Alex Christou tells us the story of how he became part of the foreign sannyas community.
Arillas is a beautiful village on the north-west coast of Corfu. In case you have never been here, it is the most northern island of Greece, just across from Italy’s ‘heal’. But you must have heard that it has been home to sannyasins for over 35 years. At the moment Arillas has four holistic centres, most of which offer workshops as well as holidays combined with meditation and creativity. And more is to come because it is rapidly turning into the hot spot for alternative holidays.
Let me to tell you a little story about me, Arillas and spirituality!
I was born and raised in Corfu, in Corfu Town to be exact (about an hour’s drive from here), but my parents chose Arillas as our holiday place when I was two. The reasons they chose Arillas was because it has a sandy beach, the water is shallow (good for us children) and that there were rich fishing grounds not far off in the sea (good for my father who loved fishing).
As you can see from the photos, Arillas in the late seventies was a fishermen’s village and was just starting to develop touristically. This is where I spent my childhood summers. School holidays in Greece (used to) start on 10th June and go till 10th September. So, for 16 years and for the best three months of the year (plus many autumn, winter and spring weekends) we were in this magical place.
Even though I spent more time growing up in Corfu Town than in Arillas, when I think back, my childhood memories are filled with wild flowers and animals, summer parties on the veranda, swimming, fishing, counting stars, playing football (on the exact spot where Malibu bar stands now), running free around the village. At one time we had our cousins visiting from abroad and somehow the discussion came to tortoises. They had never seen one, so we searched the fields around the house and within half an hour we found six of them, from mini to maxi!
Strange people in colourful robes walking down to the beach…
Around that time, the first sannyasins had already arrived in Arillas and set up a small centre in the hills near Kavvadades. I remember seeing groups of strange people in colourful robes walking down to the beach, or when my father and I went out fishing in our boat early in the morning we would see them all dressed in white sitting on the beach and chanting, or dancing wildly. But we didn’t see much of them (we locals nicknamed them ‘gurus’, or ‘gurudes’ in Greek); they apparently valued their privacy and were obviously not interested in mingling with us.
This secretiveness continued in later years when the two oldest clubs of Arillas, Ouranos and Alexis Zorbas, opened. They were set up away from the road, protected from curious eyes, and the guests generally only left the retreat grounds to go to the beach. Even then, most of the time they would venture out only as a whole group. This seclusion and secretiveness (as it was perceived by us locals) sparked many rumours….
Imagine, me as a child, to hear about a place near your village where strange foreigners come and do strange things. Sometimes you hear singing, sometimes you hear sighs, sometimes you hear screams and yells. And these people seem to wear very few clothes. And they do massages. And they keep hugging each other. All of them, men and women! And they always look so happy, or so absent. So, what I learned on the village grapevine was that the ‘gurudes’ were up there using illegal drugs and indulging in orgies! Many children spent their afternoons trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening. The reputation of Osho (or Bhagwan as he was introduced to me at the time) as a sex guru probably also contributed to all these stories….
Anyway, I grew up, went abroad to study and work, and in 2006 I came back to live in Corfu, together with my beloved Christina. By then, my mother had made many acquaintances among the ‘gurudes’, as many of them were spending their holidays in her apartments. All of them were very sweet, polite and gentle people and they all had very interesting stories to tell. None (OK, almost none) included drugs and orgies! So we had our first contact with Osho through our guests. The first (little) book of Osho I read was while waiting for Christina who was having a massage session with Amito. I liked what I read, although (or maybe because!) it sounded pretty radical.
Coming back to live in Arillas
In 2010 we moved permanently to Arillas because we wanted to raise our two daughters in a beautiful and safe environment, close to nature. Even though Arillas had grown enormously since the seventies, it somehow kept the feeling of a village and we could all feel the positive energy in the place. So we decided to move here and invest our time in creating a website that would promote alternative forms of tourism and local Corfiot products, focussed on the north-west corner of Corfu, around Arillas. Our website, Green Corfu, has since then grown to be one of the biggest alternative portals of Corfu, with a growing audience.
That first summer of 2010 we had a sweet guy from Nepal staying at one of our apartments. I remember hearing him play his flute while I was watering the garden. The sound was magical, I couldn’t get enough of it! We got to know Manose better, and he invited us to the concert he was playing in with some other musicians up at Buddha Hall. (I say ‘up’ because the hall is on top of a hill behind us, in the village of Magoulades, less than a ten-minute drive from the beach). That was our first contact with Deva Premal and Miten, the Buddha Hall and the mantras. Needless to say we were blown away! We also went to the second concert in August, and since then we are regular visitors to the Light of Love concerts. From that time onwards we became more involved with the Arillas spiritual community and started attending some meditations. We met many nice people and learned a lot.
Sannyasins connecting with the locals
In my opinion, the Buddha Hall has played a crucial role not only in bringing in more spiritual tourism but also in creating an integration with the local community. As I said, we already had two alternative centres offering meditations, yoga, sessions and mantra singing for the last 25-30 years before the Buddha Hall was built, but the interaction between these centres and the locals was minimal.
Vasanti and Michel who built the Buddha Hall clearly had a different vision. Of course it is a place which offers holistic workshops cum holidays, but it is much more than that. It has become a central gathering place for the local spiritual community, both sannyasins and non-sannyasins, and on top of that it functions as a bridge between this community and the locals. From the beginning they organised, at the start and end of the season, special open days for the locals and made efforts to invite them to the concerts. The hall also offers a regular Saturday evening meditation all year round, and more Osho meditations and open events are scheduled whenever the hall is available (this year, 5-8 July, there will even be a four-day Music and Meditation Festival!).
During the last four years, the number of Greeks at the Deva and Miten concerts has been rising steadily from two (Christina and me!), in 2010, to over 15-20 last summer! Furthermore, all the proceeds from the Light of Love concerts of these last two years go to the local ‘Smile of the Child’. This is a foster home for children who have been abused or neglected by their families. They take care of more than 25 children and the home is situated on a hill a couple of kilometers from Magoulades. All this has created a flow of energy from Magoulades to the surrounding area and back, which seems to be changing the consciousness of the people living here. For example, since last year, yoga lessons are being offered by the Arillas Cultural Club, with many enthusiastic Arilliots participating.
And this is not the end. We already have these four venues that offer workshops and spiritual holidays, but there is still more interest from other group organisers to do something in Arillas. More and more people from around the world are spending their summers – and many even their winters – in Arillas, contributing to a colourful, multicultural crowd.
Arilliots getting organised
All the while, the Arilliots have also woken up in the middle of the economic crisis and taken their fate in their own hands. The Arillas Cultural Club organises four traditional Greek festivals per year that are very popular with visitors from other parts of the island, but also with the tourists. Many book their holidays so that they can be here for one of these festivals (see this year’s Festivals schedule).
Then we have the Business Association, founded three years ago, which carries out a lot of work to keep Arillas clean and improve the village facilities and amenities. It also provides training courses for us local professionals so that we can upgrade the services we offer to our guests. Dimitris Brouklis, Doctor Yiannis Papadopoulos and myself, whom the Arillas regulars might know, have been trying to get more people involved, including the non-Greek new Arilliots, and have succeded! One more thing I would like to mention is that this year we are making a first effort to extend the season by opening up earlier: Arillas will be open for business from 12 April 2014.
21-days Dynamic Mediation
On a more personal level: since we moved to Arillas and came in contact with all the spiritual seekers here, we have participated in many meditations. We are doing yoga regularly, Christina got her first level Reiki and I am in the middle of a 21-day dynamic meditation intensive – and am enjoying it. We are constantly trying to improve our diet, we have given up traditional medicine in favour of homoeopathy, we are exploring the world of herbs and natural remedies, we are making our own wine, jam and liqueurs and are generally feeling better than ever! I don’t think we’ll take sannyas any time soon, but we definitely enjoy hanging out with the beautiful tribe of sannyasins.
It’s great to be living in Arillas in such exciting times. This article is just a snapshot, but I believe that because so many things are happening at the moment, we are going to see great changes around here in the coming years. Hopefully we can combine spirituality with solidarity and create a better world (or at least a better village). Our hearts know it is possible!
Alexis Zorbas – A Corfu Experience – in this interview you can read more about the history of how Arillas
Corfu Buddha Hall – Vasanti tells her story why she decided to build the meditation hall near Arillas
Alex Christou was born and raised in Corfu Town to a Dutch mother and a Greek father. He studied Chemistry in the Netherlands and worked as a DBA, programmer, web designer and web marketer for 10 years. Since 2010 he has been living with his extended family in Arillas, Corfu, where they are running a travel agency, primarily offering accommodation, and a real estate agency. Alex and his wife Christina are also involved in promoting local products and making Arillas a better place for their two daughters. www.greencorfu.com