Lost and found in Crete ~ Part One: Homecoming

Dal under Olive Tree
Dal under Olive Tree


I showed no restraint.I gave in completely and went.

To the delights, that were half real,

half wheeling in my mind,

I went in the luminous night.

And I drank of the heady wines, just

as sensuality's stalwarts drink.

C.P. Cavity (translated by David Connolly)

These days, I'm still feeling safely tucked under the ancient olive tree that resides high above Loutro bay in Crete. Stretched out against it's cracked skin, gazing out over the Libyan sea, I'm drifting off behind the distant mountains with the sun.

In reality, I'm sat here at my kitchen table in Yorkshire, back on morning caffeine kicks (oh how I love this ritual) but somehow it feels I left a big part of me over there...happily so.

Or could it be I was always there and just needed to go back and meet myself again?

In the Sfakian Mountains
In the Sfakian Mountains
"Crete's mystery is extremely deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force branching warmly and beneficently through his veins, senses his soul begin to grow." Niko Kazantzakis

Crete's mystery first oozed into my veins in September 2002. Battered and weary from an abruptly ruptured relationship, I found myself doing Ashtanga yoga and line dancing at a small retreat in Agios Pavlos. As the taxi wound down in to the little village, I was utterly entranced by the arid mountains and little houses dotted around. I was the most immobile human amongst the wind-breaking, steaming yogis despite the muscle-melting heat. But surprisingly good at line dancing.

Much time was spent losing myself in sea-blue skies, shining water and being hypnotised by tinkling goat bells. This momentary pause provided respite from the real-life entanglement I found myself in. And stoked my curiosity for this magical island... Fast forward 6 years or so and I'd discovered Iyengar yoga, a practice where battered bodies and un-stretched limbs were welcome - using blocks, props and multifarious sound effects to ease out knots and pains. And I discovered Marios Argiros, a lean, olive skinned and incredible yogi who ran Iyengar retreats in Kissamos Bay near Chania. It was enough to just visit a place called Kissamos. Kiss-a-moss. The name rolled around my tongue like a Cretan honey wrapped cloud. And so did the place for the next 4 years as my sister and I stretched and walked and swam in paradise for a week before returning home floating on raki, clouds and wearing sun-kissed skin.

Sfakian Sea-people
Sfakian Sea-people

But it was more than that. Year by year the soul of Crete was nestling itself surreptitiously in to a part of my psyche so that every time I left I would be longing to return. Some places just do that to you. I felt a love and safety amongst the Cretan people I met, who still beheld the spirit of filoxenia towards their visitors.

Filoxenia (philoxenia) ~ a generosity of spirit that welcomes and takes care of strangers in one's home. One local described it as welcoming visitors to their island as 'mini gods'. The English translation doesn't do filoxenia justice. It's something you have to experience and feel - and mostly, it feels very real in Crete. Like a big cup of cocoa and and a hot water bottle warming your bones and radiating outwards.

My longing continued and grew in to fantasies of spending whole summers in Crete. Yet slowly, as time passed  the fantasies and longing got buried beneath other countries that called me. Morocco, Cuba, America and Australia, almost tempting me to languish there for months or even years.  As life hurtled on, another relationship ended and so did my father's life. It seems if you don't act on a impulse or intuition fast enough it will quietly say 'stuff you then' and go hide. Until.

Death is an awakening force that pierces directly in to the truth of who, where, why and what-the-f**k. If we allow it to. Crete started murmuring ~ come...come back and the gentle sing-song of goat bells haunted my ears by night once again. Crete remained alive in my veins, waking me up.  I needed the sea to infect every part of me and the mountains to bring me home. I needed bursting nectarines and blistering heat. I needed to hear the perfumed lullaby of a middle-aged bearded Greek man with sea-creased, jade-soaked eyes and rough hands to bring me salads with far too many tomatoes for one. I needed feta with everything. And for raki to heat my throat and burn my words. I needed sweaty walks up steep hills to mountain villages and to scratch the little lumps tattooed on my arms by the generosity of Cretan mosquitos. Alive. I wanted thorough aliveness. I wanted to reach up and grab the Milky Way and wrap it around me, a blanket of warm remembering of my deepest ancestors. And to fly with vultures and eagles again. I needed to sit under 2 thousand year old olive trees enveloped by their wisdom and fearlessness. This drenching, this absolute drenching that Crete gives and gives and gives. I needed to thoroughly, completely and utterly soak myself and lose myself in this.

And what alchemy happens when you listen to that whisper...

It began 30,000 feet in the air ~ out of the blue, amidst the blue. I began to write about how I couldn't write about what happened in the 11 months between Dad having his stroke and Dad dying. About how I just couldn't write about any of it at the time. But 'that time' felt lodged firmly in my body and pushing out of my ribs, ever increasing in size. Especially those first 10 days in the Punjabi hospital which kept re-playing in my head, in my dreams, tainting everyday living moments.

from the journal, 30,000 feet high:

"I couldn't write then. The hurt was so deep I couldn't access where it was located. The shock so visceral that it took up permanent residence in my cells and started to push words through my pores so finally my face spoke the pain that languished like an unwelcome house guest, the poltergeist within, throwing and moving things about in the only direction it could - skin. 

Internally, I was exploding at atomic velocity, composure decomposing, deconstructing. I felt the very threads keeping me strung together withering daily along with Dad's achingly slow demise. And whilst inside molten rock was surging, the gurgling heat was sluggishly fading. I was slowing too. Myelin sheath rubbed raw by a covert grief leaking all over me like a sullen pen spelling it's ink all over my fingers and blotting the page with it's petulance, refusing to allow for clarity of words."

"The star holds the sky. We share the same lineage the same familiarity. Dad too. Maybe that's what needed to happen. That part of me that couldn't BE with what was happening in THAT 11 months needed to fly back to familiar territories along light years, to be safely kept until the moment came when I could again unfold."

By the time the plane thumped on to Chania runway something had shifted. Writing about not being able to write - it works. Mid-air I'd re-united with part of myself again.

I think of Cavafy's Ithaca and pray that my journey ahead is long and infused with treasures...

I wish this for you too.