Patmos is a teeny, tiny Greek island which is closer to the Turkish coast. One of the smaller Dodecanese islands, the island is known to be, an off-the-radar-screen hang-out for the Greek jet-set. Surprisingly, the monks who live in the monastic complex still wield a lot power and control over the island.
Mostly because the Orthodox Greek monasteries and libraries which have been on the island for well over 1000 years. This is the island which has the cave which St.John the Beloved received his visions of the Apocalypse. Even since then, there has been a strong spiritual flavor to this tiny island and I have to say, my time there was quite magical.
When you leave the tiny port down below at the base, the Scala, and make your way up towards the monasteries and fortresses, there is an absolute air of gentle and tranquil serenity which I have yet to experience elsewhere in the world. The people are all smiling, tiny Orthodox chapels are scattered across the Hora (the town at the top of the hill) which even if locked, some monk always eventually shows up to open the door for you.
The whitewashed walls and narrow cobbled lanes, the unbelievable profusion of bougainvillea cascading down over courtyards, with the strongest and most best-preserved Byzantine homes and mansions in the Aegean, it’s easy to see why so many people want to live here and why so many people come back here over and over again. I’d go live there tomorrow if I could.
It’s not just fervent Christian pilgrims, but check out the beaches at Lambi or Meloi, and it’s full of hard bodies and skimpy bikinis. (The beach at Lambi has, bar-none, the best outdoor grill restaurant I’ve even been to in my life. No joke. I could eat there everyday if I could get away with it. The local wines will knock you off of your feet. Literally.)
Everything about Patmos always leads back to the Apocalypsos (the cave). Before you can even enter the cave, there are glowering Greek monks who are busy assessing if you’re dressed decently enough to enter, and if not, they will hand you a skirt and scarf to cover your head. This is after all , considered to be one of the holiest sites in the world. [Note to Russian, Dutch, German and British tourists: Just because it’s an excursion from your cruise, does NOT make it OK to show up in your thong bikini or swim shorts and flip flops. A bit of respect goes a long way, you know.]
The cave itself is tiny and poky. The crack in the little alcove, over which St.John used to sleep, runs in 3 directions, which the Orthodox monks say point to the Trinity.
Fellow reader, I was disappointed.
With the magic of the island itself, the serene chapels, the kindness of the monks and nuns I met there, as well as my experiences at the grave of St. John in Ephesus, I thought something great would happen. Some sort of spiritual breakthrough.
Instead, it was a circus, and not unlike Sedona, Mount Shasta or any other New Age haven I’ve been to. On one side you’d see some idiot tourist try touching and rubbing the ancient icons (when you’re not supposed to) or you’d see elderly Greek women crossing themselves 3 times for every little step they took. I couldn’t wait to leave and go back to Lambi beach and my room, which a grizzled old Greek sailor named Nick rented out to me and my travel companion.
How many times have any of you ever had a conversation with someone you were crushing after from afar to only find out that they’re not all that great? How many movies have you gone to which your friends told you were “amazing” or “awesome” but when you walked out, you felt cheated because the hype was too much? Have you ever gone to a restaurant which the media were raving about and when you tried the signature dish, you wished you had stepped out for a burger instead?
It’s hard not to fall into the lure of expectation especially in a culture which is as results-driven as the Western one. We’re bombarded with it from all directions every day. I even see it in the yoga studio and on my mat (“Well I was able to do that pose yesterday, but today I’m struggling. What gives?”).
All was not lost.
Patmos was handing me a lesson on setting up expectations. When you set them, they always inevitably let you down, while when you don’t have any, you go in with an open and fluid mind, then you never know what might show up. Normally, it was at those exact times of no expectations, when I’ve been dumbstruck or floored by the intensity or the beauty of an experience, whether it was a meal I ate, a place I visited, a show I attended or a person I met.
It’s ultimately about just letting go and letting things be and allowing them to happen naturally.