I understand the urge to climb our big beautiful mountains, their rugged majesty, the sense of achievement, the views, the photo opportunities, the impressiveness of the whole event. Heading into the mild; local footpaths, fields, woodlands, country lanes, gentle hills, lazy rivers, babbling brooks, can hold less glory.
Often when I explore undiscovered footpaths, bridle paths, green lanes and country lanes, I meet no-one and lose myself in the present. A shallow stream, a tree in bloom, the twittering of the birds, the bleating of the sheep, a tractor in the distance, wild flowers. This feels like adventure to me. Discovering places I sense few have trod in many a year. I delight in finding my way through overgrown paths, once important to local country folk and now neglected, patchy avenues of trees marking the way. Few signs or stiles to aid my progress, no bridge across the stream, gates tied, fallen trees across the path, brambles pulling at my clothes (and hair). And yet, finding a way through and heading towards some feature that takes my eye...I drift into feeling like an explorer, totally in the moment, any thoughts of past or present evaporating into now.
I invite you to take a map and become an explorer of your own landscape, an adventurer setting out into the mild.....
A highlight of my visits to Kalikalos, are the circles. We gather before each evening meal, this brings us back to the present, to reconnect, to welcome any newcomers, acknowledge any parting guests, make any announcements and give thanks to those who have cooked the evening meal.
Each Saturday there is a morning circle, where we hear about the history, values, ethos and rhythms of Kalikalos and are introduced to the volunteer staff. Here we are invited to say a little about who we are, where we come from and perhaps what has drawn us to this community high up in the Pelion overlooking the sea.
On Thursday evenings we sit around a fire, or circle of candles and speak about our experiences of spending a week in community. Volunteer staff circles take place each morning providing the opportunity to ‘check in’ and communicate about what needs doing, fixing, buying, cooking, washing etc…but, that comes after the sharing element of the circle. In this way staffers support each other as they move through the week.
The aim of circles at Kalikalos is to invite everyone to be present as equals, be heard and hear each other in a respectful, nurturing space. Those gathered are introduced to the concept of the circle and the ‘talking object’. This ‘object’ is held by the one who is speaking and invites those present, to listen as deeply as they can to what that person has to say. Those speaking are invited to use ‘I’ statements and direct anything said to the centre of the circle, rather than to individuals. ‘I’ statements help us to own what we are saying and hear it in the first person, it also ensures that we are only speaking about how things are for us, rather than making generalisations or assumptions about what life is like for others.
In the centre of the circles there are always a few beautiful objects. Candles, a vase of fresh flowers, stones from the beach, a bell and a variety of talking objects, so that people can choose to hold that which resonates with them. This central focus sets the tone, bringing an intention of sacredness. At points in these circles there is an invitation to hold hands and become aware of the connection that runs through each of us. It can have the effect of enabling us to feel a sense of our place within the whole.
I have been deeply moved by the circles I have attended at Kalikalos. This has been in response to the privilege of witnessing so many individuals tell their story, or just a snippet of their story and how this reveals the unique realities of everyone present. There is something about this sharing, hearing and being heard, seeing and being seen, that is very nourishing to me. Experiencing the enriching, powerful, connectedness that can result from such a simple activity. I would love this opportunity to be available in more areas of my life.
To that end…on my return from Kalikalos I had a job interview for a role that involved supporting a mental health project. In preparation for the interview I did some research on the internet. Here, I came across an advert for a Compassionate Mental Health conference being held at a beautiful earthy centre called Fforest near Cardigan in Wales. Both the subject and the venue called out to me and felt like they were in direct relation to the sense of connectedness I experienced in Greece. Before I knew it, I had paid the fee and booked myself on. The draw for me was the mention of circles, compassion and connection.
I was not disappointed. The conference was wonderful. The whole experience had been well planned and was delivered by beautiful people who were happy to humbly share their journeys with us and invite us to share ours if we felt the call to do so. There were many activities that fostered a sense of safety and connection and kept bringing us back to our bodies, this moment, each other, ourselves and compassion. Circles were very much present throughout. I felt seen and liked for who I am and felt the same deep witnessing of others. This was a beautiful gift which I carried away with me and which I can add to the gift of my experiences at Kalikalos.
I am heartened to know that this conference is available and an example of what I hope and know to be a growing movement towards authentic connection and communication.
If I look for them I will find these compassionate circles and I invite you to step towards any that may present themselves in your world if, like me, you long for an authentic sense of connection to self and to your fellow human beings.
I am packing my bags, sorting out my t-shirts, checking my first-aid kit, generally flapping and realising I’m not as fit as I could be, in preparation for another Greek Odyssey.
If you have ever wondered whether a Greek Odyssey is for you, then let me tell you a few things about this guided walking and swimming holiday:
It is very laid back, but that isn’t to say we don’t aim to set off as soon as possible after our delicious, fresh & fruity breakfast on the terrace. This is to make the most of our days and maximise the time we get to spend enjoying the many beautiful beaches along the Eastern Pelion coast.
We make a packed lunch and set off through the ancient, picturesque village of Kissos, perhaps filling our water bottles at the spring water fountain in the platia (town square). One of many dotted throughout the region.
This holiday is a treat for body, mind and spirit. Starting with the health benefits of free flowing spring water, delicious vegetarian food prepared at Kalikalos, fresh air, walking every day, smiling a lot, swimming in the warm Aegean….it’s like a health farm holiday, without the label. Having said that, we may call in at Kissos bakery and purchase a delicious cheese pie, such as spanakopita (cheese & spinach), or have a cheeky Mythos beer at a taverna on the way down, or perhaps a rich chocolate ice cream desert at Kelly’s Hotel (which is often our pick-up point at the end of the day). Hmmm…this healthy holiday isn’t sounding that healthy after all… But, you don’t have to choose those treats and anyway, health isn’t always measured by diet & exercise.
Having a laugh, nourishing your spirit with beautiful scenery, letting go of all your worries by just being here now, making new friends, lying in a hammock reading that book you never get round to reading, connecting with nature, not checking social media every 5 minutes, these are the gifts of a Greek Odyssey.
So, I probably haven’t answered all your questions, but perhaps given you a wee flavour of what might be in stall for you, if you decide to embark on a Greek Odyssey this year or the next…
So another Sunday unfurls........
Here I sit at my computer, the fire still burning, the last of the April showers falling lightly on fresh Spring growth, helping green up the land and herald summer in all its glory.
Last weekend saw me driving down to Sussex in my campervan for some devotional chanting amongst a colourful group of kirtan singers, gathered at Gaveston Hall for a 3 day Bhakti Gathering in honour of devotional singing, celebrating Easter and Hanumans birthday.
Hanuman being the Hindu God of strength, perseverance and devotion.
Kirtan is a singing meditation; led in a call and response style, with accompanying musical instruments such as the harmonium, tablas, hand cymbals and guitars. Through repeating these ancient mantras (or sometimes English devotional songs), the mind is stilled and the heart is opened, creating a collective sense of peace amongst the singers.
One of my favourites kirtan songs is this Gayatri mantra, sung by Deva Premal.
As well as my chanting experience, I made the most of being somewhere new and took myself off to explore the countryside surrounding Gaveston Hall.
What a beautiful part of the world is Sussex. All around me were footpaths leading this way and that.
So without a map I set off, imagining that it couldn't be that difficult to work out where I was in relation to my starting point.
Straight away I found myself in a woodland full of bluebells, wood anemones and primroses.
I followed many paths, beckoned on by the lure of the unknown, turning left then right, ever away from whence I came, so as to prolong my walk for as long as possible.
I must confess to losing any sense of where I was in relation to where my van was parked, but no worries, as I wandered on past many grand country piles, full of acres of mown lawns and horse paddocks.
At one point I found myself walking through a deer farm and stopped to watch these rather shabby beasts and wonder at how we humans find it so easy to justify imprisoning and eventually slaughtering such fine fellow Earth dwellers as these, which have roamed these woodlands for thousands of years.....
The next fellow I came across on my explorations, was a fox watching me watching him, until finally nervousness overcame him too much to linger and off he trotted.
Shortly afterwards I entered a wood, where I came across a sign warning walkers to stick to the path due to a planned shooting of 'vermin' in the area.
Again I wondered sadly at our beautiful indigenous animals being labelled vermin, to justify their 'legitimate' destruction.
I mentally listed all that could be labelled 'vermin' and came up with squirrels, moles, rabbits, hares, polecats, foxes, deer, badgers, buzzards, crows, magpies, bats, otters, weasels, stoats....
There are undoubtedly more, but the one missing off the list, who in my opinion creates the most destruction, I shall leave to your imagination.
Later along the journey, I came across a classic old pub, the White Horse in Maplehurst.
Not a gastro menu in sight, just locals propping up the bar, being served by a friendly couple who have been running it for over 20 years, proudly serving locally brewed ales and keeping it real.
Propping up the bar with them I enquired if they knew where my van was parked, describing a sign offering cream teas and another pub, no longer open.
They knew straight away where I meant and offered me directions as to how to get back there.
So after finishing my drink and catching up on the local gossip (pupil sets fire to school...), I carried on my way down country lanes lined with daffodils and back to the van and then on to Gaveston Hall.
Rejoining the Bhakti Gathering, my spirit was soothed by the chanting of ancient mantras, the voices of a hundred or so people joined in song, ringing out across the fields.....
So this is the beginning of my bloggers journey….
I will start where I am, which is Sunday evening, looking at the clock and thinking I really should go to bed, but before I do I will describe my last walk.
This was yesterday up and around Loughrigg Fell near Ambleside in the Lake District. I had driven up there on Friday with my Mum, to visit my lovely daughter Megan, who is studying for a Degree in Outdoor Education. The weather was sleety and snow was visible on the hills. I could not persuade my Mum or Megan to come out for a walk as, looking out the window, it was not very inviting, cold, wet, windy….but I knew that I needed to get out there, if only to get some exercise.
I donned my not that waterproof, waterproofs and set off into the misty rain.
After about 20 minutes and getting wet, I felt sluggish and cold and questioned my decision to go out on my own into what was a rather miserable winter’s day. However I plodded on, at every choice, keeping to the high road (I always hate to give up even the smallest bit of height gained) and found myself wandering past many groups of soggy walkers heading in the other direction. All were chirpy in that ‘true Brit’ fashion of not letting a bit of rain deter them. I passed Rydal caves and started to enjoy myself despite the rain. I was looking down onto Rydal water and Grasmere and across to Heron Pike and Rydal Fell. Plenty of people were out braving the weather, on foot, on bikes and running.
I had a vague plan to walk to Grasmere, but when I looked at the map, saw that I could circumnavigate Loughrigg Fell and do a circular walk around it back where I began.
So treading pastures new, to me, I took the high road and bore left and away from the path to Grasmere and entered a land I had not seen before.
That is one of the great joys of walking, to set your eyes on land that you have never seen before. To some, it may all look the same…trees, paths, streams, hills, but to one who enjoys the simple beauty of the countryside, a new path is always a delight. From this point on I didn’t pass another person, only sheep. I kept checking the map to ensure I didn’t stray from my chosen route and found myself meeting a narrow lane before veering off over a stile once again to wander amongst those beautiful teddy bear like sheep, who watched me pass by in all my waterproofed glory. I wandered past Loughrigg tarn, past several old, cosy looking dwellings and along, what must be a very old track that led past Ivy Crag and back over Loughrigg Fell and down past Miller Brow to the lovely steep backed bridge that leads into the park in Ambleside and back to the student accommodation where my daughter and Mum were waiting. And needless to say, I felt much better than when I’d began and vowed to try the same path again on a sunnier day to really enjoy the views of further afield fells and pikes that I know were there hidden in the clouds.
Michelle's ramblings about rambling
Michelle would describe herself as a walker, a swimmer and lover of nature, she likes nothing more than to discover a great old Ash or Oak, or to gaze at distant hills, marvel at rocky crags, that appear to hum with vibrancy, as they stick out of the earth. She rescues sheep as she finds them with their heads stuck in the fence, trying to reach that ‘greener grass’. She delves into long abandoned farmhouses to soak up the atmosphere of buildings made by craftsmen, whose hearts infuse their work and whose buildings slowly meld back into the landscape from whence they came.