Skyros turns 35 this year. Measured by the standards of the alternative world, this is a very long time to be around, an achievement in itself of which, as one of its founders, I should be proud. As it happens, I am!
I am prouder, however, of all Skyros has achieved. As many as twenty thousand people have joined it over the years, many of them numerous times, and relished its unbridled spirit of adventure, creativity and joy. Many explored new possibilities, tried new things and unearthed amazing aspects of themselves. In a world far removed from daily routines, others took the opportunity to reassess their life, redefine their needs and re-set their priorities.
This broad and rather vague construct places Skyros beyond the reach of any definition. It is also what puzzles me when asked to explain what it is all about. How can you describe the soul of the spring?
Skyros is about living fully in the moment – and making the most of it. It is about the joy of living, if joy stands for something beyond the ‘fun’ offered to us by the entertainment industry. It is the pleasure of going for the spectacular which transcends every preceding fear, and the delight experienced by the appreciation of things for what they are - ‘a river for its riverness’, as Plato said - as opposed to their benefits in this life or the next.
But Skyros is also the future. ‘Think’, I invite people when I am there, ‘what would really, really make you happy?’ The answer is not a Lamborghini, but a sense of purpose that is larger than one’s own self, a meaningful job that is socially validated, and a world, their world, in which they feel they belong and to which they can relate. What most people want is a simpler and more fulfilling life, their recognition as human beings rather than functionaries or consumers, and good, decent, loving relationships. In short, a life that makes sense. Or, as Aristotle said, a life in tune with one’s spirit and nature, community and sense of purpose - a life, in other words, harmonised with everything visible and invisible. In this context, ‘more’ seems to mean something different from that which our materialistic, technocratic, consumer culture provides.
Living such a life requires action in the pursuit of the right and the good in a way that expands the mind, nourishes the body, uplifts the spirit and helps the heart grow big. It demands an unappeasable love of beauty, from the beauty of the heart to the beauty of the institutions of a just society.
This, as articulated by the ancient Greeks, requires perfection through the development of personal human qualities embracing the whole of a man’s existence and not tradable against other goods such as wealth. Among other things, this involves commitment to the community and to ethical living - ‘honourable living’ as the Greeks would say - both of which are indispensable to the happiness of the individual and the re-establishment of a high trust society. Happiness then comes, to recall Aristotle again, ‘like the bloom on the cheeks of youth’.
This is what in my understanding Skyros has been, and is still, trying to achieve. Recapturing the lost days of innocence affirms what is best in ourselves and enobles life. Fulfilling our potential asserts, likewise, man’s power over his creations – the market, machines, technology, systems, fashion, ideologies or fundamentalist beliefs. Skyros provides no answers of course. It does encourage people, however, to get in touch with their gut feeling, question and challenge our culture’s assumptions and finally, dauntlessly, do what they need to lead a happy life.
Skyros is unlike any other holiday - it is for anyone but not everyone! But if you want a taste of what life can be, if you are ready for a departure from tired old routines and are looking for inspiration to live the joy of your dreams, Skyros is the place to be.