The smooth, white stone, picked up off the beach down the mountainside, feels cold in my hands. I wrap my fingers around it and breathe in. The campfire glows smokily in the centre of our circle, and I feel rather than see the faces of the people I have spent these last two weeks with, people who, like this place, have crept into my heart.
“My time here is drawing to a close,” I say, speaking slowly, “and it’s been an interesting journey.
“Time has contacted here; so much has happened in such a short time. Every day has been full of lessons, not of all them easy or comfortable, but all of them noteworthy. The biggest one of all is having the honour to share space with people
who arrived here with open hearts, and endeavoured to keep them open, people who have shared themselves, their time, their kindness so generously and with such grace. Seeing this has allowed me to feel safe enough to share all parts of myself, and has inspired me to share myself and time just as generously.
“So I say thank you, to you all, to those who came before you,to those who will come after, and especially to those who are here now. Thank you for your open hearts and friendly faces. Hoh.”
“Hoh,” the circle responds.
I pass the stone along, now a little warmer from my palms. As it passes from hand to hand, giving the holder the opportunity to share, to speak about their time here, and the rest of us the opportunity to listen, the stone grows warmer. Our expressions of deep gratitude grow too; for each of us, whether as a guest, workshop leader, staff member or volunteer, have felt the joy and connectivity of being part of a community, of being part of something bigger.
I have spent these last two weeks at Kalikalos, a holistic community in the village of Kissos, high up in the mountains of Pelion, northern Greece. I joined the community as a staff volunteer, helping others to keep the centre running smoothly.
Kalikalos is the vision project of one man who lived in communities for years before deciding to create one in a warm place. The idea of the community is that it exists with and without the people who pass through here; it is the framework into which we all slot.
Kalikalos hosts many workshops and retreats over the season, but it is not a hotel. Guests, just like the staff and volunteers, help out in the kitchen to prepare our communal meals and clean up, as well as in the garden. Visitors may also lead early morning yoga or meditation sessions.
Kalikalos holistic community
The gratitude that I feel for being here comes from sharing a home for a time. It also comes from the opportunity to connect with people on a deeper level, to work with them and get to know them, to listen to their stories, to support them, and to turn to them when I have needed support. Daily tasks, then, become a pleasure because they bring a smile to someone else’s face.
I am also grateful for the chance to spend time in this place, at the edge of a village on the densely forested mountain slopes of Pelion, with a view of the healing sea far below. I have watched the sun rise over the water, I have felt the clouds roll in and rain thicken the air, I have seen the orange glow of the full moon reflected in the sea, I have rejoiced in each sunny day.
Agios Iaonnis beach
The rhythms of Kalikalos ensure the community stays connected and in tune. It starts on a Friday night when the new arrivals join the rest of us for dinner. We stand in a circle, holding hands, and we tune in, to the ground beneath our feet, the breath in our bodies, the people on either side of us, and we pass around a squeeze of good energy. And then we eat. In between meal times the guests join their workshops and the staff see to their tasks.
Each morning after breakfast the staff meet. We start off with a sharing circle, similar to our evening one, except here we share where we each are that morning, speaking in the first person, voicing any frustrations or irritations, getting anything off our chests, expressing our blessings, tuning in to how I feel today. This routine became a favourite part of my day, and I found myself more able to speak freely and listen closely.
All this speaking and listening, however, can be a challenge. Living in community means being with people all the time, and sometimes it was necessary to get away from it all. On these days off – or as another staffer George put it, his day on – I escaped to the beach or into the mountain (often with George in his hardy Landrover Discovery) and breathed in the incredible beauty and stillness of the sea and rocks, soil and trees.
I am somewhere else now. I have said my goodbyes to the place and the people, but I will continue to digest and process my time at Kalikalos; these are the kind of stories that I will still be telling in years to come.