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“Help is other people,” says Rebeka about her experience in Greece | Out of Spiral

“Help is other people,” says Rebeka about her experience in Greece | Out of Spiral

In one of his theatre plays, the French existentialist philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre included a now famous line: Hell is other people.

This rather bleak view on human relationships that are indeed often torturous, riddled with dishonesty, manipulation, jealousy, envy, shame, disappointment and a plethora of other unpleasant emotional experiences, might seem like a good justification for giving up on people and seeking eternal isolation from others instead. But while there can be a lot of wisdom in isolation, there is often more wisdom in connection.

After participating in Out of Spiral, a 10-day-long youth exchange in Greece, I’m enticed to take my liberties with Sartre’s words: Help is other people.

The focus of the exchange was the topic of addictions, bad habits, unhealthy choices and toxic patterns in our lives – the behaviours that represent The Spiral. And the method chosen to counter these patterns and to free ourselves from The Spiral was community building, as described by Dr M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist.

Imagine a bus picks you up in Athens and then off you go for two hours to a remote place embraced by the mountains of Peloponnese. As you get off, you’re surrounded by winding silvery orchards of olive trees growing in reddish soil. The last rays of sunshine of that day are penetrating through magnificent sculptures of clouds. You, among 33 other people, walk up to the gates of Hopeland, an eco-facility with a dreamy name, and its keeper greets you with a smile: „Welcome home.“

This new home of yours is now largely your responsibility – there is no team of cooks, cleaners or maintenance workers that would take care of your comfort. And there is no rock-solid plan determining your activities, your learning about the issues, or your healing. It’s up to you and up to the 33 other people there with you – your community.

You sit in the shade of the majestic oak tree, the true jewel of Hopeland, and begin to figure it out. People divide the tasks, then a colourful stream of ideas for the shared program starts flowing. Through the day, people start leaning onto each other more and more, until we begin sharing about the personal spirals that brought us here. We listen to each other’s stories, we form threads of trust. We slowly move towards fulfilling the ideals of a community – a setting of safe space, where no one is the Leader but where there is a leader in everyone, a setting that emphasises personal accountability and inclusivity to provide mutual support and growth on our personal journeys.

Without a program imposed on us by the organizers, we are free to explore what benefits us the most, but we are also free to express what we can give to each other. And as it turns out, each of us carries a myriad of pearls within, pieces of wisdom to share, great hugs and smiles, patience and fierce loyalty, as well as valuable techniques and tools. Together, we fill our days with activities that give us meaning.

We return to our bodies through ecstatic dancing, massage, yoga, swimming as well as through volunteering in a nearby village. We seek insight and lean into our emotions in numerous workshops and seminars on addiction and healing and even in the setting of a systemic constellation. We find unity in singing and jamming together, in listening to the original songs of other participants and in talking. We are disconnected from our phones and computers completely, but we’re finding so much connection elsewhere. Our conversations invite laughter as well as crying – but it doesn’t matter. Both outcomes bring us relief.

In Andrea’s words, „through healing others we heal ourselves and through healing ourselves we heal others.“

All the workshops created by us, the participants, provided opportunities for looking at our struggles from different angles and putting them into perspective. We shared tools that have helped us in the hopes that they would be effective for others too.
In life, it is extremely common that we have to face obstacles without the proper guidance, tools and support. The strategies that are available to us might not be the healthiest for us, but they work and help us survive and dull the pain generated by our struggles.
For some of us, this might be drinking alcohol to counter stress. Or opting for subtle emotional manipulation to make sure people won’t abandon us. Or eating chocolate compulsively to overcome anxiety. But in the long run, these strategies prove to be contributing to the problems, not to the solutions. And, what’s more, in a society that values false images of success and strength over vulnerability and honesty, we are likely to feel alone and afraid to open up and reach out.

Out of Spiral left us with a message of hope.
There are people who are willing and capable to accept our vulnerabilities.
There are people whose personal experience will help to lift us up – and to whom our personal experience will be equally valuable.
There are people who seek understanding and connection beyond borders, skin colours, genders, sexualities and whatever other boxes.
There are people who invite curiosity, cooperation and courage into their lives and, by doing so, they can easily prove Sartre wrong.

Hell Help is other people.

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