At my first international retreat on Lesvos, Greece, women gathered with me from around the globe in the village of Molyvos to connect with their authentic creative spirit and bring their Mediterranean Muse to life on canvas. With permission from our wonderful Greek hosts, we built a Cretan style labyrinth in their olive grove, which we walked and danced daily as a metaphor for our journey within accessing our authentic creative voice. We painted, laughed, danced, swam, feasted, cooked, explored, sang, and dreamed. It was such a truly wonderful time.
I wanted to bring this program to Greece in part because of Carol Christ, who has called Lesvos home for over twenty years. In 2012, I participated in her ‘Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete’. To date, it’s one of the most transformational, life-affirming experiences of my life. I harvested so much creative inspiration and motivation from Greek village life, connecting to Goddess in this ancient landscape. I knew it was the perfect setting to gather women for an inspired creative retreat of my own. Carol took the time to come speak with our group, telling us about how she came to call Lesvos home. She spoke beautifully on Sappho, reading us some of her poetry. It was an honour to have her join us.
The simple, resourceful, sustainable way of traditional Greek village life and the generous nature of the Greek people is a humbling experience. On Lesvos, many people in the villages grow much of their own food, eating seasonally. In fact, food grows wild everywhere; wild thyme, oregano, dill, fennel, walnuts, figs, greens and much more. There are few large chain supermarkets. Trucks laden with fresh produce and fish make their way around the villages announcing their wares through a loudspeaker and the crowd gathers to shop.
There are over eleven million olive trees on Lesvos. Even the smallest plots of land often have them. Some villages own their own olive oil co-op. Cheese is usually homemade. Many people keep sheep and goats and the process has remained virtually unchanged since ancient times. Beehives are commonplace for honey and pollination, as too are grapes. Homemade wine is routine in many a household. Usually more than one job is held to make ends meet, many often supplementing their income through small-scale agriculture. One might be a café owner, a sheep farmer, olive grower and a fisherperson. Many traditional trades such as stone masonry and shoemaking are also still well and truly alive.
Life is not necessarily easy, but it is so much more sustainable, resourceful, and rich in tradition; offering a deeper connection to the land, food sources, community and family than we have in the modern Western world. We live in a disposable society based on convenience. It never ceases to amaze me to think that only a few decades ago, most households in Australia had a veggie plot, chickens, a rainwater tank and access to small family-owned corner shops for other necessities. Now that’s a rarity. It’s imperative for the sustainability of the planet to return to a grass-roots, village-based way of life. Greek village life inspires me and reminds me to hold tightly to these values.
However, the Greek economic and European migrant crises discussed on FAR by Carol and Laura Shannon, both have far-reaching, damaging effects on even the smallest villages. During our wonderful creative journey, we were also witness to thousands of refugees arriving on the island daily, making the long journey from war-torn Syria or Afghanistan. On foot, they travel to Turkey where coastal smugglers, making a small fortune selling rubber dinghies, carry large groups of refugees across narrow but dangerous stretches of water to Lesvos and other Greek islands. If they make it ashore through brutal sun and seasonal downpours, they set off on foot again to the nearest bus station. If they are lucky to get a seat on a bus, they are transported to the capital, processed and ferried to the mainland, hoping to find their way to other parts of Europe like Germany or Switzerland.
It’s hard to put into words how it feels to see such a tragedy. Women with babies, little children in tow, walking in the hot sun for miles and miles after braving the ocean that swallows up refugees in large numbers. Families with everything they own in a few plastic bags. Groups of young men that make me wonder about loved ones they left behind. Tired, thirsty, hungry, traumatised, weeping, lost. A woman standing under the bus shelter caught my eye. I couldn’t guess her age, with such stark lines of grief etched on her face making her seem much older than she was. She held a babe in arms, two crying children at her feet. We looked straight into each other’s eyes. That look of pain and suffering is forever imprinted on my psyche. Tears return as I write. I cannot even imagine what her experience must be like to live through.
It was such a contrast to be doing the creative work we were doing while this great humanitarian crisis unfolded all around us. To simultaneously be in a place of love and joy and suffering, of disappointment and hope is difficult territory to navigate. But this is why we do what we do, isn’t it? To plant seeds of change and to hold onto hope. To believe we can somehow make a difference. Without hope, what else is there?
Australia will soon welcome its first group of Syrian families to its shores. This is proving a divisive issue. Everybody has an opinion, mostly formed by media coverage. I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs to politics of the situation, But what I do know is that this is devastatingly real. It’s happening on a scale that is unimaginable. The TRUTH is that this is the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Millions of people are suffering and more needs to be done to help.
I worked on this painting constantly since my return; almost six hours daily for the last thirty days. Painting is how I process. It’s not until I work with image that I can even find words to express my feelings. My grief is in this piece. So too, is my love, hope and prayers that one day there will be peace. It expresses the suffering and tragedy, the hope and beauty– rich in symbolism with Syria’s national flower, jasmine, the tulip of Turkey, and the dove with the olive leaf symbolizing Greece. The large tulip to the right reaches its leaves out like hands to hold onto to the curling jasmine fronds with the mountains of Lesvos in the distance. The labyrinth in the centre is a tribute to our time in retreat and a reminder of the International Day of Peace, when we stood in circle, hand in hand, literally metres from groups of refugees, singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
This is for the women who are fleeing war, for the women who stayed behind in the hope that their sons, husbands and fathers will find them a new life in a new country. It is for the women and children who have been abducted by terrorists and sold as slaves. It is for all of us.
“Imagine all the people, living life in peace.”
Jassy Watson, who lives on the sub-tropical coast of Queensland Australia, is a Mother of four, passionate organic gardener, Intuitive/Visionary Artist, Teacher, Intentional Creativity Coach and a student of Ancient History and Religion at Macquarie University, Sydney. She is the Creatress of Goddesses Garden, Studio & Gallery; a school for the Sacred Creative Arts. Jassy teaches regular painting workshops in person, nationally, internationally, and online based around themes that explore myth, history, earth connection and the Goddess. You can see her work at http://www.goddessesgardenandstudio.com