My wife Chameli and I have spent the last several weeks on the Greek island of Corfu, leading our annual Deeper Love retreat there. Couples and single people gathered from all over the world to dive into an exploration together of a love beyond the usual confines of personality habits.
Every few days we've been getting concerned messages from friends and family. "You are in Greece? Maybe you should leave early? Are you going to be alright?" Every now and then we open up Google news, and discover that we are, apparently, sitting right in the middle of the fatal crack in civilization. "Why Greece may take us all down," read one headline. According to the news, we are trapped in the epicenter of a devastating financial and political disaster.
I write this to you from a café in capital city of Kerkyra. As I look around me, I can see, unfolding before my very eyes, a picture of global civilization coming undone. It is a Sunday night, and the streets are packed with people. These are not the usual tourists, but local residents, out in droves on this warm evening to express themselves with passion. Let me see if I can paint you a more vivid picture.
Couples are walking arm-in-arm down the cobbled streets, exchanging kisses and sweet nothings. Entire families are out together, children running ahead into the crowd and back again. The cafés are packed to overflowing with local people drinking oozo, eating baclava or ice cream. The air is filled with the familiar sound of impending social collapse: laughter. If this is the end of the world, it looks like people are really quite enjoying it.
We have been staying on the northern part of the island, in a small, traditional fishing village called Arillas. We walk each day from our apartment through the Olive Groves, past the small, whitewashed houses, often with goats and chickens in the garden, to the small harbor. I've been teaching Chi Kung on the beach, and then spending leisurely hours at the Ammos cafe, owned by Leo and Barbara, a local couple. Most mornings the power goes out for about an hour, as a result of rolling national strikes. They laugh and tell me that the cappuccino machine does not work, asking whether I like Greek coffee instead, which they can heat up on the gas stove. "Politicians," laughs Leo. "I don't trust any of them at all. Always making trouble." I asked him how he had been affected by the economic crisis that threatens to sweep the entire world. He looks at me with a grin.
Of course, Greece's economic woes have some reality. They recently were demoted to a CCC rating by the IMF, and serious austerity measures will be needed to secure fresh loans and to prevent defaulting on them. And of course there is passionate opposition to such measures, and to the politicians who mismanaged the economy. The riots you read about on the news are real but entirely confined to one square kilometer around the parliament building in Athens.
We can learn some lessons from the Greeks, you and I, just as Basil had lessons to learn from Zorba in Nikos Kazantzakis' novel. The United States has a similar predicament brewing, on a much larger scale, in fact: massive national debt and an economy that is not sustainable. We also face the need for austerity measures: increased taxation and reduced spending, and we also don't like it. The lessons we can learn here are not from Greek politicians or economists, but how you and I can learn to fully enjoy our lives in the midst of the messes created by them.
Kostas runs the local scooter rental in Arillas. His business is down this year, with less tourism. He sits in a small office, about six square feet. He has no computer, so he writes his rental contracts by hand and records return dates in a little book. He drives one of his own scooters to and from the small house he lives in, with his wife of 18 years and their younger daughter. "Pfah, I dont care so much about money," he tells me, in an accent that makes him sound exactly like Zorba in the movie. "I live a great life. I love my family, l love my life, I love people. I love you, my friend! " He embraces me. His office adjoins the place where we eat, so we hear his laughter throughout the day, as he finds more new people to fall in love with.
We have met a lot of people like Kostas here, and they have a lesson for all of us. While the elaborate man-made world is falling apart around you, learn to enjoy the small things in your day. Learn to fall in love with strangers.