I’m being broken down

I’m now in Icaria, Greece. I should probably explain why and how and what for before launching into a post about an Icarian experience I’m currently having. But, as you will soon learn, everything on this island is topsy-turvy. So an introduction will have to wait.

Since arriving in Icaria I’ve been getting looks from the locals. And comments. Knowing comments and looks, like they know something about me that I don’t. Yet.

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Photo by Rachel de Joode

Eventually someone said something. It was Elias. He said to me one morning, after a hard, tortured night of no sleep, “You’re here for a reason. Icaria will change you.” He then told me that if I didn’t sleep that night that the next day I was to join him goat herding for the day, that we’d drink a litre of wine watered down with water when it got hot in the afternoon, eat some cucumbers and goat and then come home late. “And then you sleep…we do it the Icarian way,” he said

Icaria is changing me. And I asked for this. And so this place found me. Or the other way around.

If you’ve followed my travels via my social media outpourings you’d be under the impression I’m having a Fabulous time with a cap F over here in Europe. Don’t get me wrong, I am, but not just in a cap F Fun way. Often in a cap F F*ck This is Full On way.

Icaria is a truly strange place. Everything you thought you knew about life is turned on it’s head here. The locals drink a lot, eat a lot, eat at odd hours (lunch can be anytime between 3pm and 7pm) and they sleep…whenever (some villages head to bed around 5am, with the shops open all night, shutting at sunrise). And yet they live longer and healthier than anyone else on the planet. I’ll write more on this paradox shortly, but for now I need to share what this can do to a girl. Especially a rigid, fearful girl.

It breaks you down.

There’s also a strong energy here. Someone else said something. It was Thanai. She said Icaria will either embrace you or spit you out. “If you fight the energy, it will win,” she said. Others have shared with me how the first time they came they couldn’t handle the energy. All their issues suddenly surfaced and they had to leave immediately. I’ve heard this over and over. People have almost drowned. The National Geographic team almost lost a team member last time they were here. The camera guy fell and had to be rescued via a CNN-funded jet from the bottom of a cliff. The team tell me he’d been pushing way too hard in the lead up. Connected, perhaps?

I should say, though, that all who talked to me about this came back and went through big shifts when they did…for the better. The island did it to them, they say. The locals confirm it. They’ve seen this phenomenon a lot.

It breaks you down.

Me, I didn’t sleep for my first six nights here. I felt I was going insane. I couldn’t find an escape from the torture. The heat, the late nights, the disorientation and the sense there was no respite left me in tatters. But there was more.

Icaria tugs a perfectly good, ambitious Plan For the Day from your grip and tosses it to the pigs. Then it laughs at you.

Plans don’t work here. Time slips past in odd ways, like no one looks at watches, like no one cares how long something takes. People stop to talk in the street and they don’t keep it short. They talk for as long as the sparkle remains in the eye. No one darts from a conversation onto the next thing. They allow pauses in which they smile kindly in understanding. If they stay awake late, they don’t worry how they’ll catch up on sleep tomorrow.

I know much of Greece is a little like this. But even the Greeks marvel at the “Icarian Way”. It’s taken to a new level here.

I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s really rather beautiful, even when every part of you is screaming “CAN WE STOP CHATTING, WE’RE RUNNING LATE?!”

I tried to go for a walk yesterday. I aimed to set off at 11am. I’d studied the hiking map. I was excited.

It was 4pm before I set off. I ate lunch at 7.30pm.

Seriously, everywhere I went (to eat breakfast, pick up water, fill up my moped) I ran into someone who talked to me, slowly, with happy interest and care, and about great stuff. I was sucked in and my Plan was tugged from me.

I was loving the chats. I was loving the warmth and the relaxed company. But I also had a jumpy knot of anxiety in my gut. My Plans!!! I had somewhere to be! The day was going to get away! I’m usually a gun at breaking a chat to say, “Sadly I’ve got to dash”. But here in Icaria I just can’t seem to find a way. I get sucked in.

The Icarian Way – it breaks you down because it forces you to confront your ways.

It probably wouldn’t – their Way could be easily dismissed as irresponsible, unworkable – were it not for the fact that it seems to… work. The people here live long, healthy and very happy lives. It’s a fact.

The whopping great reflection that bounces back at you is this: perhaps the way I’ve been doing things isn’t right.

As I say, I asked for this. I’ve written about it a lot…my desperate need to know what life can be like with less rigidity, with looser plans, without my happiness depending on what happens next.

It’s funny, when I really want something, I get it delivered, but not always as I anticipated. I’m getting what I wanted, but it’s  uncomfortable. But discomfort always alerts me to the fact that something is shifting or being broken down.

Someone else said something. It was Thea. She said to me when I described my knot of anxiety and my panic about not getting things done. “Ah, in Icaria we say that’s why God invented tomorrow.”

I’ve been here 10 days now and I’m starting to ease into this way of thinking. Slowly, slowly, as the Icarians say. It makes me laugh to watch myself grating against time. I’m checking the time less. I’m letting the day pass as it needs to.

Tell me, would you invite this kind of looseness into your life just now?



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