A Test Bed for Community Living in Kissos, Greece
Dr. Ian Tenant June 2010
To find out more about the Kalikalos Centre visit http://www.kalikalos.com
The Pelion region of Greece seemed like a satisfyingly appropriate location for a week-long experiential therapy course - as according to Greek legend, this area was home to Chiron Centaur, the wounded healer, who established one of the world’s earliest healing schools.
It's easy to understand why the Pilion mountains would be chosen for this purpose - compared to other parts of Greece it is delightfully verdant: magnificent ancient trees form rainforest-like canopies across entire mountain ranges. Walking along ancient donkey paths (some of which have been made into roads) I continuously heard fresh mountain water gushing down steep slopes - cooling ever so slightly, the warm air which was saturated with the fragrance of seasonal herbs and flowers. In fact, as I was to find out, the entire week’s stay was to prove a healing experience for all involved.
I was staying at an eco-retreat and community centre called Kalikalos at one of its two campuses located in Kissos. The architecture in Kissos town in combination with grand trees, gives a feeling of the Alps rather than Greece, even though, minutes away, can be found some of the most unspoilt Greek beaches and coves I've ever seen. A robust sense of community is the homespun thread that runs through all activities at Kalikalos.
Some people come to the community as workers to help maintain the gardens and grounds, other as participants in the programme of holistic workshops that run throughout the summer, and some visit as guests. Yet, everyone is expected to help with cooking, cleaning and tidying.
Co-founder of the centre, Jock Millenson - lives by the philosophy that 'Work is love in action' - a concept made famous by the Findhorn Community in Scotland where Jock lived for some years. Kalikalos shares several of the lifestyle themes found in other intentional communities around the world such as communal meals, voluntary simplicity and interpersonal growth. For idealists who've fantasised about the joys and security of community living - Kaliakos is the perfect test bed.
Each year a new small-scale community is seeded and allowed to grow. The transient nature of the community at each campus serves as a prototype for life in larger-scale eco-villages. New friendships feel intimate and allow each person to find their natural role. Kay, who had been there almost one month explained to me that this has made her appreciate previously unrecognised qualities and skills that she has been using for years in other group situations, “Small things like making living spaces look presentable and welcoming have always come naturally to me – although these may not be essential to survival they make life more pleasant”. Kay now knows that it’s everyone’s responsibility to form a sense of community: “When the small group of us arrived here at the start of the season I thought, ‘Where’s the community?’ Then I realised, ‘Oh, it's us!’ and we built it from scratch.”
It seems that one of the biggest challenges to the smooth running of community living is finding ways to get jobs done without personality clashes or creating a sense of dictatorship, domination or oppression. In other words, making sure the ‘ego’ doesn’t get in the way. To avoid this, at Kalikalos, groups of people who have agreed to help with a particular task ‘attune’ to the job before beginning - whether it be preparing dinner, washing dishes or digging new pathways. This involves standing in a circle with one person who becomes the ‘focaliser’ (similar to a chairperson at a meeting) for that task invoking positive qualities which help the group work together harmoniously or remind each other of the energy which connects them all - so that they can enjoy their work and feel free to really be themselves.
This does, however, still rely on everyone to notice when things need doing even when they haven’t been ‘focalised’ on a particular task. Just knowing that we are all expected to muck in with a ‘whistle while you work’ fashion was enough to make me more sensitive to other’s stress levels and compel me to lend a hand when they were struggling. By the end of the week it became clear to me why these ‘attunement’ tools are required in community settings. The ritual creates a kind of temporary glue that bonds even the boundlessness of ‘free spirits’ – and community living certainly attracts its fair share of these.
Having said that, I also learnt from some fascinating discussions with some of the guests about experiences here and in other communities that a magic formula for communal living remains a holy grail. “It takes more than just a full set of practical skills and knowledge to make community work,” explained Bradley who was taking a break at Kalikalos from another eco-community where he lives most of the year, “There are people here with degrees in sustainable construction or agriculture. But I’ve come to realise that interpersonal sensitivity and emotional intelligence are what really determines whether a group will gel or not.”
Bradley had been involved in a love affair at his community. The drama rocked the whole village. However, rather than being ostracised from his friends and family he and his lover were encouraged to work through all the issues that arose with the very people they affected. Dayna his now partner, explained to me how much she learnt from the whole experience, “It was tough going but has made me realise how much my decisions affect other people and has given me the skills to handle similar crises in the future”. We all laughed and agreed that community living is anything but dull.
Real life can certainly be more interesting than television. Even though this community disperses at the end of each season, there are several things put in place to allow the core principles to be reignited each year.
Firstly, the 70yr-old co-founder of the centre, Jock Millenson, remains at the helm of the organisation. After a decade of working here he still pays attention to the detail and nitty-gritty of everyday community building. Secondly, there is a means for logging procedures and protocols and any agreed changes as the community evolves and improves. The balance between being highly organised and maintaining enough freedom is a delicate one. Wherever the equilibrium ends up it will never suit everyone. I was told about a young lad who left one week into his month-long stay. He felt frustrated by having to adhere to routines such as diluting breakfast fruits and nuts with just the right amount of sesame seed and was slightly freaked-out by the emotional frankness of those seeking personal development.
Kalikalos attracts all types of people. Sitting in the shade of kiwi vines I absorbed the contrast of visitors working together. A barefoot, sarong-clad teenage girl unceasingly digging pathways with a pickaxe whilst a retired business man who now leads workshops tidied-up behind her. It certainly isn’t a case of all work and no play though. There’s plenty of time in each daily schedule for sharing stories and laughter, trips to the beach or just resting in the paradisiacal gardens – which whilst I was there were in full bloom with hydrangeas: making the campus feel like a giant bouquet. After just a few days into the stay I found myself laughing, joking, hugging and sharing personal experiences with previously unknown people as though we were long-lost friends.
I conclude that coming together in this way to work with people whilst purposefully building community not only helps break the ice more than a bog-standard holiday but also helps to form new moulds. A week at Kalikalos challenged my preconceptions about eco-community living. Flaky, stereotypical hippies sitting around in drum circles wearing rose-tinted glasses were not to be seen – instead you can expect to see and experience a full spectrum of emotions from people who know what it’s like to live in the real world. Most of the people I met at Kalikalos were seeking to evolve spiritually in some way. They all had something to offer to the community, and just like Chiron Centaur, had their own wounds to heal. But, just like the holistic therapist, Fran who used her time to recover from her divorce 3 months earlier, after discovering that her husband of 27 years had been having an affair for the last 7 of them –
Kalikalos allows each person’s path to be cleared in a light-hearted and supportive way so that they can focus on what’s important for their own future, whatever community that may be in.
For further information about Kalikalos Centre visit http://www.kalikalos.com/
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