Skyros, Greece

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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Skyros Spirit: Never more apt than in these uncertain times

Yannis Andricopoulos, Ph D, is the co-founder of Skyros and author of several books including his trilogy In Bed with Madness, The Greek Inheritance and The Future of the Past (Imprint Academic 2008).

Here, Yannis discusses the uncertain financial times across the globe, and the impact these can have on community, personal fulfillment and more...

"The Germans still remember their 1923 financial crisis, the time that it took 200 million Deutsche Marks to buy a loaf of bread and life savings would barely buy a postage stamp. The rest of the world, or at least its oldest generation, hasn’t forgotten the 1929 world economic crisis when, as my father used to recall, angry crowds often stormed bakeries in Greece to grab the bread to feed the family.

Will the current recession lead to a similar crisis that particularly the younger generation will likewise never forget? Hopefully not, though the law of self-destruction seems to have the same force as the law of self-preservation. Whatever the outcome, the current situation has, however, highlighted virtues that, for at least a generation, the West had stored in the basement of our existence as of little or no use.

Myself, though a member of the golden age generation, have never forgotten the old certainties – they are part of my identity as formed in my early years with the help of my parents, the family friends, our neighbours, our community. One of them, that in the last twenty or so years has made me feel as if I were the last representative of a culture of which there were no longer any witnesses, dictated that we should never waste anything.

Don’t waste your food as you never know when the next meal will be available, don’t leave any lights on in places they are not needed and don’t leave the water tap on while brushing your teeth. Repair everything repairable rather than throw it away. When holes appeared in my socks, my mother would always mend them with the help of a wooden egg inserted in the sock. Throwing them away would have been viewed as nothing else than madness. Recycling was in vogue long before the new word enriched our vocabulary, when we had only little more than our dreams.

Another certainty made sure that we care for our community. There was always someone in need like our neighbours, those Greek refugees from Odessa who had fled the 1917 Russian revolution and had not recovered from their ordeal even in the ’60s. Extended to politics, the same idealism had led me to join the ranks of the country’s left wing movement. And then we had to take care of our development. Do your best not just to survive but to excel albeit not as a highly-paid professional but as a decent person and a pillar of your community.

When Skyros, the holistic holiday, was born, which was in the same year Margaret Thatcher won power in the UK, this old-fashioned world of mine hadn’t disappeared altogether. In fact, the more Prime Minister Thatcher tried to destroy the sense of community through the cult of the individual the stronger the sense of community grew. People who came to Skyros in those years were likewise ready to demonstrate, not as a gesture belonging to ancient times but as an act of conviction, that there is such a thing as society!

But the years passed and the values changed. Growth, the God we all seemed to worship despite the fact that this God has, as we see now, failed both us and the two billion people who still live on less than $2 a day, had blinded us. The cult of wealth, consumerism, looks and celebrities had won the day.

Yet Skyros, the image of an idea, has remained consistently attached to the old-fashioned virtues that kept telling people: ‘Don’t stick to a job that gives you nothing but money to buy things you don’t need in order to impress people you don’t care about’. It could also have said: ‘Don’t borrow money’ for the same reasons!

Skyros has in this spirit consistently advocated an approach different from that which our materialistic, consumerist, technocratic culture promotes. Its philosophy is based on doing rather than having, creating rather than consuming and belonging rather than retreating into the garden of your private world. It’s all about perpetual becoming rather than being.

Hence people joining a Skyros holiday feel able to engage creatively with their community and relate honestly to all those they had never met before. They can and do explore new possibilities, pursue new ideas and unearth talents they did not even suspect they possessed as athletes, writers, musicians, painters, performers, thinkers or even dry stonemasons. They feel free to try the seemingly impossible – having never sang before, sing, for example, in front of one hundred people or having never swam before, learn how to swim.

‘More’ in this context is not a Lamborghini but the fulfillment of our potentials as human beings and the freedom to be what we choose to be irrespective of the choices forced upon us by our creations – the market, machines, technology, systems, ideologies, fashion or fundamentalist beliefs. Not doing so is like having let a river slip through our fingers without drinking a single drop.

In any case, we can’t have more of the same. Time, bent on his own business, doesn’t care to preserve our hopes. Financial capitalism is collapsing, uncertainties have taken the place of the previous blind faith in the future, and the earth’s resources are finite. Hence the need to invest in change, and this means not only the radical overhaul of our dysfunctional system. It also means living a life in line with the Skyros ideal, ie pursuing happiness outside the parameters of the system and seeking personal fulfillment beyond material concerns. It all involves a new sense of meaning and purpose in our lives within our community and as active members of it.

Why am I not surprised that the Skyros paradigm is back in fashion so to speak? Its vision has something eternal, but, perhaps, to re-discover the core values that sustain our existence and reconnect with the spirit that is the soul of every spring we needed to find ourselves on the brink of disaster. Whatever, Skyros and its vision is now again in the forefront of the new movement for a life that makes sense. It is by definition one of its natural leaders and, indeed, a school of leaders."

For more information about Skyros, including how it all began, visit

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