“Let us all om”.
On the command 130 people move their arms serenely outwards and aloft. Then they begin. The room fills with a low rumble.
My arms are half in, half out and only half-heartedly raised. My sound is more erm than om. I am self-conscious and well outside my comfort zone.
Then a brief panic. Should my eyes be closed while oming? In my uncertainty I half close them and sneak a crafty peek at my neighbours as they carry om and om. The evidence is mixed.
Om, or Aum, is the chant you hear at yoga, in Buddhism or Hinduism. It is supposed to be the sound of the universe or divinity. At least that’s what I was told.
Tonight it marks the beginning of a concert at Buddha Hall in Magoulades, a small village on the Greek island of Corfu.
It’s the venue for something called Light of Love 2, a week-long “healing world of mantras, songs and circle dances.” Each morning participants undertake two hours of “ecstatic chanting”. Apparently it’s extremely popular and people come from all over the world.
Sounds to me like boot camp for hippies.
Not quite what I envisaged when I arrived in Corfu, one of Europe’s top beach holiday destinations. I’d pictured beautiful mountains lined with cypress trees and beaches packed with bronzed gods and goddesses.
This spiritual “thing” has never really been “my thing”. I am admittedly a one-dimensional, born, live, die, The End, kind of guy. In other words an atheist and also rather short on spirituality. But on my travels I’ve set myself the goal of opening my mind to experiences.
Whenever I’d seen the Light Of Lovers around town I’d been struck by how happy they all seemed. So when I heard about the concert I decided to see what dancing in circles could do for people.
My early prejudices are perfectly met. The flower power generation appears to have been transported from California to 21st century Corfu. There’s a fair amount of long hair, although most is now grey. There are also lots of flowery clothes, just a little more tailored these days. But there is no sign of the free love that so shocked the 60s. I think for some of the older members love now costs. The price being a little purple pill. But I have to admit they do seem genuinely happy.
This being the Buddha Hall they are all sat on the floor. In the middle of the room are Miten, Deva Premal and Manose. They lead us through the next couple of hours. Mostly it’s gentle songs of love, respect and god, not the Christian version but something more individual and universal, I think.
Two hours later my night comes to an end. As I head for home I am struck by feelings of calm and peacefulness. I have really enjoyed the experience. Oh hell. I think my hippy sneer might be on the slide.
The following weekend there’s confirmation.
It’s Miten’s birthday bash. A morning of songs is to be held in an olive grove. All invited. Two rules, arrive quietly and dressed in red and white. I rock up a little late as my motorbike has decided it only works midweek hours.
I am appropriately dressed in pink shirt and faded white, three-quarter length, jungle trousers. Not normally a great look but here I blend in perfectly.
What is immediately clear is a tangible feeling of goodwill. A genuine warmth. The sun shines brightly and the olive grove has a very earthy and welcoming air. The music wafts softly through the ancient trees. Gentleness is all around.
I am feeling the love. Then comes a beautiful and tender rendition of the Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun. I sing along and feel contentment in every fibre of my body.
The music seeps into the souls of the gathering and people begin to stand, raise their arms skywards and start to sway.
I too find myself standing. It all feels quite blissful and soothing.
But that’s where it ends for me.
I am still self-conscious and my arms stay firmly down by my side. Deep within me I know this is still not really my thing.
The best I can say is that my prejudices have been shifted. These people don’t dress like me, don’t think like me. But I understand they are searching for something and on the way to finding it they are enjoying the moment. I no longer dismiss them as hippies. Perhaps this morning, here in the olive grove, happies is a better word.
It is good to prise my shuttered mind open slightly to let in just a few rays of the Light Of Love.
Soul soothing at Corfu’s hippy boot camp
“Let us all om”.