the fire comes here? what shall I do? With quite a big backpack now and extra luggage that I don’t usually cary around, liquid medicines from the clinic and winter cloths for Seattle… Without a car, knowing no one around- how will I flee if necessary? I didn’t like the idea of being totally dependent on strangers in a case such as fire, plus a foreign language that I can not comprehend.

In the morning I pack up all my belongings and get them ready to move. Tomorrow I’m supposed to go to Karuna, but in case the fire will come too near, I need to be packed and ready. When I go around the village for food or a walk, I cary my passport and money belt with me- so if something happens and I need to leave quick, I have it with me.

The day passes by, but it’s a weird dreamy one. I don’t know how to explain the mood in the air, but there is something un normal and awkward about it. People are out and about in the street of the small village, people are going to the swimming pool, as if all is regular, but something eerie, unseen by the eyes but felt in the senses, irks, sneaks in closer and closer. Adding to that, Boaz was supposed to pick up Carol, the teacher, from the airport in Faro but her plane got delayed at the states and so she arrived Lisbon just in time to maybe catch the flight to Faro. The plan was to pick her up and join me for late lunch in Monchique, but now we can not reach her, and we don’t know whether she managed to get on the flight, or she’s stuck in Lisbon for the night.

smoke and ash in Monchique’s sky

Finally Boaz realised that she has not managed to get on the flight, and he came to Monchique to dine with me. We sit at a touristic restaurant at the plaza. A woman from my guest house passes by and seemed concerned, I know that she is here alone so I invite her to come and sit with us. She says that she was just inside the pool, but all of the people there were rushed out since the fire-brigade helicopters came in to get water practically from the pool itself to fight the fires. The sky is all orange and weird and she is quite concerned. I think to myself- why is she so concerned, it is what it is, but eventually when Boaz leaves I decide in the last moment to join him to Karuna one day earlier. My night in Monchique is already payed for, and it means I’ll pay twice- also pay to Karuna, but just knowing that I will be able to sleep soundly because I am not alone, is worth paying more, as I know that Boaz has a car and if something happens, we can flee.

As we leave Monchique, the fire is already pretty close from most directions. The route that he meant to take to Karuna is blocked by the police man, so the GPS chooses a different one and we head to Karuna from below. Seemingly we left the fires of Monchique, but as we are driving up, through a narrow windy road, it seems as if we just got out of the smoke to enter new, thicker one. The sky is all covered with grey-black fumes, thick not as clouds but as an actual object the you can almost touch and feel. As Boaz says, it feels like we’re in Armageddon, and it’s getting even more dreamy and surreal then ever.

Boaz is very talkative and chatty, chatty chatty, and keeps reassuring himself that by the forecast tomorrow the temperatures will drop, that Karuna is up the hill but the fires are down, and that the wind blows to the other direction from it.

As we drive deeper into the seclusion and away from the village, it seems like we are going towards the fire rather then away from it. But Boaz said that he’s been told that the owner of the place went to Monchique to save her house from the smoke, and that there are volunteers there. So we continue ahead, we want to see what is happening with them and if everyone are ok, and to check that they are not alone.

Boaz keeps chattering, but I am silent and mostly don’t believe him: the wind can change in a second, and we are pretty close, and it seems like the fire is pretty close although we can not see it through the curtain of smoke. Off course I want to get there and make sure that the volunteers are ok, but I can not naively convince myself that there is a chance that the place will not be damaged. Realistically speaking, for me- it seemed very likely that we will not be able to hold the retreat in Karuna, and it seemed very very likely that Karuna is in great danger. The road is windy and narrow, unpaved, and every time we take a turn we can not know if we will see fire ahead as new horizon opens around it.

We finally arrived Karuna that was surrounded by thin smoke. The moment we get out of the car, Ana, the owner, comes to us (so she is there! good!) and tells us that we have to go back immediately. She is evacuating and we must leave. Boaz insists that we will stay and help while they are still there. We hear an explosion of a gas bottle from afar, Ana is very concerned, “it’s exploding”, she says. I can’t forget that look in her eyes as she heard it.

I am directed to go up and hose one of the sides of the big house and around the solar panels. They put sprinklers wherever they can around the place and the man are carrying the gas bottles and dumping them in the lake. I stand there all by myself farther up the hill, seeing no-one and hearing no one and I can’t escape that eerie feeling that something is approaching to me from behind my back. Like that tickling sensation one gets when watching a horror movie. But usually I’m avoiding watching horror movies, but standing and hosing here- the current dreamy movie of my life- this I can not avoid.

I keep thinking- what if they will leave without me, and although I logically know that they will never do such a thing, I keep being afraid of being left alone. Later on, days after, when trying to recollect the feelings of these long long moments up there alone with the hose (which were not long at all but felt like eternity), I realised that I was not afraid from being left alone, I was actually afraid from the fire itself.

I would hose around the solar panels, and on the side wall of the big house, but every time and again would look up the mountain to see if the fire is coming. All I could see is only smoke, but my body knew that it’s coming. And I wanted to be there and help, but my body certainly did not want me to be there at all. Boaz maybe could “fool” himself into believing that the winds might change, but eternal winds of change- I did not have the heart to tell him at the moment that I felt that it’s coming and there is no happy ending here.

Finally I can’t take it anymore and I decide to go down to see what is happening. But the hose is still running water and I don’t know what to do with it and if I should find the tap and close it, or keep the water flowing.  Smoke all around, fire threatens to come, and I’m stuck because I can not decide if to close or open a tap. So strong is my inner judge of “I have to do it correctly”. Exactly at that moment someone approaches, and I ask him if we are leaving, and he says that yes. He takes the hose away from me and by that solves my dilema.

We go down, part away from Ana and the volunteers, I am so relieved to be finally in the car, going away away from that sneaky feeling of the danger behind my back creeping closer and closer to me. As we drive down and away I feel better, and finally we manage to get hold of Carol. Boaz tells her about the wind direction, the temperatures due to drop tomorrow, and that koruna is up the hill.

Boaz, do you know a bit about forest fires?” Carol asks, “They can travel up hill”. This is only just a sentence but it is etched so deep in my memory of that day. Fire can travel uphill. I can not even explain the feeling I still have when I remember that sentence. Like a feeling of a very dramatic doom in a Hollywood movie.  It was like she proved what my body had felt, but more then that- for me it proved how scared I am about the whole place, and Karuna, and our lifes, and my safety. I didn’t realise that moment that I was scared. All I could think about is judging Boaz that he ‘fools’ himself, and being irritated that he speaks too much, and all I wanted was to just quietly watch the fumes licking the trees as we are driving away from it all.

this is just a generic forest fire photo from the internet, it was not taken by us.

As Carol says this sentence on the phone, up the hill on the left from where we are driving, the fire emerges between the curtain of smoke, and we see it for the first time. Actual Fire. So close to Karuna. We are driving away from it, down to the main road, back to civilisation, and make sure that we see Ana’s car leaving.


Boaz took us to his friends in Tavira that night. They hospitably took us in and gave us food. They were talking a bit but I was quiet and distant, I was shy and didn’t feel like much talking. The TV was going on and on in the background in Portuguese. News raving on and on, videos from Monchique and the approaching fire, the sky had turned complete orange, the fires reached the sides of the town, fire brigades – bombeiros- all around. I know the place I had just left a few hours ago, and on the TV the flames are at bay. The people of the village were evacuated. I felt so lucky that I decided to leave and had my bags packed ready, so I could just take them on the spot when I decided to join Boaz when he left.

But I also thought to myself- Monchique is safe because it’s a bundled village, and all the fire men are right there- fighting around it. But Karuna is secluded in the middle of nowhere, the fire was close by but no firemen came, they were all in Monchique. Obviously when the fire would come, and there is a shortage of fire-fighters, all of them would be sent to protect the village, and the little secluded houses like Karuna will not get any attention.

All I wanted to do is to sleep, and I sat and waited until everyone evaporated to bed and Boaz set us places to sleep on the floor and couch. There were many mosquitoes around, which I usually never manage to sleep with, but seems like I really needed it because somehow from the moment I put my head on the pillow and until early dawn, I slept so strongly, like a block of stone, all night through.

I woke up in the morning first thing with a migraine, to hear from Boaz that he received a message from Shanti, Ana’s daughter, that Karuna has burnt down last night. Boaz was already on the phone organising things, and as a helper in the retreat, and a part of the moving caravan of dervishes that we have become to be in the past two years, I went straight to the computer to help. Boaz and me opened a ‘command room’ in his friends dinning table and started looking for alternative venues. We also found accommodation for all the participants that came in early from all around the world and were supposed to stay in Karuna this coming night. He also communicated with those that heard about the fires in Monchique and were concerned some quite dramatic.

It was literally like sitting in a command room in the army (coming from Israel where army service is mandatory, this term is sadly too much close to us). After the big event of the fire, answering messages and making phone called, searching in the web, working to get this event on. Before Carol boarded the plane still in the states, when she heard about fires in Portugal and asked Boaz if the retreat is still on, he told her “You are coming even if we will dance in the beach”. Now he was standing up to his word, and we were trying to look for something more optimal then a beach in the scorching sun and heat of the Mediterranean Summer.


Eventually everything sorted out, as if by magic. Seems like a hand of the divine helped us getting this along. With the help of his friends who accommodated us, Boaz found an alternative venue, that was just perfect, although it was the high season and all the other venues were completely booked. We found a guest house that had space for all of the early participants plus the team.

When we arrived there, I entered a room full of people, some of them known to me, most of them unknown, all of them smiling at me and approaching me with love. But I stepped into that room totally confused. As soon as I entered the room and felt all this love, a wave came upon me- and I felt like I was tripping.

This love and affection felt so weird after the surreal ordeal of the past two days, after the smokes and the flames of Karuna. And although some of the known participant that were in the room, were ones I loved and appreciated, and danced along with during intense inner work in the past, I felt far removed. Mentally I knew that I’m supposed to be happy to see them and hug them. But emotionally all I felt was confused. And detached from all of the chattery commotion. I was speechless, and did not FEEL the hugs. I was hugging mechanically, in the same way that I was smiling mechanically- before the clinic had brought me joy back and taught me how it is really to smile with joy and really to laugh from the bottom of the belly. I was emotionally numb but did not fully realise it yet.

emotionally numb.


We held the retreat as planned, in the same schedule more or less, just in a different physical space then planned. From the moment of that day when ashes were falling on the laptop’s keyboard and up until the third morning of the retreat all has past through me, or rather- outside of me- like a rushing whirl of colours, talks, and occurrences. I had migraine everyday since the morning after the fire, and I kept saying that I feel like I’m not really me. “I don’t feel like myself”.

First realisation was, quite happy to understand- that these days of migraines, and not smiling so much, and still not able to digest what has really happened in the fire (since we were busy right after it and all through until the retreat happened, not having the space to sit for a moment and realise what we’ve gone through), and basically- actually- being my old self. One that does not smile so much, does not laugh, just goes on, on survival mode, cause the fire came but now we need to be focused and make it happen, like in a command room in the army, make the essentials for life happen and all the rest- emotions, digestion of the event- all chuck out to the side until safety shall be regained.

…my old self, One that does not smile so much, does not laugh, just goes on, on survival mode…

But safety was regained and still, I was in this old automatic mode, with migraine and not wishing to smile. So of course I didn’t feel like my self, because during the clinic in India, as I gained more and more joy and happiness, I became a new me, a more joyful one. Experiencing the old suffering one had already felt foreign, like it was not me any more.

Then came the morning that Carol led a meditation in which each of us was lying down on the floor and humming softly to each body part that needed attention, to bless them Hello and Good Morning. Humming to my body, the damn has finally collapsed, giving way to a stream of tears that came to knock upon the door of my soul. I opened the door willingly, and let them pass through, and for the first time since what has happened, gave myself space to watch the occurrences of the fire.

I have already been in Movements retreats before while having migraines. And I always took the pain killers and kept on, kept on, showing up to classes and standing with the group during lessons, dancing with the group and trying to grasp the movements. I never took rest for my selves and my body while having the headaches, because I was always afraid that I will “miss the lessons”, and then I won’t know the movements, and everybody else will proceed to more complicated ones while I’m way behind. I was afraid that everybody will dance but I will not know what to do.

Two years with Akash, and later on Carol, has finally taught me better. That it does not matter if I know the movements at all. All that matters is the state of mind that I have during the dance and the presence that I hold. Well, for the moment, I’ve been taking ayorvedic pain killers for four days straight, and did not wish to take them also today. And for the moment, grasping complicated movements, was the last thing that my presence could do. And my inner judge of “you have to do if perfectly” was already dis-identified to some degree. So after Carol told me that I can just come to the lesson and lay down and rest, for the first time since two years of dancing, that is finally what I did.

And so it goes, that it is actually the same in life. We can never know the movements in advance, and to some degree- it does not really matter if we grasp them at all. It does not matter if I do the outer movements of life perfectly, or even know how to do them at all, all that matters is the presence that I hold while going through them. It does not matter even that I can not know what will happen or if a fire might come and burn it all away, all that matters is that I am not on an automatic pilot, that I’m present, and that I have an inner holding with grace.

I set myself a yoga met on the floor, I laid down with the head ache but without the pain killers, I closed my eyes, and took the music in. I was there with my body, the emotions arising, the sensations and feelings. Half resting, half meditating, but the music of the dances, as the class went on learning, has gone repetitively on and on. It was the first time ever that I could actually listen to the music with 100% precent of me, with full attention- because I was doing nothing other then that.


And so I found out that this music moved me deeply from within. As it passed through me, flashes of memories of the past occurrences has gone through my mind, like a movie on a screen.

us dancing in the meditation hall of Karuna last year.

I’m staying at the hill side hosing, feeling (what I now already know to be) the fire approaching me from behind. I knew. I intuitively knew then that it was coming, I just didn’t understand it.
The look of Karuna that I knew to be before the fire- It’s meditation hall where we danced last year.
The fig tree that gave me fruits every morning, the best figs I ever had in my life. The grape vines, and me walking barefoot upon this earth, and us dancing in the mediation hall……the view of the hills from the window as I salute to the sun.
All of this up in flame, all of this down in smoke.

Tears running through my eyes, as the music becomes suddenly so dramatic and my movie mind is running the show me the feeling, to let me experience them, how all of these has burnt, and the music says it all. The music plays it all. Often Akash used to say during retreats that the music in the movements is a catalyst to the emotional centre. Then and there I could at last feel and experience and clearly see, or rather- hear so.

This particular dance, one of the obligatories that the group started during that day, I actually never learnt with the group. But I was amazed later on, when I joined back in after feeling better, somehow my body knew what to do! Although I didn’t know all the specific moves, I, or rather- something in me, knew the basics of the hand movements following circles, and exactly WHEN to turn my head to left and when to the right. I didn’t learn the count, I didn’t know the count, of when to do so. But my body felt the music, felt the cues- I found that there were cues inside the music telling me when to do so.

When the music suddenly became all dramatic and I saw Karuna down in flames- that was the cue for this and such, and when the painful rush of memories came, that was a different cue for other and such. And so that was the first time in my life of the movements that I learnt, without learning, that I grasped without learning. not from my intellectual centre but rather from my emotional one. I never knew that learning can be done without active learning. And that learning can be done not through the mind. And that I can learn from the emotional centre.

The migraine has finally left that day, without pain killers, with rest, and with a softer attitude towards my body. I do not have to be psychically moving to learn. All I need to do, it to be present. Be present physically grasping the movements on the dance floor, or being present resting and lying down on the floor, absorbing the music. Be each of them what will be, it is what it is, according to what is provided in reality right now. Provided that I ache and my head is experiencing pain? I shall rest and absorb the music. Provided that I’m physically fit to stand up and move? I shall grasp the music with my feet. But I hope that my ears has learnt, to be attentive to the music emotionally, not just intellectually counting. To feel it, to sense it, as I move.

during the retreat this year with Carol.


Talking with Carol one day on the way to lunch, about not feeling completely myself, she says- will- you must have been in shock during the fire. So I reply- no, not shock, just in survival mode. (I know from the exploding buses of the intifada in Jerusalem in my childhood, how shock looks like, I didn’t look like those hysteric faces). Carol answers, shock IS survival mode. That’s exactly what it is about, when you are in survival mode your body gets into shock.

I say- I never knew that survival mode is shock. But if survival mode is shock, then it means that I was in shock through most of my childhood! So she tells me that in shock most of your body systems shuts down, and only the necessary for survival works. And you are surprised that you have so many body aches, when your systems has been shut down for so long of a period?

Such a thing to realise. And such a long stomach treatment I’ve been going through in the clinic, two seasons and it’s not done yet. I have gone through experiencing the anger shut down in the gut, I have managed to drop it and feel the fear, I had managed to eventually drop the pain, and still, still it’s not done. So to realise, no wonder it’s so messed up, if it has not been functioning for such big parts of my childhood… If the digestion is shutting down all the way through shock…

And there drops the judgments… About the lady from Monchique that was scared of the fire (“it is what it is” I thought about her, and judged her fear while not realising I’m afraid myself I I would only let myself feel it), about panicked people and panic reactions, about hysteria, about Boaz deceiving himself and talking “too much”, and about any person showing any emotional response while I’m in shock- I can’t comprehend their emotions, I can’t grasp their self-deceit, as my emotions are completely shut down, and my intellect is raving full power. And now I realise why it was so strange for me, when entering the guest house and meeting my friends that hugged me- they were with emotions towards me, by mine were still shut down from the shock.

Hugging outside of the automatic shock, when emotions are fully experienced and felt. This photo was taken during the end of the retreat last year with Akash in Karuna.


Later on when prospecting about my own survival mode of childhood, I eventually realised that this mode had become my greatest deepest automatic habitual reaction to major traumatic experiences in my life. When we moved neighbourhood and I found my self in a new school knowing no body in a foreign class full of young students, when I was recruited to the army and given a rifle in my hand at the end of teenages, when my mom kicked me out of the house, when I was kicked out of the ashram, even most of the way though my first relationship with a man and my sexual experiences with him- all of this- I was going through in a mode of shock and survival. No wonder that emotions then were not processed, no wonder that I allowed all weird stuff happening to me by the hand of others- I WASN’T REALLY THERE.

To realise that I was not there, during some of the the major occurrences in my life, is a substantial thing, to say the least. To understand that through my shaping first sex experiencing I was on an “auto pilot”- and then wonder why I suffer from reoccurring yeast infection in the vagina… To have memories coming here and there about things done then with this partner that usually 20 years young girls are too young and not mature enough to do…

And know that the most of it, and most of my childhood, is actually blocked away from me, from my memory, as my stomach was not working, as my digestion was shut down, as my emotions were shut down, as I was just a puppet on a string, going through all of this automatically in a shock mode. Often when explaining the philosophy behind the Gurdjieff movements Akash says “we are sleepwalking through life”.

To realise, that it was indeed so, I was sleepwalking, automatically, through the major occurrences of my life. And where has it all gone? up in flames, down in smoke, down into the deep deep well of oblivion and sorrow, and into hidden away prisoners down in the cells of my stomach, my body, my organs. And to disentangle it all, seems like the mission of a life-long path. Without the drama of “I’ve been done this and that” and the victimisation of “I’ve been done wrong”. I was not done wrong by the hands (or sex organs) of others the way I have not been done wrong by the fire.

The fire is just what it is, automatically consuming the woods as fire just goes, and this man he was just following his own automatic patterns the way he unconsciously knew, and my mom was also just following her childhood scripts when throwing me out of what was then my home. Not that I say that there was no responsibility of these deeds, but just to realise that the way I was just on automatic script, they all also were following their own automatic script, takes it from a victim being into a whole different realm. It is, in a way, unpersonal. The way fore is not personal about what it consumes.

There is a teaching in the Gurdjieff philosophy called “The Law of 7” which says that man will pass through events in his life that are called “shocks” in this terminology. My biggest realisation up until now is to understand that when I was experiencing a shock in Gurdjieff terms, my automatic tendency is to go into survival mode – a shock in psychological terms. And “all it needed” was this fire to occur and the dances to digest.

The fire did not do me wrong. It was just what it was. The way that all that had happened in my life was just what it was. I just feel so blessed to have found 2 different paths and 2 different teachings that combines together so magnificently to help me understand and realise what had actually happened and how can I proceed along.

Photo: skeeze, CC0 1.0
Photo: ©Ken Buslay,
Photo: Boaz Capsouto,
Photo: Boaz Capsouto,

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