Ari Badaines trained as a clinical psychologist in the USA. For twelve years he lived in Britain where he had a private practice and led numerous groups and training courses. He now lives in Sydney, Australia where he maintains a consulting practice. In August 2010, Amanda Smyth (teaching at the Writers' Lab) met Ari at the Skyros Centre, where he is running personal development courses.
How long have you been coming to Skyros? This is my twenty ninth consecutive summer.
What brought you here? Airplane and boat! Actually, I was invited by Dina, one of the founders, to run a personal development group. Back then there were three intensive personal development groups of around 13 people in each group, running simultaneously.
Are the problems people brought to the groups similar now to what they were? Yes, essentially the issues are mainly around relationships, so pretty much the same now as they were back then: career choices, childhood experiences, relationship to self, relationship to others; these are the typical kinds of issues that reoccur.
Does change happen quickly here at Skyros? Sometimes change does occur more quickly; this is partly because of the intensity of the course. The course runs every day, rather than once a week, as in typical ongoing therapy. And although frequency doesn’t guarantee change, there is an added intensity, plus there’s tremendous support and opportunity for experimentation, for being different, and trying out better ways of being and relating.
At Skyros, everyone is in the same boat, so people are more compassionate, understanding and supportive. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of the writing lab or taking the self-development course – people at Skyros are encouraged to experiment, challenge and take risks. If they’re going to develop, this is a good space in which to do it.
I was struck by the atmosphere here in Skryos, not just at the centre but in the town, too. It feels like a very special island. We can project anything into an environment; there is the beauty of this island, the sun, the sea and being so close to nature in such a beautiful village. This can make you feel differently about things. It can feel very good and supportive. But changing our environment - from what we’re used to - can also be challenging. It’s how we perceive what’s here, and that depends on where you are in your individual process.
How are you received by locals? There are a few locals that seem to remember me from year to year, and give me a warm hello. But, of course, I am limited by my Greek language skills.
There are one or two people that I try to see regularly who speak very good English, who I have quite a strong relationship with. That is, I would feel disappointed if I didn’t see them. Yorgo, for instance. Many years ago, as I wandered around Skyros town on my own, I would go into his shop and see his plates, which are exquisite works of art. And gradually, we started to talk, to get to know one another; a relationship built up. Ten years ago he moved into the countryside where I now visit him, and he welcomes me like a member of the family. We laugh and tell stories. He is so artistically creative, I have a lot of respect for what he does, his abilities, his humor.
What is the focus of your work here? To help people become aware of where they get stuck in their life, to help them become aware of the choices they make to keep themselves there. My work offers the opportunity to confront those issues, and the things that keep them stuck. With the support of the group behind them, they are free to take risks and experiment with a new way of being and doing.
Some believe a leopard never changes its spots, they simply move around? Do you think there is any truth in this? I’m helping people, not to change, but to become more of who they are.
I do believe that people can make quite dramatic changes. Like the woman who does too much to please others because she doesn’t value herself, and when she begins to take ownership of her own good ‘enough-ness,’ she makes huge and dramatic changes. It’s exciting to see.
It is each person’s responsibility to carry on with the work they have started here, and when they don’t practice this work, when they forget, it’s like muscles - they weaken. This environment supports change, and unfortunately, the environment they return to doesn’t always encourage change. Systemically, whether at work or in relationship, there will be pressure to return things to the way they were formerly - to homeostasis. It is something we talk about here at Skryos.
Sometimes support from friends who have been there will help. Also continuing with group therapy or individual therapy. Many stay in touch with people from the course and get support beyond it. The process of change can generate excitement; this new found excitement can help to propel participants and to keep the change going. Positive change brings positive results.
You have said that this is one of your favourite places to work. Why do you return to Skyros? It’s a place that I can most be myself. So many aspects of me can be expressed here. And I think that people similarly discover this for themselves when they come. It’s about how we are.
What is it about Skyros that allows you to be yourself here? It’s not a competitive society; the typical influence of class, status and gender, outward trappings of success aren’t important here. Everyone wears shorts and t shirts – it’s very relaxed. There’s no exclusive restaurant that you can go to. I think most people find that they can be accepted into the community and be a part of it.
What about the villagers? I have noticed how friendly they are, the women sitting on their steps in their black dresses, always with a smile, a greeting, a wave? There is a warmth in the people and an appreciation of us. In the early years, what’s now a dress shop used to be a restaurant. Yesterday, I saw the woman who once ran that restaurant, and I told her I’d been coming here many years; that she made the best calamari I had ever tasted. She tapped her heart, and I could see that she was moved. I was moved, too. It’s the simplicity of that contact, a moment in history, of 25 years ago, and us meeting now conveying that experience. Skyros is relatively still untouched by tourists. In some of the other islands, the culture has almost been taken over by tourism.
What is your favourite local delicacy? BOUGATSA. There is a particular shop where I buy bougatsas that are unique to Skyros. It is a filling that most people think is apple pie; the combination of filo pastry and cinnamon is absolutely delicious. There are many other favourite foods – souvlaki, the fresh fish, the calamari...
What kind of holidaymaker does Skyros attract? People who are looking for more than a beach holiday, even though all those elements can be found here. In addition, people who want to learn or develop, to experience and immerse themselves more deeply into the warmth of the Greek culture in a lovely Greek town, surrounded by sea and beauty, and be part of the Skyros Centre as well.
I was struck by Skyros's beauty. From almost every spot, there is something for the eyes to feast on. What is your favourite view? On the beach looking back up onto the village in the moonlight: you have the sea and the mountain and the village in one frame.
To find out more about personal development courses at the Skyros Centre, Greece, see www.skyros.com or call 01983 865566 for your Skyros brochure.