A Personal Reflection On Boundaries And Meaning
By: Ofer Zur, Ph.D.
This page presents what my dear friend, Sam Keen, calls personal mythology. My personal sense of calling, that which gives me joy and provides meaning in my life, is often related to critical thinking and challenging commonly accepted truths and unquestioned beliefs. As this page portrays, my journey has led me to challenge, confront and face intellectual, spiritual, interpersonal, physical, emotional and other boundaries.
I was born in Israel in 1950 to pioneer parents, a German Jewish intellectually rigorous psychologist mother and gentle and poetic Hungarian Jewish labor organizer engineer father. Both lost most of their family in the holocaust. It was an exciting time in Israel, visionary, optimistic, determined, and idealistic times as the new nation was born from the ashes of the Holocaust. Concerns with justice, integrity, compassion and fairness were discussed daily around the dinner table.
As a young man I loved learning, sports, hiking, backpacking, swimming, politics, and ferociously employing critical thinking. I had a very close group of friends in the youth movement (Hashomer Hatzair) and basketball and was close to my older sister. Alongside my family and friends, I was passionately politically active in promoting peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians and opposing religious oppression by the extremist religious Jews.
As a paratrooper in the Israeli Army, I experienced and challenged the boundaries of space and gravity.
As a lieutenant and combat officer, I have stood on the boundary of life and death.
As an oceanographer and a deep-sea diver, I passed through the boundary between air and water.
After my military service I checked out the life of a sailor on a large ship. It was a fascinating anthropological journey into the life of sailors that landed me with a broken nose among other things.
As a young officer I served on a remote and small island in the Red Sea. Wondering about the boundaries between day and night, to the dismay of my soldiers, I experimented with reversing the daily routines, sleep during the day, eat breakfast at sunset, lunch at midnight and dinner at sunrise.
My time attending Hebrew University in Jerusalem, studying chemistry and oceanography, was one of my most profound and powerful spiritual awakenings, as Jerusalem embodied the convergence of three major spiritual traditions.
My motorcycle gave me a sense of freedom and abundance.
Sailing in my one-person sailboat on the Red Sea, negotiating the water and wind while gliding on the surface of the sea was another boundry-less-ness experience.
In Jerusalem I lived in an old beautiful house in the Coptic Church compound. One Christmas Eve, I was mysteriously drawn to my motorcycle. Randomly driving beneath the stars, I surprisingly found myself... where else?... but, Beth-Lechem.
As a young oceanographer I was intrigued with the idea of growing protein (fish) in the oceans, which covers more than 75% of our planet. I built this 'research' raft with fish-cages in Dahab at the Red Sea.
During the 1973 Yom Kipper war, at age 23, I was part of a paratrooper unit. Young and reckless, my buddy and I thumbed our noses at death by slowing down on a heavily bombed bridge across the Suez Canal, to make our own death wreaths. It represents my earliest relationship with facing the boundary of life and death head-on.
In the waning minutes of that war, I faced the boundary between life and death straight in the eye during the Battle of Ismailia. I was wounded when a large part of my calf was blown off, and I was evacuated under intense fire. This was followed by a few years of deep contemplation, intense pain, determination, surgeries, rehab and, finally, full recovery in spite of a very poor diagnosis.
As a fish researcher in East Africa, I had many failed and humbling attempts to alleviate suffering and starvation by developing small family-sized fishponds, where the fish were entirely fed by agricultural and kitchen waste.
I helped develop a running water system in Kenya in order to increase sanitation and eradicate Malaria. I soon realized this destroyed one of the most important institutions of the village, the Well.
Driving Safaris in Kenya and Tanzania drove home the inter-connectedness of life and death. To this day, I vividly remember the thousands of zebras and wildebeests that did not make it to the next water hole.
I have learned a lot about different attitudes towards life and death by spending time in remote areas of the Somali desert, watching tribesmen polluting the only source of water in the desert area with seeming disregard for their lives or the quickly approaching destruction of the community.
In my early 30s I shifted my career 'slightly' from oceanography and limnology to psychology. As a young Ph.D.-Psychologist, I questioned the boundary between men and women when it comes to warfare, and challenged the belief that unlike women, men are inherently warlike.
In a paper The Love of Hating, I have challenged the faulty belief that war has no appeal and is only a necessary evil of last resort, and I explored the conscious and unconscious appeals of war.
In 1987 I was honored to be invited to Moscow, Russia for a symposium on "Soviet-American Images: A New Perspective," organized by the Soviet Peace Committee and the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue. Our guest appearances included working sessions with scientists from the USSR Academy of Science. These were exciting times in Russia, the early years of Perestroika and Mikhail Gorbachev's political reforms.
From 1984 to 1991, alongside my friend and colleague, Sam Keen, I devoted my professional life to promote peace via deep understanding of the psychology of war and root of enmity. During these final and challenging years of the cold war I gave dozens of presentations and media appearances across the US on Gender and war, Psychology of peace & war, Understanding the light of peace in the shadow of war, Psychology of terrorism, and Psychology of the nuclear age.
Becoming a parent to my step-children, Suzanna and Jeremy, and later my daughter, Azzia, and my sons, Eitan and Ilan, signified one of my most profound shifts, as my sense of self was expanded and so were the boundaries that establish who I am. Azzia, my first born (1983), developed the love of horseback riding and jumping. Later, she graduated from UCB in philosophy, became an excellent writer and editor, and has established herself professionally.
Supporting my children as they develop their unique identities, interests and gifts has been one of my life's greatest joys. I have had the fun of sharing the love of basketball with my two boys, Eitan Zur (born 1992) & Ilan Zur (born 1995). Later in life Eitan, with whom I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, developed the love of swing dance and trapeze arts. Ilan Zur, who I got a chance to coach, has taken on basketball.
Around the same time I took on the debunking the myth that all victim are always innocent and invited people to re-think the prevalent belief of "Don't Blame the Victim." While some victim are truly innocent (i.e., abused children) others thrive on being victims.
Another boundary to be experienced was the Napali coast in Kauai, Hawaii where my son, Eitan Zur (12 at that time), and I went on a challenging 17 mile kayak trip by the cusp of the Mammoth Mountains sloping into the blue water.
Basketball has been my sport. From age of 10 I have played and coached. I love the intensity, mastery, camaraderie, strategic, competitive, physical, mental, and social aspects of the game. I played in leagues in Israel, college ball in the Hebrew U. in Jerusalem, and in the Jack Benny League in Sonoma, CA (above 39). I retired from playing at age 56 so I stay active in other ways.
When I suffered a cardiac arrest at the age of 50, I stepped across the boundary of life and death for 45 seconds. I remain disappointed that I neither saw white light nor God, a truly lost opportunity. The experience did, however, focus me more clearly on my "bucket list".
In the mid 1990s I started to dispute the whole notion of the depravity of dual relationships and my writing and teaching emphasized the importance of healthy connections and community. In 2002 I co-authored this break-through book on dual relationships.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association published my book on boundaries invites therapists to be more flexible in regard to issues, such as touch, multiple relationships, gifts, and disclosure. This signified that psychology embraces a more flexible view of therapeutic boundaries.
In 2003, a new federal privacy regulation called HIPAA took effect. In an attempt to help psychotherapists make sense of the complex and often confusing regulations, I wrote my third book HIPAA Compliance Kit distributed by Norton Pub. It has been completely revised in 2013.
In 2007 I explored the altitude boundaries of air or lack of, by climbing the awesome 19,300 feet of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with my oldest son (14). It also re-affirmed the boundless connection between father and son, as we both summited.
Backpacking on the vast glaciers of Alaska in October 2008 was my next challenge:
this time the boundaries were of subfreezing temperatures and un-imaginable windchill factor.
As my oldest son turned 17, it was time for me to re-visit the depth of the ocean and the boundaries of air & water as we both got our scuba certifications, and I got to go back and dive again into the beautiful, clear blue water of the Red-Sea in Israel.
In the new millennium, I noticed the digital-technical divide between the older generation of Digital Immigrants, and younger "Digital Natives". My digital native daughter Azzia Zur (26) and I coauthored an article, PPT, and online course.
In 2009, I was nominated as an American Psychological Association (APA) Fellow (Div. 42) for my contribution to the field. This award signified the arrival of much-needed changes in professional ethics from rigid and fear-based to more humane and care-based.
In 2012 our online continuing education program has expanded to include over 150 online courses. Every year, thousands of psychotherapists, counselors, MFTs, nurses and lay people have been benefiting from our innovative and unique offerings.
Turning 60 was punctuated by moving closer to the Pacific Ocean and acquiring a 2007 classic looking Triumph Bonneville motorcycle (850 cc) that I can ride by the ocean and teach my boys (15 &18) the love of motorcycles as my dad did with me.
With the motorcycle, I got an 18' ocean kayak that gives me freedom and much needed humility. I found keeping myself in the kayak in rough water simply impossible.
Returning to teach in Singapore in 2010 gave me a chance to further explore this unique tiny country, which focuses on healthy balance between community and individual needs and rights. They also have just completed a 55 story man-made wonder called SkyPark.
Returning to Singapore gave the opportunity to experience the ultimate physical boundaries on our planet, the awesome Great Wall of China. Stretching over 5,000 miles through seeming impossible treacherous terrain, the wall is the ultimate undeniable boundary.
Writing with my daughter, Azzia (B.A. in philosophy, UCB) has been inspiring and has launched us to a new and exciting phase in our relationship. Additionally, Azzia Zur, our resident digital native, has ushered the Zur Institute into the 21st century by managing its Social Networking marketing.
In the summer of 2011 my wife, Jennifer, all three children, and I embarked on a visit to Israel and Greece. Visiting the Old City of Jerusalem, Kibbutz Nachson, where my sister lives, and Tel-Aviv was delightful. As always, visiting the Western Wall was moving and was capped by a tour of the amazing tunnel dating back to the 2nd Temple and links the City of David to the Western Wall.
The second part of the trip was also, as my children noted, about "old rocks." This time it was the Acropolis in Athens and remote palaces and caves on the island of Crete. Athens at night is as vibrant and full of young people as Tel-Aviv.
Ilan Zur (16) and his Summerfiled Waldorf High School basketbal team won the local Small League Championship. Ilan was the 2nd top scoring junior in CA. It was fun serving as an assitant coach applying my knolwedge and passion of basketball and psychology to coaching. Ilan's senior year highlights.
Eitan Zur (18) got himself a Kawasaki 14 XZ (1,400 CC) which barely fits in our garage, but is fun to drive. Spent some summer (2012) days sharing the love of motorcycles and travel with him.
In July/2012 Azzia married her long time close friend Nick Walker. Nick is the founder and senior instructor of Aikido Shusekai, an aikido dojo in Berkeley, CA and has a 6th degree black belt in aikido. Nick hold an M.A. in Somatic Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies. Nick is also an author of a couple of online courses for the Zur Institute.
Azzia's wedding provided a wonderful chance for me to enjoy all my five 'cubs' (i.e., children and step-children.) From left to right: Eitan (19), Azzia (28), myself, Jeremey (39), Suzannah (37) and Ilan (17).
Watching a trailer for the "Highest Pass" inspired me to go and explore the Himalayas with my son, Eitan Zur (19) on ... motorcycles and we finished the ride on the highest 'ridable' road on earth at 18,380 ft. The unique two-week adventure on a Royal Enfield turned out to be one of the most challenging experiences of my life with endless extreme physical, emotional, and mental demands. Driving the narrow rugged, rocky roads with vertical cliffs of thousands of feet (most often with no rail-guards), blind corners, speeding, over-loaded trucks, long days of hard riding on the left hand side, and through endless potholes, and water crossings turned out to be an unparalleled challenge for me (at 62). Eitan experienced it as joyous and quite easy.
The beauty, enormity and awesomeness of the Himalayas are unparalleled and so are the centuries old sacred Buddhist temples and numerous monasteries we visited. Sometimes it felt like we were riding in the clouds. The trip evoked in me a lot of humility, mastering of fears, coming to terms with physical and age related-limitations, and ultimately, once again, facing death straight up in the eyes (or at least around every blind corner). Obviously, it involved mastery, surrender, and special connection with my son. The highly recommended touring company Free Spirit Adventure Tours was fantastic and helpful from the first contact to the last day and our guide Munish was experienced, competent and caring.
Top of Page
Summiting Kilimanjaro - The Roof Of The World
Having finished my latest (fourth) book on Boundaries in Psychotherapy in early 2007, the perennial question, "What's next for me?" returned. I had been searching for what gives me joy and meaning at this stage of my life.
As is apparent to those who are close to me, the questions about my joy, calling and meaning are often closely related to critical thinking and challenges around boundaries issues. The question of meaning is also closely related to my relationships to colleagues, clients, friends and family.
My history seems to indicate that my various challenges at different times in my life have revolved around the question of what boundary I should consider crossing next.
Watching the movie Motorcycle Diaries threw me deeper into an "existential funk" and further into questioning my calling. Upon reflection (see sacrifice paper) I came up with two responses: The first is to go (part time) back to my old stomping grounds in Africa and see how I can apply myself for the good of humanity. Secondly, to challenge the boundary of air and oxygen by daring to climb with my son, age 14, and our very close family friend Sarah, 24, the awesome 19,300 feet of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, also known as the “Roof of Africa.”
Climbing Kilimanjaro with my older son has a special meaning,
it is a metaphor for our lives as it involves:
- Envisioning the goal: Quite a high goal in this case. Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain and the largest volcano in the world.
- Understanding or constructing the meaning of the challenge and the metaphor or symbolism of the journey: Kilimanjaro provides several metaphors and symbols for us to ponder. It was created by fire and is crowned with ice. Perhaps the most awesome metaphor for the perspective that the mountain provides is that one can see the curvature of the world from the top.
- Evaluating the Goal: Appraising its merit, meaning and how attainable it is.
- Planning how to reach it: Big steps, small steps, sequence and much more.
- Considering different options and outcomes: My son and I remind ourselves repeatedly that "Life is a series of plan Bs"
- Training: While physical training is obviously important, emotional, relational and spiritual aspects of the training are much more important.
- Executing: This phase involves doing our super best to reach the peak and, at the same time, surrendering and being present to how things will unfold.
Mt. Kilimanjaro Photos
We left for our trip on June 13th, 2007 and took the Rongai (northern) Route over seven days. If you are curious about how such an expedition is organized, you can go to Zara Tours and find out. We followed the climb by going on Safari at the spectacular Serengeti and the Ngoro Ngoro game reserves.
Zara Tours, the company we chose to take us up the mountain and on the Safari, was instrumental in the success of the trip. They were very organized, knowledgeable, responsive, and extremely helpful from the day we contacted them to the day they dropped us off at the airport to fly back home. I, for one, have no doubt that I would not have made it to the top without the assistance, guidance and care of our highly experienced guide, Bruce and his assistant, Living. Needless to say, I am grateful to them and highly recommend them.
For the e-message I posted online as soon as we came down from the mountain 6/22/07, click here.
Click To Enlarge
Photos From Our Safari In Lake Manyara, Serengeti And Ngorongoro Creator
For more pictures of the climb, click here.
Top of Page
From The Desert To The Alaska Glaciers
Early in 2008 I was invited to give a keynote address at the Social Workers and Counselors annual convention in Anchorage, Alaska. It seemed like an opportunity not only to help psychotherapists in Alaska legitimize what they already know about flexible therapeutic boundaries but also for me to dare new types of boundaries.
My entire life I have been drawn to the deserts and truly loved the extreme (dry) heat.
As a young man I spent a lot of time in the desert, enjoying the dry heat and powerful, arid landscape.
In 2006 we celebrated the Bar-Mitzvah of my oldest son and had a rite of passage in the Negev Desert in Israel, where I got to enjoy jogging at 120° F.
With the invitation to give the keynotes at the Alaska Social Worker conference in Anchorage in Oct. 2008 came the opportunity to dare new types of boundaries of extreme, life threatening cold. In my life I have neither gone downhill skiing nor spent much time in cold weather. The first encounter with the cold was kayaking in the beautiful and freezing October water off the tiny town of Wittier below the spectacular glacier-covered Chugach Mountains. It was cold and windy and the water was icy and choppy. It was not heart warming to learn that survival time in these frigid waters is only a few minutes. Then came the ultimate, thrilling climax of the trip, trekking-backpacking on the glacier. The idea of hiking and setting up tents on the glacier was as alluring as it was frightening. My guide (from AMS) and I backpacked onto the glacier at Matanuska Glacier. Within minutes of trekking onto the glacier we saw fresh huge footprints of a black bear. Unaccustomed to cold or the glacier environment, sleeping in a light tent on the glacier was as much of an emotional and even spiritual challenge as it was physical. As the temperature drops into the low teens, there are deep resounding cracks and the glacier radiates white light. Learning ice-climbing, self-arrest and glacier surviving techniques was actually fun and exhilarating.
Top of Page
Jungle Trekking In The Rainforest In Malaysia
With the invitation to present in Singapore in December 2009 on Internet Addiction came the opportunity of jungle trekking in the nearby Malaysia. A several hour boat ride up the river brought me to the remote town in Taman Negra. The night walk was fascinating, filled with jungle night sounds and a clear view of dozens of small nocturnal creatures such as spiders, bats, and zillions of noisy and equally colorful insects. Experiencing the ferocious monsoon rains and floods was new and awesome and so was the opportunity to visit the remote settlement of the aboriginal people, who still hunts with poison arrows. Before my trip my boys reminded me that "leaches suck." Indeed they do. They also are known for their medicinal benefits.
Top of Page
The Great Wall Of China
I remain fascinated by boundaries of all kinds, so obviously my excitement peaked at having the opportunity to plant my feet on one of the most impressive physical boundaries, the Great Wall of China. The Wall stretches for over 5,000 miles through some of the most remote and treacherous mountains of China. Visiting the wall in December 2010 was a moving and freezing (10 degrees F) experience. Standing on the wall and looking North, I could easily imagine ferocious, nomadic Mongolian horsemen rapidly approaching, only to be stopped and deterred by the wall. Visiting some of the more remote parts of the wall in rural Northern China filled me with a deep sense of awe at the enormity and enduring parts of the construction and reconstruction. Walls have been effective throughout the history of humankind in separating warring parties, reducing hostility, and often bringing peace. The Berlin Wall separated the two Germanys very well and was dismantled when the time was ripe for reconciliation. The Roman Empire was equally well-protected from the Barbarians by the Roman Limes. Other effective walls include those between the Greeks and the Turks in Cyprus, the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, and the grim DMZ between North and South Korea. As among friends, family members, lovers, and therapists, with clients it is important to know when to erect boundaries and when to fold them. It is essential to determine how high and wide to build them, and how to reduce or dismantle them at the right time. As with the Great Wall of China, this is an evolving, de-evolving, and re-evolving developmental process that demonstrates the importance of keeping boundaries appropriate, effective, constructive, and ever-changing.
Top of Page
Himalayas On Motorcycles... Click to Enlarge
I am savoring the amazing experiences of all the above adventures while staying open and intrigued with the possibility of the next challenging opportunity to grow, learn, and experience life at its fullest.
Top of Page