While Greece fills the content space of the (anxious) global media with headlines of economic and social turmoil--which themselves reflect the general international narrative, speculating and betting on the country’s final collapse, different ‘subcultures’ of individuals keep walking a different, more creative path. They are the ‘meanwhiles’ of those narratives.
Which reminds me of the words of a wise man: ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete’, said American architect, systems theorist, designer, inventor and futurist, Richard Buckminster Fuller. Fuller followed the lines of Socrates perfectly: ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new'.
The start-up community in Greece keeps getting fiercer by the day, demanding (in a way) that innovation and entrepreneurship will be placed in the hands of many. Civil Society is having its own metamorphosis—with more and more individuals rather than already formed NGO’s, creating projects from scratch to help their communities, sometimes it’s something as small as creating a kitchen kiosk downtown to feed the homeless.
And then there are also the dreamers of a different kind. The ones that have imagined a totally different way of living. An of-the-grid lifestyle that creates communities and projects based on what these people have imagined as a better, more connected, free, creative and loving world. Panagiotis Kantas left his 9-5 job in the big city, a few years ago, to create, with the company of like-minded friends, the Free and Real community project, in the suburbs of Evia, Greece. A project based on an alternative social structure. He has since heard the stories of thousands of people that join or visit the project every year—something that changed him massively, as he says.
Here’s to stories and new worlds…
Where are you right now*, Panayiotis? What do you see around you and how do you feel these days?
I’m in North Evia, Greece, in the village of Agios. There are a lot of trees around here, I can listen to the birds singing and see the bees flying around. With this kind of surroundings, the feelings are, of course, very fulfilling for the mind and the soul.
Where were you ten years ago, how was it different than your life today?
Let's see, I was working for a company that installed household automation products. I was living in the big city, working the 9 to 5 and trying to squeeze out as much free time as possible. The environment was different, the stress levels were different, the potential and the everyday life were different; less colourful, less motivating, less fulfilling.
Where did you grow up? Have you managed to keep the child inside you alive?
I grew up in Athens, fortunately in an area that is considered to be friendlier and calmer as a suburb. I have never stopped listening to and taking care of the child inside me. I have always tried to create and be part of genuinely funny and colourful situations, using my imagination and creativity as much as possible; grabbing every opportunity that would keep my spirit as free as a child’s. I think it has worked out pretty well until now, and I’m sure I will do even better in the future!
What are the Free and Real and The Telaithrion projects all about?
Free and Real is an organization that has a goal of researching and creating a social structure in which people have easy access to resources, information and opportunities, where truly respectful human relationships blossom and people are driven by consciously cooperative motives. The Telaithrion Project is the realization of the aforementioned social structure, and has a goal of creating the first school of sustainability and self-sufficiency in Greece. A school for children as well as for grown-ups, where everyone can learn, participate, express freely, feel creative, share skills and, practically, be the change they want to see in the world.
How did it all begin?
Initially we were a group of people that met in an online forum. We shared ideas and dreams and, soon, we found ourselves researching, planning and designing an ecocommunity that could bring people together and give them access to resources, space, tools, etc., in order to be inspired and get creative. After two years of research and travelling, we decided to start the Telaithrion project. So, we picked up a place that fulfilled our requirements, and we put it in the action, connecting the dots ever since.
What has been achieved by now?
Well, the list of achievements is very long. We have planted thousands of trees, we have shared tens of skills, we have run almost 100 seminars and workshops, we have come in contact with tens of thousands of people from all over the world, to share thoughts and combine ideas, in order to bring all the pieces of this puzzle together. I guess, the most important of all of this, is the creation and realization of a very, very big family that is ever-growing, with members situated all over this world.
How do you visualize a 2030 society you would like to live in?
We visualize a society where there is free access of abundant resources for everyone, everywhere. Where people treat each other and the environment with respect and equality, where there is a much more mature conscious in everyone’s heart and mind--which means greatest awareness of the environment and self. Last but not least, where there is a deeper sense of teaching, learning and sharing. People should not struggle to survive but, rather, have access to knowledge and opportunities and find themselves in environments where they can express themselves freely.
During these seven years at Free and Real you have met , worked with, educated and listened to the personal stories of more than 15 thousand people (*according to your TEDX talk), what do all these stories have in common?
The one thing that these stories have in common is that, if you open up all of your senses and you listen with the heart instead of just your ears, then they all have something to teach you, they change you, they inspire you, they help you evolve.
Which are the lessons and inspiration that these stories, these people, have given you?
There are a lot of lessons for people who are actually open-minded and open-hearted enough to 'see' them. For me, the greatest inspirations of them all, have been the ones that reminded me to be myself, to act instead of just talk about something, and to be more of a 'we' instead of a 'me'.
Are you happy ? And how do you define happiness? What makes you feel complete and happy?
Being in a place where I can express myself freely and be creative; being in a constant spiral of learning and sharing and being around people with whom i share beautiful moments and create fulfilling memories. That is my definition of happiness. I think that happiness is ever-evolving, so I guess I wouldn’t say that I’m happy, but, rather, that I haven’t stop travelling from 'happy' to 'happier'. And this has been and still is an incredible journey. Same goes for fulfilment, I can feel complete just by finishing crafting something small, or working together with people from all over the world just to make a woodenshelf, or learning a new skill, or by preparing food for everyone to enjoy, or just by watching people having a good time... And the moment I feel complete I instantly realize that there is more..! So, I guess, it’s all about the moments in life, that stack up and make up our memories, our path, our world.
Are we here to learn, to evolve or just to experience a journey?
I’m not sure yet.. I’m here for everything, I guess! I want to learn about all the things that I wouldn’t learn about, Iwant to evolve in ways that I didn’t expect to evolve, and I want to experience as much of the journey as possible.
What would you like to experience during this journey?
I wouldn’t put a specific size or description to that. I haven’t got the experience to know what I want to experience or what would be enjoyable enough to like, but Iwant to be open-minded and keen-sensed, in order to realize all experiences to the fullest, whenever it’s their time to happen. Every experience has something to teach us--whether we like it or not.
What's your ego's... opinion regarding Free and Real and this kind of living and creating. What do you reply to 'him?
I have lost contact with my ego, sorry. We only talk once or twice a year and most of the things we share are not even interesting anymore.
*The interview was conducted in 2014, since then, Panagiotis Kantas has left the Free & Real community, taking with him thousands of new stories and lessons.
**You can learn more about the Free and Real community at www.freeandreal.org .