Take time: the Ikarian lesson that’s changing my life

Posted on August 17th, 2012

On my last day in Ikaria Thea took me aside in her kitchen as I was making my morning mountain tea in a little tin pot on her gas stove and she was heating up the goat milk. “Sarah, I need to ask you one thing. When you go back to Australia and you’re busy and in your life, promise me you will remember one lesson from Ikaria. The most important thing you’ve learned here, try to remember this each day.”

The most important thing. I knew what it was.

It’s best explained by this very Ikarian phenomenon which I touched on briefly here. Every day on every tiny, winding road, wide enough often for only one car, Ikarians pass by someone they know – on the street or in another car- – stop, wind down their window and chat. Animatedly, passionately and with love.

Traffic will bank up in both directions. But the other drivers never honk. They wait patiently, happily. Because this is what is done in Ikaria. It’s truly bizarre and took me a while to appreciate. I’ve been in the car and on the back of bikes many times when this has happened. I can’t understand what is being said during these middle-of-the-road chats. But I get the vibe and I’m told later what the gist was.

Traffic isn’t held up for gossip. The chat instead is more often to engage in the welfare of the other person. And it will continue for as long as it takes to connect with the other person and to convey one’s care. I’ve watched it many times now. It’s beautiful to observe. I’ve seen it in the street, too.

Two men will approach each other and hug. Really hug. And then hold each other’s arms and look into each other’s eyes and smile. They chat, they chat, they chat. Another hug. A big grin. And then off. “Ah! That’s my cousin. We haven’t seen each other since one month.”

The take-home, sound biteable lesson from this? The most important thing I will remember every day back in Australia?

Take time. Give the time required.

This is not the same as taking your time. As in relaxing, or going siga siga (slowly, slowly). It’s more than this.

The locals here like to share the importance of doing a panyeiri (local festival) properly. The most critical element (along with good wine and having your family with you) is “taking time”. I heard this over and over, but it took a while to get what they meant. I thought they meant to not drink too fast or burn yourself out on the dance floor too fast. Or perhaps it meant that it takes time to get used to dancing and drinking until sunrise. On my last night in Ikaria, though, I asked Eleni what she meant.

“Ah! You go and you must not worry what will happen tomorrow. This is important. For this night you must not think about your responsibilities. You must go with your family and friends and you drink and dance and you eat a lot of food and you enjoy being with these people. And only this. Nothing else. You must do this. It takes time.”

Can you see what they mean? They mean to dedicate time to this important social ritual. These panyeiri really matter to them. It’s not a mindless piss-up. Or just a fun get-together. As I wrote last week, it’s almost a spiritual event geared at bringing people closer. Connecting them deeply.

I don’t think we take enough time. We don’t stop to connect. We gossip on social media on the fly. When we party, we’re often looking for something, some sort of outcome. Or trying to forget something. Or we’re filling in time.

It’s a complete gear change to give time to people. With no other outcome in mind.

It’s a big challenge to consciously take the time – actually wholeheartedly set aside a big slab of day to connecting and committing to not worrying about our terribly important schedules and commitments.

We think this is irresponsible. As I write this, I’m aware that so many of us would think this. The Ikarians stay out to 8am…with their kids….for these village festivals. Often they’ll go to four or five in a month. Then work the next day, living with the consequences.

I’m possibly the worst person I know for not taking time. I get anxious when I’m held up on the street. Here in Ikaria I’ve been challenged on this daily. People want to stop me and connect with me, at every turn. And to ask me how I’m enjoying myself. In the moment, I get agitated. Antsy. I’m being held up from doing what I’d planned. I’m the same in Australia. Phone calls from friends when I am about to sit down to work, or eat dinner actually shit me. It’s rare that I can actually settle into a social situation and allow time to pass without thinking about what I’m doing next.

If I consciously take time, though, I can live my life differently. I want to live differently. I want to give more of my care, because after the event, when I walk off from the encounter, I’m always left wondering how the person is, wishing I’d asked and connected.

If I can’t set aside, or allow, these pockets of connection, what’s the point of this life? Don’t you reckon?

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  • michael

    Reminds me of something I once heard ..
    “Ambition bites the nails of success”
    true in more ways than one ..
    Thanks for sharing ..


  • Jane

    I am actually the opposite and have had to put boundaries on my time, but it kills me, I want more balance…I think that’s what we all crave.


  • A lovely reminder of what is truly important in life – and yes, community & relationships are worth the time!


    Lisa Ingram Reply:

    Sotrue. When I used to live in Abergavenny, Wales (first half of my life) I used to say good morning and have a chat with – anyone! I went to Uni in London and the first few times I said good morning to a stranger I think they thought I was a crazy psycho bag lady. I stopped. Now we live somewhere I can say hello again – it is riches to connect with people, I love it. They do too! Lisa


  • I can really relate to this Sarah as I share your anxiety at plans being interrupted. So this year one of my new year’s resolutions was to prioritise people over plans. Easier said than done, but the simplest thing like calling that friend before doing the washing up instead of after (which never actually happens) makes me feel better. A few minutes of connection like that is so good for the soul. And of course, the washing up always gets done eventually!


  • Mia Bluegirl

    I think like everything, it is about balance.

    There is WAY too much pressure on introverted people to go out and be social, so I always kind of get my back up when being told “you need to connect with people more!” Actually no, mostly I just need more me time. But I DO need to make the rare times I am social count. Therein lies the difference. There is a big difference in being surrounded by people, and truly connecting with them.

    To have valuable connections with people is important. Even more so when you have social events suck your energy – you need to make sure they are worth it. I love the idea of the panyieri, it sounds like it would be well worth it indeed.

    Lovely post Sarah, and timely. Your Greek adventures remind me to slow down and appreciate, to give to time to what truly matters which is a lovely lesson from the Greeks. (Just be sure to watch your savings account – learn from their mistakes as well!)


    Kate Reply:

    Love what you said about introverts Mia. So true.


  • Gail

    Yesterday, a colleague had to bring her daughter to work with her because she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t go to school. This is a really cute kid and no one in our office minds when she spends the day with us. She keeps herself pretty occupied. But my first reaction was Damn! I’m not going to get to read my book at lunch and I’m in a really good part. (She loves to have lunch with me when she comes to the office.) Then I thought, wait a minute my book will still be there later, but that hour with little Ruby won’t be. We had a delightful lunch hour together and we both were happier for it.


  • Jo

    Beautifully written Sarah, and I love the sentiments expressed. I have 2 small gatherings of good friends to go to this weekend. I commit to being truly present with my friends at both of these. Thank you for your inspiring posts!


  • I do this, I actually did it the other night. I ran a seminar and afterwards people wanted to chat with me. While I was speaking with someone, I noticed I was focusing on the people standing around waiting to chat with me. I became aware that the women right in front of me deserved 100% of my attention and that everyone else could wait… and they did. And I really enjoyed connecting with each of them.

    For me it’s really about staying in the present moment and remembering that from this space I’m more connected to others… and myself and that life has a flow that doesn’t exists when I’m rushing about. Thanks for the reminder x


    deborah Reply:

    I’m hearing you Tracy. I constantly have to remember to be in the moment and when I am life is so sweeter.


  • Gabby

    I have very much enjoyed your heartfelt musings on your greek adventure, Sarah. In fact, I have had quite an (unexpected) emotional response that comes, I think, when recognising something beautiful & true. Thank you.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    I know that feeling Gabby!


  • Alison

    I think this is the best post you’ve every written, Sarah!

    I seriously struggle with this too and so desperately want to be better at real, deep and meaningful connections with others. It does not come naturally to me and I feel pressured at every turn to focus on what I have to get done (often LOTS!) instead of putting people first.

    Two months ago I had the worst sort of reminder of this with my beloved brother committing suicide. I am living every day with the painful reminder of how I wish I’d connected more with him and others yet I find myself again caught up in rushing from one thing to the next trying to get so much done and avoiding real human connections.

    I am going to work hard at giving “time to people” as you said and using the time to focus on genuine connections with the human ‘traffic’ in my life…the Ikarian way.

    Thanks so much Sarah!


    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    I’m so sorry about your brother, Alison. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you and your family. Wishing peace, light & healing for all of you. x


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Alison, that made me emotional…in several directions. thank you


  • Barbara

    What Matthew Kelly calls spending carefree timelessness.


  • You know, it was when we moved to Lowood in the 80s and when I was in my last years of high school, where I saw a similar things. An old guy on a portable seat in the middle of the road talking to a car that had just happened to stop. We wondered what world we had come too, driving on the other side of the road to give them a wide berth. But you know, as we lived there more it became something pretty special – knowing that people would take the time to get to know you – no matter what the cirumstance. I think back to those times now and again. Thanks for sharing this Sarah.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    pleasure…it’s amazing how we remember these moments


  • Lizzie

    Yay! Sarah, your posts get better and better. A lovely set of thoughts. This year I’ve taken a lot more time to stop and talk and I’ve been rewarded so much by what I’ve discovered and my life has become far richer as a result. Enjoy the rest of your trip.


  • Ivan


    I was quite shocked that a whole culture might have an important thing to say.
    The people are also trying to translate what they have lived with their whole lifes.
    Maybe you have to read between the lines.

    I suspect (from putting into practice constantly since 1990), that no-one can ever “take their time” in the moment if they are out-lining their life, and labelling as “Good”/”Bad” everything that happens to them.
    My reading between the lines says that you may be seeing an effect, not a cause. The culture is trying to explain an effect of what they have practiced their whole lives. It really does sound like they aren’t out-lining their lives; even the people stuck in traffic [gasp].

    I had a horrible realisation recently.. that if you out-line only ONE (or maybe two) aspects of your life; you may have to do it for EVERY aspect of your life, because whatever path you were on, is closed off. Sometimes single-pointed or focused, is the same as none. I certainly hope so.
    If you have to out-line your whole life.. it might be a bit hard to protect yourself from the drunk about to enter your intersection; whereas you might already have had that protection before you were out-lining your life.



  • Sam

    G’day Sarah and everyone!
    I reckon too it makes you feel the love!
    PS I like how you say friggen (I do too). Cracks me up!!!x


  • Last month our eldest daughter passed away suddenly. It was a big shock for the family. We had no idea how we would cope. But our other three children rushed to our aid and stayed with us for a long time. Luckily their employers allowed them to “take time”.

    This togetherness and taking time helped us a lot. There was so much to do and to arrange. The others took over the household and let us oldies to collect our thoughts and grief. It wasn’t easy for them to see a sibling go but they raised to the occasion as they were “taking time” and took one step at a time.


    AJ Reply:

    Thanks for sharing this Peter. I’m so glad your family was able to rally together and help each other through such a tough time. All the best to you xx


  • I totally get this. I too am too often anxious about the to-do list, even when there isn’t one! John Lennon’s lyrics spring to mind right now: “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Sad, but true too often. Blink and you’ll miss it. Take the time, and you’ll live it, feel it, love it.


  • Joyce

    Thank you, Sarah, you beautiful woman. Lovely thoughts and so timely.
    I think, sadly, of the people I love who I won’t get to connect with again in this world.
    Recently we lost my darling Father-in-Law and because he had stopped driving earlier in the year we had more times to connect. I didn’t care what it cost. Didn’t wait because someone in the family couldn’t make it and we would go off having more coffees, more adventures, more cuddles. Life is so short so don”t wait until tomorrow.
    What a lovely people the Ikarians are and I am humbled beyond words that Thea and you haved shared this simple wonderful truth.


  • This is the best advise I have heard in a long time. It goes hand in hand with just learning to be in the moment. These are hard lessons to learn for many of us, but so vital for happiness. Thanks for reminding me.


  • Dharma

    Hi Sarah,

    Your trip sounds amazing. I enjoyed reading this post in particular. I have one thought to pose to you – and I do this because I have travelled through a number of transitions myself personally in the past year that have forced me to slow down, to take a different perspective on life.

    And by this, I don’t mean just being mindful of my actions, or being mindful of what I eat, what time I go to bed. Its more about being mindful of living in the real world, loving real people and giving these things the time and effort they deserve rather than trying to perfect life if that makes sense?

    I use to fill my day/life with perfecting my diet, my exercise, my mindfulness and who would know it along the way I too got irritated by people wanting to be with me when I was in my flow. I was blissfully happy – or so I thought – I was actually blissfully in control – not such a good thing! Funny thing is look what I was missing. Those times with friends, listening, learning, sharing my compassion and love – really do hold the most valuable lessons in life.

    I wonder if this is what the wise lady was trying to tell you. To sit in the silence and let life in – with real openness – is hard when you are on the road to perfecting life, doing what you think is right.

    Maybe just my experience but I can say my year of letting go of perfecting my diet, my mindfulness, my perfectionism has given me the most blessings I could ask for. My health has improved and amongst other things I have truly let love in my life on so many levels. It has been a real eye opener I have to say!!


    michael Reply:

    Wow .. what a lovely post .. many thanks !


    Rose Reply:

    So true Dharma, I have been there too many times. i have to keep reminding myself to be in the real
    world connecting with real people and living
    a real life instead of my constant research and learning. If we are spirituall beings having a human experience then experiencing life is what we need to do. having said that i think mastering mindfulness would be a useful thing. as well as giving our full attention to what or who is in front of us i think ultimately it will help us feel our connection to every living thing. just a thought.


    mddk Reply:

    Dharma: So inspiring! What led you to this path?


    Emma Reply:

    Such a great comment, very interesting and honest take on the whole concept – I definitely recognise myself in your words!


    Meg Reply:

    Thank you Dharma. I’ve been spending the past couple of years ‘perfecting myself’ (my diet, my meditation practices, the whole lot) but you’re right, these are just a way to keep in control. A couple of months ago I met a boy I really liked, connected a whole lot more, relaxed some of my control and felt happy and healthy.
    We just broke up so I turned to this blog today for a little bit of wisdom and support. I feel like all I need to do is get back into my routines and I’ll feel better again.
    Thanks for helping me realise that I want to try and keep light and free about the things I ‘need to do’ and focus on connection as I heal and move forward.


    Natalia Reply:

    This is very good. I once shared with someone that I was tired of the real world and I didn’t feel the connection. I thought that the real world wasn’t home so I kept on searching for it in my fantasies, meditations and books. My friend told me to be very mindful of my thinking because I was home and I was here for reason. Your post reminded me of that conversation. I’ve seen many people use the diet, meditation, yoga course and other self development tools to protect themselves from any pain and uncertainty of life. These tools support to connect you with life and people but for some reason many of us feel more disconnected and alone than ever before.


  • Gemm
  • Sharon

    II am sure it is in our DNA-to be more engaged , we’ve just forgotten about it. Thank you for the reminder.

    I am enjoying reading about your adventures – I feel like I am there with you. 🙂


  • Kell

    Mindfulness – a nice little explanation below….



    Natalya Reply:

    Did you read Dr Harriss” book about mindfulness, ‘The Happiness Trap”? Excellent book and highly recommended…..by me:)


  • Natalya

    An exercise;

    As you read this try to sit with the words on the screen, feel the chair on your back and bottom, turn off music or telly if it’s on, what does the mouse feel like on your palm and the keys under your fingertips if you’re typing?, the desk you’re sitting at- is it jutting against any part of your body? is your computer emitting any sound? Listen out for it, feel the drape of clothing on your skin- where it pinches and where it’s loose, all the way from the elastic fibres in the seam of your socks to the top you’re wearing and all clothing items in between…..if you need to blink take the time to really feel every part of your eyelid moving and the wind generated by your eyelashes moving through air, feel every movement of your body and sit with it for a while……………..



  • Janet

    This reminds me to focus on others and the moment in order to be a better listener. It is not that I am not interested but I tend to focus on what I will have to do next, what I will have to say, rehearsing it almost to be more interesting or funny and I lose sight of the listening.


  • Trevor Otto

    Wow another great honest post of sharing life’s lessons !


  • seeker

    Life Is Not To Be Lived On The Edges

    Life is not to be lived on the edges.
    Because we are only able to see one vista from the edge.
    Life is to be lived only from that paradoxical edge which is found in the center.
    That center line exactly between yin and yang, black and white,
    giving and receiving.
    If you root there, you will find that every moment is richly bittersweet.
    Every moment throbs with great joy and great sadness.
    Wisdom is the refusal to run away from either.
    Wisdom is the bittersweet heartbeat of the Universe.
    Wisdom is embracing, allowing, being this bittersweetness.
    Miss nothing. Refuse nothing. Embrace everything.
    You are infinite and hold all the answers.
    You are finite and know nothing.
    Both are true.
    But bittersweetness is the highest truth of all.
    Be it.

    Written by Judith Hanson Lasater


  • Yes. Take time! What are we all running from, or to when the secret of life is actually in the simple things.

    I weeded and pruned my garden today. It took 5 hours. My dogs were at my feet in total bliss at being in the sun, right beside me. I was in bliss at being in the sun, away from my phone, computer, work, diary, and just focused on the small things- had I cut the stems low enough? What else should I trim before spring? Why did I spend all that money on gym membership when hauling branches and clipping, and pulling the wheelbarrow has left me tired and satisfied tonight?

    Why do we make our lives so difficult when life is really in the small things? All we need is time and sense to appreciate them.
    A x


  • Sao

    In my occupation time is a valuable thing. But I live as a human being. I’m resolved this might not meet a KPI, but I work with the public.

    My consideration is for when I’m forced to enter a retirement village. Do I want to look at happy faces who think of everyone who has aided their life. Or do I want to see scornful faces of lost souls, burnt out from their desire for ‘it all’.

    I am a tortoise, and I love it. Sounds like a life changing experience.


    alison Reply:

    Yes. I’m with you Sao. Team tortoise! Slow and steady wins the race- or doesn’t mind either way!!!


  • Ikaria sounds intriuging. I must say since having my son, who is now 2 yo, I have had to adapt to a more Ikarian way of being. At first i would get so frustrated trying to be productive. But it wasn’t working. And then I let go. I gave in to it all and became 100% mother. It has been a big lesson and very rewarding. Timetables often go out the window.


  • i’m new here, but wow. talk about the universe delivering when you need it…i feel like this post was written to me, obviously not, but I’ve been fighting transitions in my life and very much like icaria – making me stop in my tracks: stop controlling, stop worrying, stop looking forward. my life has been about making time and it’s only in the last few days that i’ve finally understood this, and then it sealed the deal when i read your post.

    thank you.


  • I love the notion of engaging in each others personal welfare and learning to live and love in the ‘Here and Now’. A beautiful post thank you Sarah and, powerful comments left above, thanks to those who shared x


  • Yazzle

    I love how you’ve written about Ikaria and their customs like you’re writing about a visit to another planet seeing aliens in their millieu!


  • So interesting. This post reminds me of my big lesson in life which is that of “attention.” I am not so much distracted by being too busy creating the perfect life but rather someone who (too) easily tunes out and falls asleep to life. I need to constantly remind myself to ‘wake up’ and one of the best ways of doing so is to pay attention to other people. Not just friends and family, but anyone I come into contact with, be it the person taking my money at the store, or the waitress at the busy restaurant, or the taxi driver on the way to the airport. I look them in the eyes, I smile at them, I talk to them, and when I wish them a good day I mean it. The same even goes for my online life. Whether I write a post or leave a comment on someone’s blog or Facebook, I always try to do so with my full attention and the only way I can do that is if I truly “take time”. This can be very exhausting for me because it doesn’t come naturally, but I am also finding that those moments when it is not just practice but real attention and real taking time, I feel exhilarated, light and happy 🙂


  • Chrissy

    I do this.

    My friends call it my “honey” as if I am bathed in it and people (bees) are magnetically drawn to it. They find it amusing that I am approached every day by such a wide spectrum of people, wherever I go. I believe it is because I am 100% wholly happy and that shines through – I am always smiling and people organically desire to be around someone who will make them feel better.

    We smile, we chat, I compliment. And the person who approached me walks away with a smile on their face, as if our brief exchange was truly meaningful (hopefully it was). Or they tell me that I just made their day.

    And the best part – the fact that I seem to be making people happy has made my personal happiness grow even more. I am indeed very blessed. And it is such a lovely, enriching way to live my life 🙂


    seeker Reply:

    I LOVE this Chrissy! That’s the secret to happiness I believe …. this way you generate it pass it on and the ripple effect takes over …. everything we do and say has an effect on everyone and everything around us … so lets make it gooooooooood!!
    it costs nothing but rewards much! 🙂
    Keep up your brilliant work!!


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  • April

    Sarah, as I read this I have tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart, this is what is missing from life in Australia. We spend so much time getting angry at people we don’t even know because they’ve somehow impacted on our plans (I’m especially guilty of this when driving). I’m learning to change, I want to change, I want to be a better person, a better friend, a better human being. I know one of the lessons I’m meant to learn this time around is patience, but gee its one I find tough! I’m so often angry and impatient, snappy and judgmental, I don’t want to be that person any longer, yet it is a daily struggle to switch off old habits and be in the now and just take it all in my stride. Maybe I need to go to Ikaria.


    UK Reply:

    You need the tools for dealing with how you feel now. Sure, you may get to Ikaria and feel at peace, but what happens when you get home? Your road rage and all of your old habits will return. It’s the same as anyone being on holiday, it isn’t real life… It doesn’t mean you can’t implement some of the lifestyle and take back home with you – but you won’t change just by visiting another country, wherever you go, there you’ll be.

    Australia is a fab country, you should be grateful for the beauty you have on your doorstep. I am sorry you feel angry, impatient, snappy and judgemental – you need to find the cause of this and deal with appropriately. (I have been there so I do sympathise).


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  • Great post.

    It’s a sad phrase in the West that we use: ‘killing time’.

    Time is the most precious thing in the world… and how we spend it. I dont know why in the world anyone would want to think they should be ‘killing time’ so they can get SOMEWHERE ELSE… get to an outcome.

    It’s so true what you write Sarah. Well done hun.


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  • Experiencing time is the only proof that we are alive. Therefore, killing time is being dead, even for a short time. Sleeping is not wasting time, as some people imagine. It is preparing to use next day’s time better.


  • Yolanda

    I just discovered you and your blog after following a link to this article on ikariamag !
    I live in Greece and Ikaria is my favorite island. I was there in August as well !
    Also loved your research on toxic free cosmetics and am a bike lover…
    Just spend a great Sunday afternoon so i ll be following your adventures with great enthusiasm !!


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  • Liv Funnell

    HI Sarah,

    I was just wondering if you would have any idea where I might find a food pyramid that breaks down the Ikarian diet?

    Oh and, your work has changed my life so thanks 🙂


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