Last autumn I was in Greece. I spent three months living on the Peloponnese, retreating from the world as I knew it, wandering through olive groves inhabited by feral dogs and bearded, disturbingly terrifying goats. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was one of the best decisions of my life and one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.
I had intended to make my little cottage a home base for all sorts of Grecian travels. However, after escaping the chaos of Athens, arriving to my new home after a dusty six hour bus ride, and flinging open the patio doors overlooking the sea, I suspected I would not be moving from my sanctuary anytime soon.
The next morning, when the rosy glow of sunrise started to stretch its fingers over the tops of the mountains way in the distance, I knew for certain that I had found a place to come to rest, if only for a little bit.
I set off to Greece knowing only that I needed the time and space for…what? I wasn’t even sure. All I knew was that it felt as if my whole being was crying out for solitude and for something different than anything I had ever experienced.
Escaping to a country where I did not know the language, to a village where there are no bank machines, and a society which is not, on first experience, very welcoming, was the most drastic thing I could think of doing.
Oddly, I wasn’t even scared. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t worried. Typically, I fall into fits of obsessive worry and uncertainty over what color of lipgloss to wear or which shade of foundation to buy, so this peace and certainty was uncharacteristic of me. All I could conclude was that I was being strengthened by something outside of myself, so that I could embark on an experience I needed to live through.
The only thing I struggled with was guilt. I felt self indulgent – never mind that I was funding my travels myself and was working along the way at a job which, magically, grants me the freedom to be wherever, as long as I have a laptop and the internet. Never mind that I had no one relying on me. I had no responsibilities outside myself.
The problem was that I was taking time. In escaping to the wilds of Greece, I wasn’t scurrying around being busy. I wasn’t moving towards a goal. I wasn’t being purposeful. I was entering a period of being. But worse than that, I had no idea where that would take me. I was admitting that I didn’t have a clue and that I needed to stop by the side of the road and look at the map for a really long time, since my map reading skills are abysmal.
The world around us is not very encouraging of that. The world bustles around, moves fast, looks for ways to speed things up, and moans when an email takes a few seconds longer than normal to send. No one has enough time, and if you don’t have a full calendar and a list a mile long and goal after goal to achieve, you aren’t worth much.
But here’s the thing: after a couple years of illness and pain and disappointment and just generally feeling overwhelmed and bewildered by life, I realized that I had been so wrapped up in just surviving and keeping my head above water, that I had lost any grasp of what I wanted to do, what goals I might have, and in what direction I wanted to move towards. I was living in frenetic desperation.
It took courage to admit that I was lost. It was an act of faith to believe that if I abandoned any goals I had, I would find new ones to pursue.
I knew that I needed to come to a full stop before I could choose a direction. I knew that if I didn’t do that I would spin in circles indefinitely, looking very busy, yes, but going nowhere.
In our busy busy world, how often do we simply stop to reassess? How often do we ask if we are actually going anywhere, or if we are just trapped on a hamster wheel? Judging from the sleeping pills and anti-depressants and stress disorders and anger disorders and chronic illnesses that are ever on the rise, we aren’t living in a very happy or a very healthy society.
What’s so odd is that rather than simply stopping, just for a moment, to assess our direction, our very lives, and to figure out if we are living abundantly or just struggling to survive, we keep moving, terrified that if we stop we won’t recognize the landscape around us, or even more soul shaking, our very selves.
Not everyone can take off to Greece. Not everyone even wants to do that. But what happened to a weekend retreat? Or watching a sunset? Or sitting at the back of a quiet church for half an hour?
I can only speak from my experience. But those moments of removal, of quiet, of self assessment—those moments are the ones which can form and powerfully direct our lives. Those moments of “nothing” can be everything, because in them we can hear that “still small voice” which directs and desires our happiness.