Last summer, I was one of the 45 lucky people who went on Schusterman Foundation’s first REALITY Wellness trip to Israel.
All I knew about the trip was this:
1. You had to be referred to go.
2. Previous participants reported that the trip had changed their lives.
3. The brief description found on the official website:
“REALITY Wellness is an uplifting, mind-expanding leadership development journey in Israel for influential entrepreneurs, innovators and thought leaders in the wellness space. The trip is carefully designed for participants to traverse across Israel: a place, a people, a history and a complex contemporary and spiritual environment.”
What the trip ended up being is hard to put into words, but I’ll try. Not through a recollection of the daily transformational experiences, but through the lessons that I will carry with me through life.
Here are the 13 Things I took home from REALITY Wellness trip to Israel.
1. Storytelling is a superpower.
I looked forward to going to elementary school every morning, and not because I had a crush on a boy from the third grade (that became the main motivator in the winter of fifth grade). What I loved the most about going to school were the Greek myths that my dad would tell me as he packed my backpack and walked me across the street. Later on, in middle school, he did the unimaginable: he got a gloomy teenager (me) interested in philosophy through his fascinating stories about stoicism. Seneca’s “Letters From a Stoic” was my go-to bedtime read. In high school, when I got overwhelmed preparing for a history test, he coached me: It’s not about memorizing the dates, but about understanding the “why” behind the events”.
Spending a jam-packed week learning about Israeli history and culture with Michael Bauer took my understanding of the power of a story told with knowledge and heart to a whole new level. As our impassioned guide, he made the most complex ancient and modern historical events relatable and captivating.
2. There are two sides to every coin.
Standing on the Syrian border and hearing missiles go off was a painfully sad and awakening moment that made me think of the young men and women who never got to choose their side of the conflict. In their case, the circumstances determined their lack of opportunity to choose their own paths. Michael Bauer also reminded us that in a conflict, no one sees himself as the Goliath. That’s why to come to a peaceful solution, both sides must maintain respect and a certain level of objectivity.
3. Opinions matter.
As a child of post-Soviet Russia, I was taught to be obedient and not ask questions. Having an opinion and expressing it is something that I had to learn as an adult during an Osho-inspired retreat.
At first, I was taken aback by the opinionated Israelis. Not only you’re allowed to have an opinion, you’re encouraged to express it at all times. It felt aggressive… until I realized that opinions aren’t taken personally and are welcomed with just the right amount of respect.
4. Vulnerability is beautiful.
Speaking of opinions, everyone has one, whether you have the confidence to share it or not. Surrounded by bright, well-spoken, intelligent peers, I felt intimidated during some of our group sharing sessions. I’d catch myself feeling like I don’t know enough, do enough… like I’m not enough. All my doubts and self-criticism dropped at once as soon as a courageous member of our group stood up and shared her insecurities in front of the whole group. Vulnerability is a transformative superpower that empowers everyone around you to be themselves.
5. Authenticity is magnetic.
For the longest time, I thought that not having a passion for politics is a flaw. Studying it in college for four years didn’t help. I listened my peers express their political opinions eloquently and freely, thinking there must be something wrong with me for having nothing to say.
Then something happened at the Western Wall. I felt touched, awakened, and suddenly there was no hint of doubt or judgment… only truth. Clarity took over as I stood up at a big Shabbat dinner to share my very personal epiphany about connecting to a missing piece of my (denied) Jewish identity. As I spoke from the heart, I watched many eyes fill with tears.
There’s a place for everyone to express themselves in their own unique way, and authenticity has a very special kind of universal magnetism.
6. The importance of honoring your needs.
Just like everyone leads differently, everyone processes emotions in a different way.
The trip offered plenty of chances to feel heart-wrenching sadness about the Middle East conflict and its consequences. Like when we heard two young men speak about losing their younger siblings to war. While some of us needed alone time to process the emotions, some would come together to sing, pray or meditate.
There’s space for all of it, and it’s important to hold space for ourselves and others to let them feel what they need to feel.
7. Digital detox.
While one of the biggest values of social media is its real-time quality, it’s very important to allow ourselves to take breaks from our online personas. As a blogger, I’m constantly looking for the sweet spot between being connected digitally and being present in person. I find that for retreats and immersive experiences, the only way for me to have an open mind and heart is to minimize my time on social media.
8. Sublime over excellent.
Imagine taking a movement class that invites you to feel your bones, sense the distance between your body parts, be aware of your explosive power, and move through space in a way not shaped by gravity. Experiencing Gaga – a movement language developed by choreographer Ohad Naharin – left me feeling unbound freedom, awareness, and spaciousness in my body. That feeling translated into how I moved for the rest of the week, leaving me wanting more.
Here’s how Naharin explains Gaga has such a powerful effect: “We explore multi-dimensional movement, we enjoy the burning sensation in our muscles, we are aware of our explosive power and sometimes we use it. We change our movement habits by finding new ones, we can be calm and alert at once. We become available…”
During our Q&A with Naharin, he shared his philosophy of “sublime over excellent”, explaining that moments of bliss are found not in perfection, but in the beauty of imperfection… on stage and in life.
9. Open mind opens doors.
Everyone in our group made it a point to sit next to a new person every time we’d get on the bus (to give you an idea, we spent about 30% of our waking time on the bus). That experience reminded me that any judgements we have about other people are simply projections of our own insecurities. When we replace judgement with the question, “what can I learn from this person?”, that curiosity opens doors to human connection that transcends all differences.
10. The Israeli charm.
The Israeli directness, open-heartedness, and sense of humor isn’t always appropriate but is charming without fail.
11. Running on adrenaline.
Adrenaline can get you through a week of barely any sleep. Our program was so packed, that the most sleep I got during that week was 5.5 hours a night. I’m convinced that adrenaline combined with a little bit of yoga and QiGong was what sustained my energy.
12. Expansive mornings.
Starting our days with morning gratitude circles, short meditations and sometimes hugging circles kept our hearts in check (it wasn’t a hippie fest, I promise). Even when we were in a rush, we’d find time for a two-minute practice, and it made a huge difference to how I felt the rest of the day. I believe that how you start your day is how you live your life.
One of the most important things I took away from REALITY Wellness was the reminder to trust. Trust that I can make a difference, even if very small. Trust that instead of feeling small and unimportant within the big picture politics, I can choose to make a difference in my community. Trust that my voice and my efforts matter.
BONUS: Israeli food is out of this world delicious.
As a food blogger, one of my missions is to inspire and educate my readers to make healthier food choices, starting with breakfast. I loved what Doron Sheffer, the retired national league basketball player, had to say when I asked him about his go-to breakfast. Instead of giving me a list of superfoods, he simply said that instead of spending too much time stressing about what to eat, we should go for simple, organic, colorful foods consumed in small (!) quantities.
Sheffer has a fascinating story: he quit basketball aged 28, feeling that his “soul was wanting to spread wings and fly.” Later, he survived testicular cancer (spirituality, healthy food and Eastern medicine were important elements of his recovery), and currently runs a center that helps people heal their bodies and minds. He also penned a memoir titled Annani, which is Hebrew for The Answer. He must know a thing or two about wholesome living.
“I am going with my heart, flowing in the river of life.”
– Doron Sheffer
Thank you, Schusterman Foundation team and Lynn Schusterman for this incredible experience and for my new REALITY family of gamechangers around the globe.