In the knowledgeable hands of Adam ‘Gandalf’ Reising, five work campers had an amazing, all-day walk through three of the four village Squares of the Pelion on a day off. Our induction into the beauty spots and points of interest was thorough and we are all able now to offer support to guests at the three centres this summer.
Our day began with the early morning bus, taking us on a half hour ride just beyond Tsagarada. Adam guided us down a steep track into a forested gully, to begin our walking tour at a high-arched, stone bridge. The bridge stands like a guardian to the ancient history of the area and marks the geographic entrance to the Pelion on the old network of paths or kalderimi.
The tour went onwards to the Serpentin Garden, where our luck was in as the owner, Doris, happened to be weeding near the entrance and heard our arrival. We were welcomed with open arms and shown around and also relaxed in the shady warmth with a welcome cup of tea and home-made cake.
Our next stop was a moderately-old plane tree in the square at Agii Taxiarches – around 1000 years plus! – then made our way to the enormous, breathtaking 1700 year old plane tree in Tsagarada Square. This too lent itself to an excuse for coffee and cake!
Finally, we began the descent by kalderimi from those lofty heights to the beach at Damouchari. The way was steep and required vigilance on the paths – but we constantly took time to stop to admire the scenery.
For all of us it was a day to remember – and one which has already been repeated by a few more work campers since, who made it a priority for their days off! Whoever thought it might be hard work being here in the Pelion? Not at all!
In the first few days of opening the new season’s workcamp, we had our first workshop at Kalikalos—a mini session on Non-Violent Communication (NVC). This arose from a need within the group to have a formula for dealing with conflict in a constructive way.
Ten of us gathered round a very welcome log fire in the only room in the house with a fireplace, much needed in the inclement weather that has been our lot since our arrival at Kissos on 2 May.
We were introduced briefly to the process by workcamper Joannie Minto. We then had a couple of rounds of practice. First, we worked through an issue without reflective listening then later with. The engagement was so intense that the bell had to be rung loudly several times to move it on!
It’s great that we now have a common reference point to come from and daily life here certainly provides lots of opportunities to use it.
What is it that guests find unique about the holistic Centres in Pelion?
I believe it’s the circles.
Small circles with a few staffers every morning, bigger circles at the Saturday morning community meeting, intimate circles where 3 or 4 people process conflicts and problems, Thursday night fireside sharing circles, and big circles with a few hundred people coming together for a common aim.
Circles have been part of humanity’s history for millenia. Circles represent equality, consensus, sharing, unity-in-diversity and when a talking stick is added, respect, listening and participation. Every indigenous culture incorporates them into its decision making, its cultural life and its history. We are only just learning how powerful they are.
It was M. Scott Peck who first drew my attention to how true (authentic) community could be, as he put it, “the salvation of the universe”. Dr Peck showed how a group of strangers could be brought together in a room for a weekend and simply by creating the space for open, honest communication and acceptance, in 48 hours people move from superficial small-talk into deep feelings of love and appreciation for each other. Via, we might add, an inevitable amount of conflict.
A key to Peck’s community building was diversity. Differences between people, instead of being impediments to community or to a vision, become assets; each person contributes their uniqueness and gradually comes to appreciate everyone else’s uniqueness.
In our world today, other than in isolated experimental pockets, such as traditional African villages and the growing eco-village movement, we see very little evidence of this kind of true community. Most of us live in isolated apartments or single family dwellings, we often do not even know our neighbors. We go to “work”, earn just enough for our food and our rent and our family, and all around us we see debt mounting, wars continuing, people thinking only of themselves. We are living out the Darwinian philosophy that life is a struggle and only the fittest survive as a self fulfilling prophecy.
But Darwinian natural selection is only a half truth. In fact, when one examines the natural history of species, plants or animals, we discover that cooperation has played a much bigger role in survival than competition. Discoveries in Biology in the past 15 years are showing us that organisms adapt to their environment in ways that random genetic mutations cannot explain. We now know from experiments with bacteria that organisms are able to modify their genetic blueprints according to environmental challenges. Shades of Lamarck!
Moreover, and profoundly fundamental for the survival of our species, over the last 700 million years, organisms have learned how to live in communities. The evolution of our own bodies, from single celled organisms, to multiple cellular ones, then to tissues and organs and finally to the “community” that each of us is today, has all been a constant evolution from the individual to the community. While we are still fighting amongst ourselves, inside our body are harmonious communities that have developed their harmony through a conscious process, let’s call it spirit, that is guiding evolution.
I commend Bruce Lipton’s new book, Spontaneous Evolution, to anyone who wants to understand better where humanity is likely to go. When enough of us join together to help consciously create true communities, that momentum will inevitably bring about a world where we see each “other” as our brother and sister and begin to move from the ego-Centric world view to a Socio-centric one.
Little projects like our Centres in Greece are part of something much much bigger. Come and see for yourself!
I like to show Mt Pelion in January (see above) to remind us that Greece is not always a warm country and to show you why our summer school Centres are closed for seven months over the winter.
Although the trees and herbs appear dormant beneath a blanket of snow they are building, unseen, the energy for their growth that will explode in the spring. We too, unseen, spend the winter building the energy that will become a full programme of workshops and retreats come summer.
Even before we close down the three campuses (Kissos, Anilio-STK and Alexandros) in early October and return to our winter bases, work has begun to recruit the workshop leaders for the following summer. With three campuses coming fully active in 2014, this is a very big job. Altogether in 2014 we have 40 leaders and 30 workshops/retreats scheduled. Contracts, deposits and writeups for the websites have to be secured, web pages have to be built and edited. New leaders have to be briefed as to how workshops interface with the communities that run each campus.
We strive to have our summer programme fully subscribed by the first of December, after which we begin work on the brochure which is, in effect, a mini version on paper of the three websites. This year the brochure is 33% larger than ever before so a new format had to be devised. Working together on two continents, Adam Reising, Friederike Ernst and Jock Millenson have pulled together a beautiful new brochure that went to the printer the first week of January, in order for it to be out and circulating by early February.
Summer 2014 is chock-a-block with the biggest programme of retreats and workshops ever. In July, Brad Blanton is back with Radical Honesty, Henk Barendregt returns with a 10 day Vipassana retreat as does Louise Simmons with Scaravelli Yoga. Our raw food fortnight that runs concurrently with Dr Helen Ford’s Healing weeks, now features both Sheila Gibbons and Paula Wilson, and as usual follows the ever popular August Family fortnight, with new leaders at both Anilio and Kissos campuses. We have three Advaita non-dual satsangs—Lisa Cairns, Amoda and Krishna—this last of which is being offered on a gift economy basis as we start to put in practice what we see as part of the shift from an industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilisation that Joanna Macy is calling the Great Turning. Speaking of which Hanna Morjan is back in June with Taste of Findhorn and Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects.
Aside from the old favorites such as Biodanza+, Byron Katie work, Elemental Movements, Deeper Democracy, and Mediation skills, we have a new Astrology workshop, an autumn herbal workshop with Judith Hoad and more of Joanna Macy with Naturally human, naturally wise.
Those of you who have not yet been to Greece might enjoy seeing the film made by Olina Laurencova last summer which contains some beautiful footage of our area, shots of all the campuses and interviews with guests to give you the flavour of what it’s like to be here on a workshop or as a community guest.
Pelion has always been a place deeply saturated by stories and legends in ancient Greek mythology. In the land of Greece, where the land is so rugged and often so arid, a grove of trees was always considered a sacred place, a place of communion between the natural, spiritual world and the world of men. Often a small hut would be set up in this grove as a shrine, set apart, numinous and holy, the dwelling place of some spirit or divinity. The association of grove and shrine became so entrenched that later shrines built in clay and wattle, or wood and thatch, or ultimately in stone and tile, would recreate this sacred geography. This is the origin of the classical Greek Temple: A central sanctuary surrounded by a “forest” of columns, representing the trees that were so often absent from the barren islands of the Cyclades, absent from the austere rock of the acropolis in Athens, or from the bare slopes of Attica.
The lands of Pelion however, are an anomaly. Surrounded by the steppe-like plains of Thessally, converted from grasslands into golden expanses of grain even in ancient times, Mount Pelion rises so high and captures so much precipitation that its slopes are unusually wet, lush and green, carpeted with dense forest. Pelion is not merely a grove of trees; it is a veritable jungle, the like of which is scarcely found elsewhere on the Greek mainland. If a grove of trees was sacred to ancient peoples, the forests of the Pelion must have been numinous beyond measure.
It is no surprise that the ancient Greeks considered the mountain the summer home of the Gods themselves, a kind of earthly paradise where Olympians and mortals intermingled, and where half-men, half beast-like beings such as the centaurs and Pan crossed between these two worlds. The Centaurs embodied the wild, untamed forces of nature. They also represented the possibility that brutish, bestial desires might be transcended, and human and social sides perfected, becoming civilised and restrained.
The wisest and noblest of the centaurs, Chiron, succeeded in this endeavour, and was a teacher and instructor of innumerable young heroes on the mountain, from Heracles, through Jason to Achilles, not to mention also being a mystic and a healer, the founder of the Greek medical tradition. Pelion has long been a healing centre, a source of herbs, of cool breezes and fresh mineral waters.
Life in the Pelion does indeed have an Olympian quality, with the sea rarely hidden from view, and its small neat villages clustered high on its slopes, always with a central focus of plane-tree circle and fresh water spring, community square and church.
These places were pre-Christian sacred groves. Indeed Pelion churches are descendants of those first wood and mud brick temples, with a colonnaded porch surrounding an inner sanctum. No Byzantine domes or Greek-cross floor-plans here! Paganism lingered here longer than many parts of Greece, and it lingers still in hidden forms, in festivals and rituals. One might see it in the stone carvings on church lintels that symbolise the sun disc, Helios or Apollo, God of light, or in rituals in which the May wreaths are burnt on midsummers night, and young children, encouraged by their grandparents, leap over the flames.
One such festival celebrated on the 17th July is the patron saint of Kissos, Saint Marina. It has been argued that her legend derives from a transformation of the pagan divinity Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, into a Christian saint. The festivities are certainly Bacchanalian, with plenty of Tsipouro, dancing, feasting and carousing!
So now, as we come to the end of another family fortnight, perhaps the most successful yet, it is only fitting that we should welcome the festival of the Panagia, “She who is all-holy”, Mother Mary herself. In gratitude to all the wonderful mothers, (and fathers!) and mother-Earth herself. In thanks for another year of bounty here in Kalikalos, on magical mount Pelion, and for the precious gift of life itself.
Adam Reising, Poland, Scotland
Agios Constantinos, below Kissos Village, showing the typical Peliot association of church with an enormous plane tree. Pelion churches are built on ancient pagan groves combining sacred springs and mighty trees. The oldest tree, in Tsagarada, is estimated to be at least 1500 years old, clearly predating the introduction of Christianity to the area.
Mouresi, Church of the Holy Spirit. A painted slate panel of Mary, the Panagia, surrounded by a heavenly host of spirit-flowers or flames, suggestive of a mandala.
Ano Volos, location of the church of the Dormition of Mary, most probably on the site of an ancient temple of Artemis, Mistress of the forest and the animals. It guards the approach to the mountain from Volos.
The masonry of the Church of the Dormition makes use of Byzantine and classical fragments, and once even provided a home for a retired Byzantine princess who accepted monastic vows. In this case, the building was not only located on a previously used pagan site, but literally recycled its building materials.
Solar, animal and magical symbols decorate the apse of a Pelion church, commonly associated with the “womb” of the God-bearer, Mary. This is Agios Demetrios in Pouri.
Pouri, Agios Demitrios Church. A colonnade surrounds a rectangular worship hall, just as it would a pagan Greek temple.
Rustic carvings of Byzantine double headed eagles with seraphim (the highest order angels). Pouri, Church of Agios Demetrios.
Kissos, Agia Marina. Colonnaded church, water fountain, ancient tree, and village square. An archetypical Peliot village arrangement.
Children jump over the flames of the burning May wreaths on midsummers night, encouraged by village elders. Kissos.
As a Kalikalos staffer I read all the writeups from the summer programme before the season starts. When I read the description of James Eatons’ June 2013 workshop Exploring Reality I didn’t get too excited. It looked like a workshop about abstract Eastern philosophy which regards our everyday reality as illusory. I figured that if I joined that workshop it would be a waste of time for me, because my truth is that whatever disconnects us from the world, the body and the feelings, calling them illusory, would be the wrong track. I believe that you have to go into these things in order to transform them.
But because I’m interested mainly in our spiritual workshops and have a deep love for the East, I opened up his video. When I saw and heard that man, I felt his being and immediately wanted to know more about what he would be offering. Therefore, I decided to take advantage of the possibility to attend. (This is one of the perks of being a staffer here that we do get to go into the workshops when we have enough volunteers to cover the work of servicing the workshops.) In the end Exploring Reality went way beyond any of my expectations. All my projections and concerns dissolved like ice in warm water, once in the workshop sitting 1-1 with James.
For two months I wanted to write about my experience in this workshop and constantly found myself in the position of trying to find words for something which I can never describe by words.
One thing I know for sure: something on a very, very deep level has changed in my life. Something shifted, is different now and remains. What amazed me the most was the way he looked at every one of us, unfolding a gentleness and intimacy which I had never before experienced. Many times I felt that the presence of his being opened a door in which I could just walk in and be immersed in a universe of Love.
As he mirrored back without judgement and complete acceptance of whatever I felt, or thought, or considered what I believed was me I realised that I had been holding on to behaviours and beliefs I thought I had to have fight for. I found that in the pure love and acceptance that James offered, many of these things dropped away. He didn’t do anything, he just “was”; I saw in his eyes an immense lake of love and when I dared walk into that lake of love and risk my vulnerablity, I met myself in him!
Although we never touched this subject in our sittings, a quality of hardness I had in me transformed itself without me being aware of it. Days after the workshop I realised that in some life-situations I had been acting in a way to hold defenses that were no longer necessary. I also saw that the illusion advaita speaks about means the identification with our character and our conditioning built up in a lifetime.
Experiencing Being with James gave me so much love and security that I could let go of defensive crutches which had been substitutes for security. All this happened very naturally and easily without any effort on my part.
James says, “don’t believe anything you cannot experience”. I liked that attitude—you can throw away whatever you have read and find out for yourself if it is true what the spiritual texts of any tradition say. So don’t even believe my words, come next year when James comes back and experience yourself.
Friederike Ernst, Italy
This year is my 5th year here at Kalikalos as a Living in Community guest. What brings me back is the beauty of the place, the wonderful beaches of Pelion, the sea, magically warm and inviting, especially for someone like myself who learnt to swim in the cold North Atlantic waters of Donegal; the mountain scenery, the early evening sun dappling through the forest as we drive back from the beaches, the first figs of the season brought across by our neighbour Dimitri …
Kalikalos is going from strength to strength with 26 participants booked for Brad Blanton’s Radical Honesty workshop starting this week and the high energy of Family Fortnight ahead of us. It is now a three centre community with Anelio (Spiti ton Kentavron) and Hotel Alexandros. People, young and old, are attracted to the place. We are told the local mountain has a link with Chiron (astrologically the wounded healer). No wonder it is a place of healing and regeneration.
Kissos is vibrant at the moment, with music and dancing in the platea every evening. Music to listen to as we chop vegetables for the evening meal. Greece may be in austerity but there is a richness of culture and community here.
So if you are looking for a late holiday or work placement, come and experience the magic of Kalikalos – the wonderful vegetarian food, the processes which create community, the friendships which last long after the summer and the healing energy of the place. Come with an open heart, be prepared to give and you will receive blessings tenfold.
Alison Gillett, from Croydon, England
Kalikalos is a very magic place. This is the place where centaur Hiron passed knowledge to humans how to heal using words. This is also a place where you can find the Kalikalos Holistic and Yoga Center.
This is Papa Nero beach – my favorite beach – but there are also other beaches around, nearly empty at this time of the year.
Every year there are few weeks allocated for the volunteers, to work on preparation of the camp for the coming workshops.
This is a great time of sharing the work, enjoyment of life and beach time with other like minded people.
Once per week we eat out at our favorite restaurant.
Edwin Roman USA/Poland