On a trip to Greece several years ago, Ron and I island-hopped, which meant arriving without a reservation for a place to stay, with just a small backpack and one other set of clothes – and using ferries to sail between the islands, where entrepreneur-ish elderly women are always waiting at the port to offer a place to sleep for a small charge.
Ron and I initially flew into Samos. And a few days later, we took a ferry to Patmos. I’d wanted to see the island for a long time, because it’s mentioned in the New Testament.
Historically, Patmos is the island where John the Beloved was exiled by the Romans. John was around 90 years old, the last living Apostle of Jesus. And while on the island, he wrote The Book of the Revelation. So naturally, Patmos has become an important Christian pilgrimage site.
My intro to spirituality.
My parents studied with the Rosicrucian Order, they were members of Unity and the Edgar Cayce Foundation, and they regularly had psychics over for séances in our living room – at the same time that our family attended traditional church three times a week. So while I was being steeped in religious doctrine and dogma, I was also being taught that we’re not separate from our source who lives within us.
Growing up with so much spiritual diversity instilled open-mindedness, but it was also difficult. It can be easier to simply accept a set of beliefs that others pass on as “the truth.” And as a teen growing up in the south, I just wanted to be like the other kids at school. So I kept the metaphysics and the mediums a secret.
As a young adult, I found a foothold in the mind-body-spirit connection, and particularly in interfaith spirituality, where people of all faiths can worship alongside each other and find kinship and common ground. And early on, I found a teacher whose work I’ve studied and shared since the 70s.
Back on Patmos.
Ron and I took the ferry from Samos to Patmos, with a Greek Orthodox monk in black robes as our captain. We were nursing injuries from a motor scooter accident the day before, when we’d wrecked on a winding mountain road, while searching for Pythagoras’ cave. My arm was in a sling, and we both had bandaged legs. We felt miserable, but we were determined to get to Patmos, to visit the cave where John had lived.
We stepped off the boat at the harbor of Skala and already felt better, as though there’s something restorative in the air. It was late afternoon, so we found a place to stay and bought food.
When Ron and I visit Mediterranean countries, one of us gets up first each morning and goes to find fresh-baked bread in the village. That first morning, we sat on our terrace, and I actually read The Revelation over breakfast. An amazing moment, to read any kind of sacred scripture at the site where it was written!
Then we took off to find the Cave of the Apocalypse, where tradition says John received his visions. The monk who had captained our boat was stationed in the cave, like a spiritual tour guide, telling visitors how John used to go down to the harbor to preach and baptize.
The stone where legend says John rested his head is covered in silver. And there are several significant carved-out places in the cave walls. Initially, we wondered whether a certain niche in the rock was John’s soap dish or his toilet paper holder.
Ron and I don’t take life too seriously. And although we gravitate to sacred sites and appreciate the love and devotion expressed through faith, we still like to examine the meaning and sanctity that people place on things and ideas.
For instance, in Mexico City, we visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which exhibits a cloak that belonged to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin’s, on which legend says the Virgin Mary miraculously impressed an image of herself in 1531. To get a close-up view, we had to ride a short conveyor belt past the cloak, which hangs in the nave, moving left to right with the rest of the crowd. We found the cloak extraordinary, but the conveyor belt made us laugh out loud, so bizarre in such a sacred place.
Back in the cave.
Our monk-captain eventually explained that the niche in the cave wall was John’s grab-hold place, so he could pull himself up from the stone floor.
Listening to him speak in Greek, telling the pilgrims about John, Ron and I soon became still inside, sitting there on the ledge of a carved-out window overlooking the aquamarine harbor. The breath of sea breeze, the scent of sun-warmed pinewoods, sunlight streaming into the cave, the stillness, the lingering spirit – it was spellbinding.
Eventually, the monk came over and spoke to just the two of us in English. And what he told us could fit into anyone’s religion.
John came to the island of exiled criminals and found negativity and misery. But instead of succumbing to the situation, he was able to transform it through his perspective.
Instead of hiding out in his cave to avoid the violent criminals on the island, he went down the hill, stepped right into the middle of the pain and suffering, and apparently brought relief and peace to them.
If you can’t change the situation, change your thoughts and beliefs about it, and the situation will also change.
And that message is still relevant after 2,000 years. In every situation, it’s possible to turn garbage into gold, or gold into garbage. And we do it through our perspective and our response.
We always have a choice whether to be negatively affected when life becomes challenging. When we resist and criticize, we depress our mood and block our effectiveness. But when we feel appreciation, we elevate our sense of well-being and open heart-felt connections with others. And the result is a more joyous and impactful life, no matter what our conditions are.