Gandhi once said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” The same can be said, I believe, of any social grouping, particularly an intentional community like ours. The Findhorn community has established a robust regime for the provision of care and support to community members in particular need. The main vehicle for this purpose is the Community Care Circle (CCC). It comprises a small group of volunteers who meet every four to six weeks to scan the community for people in need, whether they’re ill, elderly, disabled or in anyway severely stressed. The group will then follow up with 15 – 20 community members so identified and organise support where necessary. They keep a register of health professionals and accredited carers on whom they can call, and resources in the form of a Community Care Fund (CCF), which is available to finance the requisite support should publicly provided financial contributions prove inadequate. The perennially healthy CCF is reliant solely on donations and legacies. A separate Social Inclusion Fund, dependent on small-scale fund-raising events, finances outings for disadvantaged members of the community.

The CCC also coordinates a series of activities such as discussion groups, films, gymnastics classes, advice on making a will etc. It is as much focussed on wellbeing as illness response. Its ‘Curriculum for the Fourth Age’ offers education to aging but healthy community members in how to prepare for dependence, dying and death in a way that extends their chances of staying in community. Programmes include:

  • co-caring: a mutual exchange of skills and strengths between two people with complementary abilities and dependencies;
  • buddy system: a person will have up to four buddies (usually friends, relatives or neighbours) who will step in to support when necessary;
  • Minding the Gap: a programme part funded by the Third Sector Interface within Moray Council that brings together the old and the young for meals, movies and arts events.

These programmes are all about creating and deepening relationships in order to build trust and a sense of belonging to place and community. This enables the participants to envisage aging gracefully and, with the right support, eventually dying at home and in the community. “It’s harder to ask for help at a time of need than agree to offer help in the future when one is fit and well,” I’m told.

The history to the CCC reaches back to 1996 when the community was faced with its first case of palliative care lasting three months. This event catalysed a conference in 1997 titled ‘Conscious Living, Conscious Dying’ after which the community began to offer palliative care much more systematically. Many community members and their families have been beneficiaries, the last instance required over 4.5 years of full time care. Over the years we have found the local NHS services to be very supportive during periods of palliative care. It has provided training for lay carers, daily visits by nurses and regular visits by doctors. Moray Council offers some funds on a needs assessment basis via its Self-directed Care programme.

Since 2007 the Findhorn Community has had the further privilege of being able to bury its members (and occasionally non-members) in its own Green Burial Ground. If requested, we can take full responsibility for dressing the body, constructing the casket (usually from recycled packing crates) and holding the funeral. Typically we hold a service in our Universal Hall and process from there, sometimes with horse and cart carrying the casket, about one kilometre to the burial ground. Graves are occasionally marked with a tree but mostly go unmarked. To date there have been 16 burials in the Green Burial Ground which has a capacity of 600 graves, 60 of which are already pre-sold.

The viability of the formal and informal programmes of mutual care at Findhorn is, I believe, attributable to two linked aspects of the culture: our relationships and our values. The Findhorn spiritual ethos can be distilled down to two concepts, open-heartedness and consciousness. The former is principally what determines the quality of our relationships. The latter is what underpins our values.

Relationships: I am often asked, why I choose to live in northern Scotland when I could be living in sub-tropical Australia closer to much loved family. My answer invariably includes something about the quality of the relationships that I enjoy in Findhorn and a deeply embodied experience of what I can only describe as a ‘field of love.’ I feel immersed in a culture where love is freely, constantly and generously expressed. The open-heartedness of my relationships with so many people is without doubt my primary motivation for living at Findhorn. Such relationships will have been formed over time and mostly as a result of the very many opportunities (formal and informal) for building this kind of relationship. I’m an introvert, so relationship building doesn’t come naturally to me. Opportunities for deepening connection occur formally in all manner of courses, meetings, celebrations and cultural events – in fact just about every time two or more gather together for some kind of purpose. We employ many different social technologies for the purpose: attunement, meditation, ice-breakers, discovery games, singing, dancing, sharing and supervision. We conduct rituals at births, deaths, weddings, rights of passage, leavings etc. and sometimes, more subtle rituals for the expression of gratitude, forgiveness, compassion and healing. These all help to deepen relationship and create the web of community. The ‘work’ of community, I would say, lies in the building, maintaining and deepening of relationships.

Values: Our primary values at Findhorn are encapsulated in what we call, the Common Ground, a statement of 14 principles which everyone in the community is expected to honour and apply in daily life. Findhorn Foundation coworkers explicitly sign-up to the Common Ground through their contract of employment. Members of the wider community (beyond the FF) do the same when they join the New Findhorn Association (NFA), an umbrella organisation of community members. The 14 values are: spiritual practice, service, personal growth, personal integrity, respecting others, direct communication, reflection, responsibility, non-violence, perspective, co-operation, peacekeeping, agreements and commitment. Consciousness, moment by moment, of these guiding principles is, for many people, what defines their spiritual life. For others, this may not be enough; rather, they are seen as a baseline set of agreed behaviours. We are an eclectic and diverse community, not least in the way in which the Common Ground is interpreted and applied.

The primary values that I believe underlie our quality of mutual care and support are service, love in action, compassion and the interconnectedness of all things. Deep caring requires consciousness at several different levels: material, spiritual and ‘political’ i.e. at the level of ‘world work.’ “Care is the lens through which one views life,” said one carer, to which she added, “but successful care needs to be a two-way street; it’s too much to expect volunteers to support a person who is belligerent and unappreciative.” So it’s the recipient of care who can best support the process through their own values of trust, gratitude, communication, respect, release and surrender. Healing is also about finding peace and letting go. Consciousness and spirituality are important for both the carer and the direct beneficiary of the care.

In conclusion, I believe that the right provision of mutual support (certainly within the context of intentional community) is truly a matter of the heart. It begins and ends with people who care about each other; it’s about the quality of their relationships. Furthermore, I would argue that mutual support within almost any context is likely to be more committed and sustained if it is offered as a values-based practice, perhaps even spiritual one.

I was recently asked to write a short piece for the 25th anniversary issue of Diggers & Dreamers, the UK directory of communal living. The topic: ‘What is the purpose of communal living?’ In one sense I think the question misses the point. To my mind, communal living doesn’t need to be justified, defended or even celebrated in terms of its purpose. I see communal living as a default setting i.e. it’s the most natural way for human beings to cohabitate. It should be the norm, and of course it was, up until the Industrial Revolution some 300 years ago. For millennia beforehand, we mostly lived as fully interdependent, mutually supportive members of tribes, hamlets, villages and towns. If present day communal living has a purpose at all, then perhaps it’s to remind us of this now forgotten fact.

Particularly over the last 150 years, a sense of oneself as an integrated member of society has been supplanted with a measure of one’s economic worth to the capitalist system, which has in turn been closely associated with status and power. Human values have fundamentally shifted from the social and cultural to the economic and material. More recently (in the last 60 years or so) human need has been dissociated from social satisfaction and cultural meaning, and been realigned instead with consumption, not only of commodities, but also entertainment and substances. Never mind that this trend has fuelled global warming and climate change, it’s more than enough that it has eroded our innate capacity for creativity, service and love.

If we are to regain our basic humanity then the specious satisfaction offered by consumption needs to be replaced by pro-social, non-material means of fulfilment. Intentional communities are the perfect setting for replacing psychological attachment to material gain with location-based social development and cultural rejuvenation. Anti-consumerist values are, in fact, common amongst members of most intentional communities and axiomatic for many sectarian, egalitarian and alternative lifestyle groups. Intentional communities model a more humane, pro-social, values-based way of life. In so doing, they encourage a return to a more modest, measured and, dare I say, spiritual way of life.

Findhorn, is an enduring, practical example of exactly this kind of values inversion and lifestyle transformation. As such, it inspires change and transformation in thousands of visitors every year and is a ‘beacon’ for many more around the world. And of course we are not perfect; far from it. But we are constantly working on it, striving for the “highest and the best,” as we say. And we are doing so with love!

I woke this morning to find a rather pointed message from a friend in the community who wrote, “Well, GEN+20 is well and truly over now, so looking forward to some new posts ;-)”. Well, thank you Iain for the reminder and prompt. It’s nice to think that at least one follower is keen for me to resume posting. I’ll do my best not to disappoint. Truth is, however, that I’m still recovering from the GEN conference. It was such an intense and challenging experience (although ultimately a very rewarding one) that it’s taken me some weeks to rejuvenate. My writing juices are still not flowing fully but I’m working on it. I’ve been thinking about the issue of mutual support in community for a presentation I’m giving in September. I’ll write that up in the next weeks and will post some extracts here. In the meantime here is a piece that I originally wrote for the book, ‘Findhorn Reflections,’ mentioned in the last post….

* * *

This chapter has been written expressly for this book; it never appeared in the blog. I realise now that I had skirted the issue whilst blogging and perhaps that was ok. But it’s clear that it would be extremely remiss of me to publish a book about the culture of the Findhorn Foundation and Community that does not in some way recognise the deepest held and most famous aspects of our culture – our relationship with nature and the ‘subtle realms.’

I’ve not ever written on this topic before now because I’ve felt unqualified to do so. I have little personal experience of the kind of relationship with nature that many of our members enjoy. Historically, and continuously to the present day, many Findhorn community members have experienced extraordinary connection and interaction with unseen elements of the natural world and the so called subtle realms. I have little experience of such things and my somewhat sceptical, material worldview doesn’t permit me to simply accept such phenomena uncritically. Yet, I have no ready explanation, so I find the matter curious and perplexing. (As an aside, I have a similar relationship with crop circles. I’ve researched them thoroughly and find them totally mystifying.)

Here is a case in point from just yesterday. Indeed it was this communication in the form of an email that prompted me to write this chapter. (It’s included here in its entirety for completeness.)

Dear all,

NFD are preparing to dig a trench along the runway from the Earthships down to the Guest Lodge and then across the Village Green. As this will involve the cutting back of trees, shrubs and flowers, NFD have given Park Garden group time to attune to the project, to the land, the plants and animals, and to the associated angelic and elemental lives. Yesterday we assessed the likely impact, and this morning we held an attunement to inform the nature kingdoms about the project.

We affirmed the need to make the Park safer and more beautiful by burying a new electricity cable and thus being able to remove all the overhead ones, and that the planned route has been decided after consideration of all the options. We walked down the route, looking at all the plants and deciding what was best for them, and will work with NFD to minimise the impact.

In our attunement we felt gratitude from the nature kingdoms for clear communication, for conscious co-operation, and for the love and care we take in all the work. We affirmed that the project will be carried out and completed safely and efficiently.

We felt that we were doing this on behalf of the whole community, and so I am writing now to tell you that the initial energetic work of co-operation and co-creation has been done, and that the response from the nature kingdoms has been filled with gratitude and appreciation.

We invite you to hold the project in light and love as it proceeds.
With thanks to NFD for the time to do the energetic groundwork,
Angus (on behalf of Park Garden)

So what am I to make of this? I am sceptical, but not cynical; I don’t for a second, doubt the veracity of Angus’s words nor the experience of the Park Gardens team. Yet, I’m at somewhat of a loss to know how to interpret this story. It reads as if the team communicated directly with the nature kingdom – ‘to the land, the plants and animals, and to the associated angelic and elemental lives.’ And it sounds as if the nature kingdom answered back. The casual reader certainly could not be blamed for assuming that the words above are literal and the intercommunication was ‘real.’ Did the Park Gardens team feel that? Or was there something else going on? Before I publish this chapter I’m going to run it past Angus for his feedback. I love Angus. He’s one of the great stalwarts of our community and a man whom I greatly respect. I’m looking forward to unpacking the matter with him. But in the meantime, here’s my take.

As previously mentioned, I believe that we human beings, individually and collectively, possess enormous untapped potential. Each of us is capable of levels of achievement that we can’t even imagine, which could be unlocked if only we could identify and apply the right means. Sometimes those means are pro-active; we might take a course of learning, develop a practice, collaborate with others etc. And at other times, all that’s required is that we be with what is; be open, be still, and ‘listen.’ This second way of being I have experienced to great effect many times, most notably on two ‘mind-blowing’ occasions, once in the ‘70s in the middle of the Sinai Desert and the other almost 10 years ago at the Findhorn River. I think of them as the only two (non drug-induced) mystical experiences of my life.

On the first occasion I was on tour with a busload of youngsters. We had arrived at the foot of Mt Sinai in the evening and set up camp, planning to climb to the legendary Orthodox monastery, Santa Caterina, the following morning. Late that night, I went for a walk on my own in the desert. After some time, I sat on a rock to rest. In those days I was youthfully zealous, politically rabid and philosophically opinionated – anything but open, still and able to listen. It was decades before I ever attempted meditation. And yet, in that moment, something magical occurred. I can only guess that what happened was due to the conditions in which I found myself: being in the middle of a vast, vast desert; one that’s completely arid and devoid of vegetation; where the air is as dry and clean as anywhere on Earth; on a night when the stars were as bright and as numerous as I’d ever seen in my life. Due to the context and rarefied atmosphere, I was somehow able to soften my shell, let down my defences and allow myself an experience of the infinite – of ‘oneness.’

As I sat on the rock I slowly became aware of my connection with it – that the rock and I were made of the same fundamental stuff and that we were, in fact, one. My attention was then drawn to the sand around the rock and I ‘saw’ the same elemental interconnection between the rock on which I sat and the sand upon which it rested. So now I’m as one with both the rock and the desert floor; we form a continuum. Soon enough my awareness expanded further to include the surrounding wadi (valley) and I now felt fully interconnected, at one, with everything up to and including the mountains all around. Slowly, gradually, my awareness and understanding expanded onward and outward to include the whole of the desert, the region, the Earth, the stars and, ultimately, the whole damned Universe. I was as one with all that is.

I don’t know how long the experience lasted, perhaps five or ten minutes, or perhaps one or two; I really have no idea. But when I came to, I was left with the unshakeable conviction that I, we, everything is fully interconnected. From that day onward I have known this as an incontrovertible truth, because (and here’s the rub) I had it proven to me! I ‘saw’ it with my own ‘eyes’. Did I literally see it? I don’t know. Perhaps I did. Perhaps our visual faculties are capable of such things. But actually, I think that’s irrelevant. By some means or other, I arrived at a crystal clear understanding of an essential truth that has lived in me ever since.

And again, during Experience Week, I had a similar vision, except that this time it involved a beautiful woman, a magnificent tree and my very first visit to Randolf’s Leap on the Findhorn River, one of the most awe-inspiring riverscapes I have ever come across. No doubt, I was already in somewhat of an altered state, being three or four days into a programme designed to shift perceptions and dissolve defences. So on both occasions, due to circumstances, my barriers were down and ‘the veils were thin,’ as they say. When the veils are thin enough, it seems that even sceptical ol’ me is capable of and open to unfathomable depths of perception.

Much more often, indeed regularly, I experience a less profound but nonetheless still deep and moving level of awe and wonder. It can happen if I’m looking at a beautiful painting, or standing in a fine architectural space, or listening to gorgeous music. It can happen in a natural rainforest or a well-designed garden setting. Somehow, I am transported in such moments to a place of pure bliss and deep contentment. Invariably tears flow. Again, there seems to be something going on there that causes my defences to come down and allow in a different kind of experience to what I think of as ‘normal.’ Perhaps it’s some kind of return to innocence – layers of conditioning being peeled away to enable a state of wonder more commonly associated with early childhood.

Anyway, getting back to Angus’s story – my interpretation (before having spoken to him (see below)) is that the Park Gardens team experienced something like that which I’ve just described. There are people, many of them, in this community who are very practiced at attunement. They can close their eyes and drop into a space where the ‘veils become thin’ quite readily. They can quite quickly align with the energies and/or entities that are being invoked. I’m guessing that Angus and his colleagues experienced a deep empathy with the plants and animals in question and, via a strong sense of their interconnection, were able to ‘feel’ or ‘hear’ an energetic response. And I imagine that the experience was quite different for each of them.

Angus’s story illustrates the complexity of our relationship with nature here in Findhorn. We are both a spiritual community, in large part premised on our relationship with nature, and also an ecovillage. We began as just the former and adopted the latter identity in the ‘80s. These days, I think it’s fair to say, we have a kind of a dual personality – we see ourselves and are viewed by others as either or both a spiritual community and an ecovillage. For the most part, these two aspects of our culture co-exist in harmony. It’s been said that they are two sides of the one coin. But there are times when a creative tension arises between the two. I think this is well illustrated in the above account of what occurred when the NFD needed to run a trench through some of the gardens in order to progress our renewable energy infrastructure.

Another classic example of this kind of tension occurs when there’s tree pruning and felling to be done. When the community began back in the ‘60s there were very few existing trees on the site. These days there are thousands growing throughout the ecovillage. Many of them are magnificent specimen trees. Some have grown up on the south side of community and residential buildings, thus blocking their access to sun and light. Trees of course, are much valued generally, for their intrinsic value and beauty as well as their contribution to the environment. But here in Findhorn they are considered and valued much as sentient beings. To many people in the community, removing a limb from a tree, or felling one, is tantamount to amputation or murder. Historically, we chose not to prune or fell trees just because they blocked the sun from buildings and gardens. But in the last 10 years or so, as our identity as an ecovillage has matured and we’ve applied more and more effort to reducing our carbon footprint, it’s become increasingly obvious that something had to be done. And so we’ve become much more willing to prune and fell trees to this end. And yet, it’s still very painful for many of our members. Hence, we almost always inform the community prior to any significant tree lopping or removal so that individuals are given the opportunity to attune and communicate (or perhaps even grieve) much as the Park Garden team did recently.

I’d like to tell one final story about another such instance of creative tension that arose when we installed a centralised biomass boiler some four or five years ago; probably the most significant infrastructure project of recent years. As designer and project manager, I had to configure the route taken by the district heating pipe, from the boiler itself to the dozen or so buildings which it fed with carbon zero heat. Many of those buildings are located in what we call the Central Garden, the very first ornamental garden that Peter Caddy designed and built in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. All our gardens are precious of course, but the Central Garden is as a temple to us; it’s a sacred space! Any damage wrought by the pipeline installation would be considered sacrilegious by some and cause considerable angst for many more. So the solution we struck was to route the requisite meter deep trench along the existing pathways through the garden, a quite circuitous and ostensibly inefficient route. By this means, almost no damage was done to the gardens. Yet the exercise was more troublesome and expensive than would have been a more direct, straight line layout. Such are the lengths we can go to appease the denizens of the subtle realms as well as the sensibility of community members.

APPENDIX

Follow this link to hear an audio file of the chat I had with Angus about his experience with the Gardens team. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/22754825/Angus.wav

WP_20140916_08_56_54_Raw

Dear all,

Cover1 for KDP

I have just published a new book titled ‘Findhorn Reflections: A very personal take on life inside the famous spiritual community and ecovillage.’ Essentially, I have taken the posts of this blog and collated them in a coherent order, added a few chapters and put it out as a book. So if you’ve been reading this blog all along you may not be interested. But if you haven’t or prefer a paperback, this may be of interest.

Here’s a link to the UK Amazon site, the US Amazon site and the Australian Amazon site.

Blessings, Graham

 

 

 

As I was saying (at the beginning of the last post)…I am going to take time out from writing this blog – at least three months. The reasons are twofold.

Since the Tantra course, which finished a month ago now, I’ve been quite transformed. I’m much less driven and preoccupied than I used to be, indeed, as I have been my whole adult life. I now think of my life in terms of ‘before LT1’ and ‘after LT1’ (LT1 being the name of the course I did with Jan Day: ‘Living Tantra 1’). Before LT1, I used to be obsessively immersed in my work or projects, often at significant cost to my relationships as well as my health and well-being. Since LT1, I’ve been much less obsessive; more relaxed, balanced and at peace. Before LT1, I was a chronic insomniac, typically sleeping until 3 or 4am and then getting up, usually to work. Since LT1, I’ve been sleeping through until 7am every morning. There’s a connection here, of course. My insomnia was caused by a hyperactive mind, obsessively anticipating the work or project related events of the coming day, pre-empting potential challenges and solving problems in advance.

I am truly grateful for this transformation. But the downside is that it’s left me without those 3 or 4 hours in the morning during which I used to write. Almost all of my blog writing has been done between 3 or 4am and 7am. It’s been a time when the house and neighbourhood were quiet, and I’ve been inspired, alert and imaginative. Indeed, over the years, it’s been the time when I’ve done my best work, whether it be planning, designing or writing. So now I don’t have that time to write. But nor am I as driven to do so as I used to be. Before LT1, I used to obsess about writing a post every week or week and a half, at most. I’d feel like a failure if I didn’t meet this demanding self-imposed regime. That compulsion has now evaporated. My inner critic is relaxed even about this decision to stop posting for a while.

And there is a second reason for pausing the blog at this time. I’m super busy in my current job in the Findhorn Foundation. I work in the Conference Office, as part of a team that organises the conferences and events we hold. The GEN+20 Summit in July has been my baby for the last few months; and for the next 3 months, it will be my sole focus. The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) is holding its 20th anniversary conference, it being 20 years since the organisation was formed here in Findhorn. GEN+20 could possibly be the second biggest event we have ever held, attracting between 300 and 400 participants from afar and engaging another couple of hundred folk from our own community. It’s going to be hugely complex and demanding of our resources. I think I need to put my available time and energy there now, rather than into the blog and other projects.

Thanks all, subscribers and casual readers, for your interest and support.

With love and blessings

Graham

I sat down to write an overdue blog post this morning; it’s been over two weeks since the last one. I started writing….

Dear followers, With considerable regret, I have decided to take a break from blogging for a while. This will be my last post for at least three months. The reason is twofold….  

In that moment, I got an email from my very good friend and occasional work colleague, Dorota with an attachment – a blog post that she had written in the 2 or 3 days since I asked her in passing whether she’d be interested in being a guest blogger.  I was ever so grateful that she had so quickly and so willingly accepted my invitation, and that as a result, I don’t have to pull the plug just yet. And I was amazed yet again at how, in Findhorn, events so often seem to unfold ‘in perfect timing’ (one of our ‘mantras’ and the title of co-founder, Peter Caddy’s, autobiography).

So here it is folks – a week in the life of another Findhorn community member…

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Machines, Money and Miracles, by Dorota Owen

Graham writes a blog about life within the Findhorn Foundation, but here is a slightly different perspective – community life outside the Findhorn Foundation, in what is affectionately known as the wider community. This network of members lives in the surrounding towns and villages, are integrated with mainstream life yet carry the spiritual and cultural values of the Foundation.  We might work in all manner of professions and yet still support the Foundation in diverse volunteer roles. For example, I am an elected councilor of the community and a director of various boards, but I earn my living as a substitute teacher in local schools – sometimes a different one each day. I also teach part-time at the Drumduan School currently located in the Moray Art Centre in the Park, a bold experiment in revitalizing education.

Recently, my trusty, solid, old AEG     laundry machine broke down, so for a while I was doing the washing at the communal laundry at the Park. Although it was less convenient, this turned out to be a joy as I often met community members on my way back and forth and stopped to chat and joke. Walking down the runway to collect clothes from the drier, I ran into Graham Melzer and spontaneously offered to help out with the GEN conference in July.  Seemingly in response – who knows? –  Graham invited me to write a guest blog.  I decided to write about my typically remarkable week.

It began rather auspiciously with an almost total solar eclipse. I’d been called to teach in Grantown Grammar. Unfortunately, a thick grey lid obscured the sky, disappointing everyone – especially Claire, the head teacher , who wailed, “I’m so depressed!” having prepared the entire school with lists of instructions and specially purchased sunvisors all the way from America .  In this damp gloom, just a few minutes after the bell rang, a pupil yelled, ‘The sun’s coming out!’ and sure enough, a sliver of blue sky emerged and soon spread into a large patch as big as the rugby field we stood on. Everyone looked up as one body and gasped with delight as this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon transfixed us, teachers and pupils alike, with its spooky light change. It felt like a miracle.

eclipse

That could have been exciting enough for an unexpected day in Grantown, but even more significant was my discovery at lunchtime that the local appliance shop had an AEG sign in the window. Could they fix my laundry machine? No they couldn’t, they said, but they called a repair firm and left a message which I promised to confirm later. I never did, however, because I was suddenly seduced by the dazzling beauty of the machines for sale. I slid my hands lovingly across their pristine white surfaces, lured by the promise of creatively titled washing cycles and 5 year guarantees all for zero percent interest over 12 months… plus! £120 cash back!  Another miracle! Here was the cash I needed for my MOT the next day – naturally I signed on the dotted line with XXXX Finance.

machine old car

The following day, I drove my trusty, solid, old car to Elgin for its MOT and to while away the time I meandered around the shops. It was surprising for me, a rare visitor to Elgin, to see so many shops empty; I was told this was the economic effect of the local airbase closing down. Now Elgin has fewer people with a lower average income. One shop caught my attention as it was full of washing machines and other appliances, but not the glamorous ones I’d seen before – these were unknown names at apparently low prices.  ‘Only £6 a week!’ placards were abundant.  Then I looked at the terms and interest. 48 months? At 39.4APR%?  The final sums were astronomical, in the thousands. For a washer? It hardly seemed ethical. No wonder usury was a sin. I could imagine cash-strapped families paying out forever on these terms.

A text arrived to say my car had failed the MOT.  Knowing the fall-out could take some time I texted a friend who just happened to be in town and she drove me to the Park in her sleek Smart car. We shared a coffee and a pastry together in the Blue Angel café, drinking in sunshine and birdsong. The Park is such a little piece of heaven sometimes. I wandered off to teach my afternoon class at Drumduan and then hitched a lift home with Anna, who I hadn’t seen in years. She came in for tea and we chatted for hours and caught up with news. She told me she found teaching in mainstream schools is really stressful now because of staff shortages and I was surprised I have not been inundated with job offers. On the other hand, I can’t complain as I have travelled so much this year on Findhorn-related projects – Hawaii, Vancouver, Greece, Germany, Holland, Poland, Croatia, The Gambia, Senegal, Australia and am recently back from South Africa. This last trip was as a facilitator of the new Miracle Choice Game, which had led to many remarkable experiences. I told this to Anna, who exclaimed, “I would love to play! I think I really need a miracle right now!”  So we arranged to play the next day and in that moment the phone rang with another job offer from Grantown for the next day: I was thrilled.

But the next day, I was stricken by a mystery bug and laid low. How disappointing.  Yet it turned out to be a very useful day as all manner of people called and dropped by. And I was able to honour my promise to finish my last class at Drumduan before Easter, even though I felt dreadful and could hardly lift myself out of my friend’s Smart car. Sunny days are not meant to be spent indoors and it was the last lesson of the day, so the class asked if we could take our chairs on to the grass and sit in a circle as we often do. I agreed and in that moment was struck accidentally on my forehead as I bent to take my own chair. I groaned.

“Are you hungover?” a student enquired, solicitously. “No, I’m really ill,” I explained, “I’m only here because you’re such a lovely class and it’s your last day before the holidays!”  Later on, a large lump grew in the middle of my forehead with a slightly zigzag scar, like lightning.

Another hitch home and I discovered a note with an invoice on the dresser. The washing machine repair man had come after all – and repaired the washer! Drat. Now there was no point in getting the new one, no matter how tempting! Momentarily, I grieved over the loss of the clean, white dream machine… but I also told myself to get over it as this was a sensible and practical result – and cancelled the finance agreement with XXXX Finance. Little did I know how lucky I was.

Still, I felt pretty ill and was perhaps a little vulnerable when the phone rang with an offer from the ‘salvage and scrap your old windows’ scheme to replace my ancient draughty ones at an ‘affordable price.’ I agreed to have a quote then fell into a deep sleep till the next day.

On the last day of my remarkable week, everything described above began to dovetail together. I had been puzzled by this series of seemingly random events: broken down machines that had served me so well for so long; irresistibly tempting finance packages; serendipitous meetings through sharing laundry and car drives with friends; the unexpected chance to play the Miracle Choice Game. What did it all mean?

Anna arrived as arranged, with another unexpected visitor, and we played the Miracle Choice Game together with no expectations but with clearly expressed intentions. After an hour or so of playing and sharing our experiences and insights, we each expressed our delight at the miracles we had experienced.  We also felt a sense of peace descend on us, and I speak for myself when I add that it felt as though we were held in a very graceful, spiritual space, but I know from what the others said that this was true for all three of us.  My home felt filled with this fragrant, tangible sense of the sacred.

Into that blessed space rang the phone. “This is the ‘salvage and scrap your windows’ scheme, just to let you know we’ve received confirmation that you are eligible for this scheme and we can send someone to arrange a quote.”

“That’s fine, thank you,” I replied.

Within minutes another call, this time from a woman who said she was speaking from a central office somewhere, “We have a representative in your area and he can come round tonight.” It was already late, and I was tired, but why not? A few more calls ensued to check on various details.

Finally, a call to announce the name of the representative would arrive shortly. I began to feel suspicious.  “Hold on a minute,” I said. “ Why have I received so many calls in the last half hour? I feel harassed!”

“Not to worry, Madam, we only ask for an hour of your time.”

“An hour? You must be joking. Who are you and why are you calling me?”

“We are Weather Windows,” replied the man.

Finally the penny dropped. A double-glazing sales scam! I suddenly understood everything and realised I was well on the way to being duped. I remembered the last time I’d had a similar experience ten years ago when a company had sent a salesman who was so pushy and determined to have me sign an agreement that he had simply refused to leave my house and I had felt forced to call the police.

This time I had an entirely different strategy: “I can’t give an hour of my time. I have a spiritual meditation group sitting here and they are all looking at me with amazement because of all these phone calls disturbing our peace tonight. Please cancel the visit.”

He apologized and hung up.

I wonder if there can have been a more effective end to his pursuit? Even now, I laugh at the idea that I might mischievously lure in a hardened double-glazing salesman and have him sit in silent meditation for an hour or so with a thoroughly chilled-out Miracle Choice group.  That would indeed be ‘an hour or so of my time’.

Watch out, Weather Windows!

Later on that night, I googled the name of the company and discovered just how lucky I’d been; there were many others who had not been so. I read reams of complaints from vulnerable people who had succumbed to psychological pressures from the agents, and many other hair-raising stories. For example, there was an elderly widow who’d been duped into paying tens of thousands of pounds for simply signing up to buy a door over a long period at that high rate of interest.

One name stood out: it was XXXX Finance that offered the lengthy 34.9% loans over many years on behalf of Weather Windows. I was amazed. Two lucky escapes in one week. No new washing machine, and no new windows!

Looking back on this week, I reflect on what I have learned. First is my realization of how lucky I am to live in this Community and receive the kindness and support of its members. It is so much more fun to simply share what you have with your friends – your machines, your cars and coffees and cakes, your insights, jokes and games. Secondly, it is so reassuring to live in a community in which you know you can trust what people offer you without wanting to take.

Finally, I have learned to resist the allure of the shiny and new. We can repair our machines and our homes – can repair, reuse and recycle – and the familiar can support us with as much efficiency, and sometimes with more charm and reliability, than the brand new item. As an older woman, I take solace in the fact that there may be wrinkles on my face and my hair is turning white but that doesn’t mean I stop singing or dancing or loving my life and being loved.

My car has a long, loving  and gentle repair in process from a community member before it will pass its MOT, but  in the meantime one of the shared cars from the car pool came my way as we are going all-electric. So I took possession of a little silver bubble car for a very affordable price. As I looked in the driver’s mirror, I was struck by the lightning scar on my forehead and winked at my reflection. With my bleached blonde hair, I looked for a split second like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Harry Potter.

dorota new car

Now, that IS a miracle!

Dear all (blog followers and casual readers),

As the Australian boxer, Jeff Fenech, used to say… ‘I LOVE YOUSE ALL.’

I have just come off a week long, intensive, Tantra training for beginners. And this feeling is the result. I am totally in love with everyone, everything, indeed the whole damned universe. I feel the sacredness of life and the oneness of it all. I genuinely feel that “all that I am, is one with all that is” – a phrase repeatedly invoked during the course. And in saying that, I have already disregarded a request made by Jan Day, the Tantra teacher who held the course, that we don’t disclose anything about the week to others. So from here on, I’m not going to reveal any more of the content or the detail. I am at liberty, however, to mention how the experience was for me so long as it doesn’t directly refer to people and events.

Jan’s request is made for good reason. She rightly points out that it’s impossible to communicate the full meaning of particular processes or occurrences without setting the context. Each element of the course only makes sense in relation to all the others. Indeed they form an integral package of processes that take participants on a week-long journey of initiation that can only be understood in the doing, the experiencing and the journeying. Reading or hearing about it doesn’t, in the slightest way, convey the experience. And apart from that, knowing about the content in advance would spoil the experience for anyone who subsequently decided to do the workshop. At no time during the week were we given a schedule or otherwise told of what was coming next. And that in itself was powerful. Each new step in the journey was a complete surprise. The unfolding of the experience felt like being led on a magical mystery tour.

The course finished on Friday afternoon, two days ago. On leaving, I dropped a friend at the airport, did some shopping and headed home. I barely had time to unpack before it was time for dinner in the Community Centre and a date with ten lovely new friends; Jan, her husband Frieder and 8 or so of the assistants on the course have come to the Park for a weekend of R & R (rest and recreation). I had booked them into dinner as guests of the 5 Findhorn Foundation coworkers who attended the course. That was another special dimension of the experience for me i.e. undertaking a journey of profound personal discovery with people who were already friends. We deepened our connection immeasurably, I feel. And in the case of one particular co-worker, he and I established a heart connection where before there was distance and resistance between us.

I don’t know what more I can say really, given the non-disclosure agreement. The venue for the workshop was the gracious Newbold House, a fine late Victorian manor house set in beautiful gardens 5 miles from Findhorn. Newbold is home to a small intentional community of about a dozen people who live by the same spiritual principles and practices as we do here in Findhorn. Indeed, they are an offspring community. Like us, they run workshops and other programmes throughout the year and also provide an excellent B&B service. I’d personally like to thank the Newbold community for their loving care and attention throughout the week. The logistics of hosting such a large workshop can not have been simple. But they ensured that our needs were well met whilst remaining completely inconspicuous, which to my mind is key to successful event hosting.

Last night I went with a friend to see the Scottish Ballet perform Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire, a classic story of love, desire and sexuality. In my heightened state of sensitivity to exactly those aspects of our common humanity, I was totally transfixed and moved by the performance. Gore Vidal said of the original play that it ‘changed the concept of sex in America.’ How synchronistic that I should attend such a performance the day after completing a Tantra initiation. For I believe Jan’s course has likewise changed my conception of my own sexuality. I learned an enormous amount throughout the week, about my long-held sexual attitudes, preoccupations and patterns. Some of the lessons were hard, but all the more beneficial for that. And some of the experience was truly transformative and inspiring. I cannot recommend Jan’s courses highly enough. She is a ‘master teacher,’ as one of the participants said in the closing circle. Here is a link to her website.

Apologies for the brevity and lack of content in this post. But I wanted to check in with the blogosphere, even without having a great deal to say; it’s been over two weeks, too long, since I last posted.

With extra love, Graham

For some days I’ve felt closely accompanied by the Angel of Willingness. This is classic Findhorn-speak. What do we mean by it? Or rather, what do I mean by it, for such a feeling must surely be subjective? My interpretation is quite straightforward. I am not naturally drawn to esoteric or mystical meaning or language, unlike many of my Findhornian friends and colleagues (Adriana, for example, in her blog post I Believe in Angels). Indeed, I’ve held a strongly scientific/material/sceptical worldview my whole life. So in saying, ‘I’ve been accompanied in the last few days by the Angel of Willingness,’ I simply mean that I’ve several times witnessed an act of extraordinary willingness by people around me. Or perhaps, the quality of willingness has shown itself more often, more clearly, or more strongly than usual. And in a community where acting willingly in service is one of the highest values, this means a lot. Given the community context, for me to have been particularly inspired by singular acts of service, or several of them, is significant – significant enough to inspire this blog post.

If I were seeking a more Findhornian or spiritual interpretation of the presence of the Angel of Willingness, I would immediately refer to the booklet that accompanies a pack of Angel Cards. Angel cards I described in some detail in the post titled Cards. They were originally created as part of the Transformation Game, invented here in Findhorn by Kathy Tyler and Joy Drake in the ‘70s, but have since become popular in various guises all around the world. Angel Cards (the original ones) each carry a word representing a particular quality or value, and a sketch of an angel somehow enacting that quality. In the case of willingness, the card’s message according to the accompanying booklet is: Approach life with an open mind and a how-can-we-make-it-work attitude. Use your will skilfully to enhance the creative process rather than inhibit it. So the spiritual message carried by the Angel of Willingness is: keep an open mind, adopt a can-do attitude and be creative. Ironically perhaps, the picture on the card shows an angel washing the dishes…

Card

As mentioned, acting with willingness is normative behaviour around here and a strong part of the culture. And service, per se, is written into our code of conduct, the Common Ground, specifically in ‘Clause 2, Service: I bring an attitude of service to others and to our planet, recognising I must also consider my own needs.’ It is commonplace for people here to go out of their way to freely serve or support (without expectation of recompense of reciprocation) the people around them or their organisation, the community, humanity or the Earth. It’s a spiritual practice of sorts, one that we hold in common with many of the world’s faiths. So what was it that particularly inspired me to write a post on willing service? What were those extraordinary demonstrations of open mindedness, can-do-ism and creativity?

My week began with one of our regular, un-extraordinary acts of service – well two actually. On Saturday I had Saturday Homecare. This is a rota commitment that comes around once every three weeks. All residential Findhorn Foundation coworkers participate. We spend an hour or two on a Saturday morning cleaning our guest accommodation during the very short, two hour window between one week’s guests departing and the next arriving. Then on Sunday, I participated in another rota – washing dishes after Sunday brunch. This comes around once every couple of months. This week we had a large turnout at brunch so KP (Kitchen Party, as we call it) took a good two hours. Now, neither of these acts of service was remarkable, although having them both fall on the same weekend is unusual. But perhaps worth mentioning is that both were truly enjoyable. Cleaning toilets and washing dishes are not my favourite activities, to be sure, but doing the work collaboratively in a team and knowing that it contributes to the viability of the Foundation makes all the difference. In that context, acts of service become a joy and a privilege.

No, the act of willingness that particularly inspired me came at work, in my job in the Conference Office of the Findhorn Foundation. My current preoccupation there is with a big event coming up in July, the GEN+20 Summit. We are expecting between 300 and 400 participants; it could be our biggest conference for 20 years. In the week prior we are planning several short workshops which we thought would appeal to some conference goers and encourage them to come for an extra few days. We had originally scheduled six of these workshops, but we discovered on Monday morning that another which should have been included was not, through no fault of our own. In the meantime the two presenters of this seventh workshop have been promoting it around the world for the last twelve months!

What to do? The process of including a workshop in our annual programme is very complex; it involves at least three departments, many personnel, and a lot of staff time and trouble. The programme information has to be entered into a central database and included in our brochure and on our Web site. It also needs budgeting and setting up on a Bookings database. There is considerable ongoing administration required in the months leading up to the workshop running, not to mention the work required by our Homecare, Kitchens and Gardens Departments in accommodating and feeding the participants. I was doubtful that I’d be able to gain the consent of everyone involved to include the workshop as a favour to the presenters. And I was expecting the process of negotiation to take days. But by lunch time, I had the enthusiastic agreement of all concerned, even though they are all very busy and the late inclusion will involve considerable extra work on their part. I was quite astonished that everyone involved expressed such total willingness, and so spontaneously. Their how-can-we-make-it-work attitude was well in evidence.

In my role as the FF project manager of the GEN+20 Summit, I’m currently seeking volunteers for some of the crucial roles. We need to find two experienced Head Ushers (to manage the ushering in the main conference venue, the Universal Hall), two Teas Focalisers (to organise the tea breaks), people to administer two conference registration sessions, others to manage the many venues etc. etc. There are about 20 of these key positions, all of them requiring quite some commitment of time and effort. During a big conference the felt responsibility and inherent stress levels in these positions can be very high. And yet we offer no payment for this kind of work; it’s purely voluntary. Those who volunteer, do it out of the goodness of their heart and because they know that our conferences are important ‘world work’. Their contribution is an act of service, not only to the FF or the community but to the world. On the white board in the Conference Office we currently have written “healing the world, one conference at a time.” This is how we feel about our work. We see that it brings profound and lasting change and transformation to the people attending and also those participating via Web streaming. Anyway, on Monday, I sent out about a dozen emails to people we know have experience in those key roles. I asked whether they’d be interested in taking on the position yet again; most of them having done the job time after time. And yet, within a couple of days I had harvested nothing but positive responses from almost all of them. Again, I was impressed and inspired by their willingness and their selfless attitude of service to the Foundation, our community and beyond.

These separate instances of willingness and freely offered service may not count for much in and of themselves, but when they come as thick and fast as they have this week, I’m given cause to reflect and appreciate. What seem like isolated instances are not really separate and distinct. They are connected via the ‘field’ – the commonality of thought and action that pervades the community of Findhorn. Being immersed in a field of common purpose is itself, an inspiration. It provides extra motivation to offer even more service to the cause.

If this post is beginning to sound zealous or preachy for someone with a supposedly sceptical world view, let me explain why I am affected so. At a very young age, around 12 I think, I rejected the notion of a Judeo-Christian God. I did so for the same reasons given recently by Stephen Fry; the notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, beneficent God make no sense to me given the levels of chaos, pain and strife in the world. Furthermore, The Ten Commandments seemed predicated on prohibition. “Thou shalt not…” is no way to offer guidance, it seemed to a rebellious youngster. So as a teenager and a budding philosopher I was forced to consider, ‘How am I going to live my life?’ ‘What’s going to be my frame of reference?’ In response, I came up with a code of conduct of my own – one that would guide me as an atheist and a sceptic. The core of my homespun, tripartite ethos was, and still is: to fulfil my potential in love, creativity and service. (For more about this see a previous post titled, A Spiritual Life.) So the practice of service has always been central to my worldview. This is, in part, why I feel so at home in Findhorn. And for that matter, my mission to fulfil my potential in love and creativity is also very well supported by the culture here.

Which reminds me – it’s time for dinner in the Community Centre, to be followed by my weekly Thursday night KP rota – yet another opportunity to actually become that Angel of Willingness washing the dishes.

I’ve just come from a Findhorn Foundation (FF) coworkers’ meeting – an assembly of: FF staff (paid employees); apprentices (those doing LEAP, our Living Education Apprenticeship Programme); and invited others. It’s the largest regular meeting of FF personnel. Coworker meetings are held on an ad hoc basis every three or four months. They can be called in extraordinary circumstances, or as a means of updating the coworker ‘body’ with important information, or simply for group building or social purposes. On this occasion, 60 or 70 of us gathered to discuss various matters at hand. We met in the Beechtree Room in Cluny, our second campus in the township of Forres, five miles from Findhorn. I chose to write on this topic (or perhaps the topic chose me) because I came away from the meeting totally inspired by what I witnessed and experienced there. It raised for me, some of the features and qualities of our community that keep my enthusiasm and commitment here alive.

I came to Findhorn ten years ago following a lifetime spent, on and off, in a diverse range of intentional communities. In each of them I experienced a different mode of governance and approach to meetings. My first communal experience was on kibbutz in Israel in the 1970s. The kibbutz movement was then about 70 years old, very firmly established with time tested systems and procedures. Members would meet once a month at an asefa (general meeting) in the dining hall – seated, I recall, at laminated tables set in a very large rectangle under harsh fluorescent lighting. Decisions would be discussed and a vote taken with a show of hands. Whilst this looked ostensibly like direct democracy at work, it also felt quite formal and alienating. However, there was one feature of kibbutz governance that particularly impressed me. Positions of power were strictly rotated every two years, even the key position of merakez meshek, a cross between farm manager, finance director and CEO – ‘top dog’ in other words. The choice of next merakez would be taken more than twelve months in advance. The candidate would be plucked from their job driving a tractor or milking cows and sent away to study for a year before taking up the position. Two years later s/he would find themselves back on the tractor or under the cows. For me, this epitomised the egalitarian ethos that so drew me to kibbutz in the first place. I’m not sure whether it survived the economic crisis that befell kibbutz in the ‘80s; I’d be surprised. In fact, many aspects of kibbutz life have been completely transformed over the last 30 years. The socialist/egalitarian ideological base has been completely eroded in most cases.

Having left Israel for reasons that I mentioned in my last post, I returned to Australia seeking a new communal lifestyle. By the mid to late 1970s the hippie ethos and alternative, back-to-the-land, movement were kicking off in Australia. Recently married, I moved with my wife to Tuntable Falls, the largest hippie commune in Australia. Tuntable was an anarchic place; it couldn’t have been more different to kibbutz in terms of its systems and procedures. In short, there were none! Or at least, very few. As I recall, we had only two rules: that there should be no cats or dogs (in order to protect the wildlife); and also no firearms (in order to preserve the peace and love, brother!). And yet people transgressed both. A few pet lovers refused to relinquish their beloved animals and others insisted on keeping a .22 so that they could despatch the cats and dogs. But I digress.

We made an attempt at governance. Like kibbutz, we held a general assembly every month for the purpose of ‘decision-making.’ But that’s where the similarities ended. Called a ‘Tribal Meeting,’ anywhere between 10 and 100 half or fully naked folk would sit on the grass in a circle under a tree. Decision-making was haphazard. There was little protocol to it, and even less agreement on any one topic. But it didn’t seem to matter much; most of us were too laid back and/or too stoned to care. After 8 years my family and I moved away from Tuntable, back into the mainstream. Our reasons were many and varied but one was my disillusion with an alternative lifestyle in terms of its potential for world work. In the beginning, we hippies were terribly idealistic (and also terribly naive, it must be said), convinced that we were going to change the world by our example – of low impact, collaborative and sustainable lifestyles. In the end, the onset of rampant consumerism and individualism in the ‘80s  rendered our example less and less relevant to the mainstream.

In the early ‘90s I got excited about what I sensed was the start of a new communal movement. And this time, it was fully embedded within the mainstream! Cohousing, it seemed from what I was reading, had the potential to enable large numbers of regular, urban, middle-class folk to live more simply and collaboratively – downsizing their houses, being less consumerist and more proactive, socially and environmentally. I spent 8 years as an academic researching cohousing in Denmark, Holland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the US; in the process, visiting 30 or 40 cohousing projects and ecovillages. And in most of them I had the opportunity to sit in their meetings. At the time, consensus decision-making was all the rage and it was applied in every group. Consensus was thought to address the deficiencies of conventional processes based on voting, which can discount the views of minorities, leading to alienation, withdrawal from the process, and/or non-compliance with any given decision.

The marketing literature of one cohousing community suggested that consensus ‘puts all members on an equal footing, avoids power struggles and encourages everyone to participate by communicating openly.’ In fact, genuinely open communication (let alone full transparency) critical to any such process, generally requires a separate and resolute agreement of its own. And many groups had such an agreement, usually written into a mission statement or some other social contract. And this is a point I most wish to stress. In my experience, it’s not actually the social technology per se that makes or breaks a decision-making process (i.e. whether it’s based on voting, consensus or Sociocracy, for example). In my opinion, successful governance is less dependent on a chosen methodology and much more reliant on deeper, underlying levels of trust and openness in the group. On the whole, I was very impressed with the smooth running of the consensus-based meetings I witnessed, despite the fact that many cohousing groups were in the midst of the often stressful period of designing and constructing their buildings and landscape. Their governance and indeed their social interaction generally, was underpinned by high levels of trust and goodwill. This is a feature of cohousing. Members typically come together two or three years before designing, building and moving into their community. They purposefully build relationships of trust and understanding before having to face the challenges of community life.

One of the things that most struck me when I first arrived at Findhorn was the level of grace which pervaded most meetings. Prior to that, I had endured 8 years as an academic sitting in faculty meetings driven by inflated egos, hidden agendas and intellectual one-upmanship. At Findhorn, people seemed modest, unassuming and without any hidden agenda. Furthermore, they actually listened to each other! Meetings of all kinds appeared to run without structure, sometimes without even a chairperson. Usually a ‘focaliser’ would lead to begin with, but after that, most meetings self organised without need for overt control or intervention. Typically, they became a free-wheeling discussion somehow guided by an invisible protocol: everyone waited their turn to speak; nobody would interject or speak over another; and nobody spoke for longer than appropriate. I was very, very impressed. And it strengthened my conviction that a group with relationships of trust and goodwill doesn’t need to overlay their meetings with structure (i.e. apply consensus, Sociocracy or similar). Indeed, it’s better off without!

Anyway, back to the coworkers meeting I mentioned. On this occasion it was lightly held by Camilla, our Chair of Management; she had information she wished to convey. There were essentially two topics to cover. Camilla spoke to one and another coworker, Adele who works closely with Camilla, spoke to the other. The first was a very sensitive matter that carried the potential to tip the group into angst and recrimination. The second was a vast and somewhat amorphous topic that probably meant something different to every person in the room. As such, it might have been a difficult topic for 60 people to coherently discuss. And it also carried a certain charge with the potential to incite strong feelings. After Camilla and Adele had talked to each topic, a discussion ensued. Many people spoke, some passionately. Yet, throughout the meeting, a sense of calm, order and deep listening prevailed. The discussion of both topics was completed in good time, with everyone who wished to speak feeling heard. It was very, very inspiring.

I believe there are two main contributors to the level of grace that characterise our meetings: our agreements and our spirituality. The Findhorn Foundation (FF) and Community have developed over many years what we call, the Common Ground. This is a list of 14 agreements that represent values to which we all hold. The FF Web site says of the Common Ground, that it’s ‘a living document, a code of conduct, and used as a tool for transformation for ourselves, the community and the world.’ Every FF coworker formally agrees to do their best to abide by the principles articulated in the Common Ground. I’m not going to discuss it here in depth; the full document can be downloaded here. But I’d like to pull out those particular clauses which I believe clearly contribute to the grace of our meetings:
Respecting Others: I wholeheartedly respect other people – their differences, views, origins, backgrounds and issues.
Direct Communication: I use clear and honest communication with open listening, heart-felt responses, loving acceptance and straightforwardness.
Reflection: I recognise that anything I see outside myself—any criticisms, irritations or appreciations—may also be reflections of what is inside me.
Nonviolence: I do not inflict my attitudes or desires on others.
Perspective: I acknowledge that there may be wider perspectives than my own and deeper issues than those I am immediately aware of.

The second reason for the success of our meetings is, I believe, our spirituality. I’ve covered this in some depth elsewhere in this blog (e.g. the post, Going Within) so, again, will not go into detail here. Suffice to say that our spirituality involves deep ‘inner work’ i.e. working on, and taking responsibility for, one’s issues, particularly those things that trigger us. This is where we look deeply into our psyche to identify the source of our aversions, irritations and challenges. We reflect on our various needs, wants and desires and seek to unpack their origins. And it’s where we get to work on the ego, to ensure that its shadow side doesn’t suddenly flare up in the middle of a meeting.

Finally, I must admit that we do have an adopted meetings methodology of sorts – we begin all gatherings with a moment of silence. This simple but deeply meaningful act defines our meetings, in a way. It goes beyond helping participants settle into the space and become present. I believe it works very subtly to remind us of our commitment to the Common Ground and also the reflections and results of our ‘inner work.’ A moment’s silence serves to prime a meeting with those qualities I’ve mentioned: grace, ease, openness and deep listening. At the end of a meeting, we usually link hands and close with another moment of silence, this time to express gratitude for what has transpired. And in that moment, speaking for myself, I also feel the oneness of the group and of our community – our essential interconnectedness.

All of these qualities that so impress me about our meetings are what enable them to flow with such grace. So I for one, am strongly opposed to the introduction of Sociocracy as an overlay to our meetings (as has been suggested). I don’t think we need it, and furthermore, I think it could do more damage than good. It has the potential to stifle the free flowing conversational style that is enabled by our underlying trust and goodwill. Perhaps, there is an argument for using Sociocracy (or the next big thing in meetings facilitation) on rare occasions, for particular purposes – when a controversial decision needs to be made, for example. But apart from that, I move that we don’t adopt it!

Dear reader, did the title of this post grab your attention? Did it cause you to click on the link? Why is that? What is it about sex that we find so compelling… so fascinating?

Having posed these questions, I guess I should research psychology journals on the topic and distil my findings for you. But I’m not going to. I don’t have the time right now. Rather, I’m simply going to accept that most people are interested in, if not fascinated by, sex and press on with writing this post. As usual, I have little idea of what I’m going to write. I generally don’t plan or structure my blogging. I simply pick a topic and start writing. Generally, the writing flows freely to the keyboard as a stream of consciousness. It feels like I’m simply a channel or a conduit for the rendering of ideas that somehow bubble to the surface. I’m particularly curious to see where this topic takes us. For me, sex is a topic that goes way beyond interest or even fascination. I have been preoccupied by the subject since I was about 12 years old. There, that’s a confession. No doubt there will be more to follow. I’m in the mood to spill a few beans.

Half an hour ago I was lying in bed (alone) thinking it was about time I wrote the next blog post. It’s been over a week since the last one and a post every week is the rather demanding target I have set myself. So I was wondering, ‘What seems to be ‘up’ in the community at the moment? Or alternatively, ‘What’s going on for me personally that is germane to this blog about community life in Findhorn? And, hey presto! The topic presented itself. Yesterday afternoon I participated in a gentle two hour long session of dance and meditation in the Universal Hall. It was tenuously based on Tantric principles and practices. This afternoon I’ll attend the weekly meeting of our group, ‘Healing Love and Sexuality, Findhorn’ (HLSF). In another few weeks I’m going to attend a week long Tantra intensive, my first. So it seems that for both the community and me personally, sexuality is a hot topic right now. But let’s face it, when is it ever not? (One study showed that, on average, men think about sex 34 times a day and women, 19 times.) Yet we don’t seem to discuss it much. Why is that? Why is it such an edgy subject? Why do we find open discussion of the topic, in community and more generally, so challenging – threatening even?

These are exactly the questions that were the genesis of the HLSF support group. Sexuality is important to us all. We are hard wired for sexual desire to ensure that our species is perpetuated. Indeed all life is driven to procreate. Life begets life. Humans, of course, have (almost) uniquely evolved to be able to separate sex and procreation. (‘Almost uniquely’ because Benobo monkeys and I believe a few other species also recreate sexually.) And yet, despite sexuality being the life source of our species and central to our wellbeing as individuals… we struggle to talk about it. And, I would suggest, even more so within the context of community. We struggle to talk about it and we struggle to express it, even privately, let alone publicly. I’m not going to enter into a cultural analysis of the reasons for this here. I’m not qualified. I think it’s clear however, even without substantiation, that sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviours are repressed and sublimated in our Western, post-Victorian, middle class culture, and most elsewhere as well. And most of us are frustrated, unfulfilled and/or damaged as a result.

Our HLSF group has arisen from the deep need that most of us carry to heal the wounds this creeping catastrophe has caused. Our meetings provide an outlet and a forum for the expression of long suppressed thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Recent meetings have been truly liberating. In the last few weeks I have witnessed some deep and courageous sharing from participants as they open wounds (that they’ve been carrying for a lifetime in many cases) in order that healing and transformation may begin. This has been particularly inspiring for me as someone who so strongly believes in the value of transparency for transparency’s sake. (Note. I speak here only for myself and my collaborators. I don’t expect others to concur, necessarily.) Some of you will know of my recently published book, ‘Deepening Love Sex and Intimacy: A True Story.’ The feedback I’ve received has repeatedly focussed on the openness of the sharing and how inspired and comforted have readers been in realising that they are not alone with their interpersonal challenges. Knowing we are not alone can be a catalyst for healing and transformation. The book is not just about the joys of relationship (as the title might suggest). It’s as much, if not more, about the challenges. I passionately believe that the more we humans can fully share what’s going on for us at a deep level, the greater can be our individual and collective healing and transformation.

Somewhat frustratingly, there has been little critical or negative feedback about the book from which I could learn and improve. I would love, as a new writer in the genre, to receive more constructive criticism. Having said that, I’m grateful and somewhat relieved that there’s been no backlash, or even any negative feedback, from my community. And this, I think, approaches the issue I most wanted to breach with this post. The Findhorn Foundation and Community (our most commonly used title), like most intentional communities, is, in many ways, conservative. With a few exceptions, members have come from conventional middle class backgrounds. And of course, they have brought their conventional middle class values with them. Without an overt ideology which seeks to challenge, counter or overturn those values, our community perpetrates the norms we have inherited. That’s to be expected. But not all intentional communities are like that. There have been many historically (the famous Oneida Community (1848-1880), for example) and there are numerous contemporary groups, that deliberately seek to overturn inherited values and behaviours and develop an alternative, more radical, set of norms. This is the area of investigation of my anthropologist friend Anna’s PhD dissertation. Perhaps I should have asked her to be a guest blogger of this post. It would have been far more authoritative. This one is based purely on my own personal experience and decades of reflection on the issues.

My first experience of the challenge faced by intentional communities in dealing with sexual matters was very painful. It happened when I was a youthful, somewhat naïve, 22 year old living on kibbutz in Israel. This was my first experience of intentional community life. I had gone to Israel specifically to live on kibbutz. Since my mid-teens, I had been a committed, card carrying socialist (and have been ever since). At the time, Kibbutz was considered one of the most successful and politically radical communal experiments anywhere in the Western world. And because I was Jewish I was able to enter and live in Israel indefinitely. I was so convinced that kibbutz life was going to suit me that I officially emigrated from Australia. And so it proved. I absolutely fell in love with the lifestyle. It suited me to a tee. Unfortunately, as it turned out, I also fell in love with a married woman. We enjoyed a passionate, clandestine affair for a month or two before being outed. And shortly thereafter, without ceremony or even due consideration, I was ‘invited’ to leave the kibbutz. This felt totally unjust to me; it was common knowledge that extramarital affairs were commonplace amongst members. It was almost the norm. But I was made a scapegoat because I had relatively recently arrived and was not yet a full member. I was expendable. I believe that, in good part, I was expelled because our affair threw light on the dark. It exposed the underbelly of dishonest sexuality that was enjoyed but not acknowledged by many of the kibbutz establishment. Perhaps it was through this experience that my commitment to transparency first developed. I left Israel eventually, not because of this incident but because I didn’t fancy joining their army and fighting wars. And I’ve been seeking a kibbutz-like lifestyle ever since. This is probably why I am so content in Findhorn. In terms of lifestyle, I believe that our community is about the closest thing to kibbutz outside of Israel. But I digress.

I love my community, as those who regularly read this blog will know. And I’m proud of what has been achieved here over decades of social evolution. I resonate with our established values and norms… for the most part. I love, for example, that we are very welcoming and encouraging of gay and lesbian couples. There are many living here. We run workshops for the LGBT community. Ironically, I think that in some ways we are more comfortable with homosexuality than heterosexuality. We haven’t, in the ten years I’ve been here, held too many programmes for straights – Tantra workshops, for example. Anything that’s at all edgy in that way is shuffled off to our sister community, Newbold House, some 6 miles away. I’ll be commuting to and from Newbold for the programme I’m attending in a few weeks. Why is that? Why is there such sensitivity to expressions of overt sexuality within the community? One reason is its potential for negative impact on our image. There have been times in the past when the Findhorn community has copped some quite harmful press. And because the Findhorn Foundation, the key organisation, is dependent on positive publicity for its survival as an educational charity, it’s understandably sensitive to how we are portrayed in the media. Concern about the potential for bad publicity is definitely a reason.

But I think there’s more to it than that. And it’s in part to do with the norms and values we have inherited. Peter and Eileen Caddy were radical in many ways, but they were also very, very English. Peter was a career military officer who wore a stiff upper lip to suit. And whilst, by all accounts, the community demographic in the ‘70s was representative of the libertarian climate of those times, many of the most radical members left in the early ‘80s when the economic going got tough (we came close to bankruptcy). A period of consolidation ensued and a more conservative milieu was established. The membership self-selected accordingly. And I think that we still carry that inherent pragmatic conservatism today. There’s at least one more reason why sex talk doesn’t receive much air time here. It’s not acknowledged by our spirituality which, let’s face it, is the glue of this community. Our spirituality, based on messages channelled through Eileen Caddy, references only those chakras from the heart upwards. The lower chakras are simply not recognised. So qualities of love, compassion and consciousness are lauded in the community whilst matters of power, passion and sexuality are not well recognised.

But I believe that change is in the air. The HLSF group is evidence of this. There is a coterie of mostly, but not exclusively, younger members of the community who are more openly discussing and exploring issues of love, intimacy and sexuality. ‘Cuddle puddles’ are now a feature of many a party, gathering or casual encounter. The tide is shifting in favour of greater openness and transparency. I hope that this blog post can effectively feed into the zeitgeist. Thank you for reading. Your thoughts would be appreciated. To contribute a comment, click on the number to the right of the date above, below the title of this post.

In community, Graham.

I am about to launch a campaign! I’m going to become an activist for much greater sharing in our community. My last blog post talked about a certain kind of ‘sharing’ that we do here in Findhorn. In groups, typically sitting in a circle around a candle, we ‘share’ what’s going on for us i.e. we talk about our innermost thoughts and feelings and/or what’s going on in our lives. This kind of sharing is one of the essential practices we utilise to deepen connection and build relationships. In this piece, I want to discuss a different, more practical, form of sharing – the trading, lending, borrowing, or gifting of goods and services.

Sharing on the physical plane (i.e. owning or using material items jointly with others) involves explicit or implicit arrangements and agreements made by a group or a subgroup (e.g: an ecovillage or one of its neighbourhoods; a suburb or one of its streets) that enable efficiencies to be developed and/or mutual benefits to be derived. Our carpool, for example, comprises a subgroup of about 70 community members (and a few from out with the ecovillage) who share 10 or 11 late model vehicles. I believe that we’re the largest community carpool in Scotland and, as such, we’ve received significant financial support from the government. I’ve been a loyal member since it was founded eight years ago. The benefits I derive are too many to elaborate here. Suffice to say that the carpool makes car ownership a joy, rather than an expensive, conflict-ridden burden. And it’s a source of pride in what we can achieve collectively.

Sharing builds social relationships but is dependent upon them, in that the degree to which people are willing to share depends upon the trust and goodwill they have established. Willingness to share and cooperate is pervasive in a viable community. It represents the commitment of the group to the ideal of cooperation and is critical to their social development and group cohesion. At Findhorn we already do a lot of this kind of sharing. We collectively own land and numerous community buildings and facilities. Many community members, I for example, live in much smaller dwellings than otherwise we could as a direct consequence of being able to share communal facilities (laundry, guest rooms, office and workshop space etc.). For more on this see an earlier post titled, ‘My Home.’

The sharing of personal possessions is also already a feature of community life at Findhorn. The informal sharing of household goods reduces each member’s need to own and to purchase consumerist items. That I can borrow from a friend a juicer for a fast, or a tent to go camping, means I don’t need to buy these items and own them outright. However, in this regard I think we could do more, much more. And herein lays the impetus for my campaign. I feel passionately about instigating a formalised system that enables us to share personal possessions and household goods in a more comprehensive and committed manner. Inspired by the example of our carpool, I don’t see why we cannot develop a system which makes the sharing of private possessions extensive, efficient, effortless and joyful.

Ten years ago, I published a book on cohousing communities in the US, Japan and Australasia. At the time I was particularly inspired by one or two communities that had instigated such a system. At Commons on the Alameda in Santa Fe, for example, members had compiled and circulated a list of building, gardening, camping, cooking and other equipment that each household owns and was willing to share. Members would refer to the list should they want to borrow an item and approach one of the relevant households. Below is a excerpt from the list, probably about a third of its entirety. As far as I can tell, there’s absolutely no reason why we could not instigate such a system here at Findhorn. Indeed, I think it’s extremely remiss that we haven’t done so before now.

Capture

I have just listened to an excellent Bioneers pod cast delivered by a Dr Gabor Maté in which he said, ‘materialism is a system of belief and behaviour that considers material things, particularly the control and possession of material things, more important than human values such as connection and love, or spiritual values such as recognising the unity of everything.’ It rang a bell. If we turn the quote around, we get something like: In Findhorn we believe that human values such as connection and love, and spiritual values such as the unity of everything, are more important than material things, particularly the control and possession of material things.

Well my community, if this really is the case (and surely it is!) then how about it? Let’s demonstrate our professed values by implementing such a system. We already have our ‘Boutique,’ a place where community members and guests can leave clothing and other possessions for others to take, gratis. We also have a ‘library’ of privately donated DVDs and CDs from which anyone can borrow. The envisaged system would compliment these valuable, long-standing facilities. It would enable members to retain their possessions whilst also share them with others. Such a system would add significantly to our resilience. It would further the localisation of our economy and reduce our dependence on the global marketplace i.e. enable us to purchase fewer consumerist items produced in those horrendous factories in China and elsewhere.

But what might such a system look like? Might it be paper-based, like the one above, or Internet based? If it’s the latter, how do we design a system that doesn’t disadvantage or exclude the non-computer literate? If we did go with a digital management system, might we simply adopt an existing platform (see below), or find one that allows customisation (such as the one we use for the carpool) or have a system designed and built locally, tailored to our needs (such as our meals booking system). For me there is a danger in innovating for innovations sake. Technology can help, hinder or be irrelevant. I’m interested only in what technology, if any, can best facilitate the activity itself – the sharing?

I’ve done some research and found that numerous Internet start-up hopefuls have already been working on the idea. There are many digital solutions (Websites) out there that we could utilise. Streetbank, for example, a London-based site with global reach, enables neighbours to exchange all kinds of goods and services. It has only three members within a mile of The Park, but seems to be growing internationally. “We are starting a movement” the site claims, “one built on generosity, friendliness and holding what we own lightly.” Unfortunately, many of these kinds of Internet-based initiatives actually monetise the exchange process i.e. they emphasise renting, leasing or hiring rather than lending, borrowing, swapping or gifting. This is perhaps not surprising given that they are mostly developed by digital entrepreneurs looking to capitalise. My feeling is that we are better off with a local initiative designed by community members for our own purposes.

And there is another problem with these sites. For obvious reasons, they generally don’t hold or display an inventory of items that each member owns and is willing to share. If this were the case then a member seeking to borrow say, a tent, would go to the database and search on ‘tent’. The names of several tent owners and their addresses would pop up. S/he would then approach one of them and ask to borrow the item. The problem with this arrangement is the vulnerability members might feel in revealing the extent of their worldly possessions (to potential ne’re-do-wells). So, in fact, most sites of this type don’t work like that; instead they require those seeking an item to put out a request, to which other members who possess such an item are expected to respond. But this, it seems to me, is never going to work as well as a system which requires the seeker of the item to do the leg work. The person with the need is always going to be more motivated to ask to borrow an item than the owner of such an item will be to make an offer. The seeker is motivated by need. The owner’s motivation can only be altruism. However, a computer-based system with log-in and password available only to subscribers could work in the former manner. In principle, it would be a digital version of the above paper-based listing which, I believe, would intrinsically be more likely to succeed.

There are other design questions to be thought through. Do we want to focus on just the borrowing and lending of material goods (like the above system) or might we also include services such as massage, babysitting and computer support? And if we do, might that undermine some of our own community members who are trying to scratch a living with such skills? And what of the issue of relativity that has long beset time-bank arrangements. Is an hour of babysitting, for example, equivalent to an hour of legal or financial advice? There are other potential concerns. The relatively well-off are able to lend and borrow as a lifestyle choice whilst stigma might attach to those less well resourced with little to offer and greater material need. All of these considerations, and more, are important but they can, I believe, be resolved through thoughtful system design.

There is a burgeoning phenomenon out there called ‘collaborative consumption’ or the ‘sharing economy’ that began with the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) of 2008 and is now being fuelled by the ongoing global recession. Some of us might know it as the ‘gift economy.’ In neighbourhoods and regions all over the world, people (who start out as strangers) are coming together to share. Invariably, they soon realise that there is much more to be gained than just the economic savings; there are social and ecological advantages. To quote but a few: “The value of sharing is people connecting. It’s a social value.” “It brings people together. It makes people happier.” “A sustainable society is also one in which we choose positive behaviours that make us feel happier, more connected and more disposed to help others.” *

At Findhorn we are already connected; we have already built deep and pervasive trust. We have an awareness of all of the issues. It should be easy for us to instigate such a system. Come on Findhorn! Let’s do it!

* This post draws on an excellent report, Design for Sharing, by Ann Light and Clodagh Miskely, published November 2014. It’s available online here.

I have just returned to my community after six weeks away with family in Australia. I always find it valuable to get away from Findhorn for a period. It provides an opportunity to reflect on my life there and my reasons for remaining, given that it’s on the opposite side of the world from family, including: my aging mother whose health is not good; my two daughters and their beautiful families; and several siblings. My two grandchildren, Gus and Mattie are two years and six months old, respectively. Separation from family is the greatest challenge, indeed the only real challenge I face in living permanently in Scotland. In every other respect, I am deeply happy in the Findhorn Foundation and community and also as a Scottish and European resident.

Over the Christmas period I stayed with both my mother on Australia’s Gold Coast, and my daughter, Anna and her family who were also hosting my other daughter, Liberty and her family. They live about an hour’s drive south in a beautiful rainforest setting near a town called Mullumbimby. It was a busy time for me, driving back and forth several times, living out of a suitcase, connecting and reconnecting. And whilst I was ostensibly on holiday, my various projects also required attention, sometimes for several hours a day. I did find time, however, to reflect upon and appreciate all of the gifts I have in my life at Findhorn. On one hand, I used the opportunity to step back and gain some objectivity and perspective. On the other, I couldn’t help but feel deep love and appreciation for life in my adopted home. I found myself missing the community deeply. And here’s why…

There are three main aspects that I most appreciate about my life in Findhorn: the people, the place and the culture. By far the most important is the people, or more specifically, my relationships with them. The place and the culture, to my mind, provide the context for those relationships. The Findhorn community is estimated to have about six or seven hundred members, although nobody really knows exactly how many; we have never conducted a census, as far as I know. I would have some form of relationship with only a small proportion of them: a little over 100, perhaps. This figures; it’s approaching Dunbar’s number. Dunbar was an anthropologist who suggested, based on his research of primates, that the human brain can comfortably maintain only about 150 meaningful relationships (See here.)

Those 100+ community members I know by name, and I know something of their background and role in the community. But more importantly, and this is the defining characteristic of such relationships, I would say, we would have a ‘heart connection’. This, for me, is what determines a significant  or meaningful relationship. We would have had at least one, probably several, heart to heart conversations. Every time we’d meet, we’d enjoy a lingering heartfelt hug and a meaningful exchange of words. Because we are a geographically defined community, I meet some of these people several times every day, so opportunities for a meeting of hearts occur frequently – too often at times when there’s work to be done. This results in a deeply embodied experience of what I can only describe as a ‘field of love.’ It feels as if I’m immersed in a culture where love is freely, constantly and generously expressed. The open-heartedness of my relationships with so many people is without doubt my primary motivation for living at Findhorn.

Such relationships will have been formed over time and mostly as a result of the very many opportunities at Findhorn, both formal and informal, for building this kind of relationship. (I’m an introvert, so relationship building doesn’t come naturally to me.) Opportunities for deepening connection occur formally in all manner of courses, meetings, celebrations and cultural events – in fact just about every time two or more gather together for some kind of purpose. Gatherings of all kinds usually begin with an attunement, to bring people present and induce greater alignment of purpose. Then, we often proceed with an ‘ice-breaker’ to help those participating loosen their defences and open their minds and hearts. These are playful activities that appeal to our inner child. Fun and laughter are excellent means of dissolving personal boundaries and enabling connection.

Depending on the nature of the gathering, further processes may be introduced to encourage a deeper experience and appreciation of ‘the other’. Dancing, singing and playing what we call Discovery Games, are commonly used vehicles for deepening connection. We often include a ‘sharing’ whereby participants express what is going on for them, outwardly or emotionally or both. Each person in turn takes a minute or two (often longer) to convey what’s currently going on in their ‘private’ life. The rest of the group listens attentively – with empathy and without judgement. This is probably the most direct and powerful means we have of building love and acceptance within a group setting. In the process, growth, healing and transformation commonly occur.

I have heard many a guest to Findhorn say after such an experience that they felt ‘heard’ for the first time in their life. By this they mean far more than just being heard aurally. Rather, they have felt accepted and appreciated (loved, even) for who and what they are. This can be a primary catalyst for healing, which can also come to those who listen when they realise that they’re not alone in their innermost thoughts and feelings, that their issues are universally held by all of us. I personally believe in transparency for the sake of it. The more we humans can fully share with each other what is going on for us, then the greater can be our individual and collective healing and transformation. (This, by the way, was my primary motivation for publishing the book referred to in the previous post.)

Informal opportunities for deepening connection are also numerous. Because we live, work and play together, we are constantly interacting in different settings, for a range of diverse purposes. We get to know each other in different guises. Our understanding of each other grows rich and our relationships become more authentic. It becomes impossible to ‘fake it.’ So generally, people don’t bother; they are themselves. This is such a different way of being in the world to that which I experience elsewhere. Particularly in the conventional mainstream workplace, relationships are built around hierarchical roles and responsibilities. In the absence of awareness, they are likely to become fixed and immutable, with little opportunity for deepening. I see friends in the city meeting by appointment for a single prescribed activity. Even when they meet for recreation, their interaction is circumscribed by activity and lifestyle. Certainly this is the case in Australia. When ‘the boys’ enjoy a round of golf together, or families a picnic, they will typically spend precious little time deepening their heart connection.

As mentioned, other aspects of my life in Findhorn that I most miss when I’m away include the location itself and the community culture. We live here on an isthmus – a roughly 2 mile long peninsular that separates Findhorn Bay from the North Sea. We are surrounded by water; the nearby beach is magnificent. There are traditional fishing villages, extensive forests and rolling countryside all within close proximity. And the Highlands, with their magnificent peaks and countless lakes and lochs, are but an hour’s drive away. At Findhorn we are truly blessed by the richness and diversity of our surroundings. I love living in this location! And, to the surprise of my Australian friends, I don’t even mind the weather. In fact, I think I prefer it to the steamy sub-tropical conditions I experienced recently in Australia. One can at least dress for the cold; there is little one can do (apart from air-condition) to alleviate extreme heat and humidity.

And, what of the community culture? I am not going to attempt to elaborate on that here. There is too much to tell. Indeed this whole blog is an exploration of its different aspects. Perhaps I could offer a glimpse simply by describing my choices for this weekend. On Friday night I enjoyed our end-of-week celebratory meal with friends in the Community Centre (CC) and followed that up with a hot tub under the stars, surrounded by snow. Yesterday, I spent the morning writing the above, lunched in the CC, and met a friend afterwards for a run on the beach followed by a massage exchange. In the evening, I shared an excellent pizza from our on-site pizzeria with another friend and then went with her to watch our annual pantomime at Cluny Hill, our second campus in the town of Forres, 5 miles away. The panto was written and performed by people I know and love. It was amateur, exuberant, chaotic and hugely successful. The enormous dining room at Cluny was packed with an engaged and highly appreciative audience.

This morning (Sunday) I may play golf with friends if the weather is conducive. Otherwise I’ll go to our regular Sunday morning Taizé session of devotional dancing and singing. Brunch will follow, providing another opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues. I don’t yet have a plan for the afternoon, but expect that something will crop up. There is probably a talk scheduled for 12.30, our ‘Sunday Slot,’ which I’ll attend if the topic is of interest. Otherwise I may just get some work done around the house. I need to chop and bring in firewood, for example. This evening I have a choice between attending a session of dance in the Hall (5Rythms) or joining a support group of friends who are exploring issues of love and sexuality. I’ll probably choose the latter; the Healing Love and Sexuality group is a new and nascent initiative that deserves support.

That is a typical weekend! The cultural life here in Findhorn is as full and rich as I wish it to be. Most activities occur on campus. When I need a car for a short journey (to Cluny or to play golf) I can chose from the several late model vehicles (including a fully electric Nissan Leaf) in our community carpool.

Life in this community is good! I miss it when I’m away.

I did not expect to be writing a post over the Xmas period as I’m in Australia remote from community life in Findhorn (the supposed focus of this blog). But something has come up which has inspired me to write. The topic? No less than the role of community in the evolution of our species. Yes, I do see a link there! So this post is not about Findhorn directly, but about community life in general and its contribution to the making of a better world through the humane welcoming of babies and raising of children. So if some of what follows feels like the self-indulgent ramblings of a proud dad and doting grandpa (which it is) then please bear with me. I will get to the point eventually.

I am spending time with my daughter Anna, her partner Tom and their five month old baby, Mattea, my second grandchild. My other daughter, Liberty, and her partner, Bradley, have a one and half year old son called Gus. Anna and Tom live in a beautiful timber and mud-brick house set in sub-tropical rainforest in Northern NSW, not far from where Anna and Liberty, were born and grew up. Their house, in fact, is very much like the one they were born and grew up in (until they were 8 and 6 years old, respectively), a house that I built over several years on a hippie commune called Tuntable Falls. Tuntable is still (I think) Australia’s largest intentional community – some 150 people living simply and sustainably on about 1200 acres of beautiful land near a town called Nimbin, NSW. My ex-wife, Jane, and I lived there between 1977 and 1984.

Anna was born at home a few months after we moved to Tuntable. I had to work feverishly prior to her birth to construct the first stage of the house. We moved in a few days before the birth and she was born, serenely and naturally with midwife and birthing team in attendance and a dozen or so friends and neighbours looking on. A couple of years later, Liberty was born in similar circumstances – at home, quietly, peacefully and naturally.

By that time, Jane had become a lay doula/midwife and member of the same birthing team that attended our two home births. I would often accompany her when she was out attending a birth as both our babies were breast fed well into their second year and I would look after them whilst she worked, presenting them for feeding as necessary. I was (and still am) a keen photographer and was often asked to shoot these births. It was such a privilege, being the team photographer. Births generally, but particularly home births, are extremely photogenic, such is the atmosphere of joyousness and serenity that usually pervades.

These were idyllic years for us. We were living the dream. Anna and Lib grew up in what I think of as perfect circumstances: close to nature; with both parents at home most of the time; in a handmade house with few consumerist mod-cons; within a hamlet of other families with similarly aged kids; in an intentional community with a social and environmental purpose. We grew much of our own food and sourced fresh, local, organic produce otherwise. We spent time sitting in the sun socialising, playing or listening to music, swimming in the river and hanging out. With their playmates and from a very young age, the girls freely roamed the property unsupervised by adults, but they had dozens of surrogate mums, dads and grandparents all around to shower them with love and attention. Their peer group was a young tribe, growing up in the loving embrace of the community at large, which was a tribe in itself.

Life was beyond good. And as a direct result, I believe, Anna and Liberty grew up to be emotionally intelligent, open-hearted and compassionate adults with progressive, humanitarian values and ideals. In their work, they have sought to make the world a better, more humane place – to bring love and light to those in need. Their interests and proclivities took Anna into anthropology (working with aboriginal communities in Central Australia) and Lib into midwifery (working mostly with underprivileged immigrant women in New Zealand). Anna and Lib have always gathered loyal and devoted friends and colleagues about them; through their being so loving, they inspire love in others.

It’s through this life experience (watching my kids grow up) that I’ve come to firmly believe that birthing and raising children in community is the single greatest contribution we can make to creating a more peaceful and loving world. And also, it is the communities movement’s single greatest contribution to the creation of a more sustainable future for the planet. In short, the conscious conception, gestation, birthing and raising of children is crucial to: the making of loving and caring human beings; the creation, therefore, of a civilised and sustainable society; and so, the saving and healing of the planet.

This conviction has led me to join with two colleagues in organising a conference on the topic in September 2016. Called, Healthy Birth – Healthy Earth, the event will draw, we hope, over 200 birthing professionals, academics, parents, prospective parents and interested others to Findhorn for a week of talks, workshops, classes and cultural events (films, performances, celebrations etc.). The conference theme is this nexus between birth and Earth. The three of us, the core conference team, met recently to develop our ideas. These are the basic principles we agreed upon – our ‘manifesto’:

  • How we are born affects both our capacity to love and to be aware.
  • Babies learn during gestation and birth whether the world is safe or terrifying.
  • Birthing mothers are the environment supporting and nourishing future generations who will determine the health of the planet.
  • Crises in birthing practices and the environment stem from the objectification of matter – either as a woman to be controlled or a planet to be exploited.
  • Healing relationships with our mother, birthing mothers and Mother Earth lie at the core of a sustainable future.

So what has inspired this post specifically? Well, Mattie and I have been hanging out. She is only 5 months old, but it’s already very clear to me that she has acquired many of the same character traits that I ascribed to my daughters above. She is open, affable, contented, loving, present with others and as serene as could be. In the few days I was staying with them, I hardly heard a peep of complaint from her, let alone a cry. So it got me thinking; might there be a ‘second-generation effect’ going on here? Because Mattie has many of the same influences upon her that Anna and Liberty had as children. Anna and Tom are super-parents: they are both at home (Anna is a full-time mum at the moment and Tom works from home); they shower Mattie with love and attention; and they lead a gentle, quiet, spiritual kind of life in their beautiful handmade house, close to nature and in community.

The family live on land shared with a few other households, yet there is little interaction amongst them. However the property is close to a progressive small town called Mullumbimby, in an area that’s renowned for its sense of community. All about, there are numerous intentional communities and all manner of collectives and individuals leading ‘alternative lifestyles’. It’s 21st Century hippiedom! The whole of far North Eastern NSW, which includes the towns of Nimbin, Mullumbimby and Byron Bay, is known as the Rainbow Region for this reason. I could digress here into a rave about how the hippie movement was sparked in Australia by the famous 1973 Aquarius Festival in Nimbin. But I won’t. For those who are interested, here is a taster.

Anyway, Anna and Tom have many thoughtful, gentle friends in the area. They enjoy a nurturing local culture, one in which loving acceptance and open-heartedness are the means of exchange. One evening whilst I was staying with them, we attended the launch of a new café in Byron Bay. The event was held in an industrial building converted into a venue for community-based cultural development called Kulchajam. It was lively and well attended by a hundred or so alternative lifestylers; chilled-out folk dressed casually, interacting open-heartedly, being their authentic unconventional selves.

There was no cover charge. The evening was alcohol free. The somewhat chaotic kitchen was serving delicious, wholesome, vegetarian food, free! Entertainers were performing for free! Artists were displaying their work on the walls as a gesture of support. It occurred to me that the whole event was being run on a gift-economy basis (which as an aside, Tom, in his volunteer role as treasurer of the organising non-profit, was not fully convinced was a viable approach). Inspired by all this, Anna and I were volunteering in the kitchen. When I wasn’t washing dishes, I was socialising and enjoying the art and music. Some of the time I carried Mattie around. The atmosphere was way more lively than she is used to at home. The music was loud at times, kids were running around excitedly, adults were engaging with gusto. And yet she was quietly wide-eyed and curious, not phased by the chaos, smiling at strangers and being her usual happy self. To me, this demonstrated an impressive level of resilience. Despite having lived a very quiet, peaceful life since she was born, she had no trouble coping with an entirely different and potentially disturbing atmosphere.

So, it set me wondering! Anna told me of something she’d read which claimed that certain human genetic defects can be bred out of existence within a few generations. Perhaps then, it might only take a few generations of our kids repeatedly enjoying a humane and loving welcome into community for peace, harmony and resilience to become the norm. And in the process, perhaps we will gain a critical mass of people who will love and care sufficiently for each other and the planet to make a difference. Yes, ‘I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one’. There are millions of us living in communities all around the world who are working, whether we know it or not, on this very same project.

May love prevail.

Dear followers (email subscribers) of which there are 44,

I apologise for not being able to maintain my weekly postings. The last couple of weeks of community life have not provided sufficient material for me to work with. Furthermore, I am leaving in just under a fortnight to go to Australia for two months and I have a hugely busy work life in these next two weeks.

So sadly, I don’t think I’m going to get another post out to you until I get back in late January.

I wish you a love-filled xmas-new year period.

Blessings,
Graham

 

 

 

Last week’s post was about a course held here at Findhorn (a training in Esalen Massage) written from my perspective as a participant. This week, I want to tell a similar story, of the unfolding of another Findhorn event, but this time from the viewpoint of a focaliser – someone who organises, holds and steers. The programme is one that we crafted especially for a visiting group. It’s specific to the needs of the group, not something we offer for general consumption in our brochure or on our website. We have always held such tailored events – there have always been single interest groups coming to us for fact-finding or inspiration-harvesting visits. But historically we handled such requests on an ad hoc basis – somehow, somebody would magically cobble together and run a programme for them. A few years ago, however, in the face of increasing numbers of such visits, we created a brand new department called Building Bridges (BB), dedicated to overseeing such programmes.

The three coworkers who staff BB are tasked with a) creating and coordinating one-off programmes for groups that invite themselves to Findhorn, and b) proposing and seeking funding for programmes designed especially for groups of people with special needs. The creation of BB has brought much greater rigour and professionalism to  the way we deal with groups who self-invite. And also, it’s delivered new kinds of programmes for people who, because of the cards that life had dealt them, wouldn’t otherwise have the resources or the opportunity to visit our community. This second type of visit is typically funded by local government as part of their social services programme. Participants might, for example, be marginalised youth of the region. Or they might be folk with learning disabilities. Building Bridges has ensured that our visitor demographic has become much more diverse in recent years. This is great in terms of developing our ‘reach’ and it also brings extra richness to our lives as the residents here. I, for one, am very grateful for their work.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation from BB to join one of their team (let’s call him Edward) in focalising a programme for a Norwegian delegation coming for just four days in late October. I was told they were a group of about 20 involved in, or somehow associated with, the development of an ecovillage located in the countryside north of Oslo. The instigators of the visit, I was told, are two of the founders of the project and they’re bringing several architects, some local politicians including the mayor of their municipality and a film crew working on a four part documentary for Norwegian television called Ecovillage. The proposal sounded just like my ‘cup of tea’ I have an architectural background (as a practitioner and then an educator) so I am always keen to engage with visiting architects…to both show them what we have achieved here but also to learn about their projects and their work, particularly in the fields of sustainable and community architecture. I knew that my regular workload in the Findhorn Foundation Conference Office would be relatively light at that time so I replied to the invitation with a resounding YES!

Much of the planning for the visit had already been done by the time I came onboard, otherwise, to be honest, the programme created might have been somewhat different. The schedule I was sent seemed reasonable, however I suggested a few tweaks which were graciously implemented by the BB team. I should mention too, that much of the agenda setting had been driven by the two founders of Hurdal Ecovillage, one of whom had visited Findhorn some 30 years earlier and, as a 16 year old, had been so inspired as to have received a vision of a future, Findhorn like, Norwegian community. It took another 20 or so years for the project to crystallise, but now it’s well on its way to realisation. Currently, there are 100 people living on site and the project is on track to fulfil the founders’ vision of a full-featured ecovillage of about five hundred souls, dynamically integrated into the surrounding region.

And this is where the local politicians come in. The delegation includes three: the local mayor, his deputy and the municipality’s Head of Administration (who, in her words, is tasked with implementing the directives of the other two). The municipality of Hurdal lies in the Romerike region of Norway; its administrative centre is the small town of Hurdal, on the outskirts of which, the ecovillage of Hurdal is located. The Mayor, Runar Bålsrud, has a strong vision of his own, I learned yesterday on the first day of their visit. He is passionate about sustainable development and is striving to create the first truly ‘green’ municipality in the country. As yet, I don’t know much of the detail of Runar’s ambition. So I’ve just taken a look at the municipality’s web site (here) and even though there is no English translation, I could glean from the array of clickable icons that the vision is already on track. The very first of the pictograms is a rubbish bin, the second is a recycling truck, and the third is a greenhouse. This is exactly the kind of politician we just love to receive here at Findhorn.

It is very confirming of our ‘world work’ to be reminded that Findhorn has influence well beyond the self-referencing world of intentional communities; that we can and do inspire positive change in wider, mainstream, society. Because ultimately, of course, that is where change simply must happen. Only a tiny (but happily, not irrelevant) proportion of the world’s population will be privileged enough to live in sustainable (intentional) communities like ours. In my opinion, it is crucial that leaders and change makers make every effort to bring sustainable community to the mainstream and to the cities if there is to be any kind of agreeable future for our world. And this, of course, is the core purpose of the Building Bridges department. To this end, it is extremely gratifying to have this delegation accompanied by a film crew of the Norwegian national broadcaster (their equivalent of the BBC). The documentary they are making will spread our influence and inspiration up and down the land of Norway and perhaps beyond.

Prior to their arrival on Saturday afternoon, I was feeling apprehensive. Presenting to architects is always a little two edged for me. I know how they think, and that causes me to sometimes feel quite apologetic for the lack of architectural coherence here at Findhorn. For historical reasons, we have never had much of a master plan for the development of housing and infrastructure. We inherited a caravan park of unhealthy, unsustainable buildings. Many of them, well past their used by date, still exist. And the building programme has unfolded in a very ad hoc fashion, resulting in a mix of styles that reflect the different interests and preoccupations of the people involved at the time. Whilst the architectural informality might appeal to many visitors, I expect that most architects find our built environment lacking in coherence. (Keven McLeod once said of our settlement that it looked like it had been designed by Willy Wonka Architects.) Added to that, the presence of high level politicians in the group and the filming of the visit for television put me a little on edge.

They arrived at about 2pm by coach from Aberdeen airport. We met and welcomed them on the ‘runway’ – that remnant 20 meter wide strip of concrete and tarmac that has, by default, become our main car park. It’s called that because during the Second World War it was built to enable fighter planes to be taxied around and dispersed in the landscape to prevent them being easily destroyed by enemy bombers. This is another aspect of our ‘planning’ that irks me and for which I feel apologetic. The first impression gained by most visitors to our community is their arrival into a bloody great carpark – not a good look for any self-respecting ecovillage, I would have thought. We provided a light lunch in the Community Centre, registered them all (but for two who had been delayed in coming and would arrive late) and showed them to their accommodation. They dropped their bags and we escorted them to our meeting room for the duration of the visit, the Park Lecture Room. The PLR is one of my favourite venues; it features wonderful picture windows looking out into the woods. I have done a lot of teaching in the space and feel very much at home there.

We began with an attunement led by Edward. This is always a bit of an edge with groups as mainstream as this one. Sitting in a circle around a candle with eyes closed whilst someone invokes the presence of angelic beings is a new and sometimes challenging experience for many people. And we had gained an impression from Kristin that she’d prefer us to downplay the more spiritual aspects of our culture, I assumed because of the presence of the politicians and camera crew. But the group seemed to take it in their stride. We followed up with a round of introductions. Everyone in turn stated their name and reason for being on the trip, whether it be as ecovillage residents, architects, builders or regional politician. The group appeared to be comprised of genuine, engaged and open individuals. I began to relax. I took an immediate shine to the Mayor of Hurdal; he seemed modest and unassuming for a politician. For the next hour I presented a slide show and talk about our community in all its various facets. Time didn’t allow for much dialogue; I would have preferred a more discursive exchange, yet the presentation was well received. We set out on a brief tour of the community, elaborating on aspects of our history and culture in such historically significant places as the Original Garden, Universal Hall and Nature Sanctuary. Following dinner, the day ended with a talk and discussion led by Alex Walker, a long-standing member of the community who has been centrally involved in much of its physical and economic development. Alex generated an animated discussion and fielded many questions. I felt satisfied by the end of the day that, one way or another, the group had received a thorough introduction to our community.

Day two comprised a series of presentations and discussions with key members of the community. The instigators of the visit had made it clear at the outset that they were most interested in how our community integrated with the surrounding region and related with various levels of government. So we organised four speakers: Kosha Joubert, President of the Global Ecovillage Network; May East, CEO of CIFAL Scotland and Findhorn’s delegate to the UN; Carin Schwartz, founder of Transition Town Forres, and; Camilla Bredal-Pedersen, Chair of Management of the Findhorn Foundation. That the speakers were all female did not escape attention. It’s clear that a disproportionate number of the most influential members of our community are women. These four passionate and committed women filled our guests with so much information and inspiration that they were left reeling by the end of the day. In addition to the talks, we fitted in a tour to Transition Town Forres and  to Cluny Hill, our campus in Forres. It was a full and fruitful day. The evening was free but by coincidence, the Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, a band playing traditional Scandanavian music, were appearing in the Hall. I think most of the group went and I heard that a good time was had by all.

Today was the final full day of the visit. We began with a tour of our sustainable housing, including visits inside of four very different buildings: my ecomobile; Edward’s house (9/10 Bagend) shared by 8 coworkers; Auriel’s barrel house; and Michael and Gail’s splendid new home in Soillse. The group were engaged and curious. The diversity of our housing is in distinct contrast to theirs. Their houses are all built to the same design, albeit with variations of size. Through standardisation they have guaranteed efficiency of production, relative affordability, reduced stress for the home buyers and architectural cohesion for the project.

Following the tour we had the opportunity to hear from them about their project in Hurdal. Simen, the founder, gave a comprehensive presentation that was followed by a short presentation by Runar, the Mayor, about his government’s ambition to effect carbon neutrality in their municipality by 2025. This afternoon, the group enjoyed something different – the chance to get their hands dirty in Cullerne Gardens, weeding and preparing a field for planting a new winter crop. These kinds of ‘group projects’ offer guests the opportunity to experience the life and culture of a work department and apply our principle ethos, ‘work is love in action’.

This evening, we held a ‘completion’ sharing in the Earth Lodge, which is a kiva of sorts – a circular 6m wide space, half buried in the ground with a central fire pit and hole in the roof for the smoke to escape. It was intended as a chance to express some final appreciations and enjoy some singing and music making. The sharing was very deep…profound in some cases. A strong camaraderie was felt and expressed by many – a linking of minds and hearts across the North Sea. Craig Gibsone, community elder, permaculturist and didge player led some chanting. Kristin sang a beautiful traditional Norwegian song. We were all moved, some of us to tears. It was a beautiful, soulful way to complete.

All in all, it’s been a short, packed and intense programme that certainly satisfied our ‘clients’ and helped forge new links of friendship and support between ecovillages. I very much enjoyed the gig; working with Edward was a delight. So I hope it’s not the last time I’m recruited at short notice by Building Bridges.

This week I’m participating in a massage course – a week long introduction to the style developed at the famous Esalen Institute in California. It’s the first time I’ve undertaken a course as participant since first coming to Findhorn some nine years ago. I hope that my writing about the experience willoffer a glimpse of how it is to be a participant in one of our programmes. I can’t say, “a typical programme”, because this one is very different to most, and in any case, each course is unique, although some of the activities I’ll describe are common to many.

I have always been a keen amateur masseur. I love the sense of touch and the communication that skin to skin contact brings with another. And yet I’ve never undertaken any training to learn how to do it with more understanding and purpose. My approach has always been very intuitive. And whilst this has served well enough, I have always wanted to strengthen the effectiveness of my technique. Without knowing much about it, Esalen Massage has appealed especially in recent years as I’ve spoken with trainees undertaking courses here in Findhorn. However, I’ve never been able to afford the cost of the full month-long training. This week-long introduction, at a subsidised price for Findhorn Foundation coworkers, is very affordable and in perfect timing given that my workload in the office is light at the moment.

  room view card

I arrived at Cluny, our campus in Forres where the Esalen courses are run, mid-morning on Saturday. Registration was quick and easy. I meet the lovely Mika, our trainer who has come all the way from Tokyo for the purpose and her co-facilitator, Nadashree whom I already know well as a Foundation coworker and a good friend. I was allocated a very nice room, facing south, overlooking the beautiful Cluny gardens and the golf course beyond. Before lunch I unpacked and made myself at home there, then mingled with a few of the other participants. We scratched the surface of each other’s worlds, learning names and countries and backgrounds … gaining a sense of with whom we would journey for the next week. Lunch was typically beautifully conceived and prepared, Findhorn style. I sat to eat at the long table in the bay window at the far end of the dining room, the same table I had adopted during Experience Week … the viewpoint from which I originally fell in love with the gardens and landscape around here.

Cluny  02 Cluny  04 unnamed (2)

We met as a group for the first time at 2pm in Cluny’s Ballroom, our home for the week. This is a magnificent Victorian room with a high, richly decorated ceiling, teak panelling on the walls, magnificent large windows, fine wooden floor and a spaciousness bordering on grandeur that belies its compact size. It’s my second favourite interior space in this whole region; the first being the aforementioned dining room. The purpose of the first session, as it is with almost all our programmes, is an introduction to the course and to each other. It quickly becomes clear that we are a very diverse group in terms of massage experience. Several are already practitioners and teachers of massage therapy and an equal number have little or no experience. One participant has never given or received a massage in her life and was even a little anxious about being touched. I wonder how much of a challenge such diversity will pose for the focalisers.

After an hour or so of preliminaries we move to the Sanctuary for an Angel Meditation. This is something we integrate into almost all our courses. It’s an attunement of sorts whereby a focaliser will lead a meditation, inviting the participants to go inside to align, then select (or perhaps it selects them), a card from a deck which portrays a particular quality that will accompany them during the week. I drew the Angel Card of Grace…always a lovely quality to dance with. What’s not to like about Grace? And the Angel Card selected for the group as a whole, the Group Angel, was Light. We shared what our respective qualities meant to us – whether they resonated or not, or touched on something going on in our lives. Then we completed the session by forming a circle and going inside to individually and collectively express gratitude for the events of the day, for life, for anything really that we fancy appreciating. This manner of closing a session is common to most group activities held in the community.

ballroom cards

Saturday evening is one of the two nights of the week when the sauna in Cluny is fired up. So after dinner, that’s what I did. And it was delicious. More than adequately hot, with a very cold outdoor plunge pool and a lovely wood-lined rest area, the Cluny sauna is a much valued facility, certainly by those hardcore sauna-goers who regularly meet there. I was returning to the sauna for the second or third time when something highly unexpected happened. I jumped up onto the top bench, diverting my eyes (as one does in a sauna) from the naked body of the woman I sat next too. “Hello” she said. My heart jumped at the sound of her voice; it was the wondrous woman who has been my on-again-off-again girlfriend/partner/lover for the last six months. We had been having a challenging day; harsh (from me) and curt (from her) text messages had been flying back and forth between us. I’m going to cut a long story short here. In fact, I’m only including this digression because I wish to bring to a conclusion the story that I posted last week – such has been the level of interest in my love life since.

Anyway, by 10.30 we were back at my place in The Park, processing the challenges of the previous few days. We were both feeling hurt and desperate. We talked for about an hour and decided that, once-and-for-all we would split up – that our relationship was not serving either of us, nor any higher good. Then we realised that in half an hour, the date would be Oct 19th, exactly six months since we first got together. It seemed obvious that we should not formally split until midnight. But what to do with the remaining half hour? We decided to spend it in appreciation and celebration of our oftentimes joyous journey together. So we each shared what we had most enjoyed about our adventures into love, sex and intimacy. And of course, in the process, we softened again and grew close. By midnight we were passionately locked together on the couch and deciding to spend the night together. In the morning we parted as singles, still fully resolved that the relationship was over but knowing that we would likely remain lovers, albeit on an ad hoc basis. Essentially, we had ditched the relationship in order to preserve the love. And it feels perfect!

Sunday morning was to be the first day of the course proper; but rather than launch straight into a session of massage, we began with an hour of meditation and yoga. This is unusual for our courses. Participants on most of our programmes always have the option of attending our regular morning group meditations in the two sanctuaries at Cluny and The Park. But it’s rare for there to be a morning mediation followed by yoga held by the course focalisers. Both activities were beautifully led by Mika. Then we broke for a light breakfast and returned to the Ballroom for the second session of the day; once again, this was not a massage session. Rather, it was an hour-long session of dance, again lead by Mika. And so it’s been every morning this week; we would start the day with meditation (half an hour), yoga (half an hour) and dance (an hour). This emphasis on self knowledge and healing through meditation, yoga and movement is part of the Esalen ethos. They rightly believe it essential that massage practitioners develop a deep awareness of their own physicality and also conciously attend to their emotional and spiritual well-being.

At 2pm, we met again for the first session of massage. During the check-in, more than a little frustration was expressed that it had taken 24 hours to get to this point. I was feeling a little of that, but because of my understanding and appreciation of the ‘field-setting’ that is part of almost all our programmes, I was predominantly feeling relaxed and grateful to be there. Mika began by explaining then demonstrating a few basic strokes on her ‘client’, Nadashree – actually, just one long continuous stroke down the back from shoulders to buttocks, up the sides and across the upper back to the shoulders, then back to the neck and head. It became clear to me in an instant, that YES! this is a style of massage that I can enthusiastically adopt. Strokes that are deep, long, continuous, fluid and very, very slow…bordering on sensual and surely deeply relaxing and healing for the lucky recipient. Mika demonstrated a stroke or two more. It seemed that this massage style would be as much of a joy to give, as to receive. She used her whole body at fullest stretch, sometimes with feet firmly planted, using gravity’s pull on her bodyweight to provide the impetus and strength to her strokes. And at other times, up on her toes and pirouetting like a dancer around shoulder or foot as she completed the pulled stroke along arm or leg.

We paired up to practice on each other. My partner was a good friend from within the community so there was little apprehension as we set about applying what we had witnessed. We worked on each other for about a half hour, applying the strokes we had observed whilst being closely supervised by Mika and Nadashree. I was in heaven, learning how to do with intent and purpose what I’d always done with intuition and love. I now feel (several days later) that I’ll be able to blend all of these incentives to confidently offer a massage to friends and lovers that will bring them relaxation and healing. The ensuing days of the course followed the same pattern. We began with meditation, yoga and dance, followed by two sessions of instruction and the giving and receiving of massage. I have no intention to take further Esalen massage courses. I doubt that I will ever be able to afford the full month’s training but, in any case, I have no desire to turn this new interest into a vocation. This week has been perfect. It has provided sufficient input and inspiration for me to now be able to offer a full-body massage with reasonable understanding and proficiency.

I thank the Findhorn Foundation for offering the course and for providing a generous subsidy for its coworkers.

It is with considerable trepidation that I begin writing a post about relationships in community. I feel it’s one of those topics that really must be spoken and written about; relationships are fundamentally what community is all about. And yet, I know that some of what will come up in the writing process will be very personal…and indeed edgy…unless I was to ignore sexual relationships altogether in order to stay within safe boundaries. Am I about to do that? Not likely!

But let’s begin more broadly, with a quick look at the etymology of the word, community. The word is derived, in part, from the Latin, communitas, meaning ‘fellowship’. So community is, by definition, about the bonds and ties between members of a given communal group. It’s about their relationships. This is the nub of community life whether it be within an intentional community (e.g. ecovillage, commune, kibbutz, monastery, cohousing etc) or in society at large. Additional etymological roots come from French (comunité, meaing ‘commonness’) and again, from Latin (communis, meaing ‘shared by all or many’). So, holding in common or sharing, whether it be of land and infrastructure or values and agreements, is also fundamental to community. Indeed, I would argue that these two fundamentals of community, relationship and sharing are intertwined and cannot be discussed separately. So here goes …

To share on the physical plane, means to hold, possess, use or occupy jointly with other members. Sharing involves explicit or implicit arrangements and agreements made by the community as a whole or subgroups within it, which enable efficiencies to be developed and/or mutual benefits to be derived. Sharing builds social relationships but is dependent upon them, in that the degree to which residents are willing to share depends upon the trust and goodwill they have established. Shared facilities (land, buildings and infrastructure) take considerable coordinated effort to operate, keep clean and maintain. Within the Findhorn Foundation the 100+ coworkers generally share these tasks, either as part of their daily work or as a periodic rota commitment in their own time. (A topic for another post perhaps.)

Willingness to share and cooperate is pervasive in a viable community. It represents the commitment of a group to the ideal of cooperation and is critical to social development and group cohesion. It enables some folk, me for example, to live in much smaller dwellings as a direct consequence of being able to share a communal laundry, guest rooms, office and workshop space etc (For more on this see my first post titled, Home) The sharing of personal possessions, to take another example, is a strong feature of community life at Findhorn. The sharing of goods reduces each household’s need to own and to purchase consumerist items. That I can borrow a juicer for a fast, or a tent to go camping, means I don’t need to buy these items and own them outright.

In the seminal book Habbits of the Heart, Robert Bellah et.al. characterise ‘classic’ social relationships as those with three principal dimensions; practical, social, and moral. The authors suggest that in contemporary Western society, the practical and moral aspects have largely been suppressed. Practical and moral support, they argue, “made sense more readily in the small face-to-face communities that characterised early American society”. Yet, it is exactly Bellah’s tripartite social relationships that pervade here at Findhorn. Practical support occurs in countless ways. There’s willingness to care for a neighbours garden or feed their cat whilst they’re away. Ready advice is given, and time spent, helping others to install new software or move heavy furniture. Such mutual aid can save money, alleviate stress and imbue relationships with substance. It is an essential ingredient of the ‘social glue’ of our community.

Social support, another essential constituent of Bellah’s ‘classic’ relationships, is also pervasive here. Whilst most community members have intimate relationships with one or a few unrelated others with whom they can share personal problems, we recognise that not all members are so connected. ‘Sharing’ as we call it, of what is going for one personally, is quintessential to Findhorn’s culture. We begin most of our meetings with a quick ‘check in’, where we share how we’re feeling in order that others may understand and perhaps respond with what’s needed. ‘Sharing’ builds empathy and an awareness of, and concern for, the needs of others. For deeper levels of sharing, men’s and women’s support groups are common, as are all kinds of other special interest groups. Social support can be critically important in times of challenge (loss, trauma or dire need). Radically changed circumstance and emergency situations are often the catalyst for community wide support: financial challenge may enable loans to be made from an emergency support fund; a cooking roster may be developed to provide meals for a family in need; a rota may be established to care for an elderly or dying community member.

Finally, moral support is also well in evidence here in Findhorn. I see it as support for difference, or that which is offered to minorities within the community. Gay and lesbian singles and couples, for example, are genuinely welcomed and seamlessly integrated into the community. For decades, we have held courses designed especially for the LGBT community. We also provide courses for folk with special needs. And we are cognisant of the challenges of those members with little financial security. In recent years we have been able to build or purchase a limited number of flats for members without capital and on low income. Moral support for minority and marginalised groups is a hallmark of a civilised society, it seems to me, and I think we do that pretty well here in Findhorn. And, we could do more.

I want to move now to interpersonal relationships…those between individual members of the community who have, lets say, been here for a period of time. I have always said, informally and in presentations, that I believe our relationships to be of a very high quality. Indeed I would say, they are the single biggest reason for my being so contented here and the main reason for my staying on (as it is, on the opposite side of the world from my much loved family, which includes: an aging mother, two daughters and their partners, young grandchildren and several siblings).

My friend Anna, an anthropologist here to ‘study’ us as a fully immersed participant observer, writes, at Findhorn there is “a radical focus on making direct, voluntary and collaborative relationships the basis for social order. …these relationships are intentionally established and carefully managed with the aim to make them trusting, inclusive, equal and transparent”. I would go even further in my effusiveness. I experience the relationships we enjoy here as authentic, open-hearted and kind. And yes, they are trusting, such that we are not reticent or shy when direct and blunt feedback is warranted. This too is a well established cultural norm. I’m not sure if Anna would agree but I would argue that all these qualities have come to the culture as a direct consequence of the sustained application over five decades of our two core spiritual principles: open-heartedness and consciousness. If we humans interrelate thoughtfully and with an open heart, then magic happens: defences are dropped, aggression melts away and space opens for compassion, empathy and love to flow. This is the ‘magic of Findhorn’ as far as I’m concerned.

So finally, what of romantic or sexual relationships? And why is it such an edgy topic? I wish it were otherwise. I wonder why we struggle to make transparent something that is so important to our wellbeing. I would speculate that this has something to do with our insecurity around our relationships – that we feel that if we were to expose and reveal our true selves – our deepest desires, wants and needs – that this would jeopardise our hard won but illusionary sense of security, our belief that our relationships are forever. Perhaps the fears go even deeper than that, to our sense of who we are and our survival instinct.

I’m not cynical about love. On the contrary, I’m essentially a romantic at heart. And I realise that there are couples in perfectly happy, stable and enduring relationships. But this is not the norm here, nor elsewhere, nowadays. It seems that most of us struggle with our relationships. They come and go, not lasting very long and not fulfilling our imagined needs and wants. More and more of us, whether it be in community or in wider society, live as singles. And here in Findhorn, things are no different. Paradoxically, loneliness can be acute even in a community like ours.

Like most people (I guess), my love life is central to my emotional wellbeing. And I’ve had an abiding ‘academic’ interest in this topic for many years. Since my divorce some 15 years ago, I’ve done quite some ‘research’ into alternatives to the serial monogamy that seems to be the norm in our society and in most intentional communities I know. The two communities from which I’ve taken most inspiration are ZEGG and Tamera (in Germany and Portugal respectively). I visited them both several times between 2001 and 2006. Indeed, at the time, I was considering living in one or the other in preference to coming to Findhorn. These are both communities that apply the theory and live the practice of what they call ‘liberated love’ i.e. non-exclusive sexual relationships or polyamoury.

At both of these communities, there is a similar emphasis placed on the consciousness and open-heartedness of relationships. But the difference there is what follows as a consequence. For example, at Findhorn heart-felt hugging is a norm. It’s a ubiquitous form of greeting and means of expressing affection. Yet the boundary between a friendly, even sensuous, hug and one with sexual implication is very clearly held. At ZEGG and Tamera, however, any two people who feel sexual attraction, irrespective of their other relationships, are given permission (indeed, encouraged) to act on that impulse. So long as the attraction is mutual and there is no coercion, then there is community and cultural support for those two people, who could be complete strangers, to engage sexually.

I have put this rather simplistically, even crudely. Of course there is much, much more to tell. These communities have been running this research experiment into a new way of relating for some forty years. There is a mountain of thinking, writing and testing that lies behind their lifestyle which I don’t have time or space to enter into here. All I know is that what they do, they do with considerable wisdom, grace and style. And they see it as world work – contributing to healing the ages-old rift between the masculine and the feminine. It’s my experience that they have what we have by way of authentic, trusting and loving relationships … and then some. The quality of their relating is very, very impressive.

Anyway, I have been greatly influenced by my positive experience of these two communities and their culture. I have enjoyed several ZEGG style polyamourous relationships over the last 13 years. I use the word “enjoyed” with purpose. These relationships have been very successful, affirming and healing. And in recent years, I’ve privately continued the practice here at Findhorn, even though it’s far from the norm here. However the time now seems right for a ‘coming out’ of sorts. There are a number of us here now with similar experiences and interests in alternative ways of expressing and embodying love, sex and intimacy. Many of our community have visited our sister communities, ZEGG and/or Tamera, and been influenced as I have. Some of us are currently dreaming into a new support group for those people who want to explore these issues. We have recently held the New Story Summit here and transformative ripple effects are being felt across a wide range of aspects of our culture. It seems that intimate relationships will be amongst those elements being reconsidered, discussed and researched. It’s already happening. The prospects are good.

I have progressed in writing this post from the broad to the specific; from the generic to the personal. So let me complete that trajectory with a wee note about my current relationship. Six months ago I fell deeply in love with a woman who has truly rocked my world. My love for her seems boundless. And such is its depth and fullness that, for the first time in 15 years, my preference would be for a committed, exclusive relationship. Hers, however, is not. She is clear that she wants to be able to freely explore sexual relations with others. Because of my positive experience of ‘liberated love’, intellectually I want to support her to do so. The trouble is, my heart has really struggled with the situation; there have been a few occasions when I’ve greatly suffered. And yet, I’ve never doubted her love for me or her commitment to our relationship. So it’s a dance. And in the process I’m learning a huge amount about my emotional underworld and some unhealthy long-standing patterns of behaviour. I am extremely grateful to my beloved…and to the Beloved…for delivering the opportunity for personal growth and learning. It has helped me become a much more aware and integrated human being.

*     *     *

UPDATE (January 2015) I have just published a book about the relationship to which I refer above. It’s a true story (in every detail) of an unusual, post-modern love affair. If you’re interested, and enjoy what you’ve read of my writing on this blog, you might like to check it out here (US Amazon) or here (UK Amazon).

 

It’s over! The New Story Summit has been and gone. The NSS was a week long conference held here at Findhorn between Sept 27th and Oct 4th. Its none too small agenda, was to seek to unfold a ‘new story’ for humankind. As a Findhorn Foundation coworker employed in the Conference Office, I have been centrally involved in the organisation of this event for most of this year. One of the joys of my job is having the opportunity to see come to fruition, months and months of dreaming, planning and sustained hard work. And with this event, the satisfaction in seeing a successful outcome was immense, such was the logistical complexity involved.

The context for this event is, on one level, the rolling programme of conferences and events held by the Findhorn Foundation. The FF is a charitable trust with education for a better world (in a broad sense) at the centre of its charter. These major events occur every one or two months. We also hold a myriad of courses and workshops; two or three every week of the year. Most of these are week-long whilst a few are one month or even three months in duration. This is the core business of the Foundation, upon which it is reliant for its financial viability. And it’s events like the NSS that make by far the largest contribution to our budgetary bottom line. So it’s all the more significant that this event was held under Gift Economy conditions, meaning that participants did not register to attend in the usual way, paying a fixed fee of between £600 and £1000 (depending on income). Rather they were required to pay a nominal registration fee of £50 (minimum) and then, at the end of the event, attune* to what more, if anything, they wished to contribute. In the very last session, we offered participants this opportunity and we wait now, in curiosity and a little apprehension, to see whether or not the NSS will produce a much needed surplus. Our budget this year (as it has been in the last two) is in deficit.

That aside, the conference was a great success of many, many levels. The participants numbered around 320, making this event the largest we’ve held for twenty years. Usually our conferences attract between 100 and 200 participants. So the logistics were commensurately complex; all of our support systems were strained to the limit. Our kitchens normally cook for a maximum of one or two hundred guests at a time. Our in-house accommodation is limited to about 120 beds. Our main conference venue, the Universal Hall, is limited in its capacity and we have only a handful of smaller spaces for break-out sessions and workshops. Our Homecare, Gardens and Maintenance departments have a well established remit and routine that does not normally vary greatly. However, for this event, we had to throw out the norms and protocols and embrace all manner of augmentation, innovation and improvisation. And we the collective, including the wider community beyond the Foundation, did so hugely successfully, I’m pleased and proud to say.

Mind you, we were greatly assisted by the superb weather. At this time of year it’s entirely possible that the weather be cold, wet and windy. Temperatures can be as low as 0 degC. And this is what we planned for. However, for the whole week, up until Friday night, we had brilliant sunny skies and temperatures in the high teens. This enabled many people to eat meals outdoors on the terrace and lawn, even at dinner time. So the pressure on the Community Centre dining room was greatly relieved and the large marquee that we had hired for the overflow was hardly used. The benign conditions also ensured that workshops, rituals and all kinds of gatherings were able to be held outdoors. And of course, the warm weather lifted everyone’s spirits, not least those participants who had come from Africa and equatorial Asian and South American countries. On that matter, the diversity of participants at this event was like none other in the history of our community. The organisers had invested considerable effort in fundraising over US$100K to bring our brothers and sisters from the Global South to the event, including many indigenous folk. Initially, up to 80 were invited from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australia. Sadly many of them were refused an entry visa by the ultra-cautious UK Border Control; ultimately I think only about 50 arrived. But their presence was profound. The indigenous elders led several powerful rituals, which I for one did not imagine would suit an event focused on a New Story for humankind. But I was absolutely wrong. The wise ones were there to remind us of those human qualities that will be absolutely essential as we move forward into an era of extreme climate change: humility, cooperation, loyalty, compassion and love.

The organisers had taken a major leap of faith in leaving much of the programme unplanned and pregnant with possibility. How could an event seeking to develop a New Story be otherwise? What emerged was deep, powerful and chaotic. But I am not the best person to report on the content as I was not participating to any great extent. I was too busy organising, administering and fire-fighting, which is my job as a member of the Conference Team. I attended some of the plenary sessions but none of the workshops, home-group sessions and ad hoc outdoor rituals. So I will leave the reporting of proceedings to others. There is plenty to review on Facebook, here, including many fabulous images. And already, blog posts are being published that offer some very interesting personal perspectives, such as Justine Huxley’s, here. It’s also possible to go to the Findhorn Foundation webstreaming site, here, and view archived footage of many of the sessions. Newcomers to the site will need to register at a cost of £10.

On that note, the webstreaming was another very successful aspect of this event, with thousands of people, many of them organised into ‘hubs’, watching the event unfold from afar. And many of those hubs then conducted their own programme of talks and workshops to tease out for themselves what a New Story might look like in their part of the world. Because ultimately, our survival of the coming climate crisis will best be met with a multiplicity of localised responses tailored by the activists and inhabitants of each bioregion. This for me was one of the principle ‘findings’ of the New Story Summit. And in that sense, it’s an old New Story. I remember as a hippie in the seventies advocating and indeed living, exactly that scenario. Let’s hope that this time around we can make some progress down that route. We have no choice now.

Some random pics taken by Hege Saebjornsen…

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* For an explanation of attunement, see my previous post titled Going Within.

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It’s late summer-early autumn here in Findhorn. It’s been a glorious summer. Lots of sunshine, lingering twilight, meals outdoors, long walks on the beach and still enough rain for the gardens … I could go on. But instead, I thought I’d make this week’s post more pictorial. Instead of painting pictures with so many words, I’ll post photographs I’ve taken of my week’s activities.

On Friday our vegetable gardeners staged their annual Harvest Festival. The event attracted about 50 people who made themselves garlands of marigolds, participated in a ritual or two, harvested produce from all parts of the garden and then processed to the Community Centre dining room to eat and celebrate the end of a summer season of abundance.

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Harvest season is a great time for a juice faxt. The apples are thick on the trees and the fresh greens are irrepressible in their vitality and goodness. So that’s what me and my beloved are doing for the week: fruit juice for breakfast, vegetable juice for lunch and vegetable broth for dinner. It’s been easy, fun and extremely beneficial. Highly recommend.

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This week Sunday Taize (see post titled Taize)  happened to fall on International Peace Day, so peace was even more of a theme than usual. We started with two Dances of Universal Peace (mentioned in the last post titled Dance). Here is a video of one of them.

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Tonight (Tuesday) in the Universal Hall we held a ‘Way of Council’ to look at a New Story for the community. This is a precursor to the New Story Summit which is happening here next week; 350 people are coming from all around the world for what promises to be a very special event. More info here. I will be intensely involved this and next week as my day job is in the Conference Office of the Findhorn Foundation. Very much looking forward to it.

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Dear followers and casual readers, I’m going to have to call a premature halt to this post. I had wanted to write much more but time does not permit – such is the pressure on us all at the moment as we prepare for the biggest conference we’ve had in 20 years. I am in the thick of the organisation and working 12 hour days at a very hectic pace. And the New Story Summit hasn’t even begun yet. So I am guessing I won’t have time for a post next week.

So I wish you well and will be back in a couple of weeks.

Love and blessings

Graham

 

 

I’ve just returned home after dancing 5 Rhythms in the Universal Hall with about fifty other sweaty Findhornians of all ages. I’m feeling inspired and energised, so much so that I’ve decided to write this post about dance in our community.

We’re a community that loves to dance and 5 Rhythms is just one of the many forms we enjoy in regular sessions, classes and workshops.* Others include: Open Floor, Sacred Dance, Céilidh and Biodanza. And there are at least four other dance forms I can think of (Ecstatic Dance, Biodanza, Belly Dancing and Contact Improvisation) that periodically beguile us here in Findhorn, all of these forms are celebrations of life, love and the joy of being human. Every few weeks, we hold a dance party in our Community Centre which has an excellent new sound system and mood lighting. And of course, there’s dancing at private parties as well. Finally, we boast a resident dance company, Bodysurf Scotland, which has delivered dance activities, performances, workshops and events for over ten years. Based in the Universal Hall, their vision is to be an international centre for dance in Scotland. Findhorn is undoubtedly a haven for those who like to dance.

My personal journey with dance is not dissimilar to the one I’ve had with singing (which I wrote about in the post title, Taizé). I’ve spent most of my life convinced that I was irredeemably poorly coordinated and feeling awkward and self conscious when dancing. But Findhorn has cured me! It’s taken a while, but over the years as I’ve slowly been drawn into the culture and the social milieu here, I’ve relaxed and opened to the joys of dancing. I believe that my journey of personal growth is, in good part, due to the high quality of our social relationships, which are generally loving, trusting and non-judgemental. In an atmosphere of trust amongst close friends, such as I experienced in the Hall tonight, self-consciousness goes away, leaving one fearless and free to explore one’s edges i.e. self-imposed limitations. Tonight, my dancing was truly joyful and liberated in a way that just five years ago, I would not have imagined possible.

5 Rhythms was first developed by New York’s Gabrielle Roth in the 1970s. She drew on mystical, shamanist and indigenous sources as well as transpersonal psychology, particularly Gestalt. Lasting between one and two hours, the 5 Rhythm ‘wave’, as it’s called, comprises five different phases (rhythms) in strict sequence: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. The dancers are guided by changing musical moods orchestrated by a certified teacher. This evening’s playlist had a distinctly Scottish flavour in recognition of this week’s referendum. But this is unusual; generally there are no such overtones. Rather, the music is interpreted by each dancer in a highly personal way, “opening them to a new sense of freedom and possibility that is both surprising and healing, exhilarating as well as deeply restorative”.** 5 Rhythms is said to be a meditation, such that body movement is used to still the mind. And tonight I really had a glimpse of that. I danced with abandon, free from self-consciousness. As the saying goes, I danced ‘as if nobody was watching’.

In the last few months we have enjoyed a new dance form in the community. Called, Open Floor,*** it is a derivative of 5 Rhythms that has emerged since the death of Gabrielle Roth two years ago. Apparently, in what seems to have been a chaotic succession process, several long-term 5 Rhythms trainers who worked closely with Roth fell out with the organisation. It has to be said that Roth kept a very tight control on her intellectual property and the manner in which 5 Rhythms was taught, promoted and spread around the world. The disaffected trainers established Open Floor as an alternative dance form and are administering its development and promulgation in a quite different manner. They use sociocracy to ensure a flat management structure and democratic decision-making process. Furthermore, Open Floor is held under Creative Commons licence, ensuring that it will spread and flourish free from control. I haven’t yet danced a session of Open Floor so am not going to describe it here. However, I understand that, like 5 Rhythms, it invites embodiment of whatever is going on for the dancer: feelings, emotions, thoughts and passions. And that through the process, comes healing and liberation.

Sacred Dance has been closely associated with Findhorn ever since Hungarian, Bernhard Wosien, introduced it to our community in the 1970s. He was a professional dancer and professor of dance who collected traditional circle (folk) dances from throughout Europe, seeking to preserve traditions that were being lost. At Findhorn we recognised the spiritual dimension of these dances and the practice took hold. It has been a strong feature of the culture ever since. We typically hold one or two sessions per week and include a taste of Sacred Dance in our introductory, Experience Week programme. I can still vividly recall the Sacred Dance session in my FX (as we call Experience Week) some nine years ago. We had our eyes closed for the final dance to extremely slow meditative music (Pachelbel’s Canon, I think), starting in a widespread circle but magically ending up in a tightly clustered clump in the centre of the room. The feeling of oneness, of connection with others, stayed with me for days. The experience was a revelation, especially given that the last time I had done any folk dancing was as a very reluctant primary school pupil. I hated it back then; I enjoy it immensely now. I generally enjoy Sacred Dance once a week during Sunday Taizé, which begins with one or two circle dances of a particular type. Known as Dances of Universal Peace, these are Sufi in origin, danced at a very slow meditative pace. They involve singing or chanting by the participants and invariably induce strong feelings of connectedness and group harmony, joy and peace. I also make a point of participating in our annual Festival of Sacred Dance held at Easter. These week long events attract dedicated dancers from around the world, some of whom have been coming regularly since the ‘70s. This video is a 10 minute trailer for a much longer movie about Sacred Dance at Findhorn. The full length version is available here.

Céilidh, traditional Scottish dancing, is the third dance type that occurs regularly at Findhorn. The term céilidh is derived from the Old Irish céle meaning companion. It’s a traditional social gathering, common amongst Gaelic-speaking peoples of Ireland, Scotland and parts of England. Céilidh is an essential part of the community glue of these cultures. Traditionally, guests would play music and recite songs, stories and poetry. Sometimes they would dance. This style of event continues in some areas but in recent decades, dancing has predominated. Céilidhs are traditionally held in a community hall and occasionally on a smaller scale in houses and pubs. The music, if live, is usually provided by the likes of pipes, fiddle, flute, accordion and drums. The music is cheerful and lively, as are the dances. The basic dance steps can be learned easily; instructions are provided for the uninitiated before the start of each dance. Here at Findhorn, céilidhs are taught regularly and held on special occasions (such as weddings and festivals) and at the conclusion of conferences, courses and other events. They’re an opportunity for guests to learn something of our Gaelic culture and for all attending to enjoy a congenial social gathering with old and newfound friends.

I’d like to hand the last word on dance at Findhorn to my delightful neighbour, Anna Barton, a long-time resident who’s been one of the forces behind Sacred Dance here. These words were written about Sacred Dance but I think they equally apply to the entire gamut of dance offerings here in Findhorn. She writes:
At the Findhorn Foundation, the purpose is to enjoy dancing together in a totally non-competitive way, to learn that it is possible for everyone to dance together, young and old alike, to feel self confident in a group that is supportive rather than critical and to be able to feel in contact with the earth, spirit and each other through the different qualities of each dance. It is also used as a tool to channel a healing energy for the dancers and for the rest of the planet”.****

* The calendar in this week’s Rainbow Bridge, our community newsletter, reveals formal opportunities for dancing on at least seven occasions:
Thu 11: 7.30 pm, Open Floor Movement
Sun 13: 9.30 am, Sacred Dance; 7 pm, 5 Rhythms
Tues 16: 7.30 pm, Shakti Spirit Dance for Women
Wed 17: 7 pm, Sacred Dance
Fri 19: 8 pm, Ceilidh
Sat 20: 7.45 pm, James’s Dancing Scottish

** www.5rhythms.com/

*** See http://openfloor.org/

**** Go here for the full article.

 

I have been reluctant to begin this post because I feel completely unqualified to write on the topic. And yet, I also feel compelled to. ‘Going within’ is probably the most quintessential aspect of the culture here in the Findhorn Foundation and community. I feel I have to write about it whether or not I am willing and able. So this may end up being a short post; I have no idea how well it will flow.

I’m resistant because for most of my adult life I have been unable (and, it must be said, unwilling) to establish a meditation practice. This is despite having been surrounded by committed practitioners all my life. My mother meditated twice daily when I was a youth still living at home. For many years, she attended the School of Economic Science, also known as the School of Philosophy, a worldwide organisation based in London. Its teachings are based in Advaita Vedanta, a branch of Hinduism as interpreted by founder, Leon MacLaren (1910-1994). Mum and I have always been close. And she is a true inspiration in many ways – always calm, clear and loving. But she could not get me to attend an introductory course, despite many invitations to do so. The organisation and their practices seemed just too inward looking and esoteric for my taste, preoccupied as I was with radical activism in the world.

One of my brothers, however, did enter the organisation. He and his family have been deeply involved in the London branch of the School for decades. My brother, too, is an inspiration – a successful professional in a very demanding field, yet a wonderfully measured man with a calm and kindly disposition. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him angry or upset. He has meditated twice a day, every day, for the last thirty years. The woman to whom I was married for 22 years also had a strong meditation practice. I well remember her attending a ten day Theravāda Buddhist meditation retreat when our first child was just a few months old. I attended too, but as baby sitter. I spent each day cruising with my child in a beautiful rainforest setting, presenting her for feeding whenever she was hungry. And again, in the last five months I’ve been in a very meaningful relationship with a woman who is strongly committed to a meditation and yoga practice based on Ayurveda, an ancient Hindu belief system.

All of these people I deeply love and respect and yet I never took their example; I never seriously attempted a meditation practice. I remained unwilling, defiant even, for reasons which I now find hard to accept myself. I guess I have regrets about that. However, after several years here in Findhorn, I have finally taken the plunge. For the last few months I have attended group mediation sessions every morning as part of my daily spiritual practice – a rhythm that I’ve been describing over several entries to this blog (the posts titled Diet, Cards and Taizé). My day typically begins early with up to several hours of reading or writing and continues with a healthy breakfast prepared the night before. Then I draw cards, before leaving the house and crossing the road to Taizé, a session of prayerful singing. Finally, I proceed on foot to the Main Sanctuary, a potent space within a modest building where the community has been gathering to meditate for almost fifty years. There, we sit together in silence for 20 minutes. After that, I leave for the office where, at least on Monday mornings but often at other times as well, I will again sit with my colleagues in silence for a few minutes before beginning work. This is what we call an attunement.

I described in the post, A Spiritual Life, how my being at Findhorn has progressively softened my sceptical worldview. So it has been with my resistance to meditation. For many years I didn’t participate, but slowly, slowly, as my mind and heart were prised open through being immersed in the culture here, I dropped the resistance and opened to the possibility. As part of this unfolding, I was reaching a deeper level of contentment with my life generally. This helped me access a certain inner stillness which was conducive to further spiritual exploration. Nowadays, I am keen to get to Sanctuary in the morning, but I struggle with the practice. I have always spent a lot of time in my head; it’s forever busy. So simply stilling the mind is a real challenge – I find it far from simple. I’ve utilised several techniques for doing so: focussing on the breath, repeating a mantra, counting, counting backwards etc. They all seem to work for a period but after a few days or a week seem totally unable to prevent my mind from wandering off somewhere not very useful. And I understand this is normal – that most everyone struggles with meditation in this way. At the moment I’m using visualisation as a technique. It’s proving helpful. Occasionally I surprise myself with a sustained period of thoughtlessness (in the best possible way, of course) or a strong visceral sensation that rather wonderfully pulls my attention from the mind to the heart. I have come to realise too, that patience and acceptance of whatever is going on are part of the practice. It is, as they say, the “journey not the destination” that counts.

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We have two regular morning meditations in the Main Sanctuary. At 6.30 the most committed brethren sit in silence for an hour together. The more popular session occurs at 8.30 and is guided i.e. someone will read a few lines of text or recite a short poem that might support or inspire those attending to take their meditation deeper. Unusually this morning, the meditation leader played his didgeridoo to invoke focus on the breath. For me, the collective element is also an important dimension. Being in the stillness with up to 60 other people, in a space that’s been used for the purpose for such a long time, is a powerful experience in and of itself. And I’m very much reminded as I sit there, of the core purpose of our community established by founders, Peter & Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Mclean some fifty years ago – which is, to bring about personal and planetary transformation. This is nowhere better described than on a wee plaque in the lobby of the Sanctuary – a plaque so modest that it goes unnoticed by many who walk past it to enter, squeezed up as it is against the fire extinguisher. It carries the words of Eileen Caddy:

Why do we need time at the sanctuary? … It is a place where we can come together collectively to consciously generate the energies of love, light, peace, joy, wisdom and divine power, which we do in silence. Then at the end these energies can be sent out, not only to those around us or to the community alone, but to the world. This is where we become ‘world servers’ and link up with the ‘network of light.’

A less visionary but equally vital purpose is ascribed to what we call attunement. The concept was first developed at Findhorn in the ‘70s by David Spangler, sometimes referred to as the fourth founder of our community. Attunement, he says, requires a repatterning of one’s inner state so as to align or connect with spirit. It involves shifting consciousness to allow greater sensitivity and openness to subtle phenomena. At Findhorn we utilise attunement many times a day. Many of us begin a work shift with an attunement in order to bring ourselves present and to connect with colleagues. We begin almost every meeting with an attunement to enable collective alignment of purpose. We may use it in a decision-making process to gain access to a deeper truth than the facts alone reveal. We might use it to connect with particular qualities that we wish to invoke for some purpose or other. Indeed, we use it almost any time we do something of purpose.

An attunement is a mini-meditation of sorts. Someone will lead, requesting that those present close their eyes or focus on the ever present candle in the centre. (We always do this in a circle.) Then, we might take a few deep breaths together to bring ourselves present. This helps to drop (mentally, emotionally and psychically) whatever has been going on for us prior. Then the facilitator will lead an appropriate blessing, invocation or visualisation, depending on the needs of the moment. Attunements vary widely and yet there is a commonality to them too. Indeed those of us who have been here a while don’t really need to be led as such. We can simply close our eyes and attune together without a facilitator. The process can take between one and five minutes. I love them. And I don’t find them challenging, as I would a longer meditation. There is not enough time for the mind to wander too far.

Sometimes however, when attunement is used in a decision-making process, I might struggle with the outcome. For example, in the Findhorn Foundation we typically allocate staff accommodation by this process. If a room becomes available in a staff house then an advertisement will first go out seeking expressions of interest from coworkers needing a room or a change of room. At a prearranged time, those interested will meet with a facilitator and the rest of the household to discuss and attune. Firstly, each candidate will put their case – the facts of the matter – why they particularly would like to move in. This will be followed by the attunement that will involve a visualisation. The facilitator will paint a picture of the building or perhaps the room in question. And then, he/she will invoke an image of each of the candidates approaching the building and entering (or not). Naturally enough, each participant will have a slightly (or dramatically) different visualisation.

This then is where things get interesting. The facilitator will bring a close to the inner process and solicit responses from each person present. In turn they will reveal what it was they ‘saw’. Sometimes the visualisations are clear. One person might have felt that the door was locked or jammed. This will usually be enough to cause them to drop out of contention. Others might see themselves entering the space and feeling a particular emotion, positive or negative, or have some other kind of experience. Whatever the outcome, it will usually carry a prompt or message that will enable the person to make a choice about whether to drop out of the process or continue. If more than one candidate wishes to continue then usually the process is repeated, and repeated, until a resolution is found. Occasionally, no clear outcome is reached in the allocated time and a second attunement will be called. Eventually, resolution will be reached (although on one occasion in recent years, straws were drawn after multiple failed attempts to attune). And this is where I can find myself challenged. Sometimes the outcome will appear to be quite counter intuitive or illogical. It might even seem unjust. Findhorn is a ‘mystery school’ they say; it’s important not to be attached. But that’s a topic for another post.

‘Love in action’ is our most diffuse and widely practised spiritual modality. Derived from the phrase, “work is love in action” attributed to Peter Caddy, it’s a way of being in the world whereby one brings full attention and devotion to whatever one is doing. It’s about honouring and connecting with the sacred within oneself … and in all things – with oneness. In our service departments, where guests spend several work shifts a week, the concept takes particular significance. Guests are encouraged to go within, attune, and bring all of their attention to the task at hand – to ‘do it with love’. Famously, once a year when the Maintenance team are stocktaking, some lucky guest will be offered the opportunity to count the screws … with love! And so it is with everything we do here really.

For me, this is the most effective carrier of spirit. And, in a way, I think it’s something I’ve always done – I’ve always been fully engaged with whatever I was doing. So bringing full attention, dedication and enthusiasm to my work has been easy. At a very young age I watched a TV series by Joseph Campbell. I took to heart his encouragement to “follow your bliss”. Generally, I have very poor long term recall, but I still carry a clear image of him sitting in an armchair and speaking those words directly to me, or so it seemed. Ever since, I have pro-actively fashioned my life in a way that has kept me passionate and engaged. That’s meant making a radical change to my circumstances every 7 or 8 years … taking a different job, moving to a new country, adopting a new lifestyle etc. It seems that about 7 years is what it takes for me to feel that I’ve learned the lessons and met the challenges available, and that I need change if I’m to continue to learn and grow. It’s somewhat of a relief, therefore, to have been at Findhorn for 9 years now and not developed that seven year itch. In fact, I think it took me the first seven years just to land here – to shake off my predispositions and begin to open to the new. I feel that I’m just getting started now! And that this new phase will increasingly involve ‘going within’ in all of the multiple ways we do that at Findhorn.

Warning! This post is entirely off topic. It has nothing to do with Findhorn. It’s a rave about my favourite Scottish cities and their architecture. And there’s a little politics thrown in as well.

With the referendum on independence fast approaching, all things Scottish are in the air at the moment. So I’m prompted to expand on comments I made in an earlier post (Mountain Walk) about my love of my adopted country and, for that matter, of Europe in general. Even though I grew up in NZ and later lived in Australia, I have always felt much more strongly drawn to living in Europe. And I know exactly what the attraction is; it’s the visibility and accessibility of the history and heritage that I feel here. NZ and Australia both have ancient indigenous cultures of course, but neither Maori nor Aboriginal history is very accessible to an uninitiated white fella. And visual evidence for it is not much found in cities. In Europe, on the other hand, history is written into the very fabric of cities. One just needs to walk down any High Street, linger in any back alley, or loiter anywhere in the centre of most cities to sense the heritage of the place and its people. In my experience, that same genius loci is nowhere to be found in Australia and NZ. The cities are just not old enough. The urban fabric does not evidence the change and adaptation that represents the passing of time and building of collective memory.

Referendum aside, I also am prompted to write on this topic because I recently spent a weekend in St Andrews, a traditional Scottish seaside town famous for two things – its university and the game of golf. For a life-long golfer and once academic, the place has tremendous appeal; I love St Andrews. It’s a compact city, very walkable and almost unchanged in terms of its layout and scale for a thousand years. Most buildings in the centre of town are at least 500 years old. Some go back much further. The now ruined St Andrews’ cathedral, for example, was once the most important religious site in the whole of Europe, attracting pilgrims from all over the continent. Consecrated by Robert the Bruce around 1300, the cathedral, and consequently the town, flourished for the next 250 years. But at the height of the Reformation in the 1500s, the building was trashed by a Protestant mob following a rousing sermon by firebrand preacher, John Knox. The building was abandoned and the stonework became a source of construction material for the region.

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Still standing tall amongst the ruins is the 1000 year old tower of St Rule’s Church, a building that preceded the cathedral. The top affords stunning 360 degree views of the cathedral site, town, ocean and harbour. The town’s three main streets, North, South and Market Streets, are set on axis with the cathedral and tower which in medieval times would have guided pilgrims to their destination. North and South Streets are both lined with ancient university buildings looking like mini-Hogwarts with their towers and battlements. Between them lies Market Street, lined with small specialty shops, narrow at the ends but broadened in the middle to form a marketplace. The whole ensemble of streets and buildings ‘speaks’ (nay, ‘shouts’) to me of a thriving medieval life of religious fervour, academic learning and bustling street action. Furthermore, the layered and patched stonework – the visible evidence of recycling and reuse over many centuries – tells stories of successive periods of human progress followed inevitably by periods of demise. This is what I love, most of all, about living in Europe – being at once reminded of the luminosity and achievement, as well as the frailty and impermanence, of what it is to be human.

Scotland’s two best known cities are, of course, Edinburgh and Glasgow. And what different places they are. I love them both, but for quite different reasons. Edinburgh is, at its core, another medieval city. Glasgow is a much more modern and mercantile place. Edinburgh has, in fact, a split personality – the old and the new. The Old Town, centred around the Royal Mile and Castle, is famous for its urban density, steep narrow lanes and street life. The Royal Mile forms a spine, anchored at each end by two buildings that couldn’t be more different. Edinburgh Castle is located at its head and the new architecturally ‘out there’ parliamentary building at its base. Between them lies a mile of historical and cultural magic, particularly during August when the world’s most famous festival of the arts completely takes over the town. I have been to three Edinburgh Festivals, two in the 1970s and one much more recently. I count them amongst the most memorable experiences of my life.

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Edinburgh’s New Town is separated from the old by a narrow but topographically dramatic strip of open green space. It is as distinctive as the Old Town but strongly contrasting, with its formal street layout, splendid Georgian architecture and unified urban fabric. Set amongst it are some wonderful opportunities for adventure and escape. One of my favourites is Leith Walk, which passes, almost secretly, through a densely vegetated ravine with a deep and fast-flowing river. It leads to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which is really two galleries in one, both distinctive in their own right for their neo-classical architecture housing some quite radical contemporary art. They are separated from each other by a road and an engaging work of land art created by Charles Jenks. Edinburgh is, in fact, a city bursting with art galleries. One of my favourites is the National Portrait Gallery, another distinctive historical building, recently refurbished in slick, minimalist style. The contrast between new and old could not be more stark, but the intervention is all the more successful for that. And then there are Edinburgh’s two most visited art museums (mostly, I think, because of their location in middle of that nature strip between the Old and New Towns): the Royal Scottish Academy and the Scottish National Gallery. And these are just the large institutional galleries. There are a myriad of small private galleries as well. Edinburgh really is a city for the art lover.

But the House for an Art Lover is in Glasgow, a city which for me means just one thing – architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. CRM is one of my architectural heroes; I adore his work. He was designing around the beginning of the Twentieth Century. This was the period of Art Nouveau and Mackintosh was the foremost proponent of the style in Britain. He was strongly aided by his wife Margaret McDonald, a talent behind much of his decorative work. But Mackintosh was not just a designer of eye candy. He was one of the first pioneers of modernism – one of the few architects of his generation to embrace and combine the decorative and symbolic elements of Art Nouveau with the restraint and functionality of modernism. In so doing, he melded two ostensibly incongruous styles. The two buildings which I most admire for this wizardry are the House for and Art Lover (upper pics) and the Glasgow School of Arts (lower pics).

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The House for an Art Lover was designed for a competition in 1901 but not built until 1996. The building is not as Mackintosh would have had it, given that it was built 100 years later than intended and is a tourist attraction with a shop and cafe. But still, it well demonstrates his amazing capacity to synthesise beauty and functionalism. It’s a modernist building in conception but exquisitely beautiful in its detailing and ornamentation – so beautiful, in fact, that I am moved to tears whenever I visit. I wept recently for the School of Arts too, but for an entirely different reason. Last May, it was gutted by fire. Designed between 1896 and 1906, The GSA is considered CRM’s finest work, similarly exhibiting his talent for synthesising the decorative with the modern. Its library in particular, was one of the most revered architectural creations of any era, anywhere in the world. The library is now entirely gone, although if things go according to plan it will be faithfully reconstructed when the building is restored.

I want to complete this mini-tour of my favourite Scottish art and architecture with something different; else you might get the impression that all art establishments in Scotland are housed in 100+ year old buildings. The Burrell Collection is displayed in a superb contemporary building designed in the 1970s. In 2013, the building was A-listed by Historic Scotland in recognition of it being one of the country’s best examples of ’70s architecture. It’s beautifully set within a Glaswegian park and thoroughly integrated into the surrounding landscape. Huge walls of continuous glazing fill the building with light and offers sweeping views across parkland and into surrounding woods. The design team included a Norwegian woman, Brit Andresson, who immigrated to Australia soon after the building was completed. There she taught architecture for 40 years. Brit was one of my professors in the 80s. She was a real inspiration, responsible for cultivating (along with others) a distinctive ‘Queensland Style’ through her own work and also her pedagogy.

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In two weeks Scotland votes in a referendum to determine its independence. At the moment, the locals are talking of little else. I imagine the media are similarly obsessed although I really have no idea; these days I get my news only from a few carefully selected web sites. But that’s not to say I’m disinterested. Quite the contrary; I feel so strongly about this issue that I recently registered to vote for the first time in my life. Yes, that’s right, I have never ever voted, even though I lived for 30 years in Australia where voting is compulsory. I have been, until this week, a conscientious objector to voting. Such is my level of disdain for mainstream politics. My attitude was formed well before I became eligible to vote at age 21. At the tender age of 18, the Australian government sought to conscript me to fight in Vietnam, a war which I anyway abhorred. Fortunately, my birthday was not drawn from the hat in their ridiculous ballot. Not that I would have gone if it had been. As a student radical, I was deeply involved in helping conscripts escape the draft. And around the same time I also was resisting Apartheid with a criminal vigour that could have had me locked up for years. But that’s another story – one that won’t be told here. Suffice to say that my political views precluded voting back then and, indeed, have done ever since … until last week when I voted in the independence referendum (by post). I voted YES! Why? For me the matter is simple. As I’ve already said, in this post and a previous one (Mountain Walk), I’ve developed a deep love for Scotland – so much so that I can even appreciate its mainstream politics. The Labour Party has taken the majority of seats in Scotland in every election since the ‘60s. But seriously, Scotland is a uniquely magical place with a distinctive history and culture. It’s different to the rest of Britain in so many affirming ways. So why shouldn’t its people have the right to self-determination? As for the detail of the argument, I can do no better than to quote George Monbiot who writes for the Guardian newspaper….

To vote no is to choose to live under a political system that sustains one of the rich world’s highest levels of inequality and deprivation. This is a system in which all major parties are complicit, which offers no obvious exit from a model that privileges neoliberal economics over other aspirations. It treats the natural world, civic life, equality, public health and effective public services as dispensable luxuries, and the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor as non-negotiable…. Independence, as more Scots are beginning to see, offers people an opportunity to rewrite the political rules. To create a written constitution, the very process of which is engaging and transformative. To build an economy of benefit to everyone. To promote cohesion, social justice, the defence of the living planet and an end to wars of choice.   (Here is the full article)

I rest my case … well, George’s actually.

Yesterday I started writing the next post on an entirely different topic, Urban Scotland. I was intending rising early this morning to finish it. But something happened yesterday afternoon that’s caused me to change tack. A person close to me was deeply saddened over an incident related to our community meals. As a result, I am moved to write about that instead.

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I have resided in several intentional communities over the last forty years (indispersed with stints in the mainstream). And I have visited dozens more, either casually or for research purposes. On the basis of this experience and my reading of the literature on communal living, I believe that shared meals are the single most important ‘ritual’ in the daily life of almost all intentional communities. Certainly at Findhorn, our community meals are, and have always been, central to the culture and a critical component of the social glue.

We eat together twice a day – lunch and dinner. Not all of us partake, of course. We are a community of around 700 people and typically, our kitchens each cater for about 100 people, many of whom will be guests.* Nonetheless, it is clear to me that these meals are crucial to community life – they have a practical advantage and provide an important opportunity to engage socially. And, of course, there is something powerfully symbolic about sharing a meal, both with members of one’s ‘tribe’ and with guests. I am no anthropologist, but I would guess that ‘breaking bread’ together holds this value (and has forever done so) for almost every cultural group, anywhere in the world.

As a staff member of the Findhorn Foundation (FF), I receive a ‘salary package’ that comprises: sustenance (food and other essentials), accommodation and some cash. So for me and my fellow coworkers, there is additional meaning to our eating together – it has financial implications. And, at a symbolic level, it emblemises our common economy.** Personally, I deeply appreciate our shared meals for many, many reasons. I eat in the CC (Community Centre) at every opportunity, and have been doing so without change since I first arrived here 9 years ago (the exceptions being when I choose to eat at home with a friend or partner).

Having lunch and dinner provided (at 12:30 and 6:00 pm) has, for me, immense practical advantage. It saves me a lot of time: I don’t need to shop for ingredients; nor spend time preparing the meal; and, I don’t need to clean up afterwards or even wash my own dishes. So, our meal system creates tremendous spaciousness in my life, and so contributes significantly to the absence of stress. Common meals are an important opportunity to catch up socially with friends and colleagues – to share conversation and deepen our connection with each other. And, for better or worse, they are an important opportunity to discuss business.

The food we serve is vegetarian (although not always, and I’ll come back to that). The ingredients are, as much as we can make them, fresh, organic, local and seasonal. And the food is prepared with love – the kitchen crews demonstrate our key ethos, work is love in action, every single shift. In my opinion, food served in the CC is of a very high quality, especially given that it’s prepared for large numbers of diners. It is, I believe, truly delightful – it delights all of the five senses.

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It would be remiss of me if, in this homage to shared meals, I ignored the commercial dimension to all this. The FF is famous as a spiritual organisation, but it is also a business. We are an educational charity and our income is mostly derived from the fees our guests pay to attend our workshops, conferences and events. So, providing sustenance for our guests is an underlying and crucial value to the meal system. This factor affects the nature of the meals; it’s a key reason for maintaining the high quality. There is a tradition, and an ethos, of ensuring that guests delight in the food we serve. We know how important is food to most people and how much it can influence our visitors’ overall experience. I think it behoves the rest of us who partake of these meals, FF coworkers and other community members, to appreciate that common meals in most other communities are generally much less exotic – much simpler and with less variety and choice.

We serve ourselves, buffet style, from a long table laden with a magnificent selection of hot and cold dishes, enabling each person to take exactly what appeals to them and/or suits their dietary needs. The cooks almost always prepare special alternative dishes for those few people on refined diets: vegan, dairy free, sugar free, garlic free, gluten free etc. It fills me with pride in my community to be reminded at every meal, just how much trouble we take to cater for diversity, meet the needs of every individual, and in this way, demonstrate inclusivity and caring for each other. Before the meal, we queue. Sometimes the line can be very long. I am amongst those who have a certain resistance to queuing. So I tend to arrive about ten minutes early for meals in order to stand near the top of the queue. This also provides an opportunity to check in with particular friends and colleagues over personal and business related matters. It’s somewhat of a standing joke that several of the same people populate the top of the queue at every meal.

The kitchen crews are very skilled at ensuring the food is served on time. A typical cooking shift is three hours long, and yet 95% of the time, the food will be ready within 5 minutes of the designated meal time. And occasionally, it’s a bit late, which is also fine; we just chat amongst ourselves until it’s ready. Dining in our community is always preceded by a blessing. We link hands in a circle around the tables of food and the focaliser (coordinator) of the cooking shift will say a few words, including: a short welcome and description of the meal; followed by an invitation to close our eyes (or not, as we like); and, an expression of gratitude to “all those beings, seen and unseen, who have helped to bring this food to our table”. This is a reference to the worms and micro-life in the soil, the food growers and transporters, and the cooks themselves. And in the tradition of this place, the “unseen” is a reference to the devas, nature spirits and angelic forces with whom we co-create.

Then, we enjoy! At lunch there will always be a soup and a range of hot dishes and salads. At dinner there is no soup, but occasionally there’ll be a desert – certainly on Friday nights, but also on other occasions, such as last night when cake was served in honour of the birthday of our revered late founder, Eileen Caddy. The only variation to the daily regime occurs on Sunday when brunch is served at 11am. This too, will include a desert. We love our deserts! The dining area offers a range of options for dining with one or more people. There are several tables for two or three diners but mostly we eat at tables for between 6 and 12. For larger numbers, we combine tables. On birthdays, for example, 20 or 30 people will sit at a single long table. And for such occasions, the kitchen crew will bake a cake. In summer, diners spill out onto the outdoor terrace and the grass beyond.

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At the end of the meal, we deposit used plates and cutlery in a corner of the CC where they are taken care of by a KP crew. (KP stands variously for Kitchen Patrol, Kitchen Party and Karma Points!) These are the four to six people who wash dishes for everyone else. All those who eat regularly in the CC are assigned to a KP rota. In my case, I wash dishes every Thursday night. And because it’s the only time during the week when I do so, I really enjoy it. It’s an opportunity to serve and to feel part of a team working collectively on a crucial aspect of the day-to-day logistics of community life. The shift usually takes about an hour.

So what was the incident to which I referred at the beginning of this post? Why was my friend so upset, given that I have painted such a rosy picture of our community meals? I cite the event here simply as an example of the kinds of issues that can arise in a community as diverse as ours. I mentioned that our meals are vegetarian but for a few exceptions. We serve meat on at least two occasions every year. These are long-standing traditions established by our founders in the very early days of the first community celebrations. We serve turkey at Xmas and also haggis on Burns night (January 25th). I suspect that some of the more committed vegetarians find these occasions challenging. And perhaps the most steadfast opt to eat at home instead. There are also occasions on which fish is served at community meals. In fact, in Cluny this is a regular occurrence. In the Park, it’s rare. But such an occasion has just occurred. A few days ago, we were served with a superb Japanese meal that included sushi, some of which contained salmon. Of course there was a vegan (fish free) alternative.

My friend, Nalinii, is a new member of the regular Park kitchen cooking crew and an aspiring member of this community. She is a strongly committed vegan. Actually she has been following an even more strict, Ayurvedic, dietary regime for some years; she doesn’t eat onions, garlic or mushrooms. As her contribution to the making of the meal, Nalinii created the alternative, fish free, sushi; she was not involved in preparing the fish. After the meal she was feeling pain and anger but didn’t really know why. The cause surfaced a day or two afterwards, and it was about values – hers and those of the community. Nalinii believes that humans have no right to take the life of other sentient beings for our own purposes or pleasure. She felt that including fish in the meal was incongruent with the community’s values of co creation with nature. And particularly because she is new in the community, and hoping to make Findhorn her home, this incident really rocked her.

Nalinii was able to process her upset with the aid of a sharing circle of her peer group. This is one of our principle social technologies at Findhorn. Almost all of our programmes provide opportunities for participants to share what’s going on for them emotionally. For many, perhaps most of our guests, this becomes the highlight of their visit – simply having the full, undivided, compassionate and non-judgemental attention of a circle of their peers. I’ve heard some say that this was the first time in their life that they’ve felt heard. But this is a topic for another post. Suffice to say that Nalinii was able to shift at least some of the resistance, frustration and disappointment she was feeling via this process and, as we say, by doing some ‘inner work’.

The episode reminded me of the challenges we face as a fully open and diverse community. At Findhorn, we accept anyone and everyone into the community, no matter what their religion or their belief system (assuming, of course, that their views and practices are not anti-social). This is both our greatest advantage (because it brings variety) and our biggest challenge, (it can cause disharmony). But, if I may speak for the community, we would not have it any other way. In my opinion, it’s what makes being in our community such a joy on a minute-to-minute and day-to-day, basis. It delivers a much cherished richness to our social and cultural life.

As the focaliser might say, “Blessings on the food, on our community, and on all beings!”

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* We have two kitchen/dining rooms, one in each campus. The Community Centre in the Park, Findhorn, has a maximum capacity of about 180. In Cluny (our campus in Forres, five miles away) the dining room can seat about 120 people.
** In economic terms, the Findhorn Foundation is an income sharing, or egalitarian, subset of the community as a whole. In the Foundation, staff receive exactly the same financial remuneration irrespective of their contribution (job). It’s a demonstration of the essential socialist principle, from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! I cherish the principle and the practice; it’s one of the reasons I came to Findhorn and joined the Foundation.

 

 

This post is about my most valued spiritual practice – the one that is most effective and the one I most enjoy. Every weekday morning, I step out of the house at 8 am, walk across the road, along a narrow stone pathway that winds its way through vegetation, up and over a wee mound, and delivers me to the entrance of one of the best loved and most photographed buildings in our community, the Nature Sanctuary, famous around the world for it’s organic form and materials, as well as the beauty and symbolic power of its interior. This magical and sacred space that is home to one of our most well established community rituals. We call it Taizé.

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Taizé is actually a monastery and community in France – “a community where kindness of heart and simplicity [are] at the centre of everything”. (Quote from Brother Roger who established the monastery shortly after WWII.) Run by catholic brothers, it attracts thousands of local and international visitors every year – people from many different backgrounds and faiths. They come in good part because of the style of worship, which is based on the singing of short, simple, songs, repeated time and time again much like a mantra might be in meditation. Indeed, the singing of these songs is a meditation. This quote from their website, http://www.taize.fr/, sums it up.

“Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind [and] sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing becomes a way of listening to God. It allows everyone to take part in a time of prayer together and to remain together in attentive waiting on God.”

I find myself smiling at my choice of this quote. As I wrote in an earlier post, I have been areligious all my life. I had an orthodox Jewish upbringing but had decided by the time I was 12 or so that the notion promulgated at Sunday School, of a single, omnipotent, omniscient God the creator, was an invented nonsense. I have been an atheist in respect of such a God ever since. But in being at Findhorn, I have slowly released my resistance to the use of the ‘G word’. Indeed I use it myself these days in reference to an entirely different kind of God – the god within – that spark of divinity that exists within us all. This conceptualisation fits with my humanistic worldview. It’s shorthand, as I see it, for that potential we all have as human beings for the fullest possible expression of creativity, service and love, amongst other things. (See my second post, A Spiritual Life, for the full rave.)

Before getting back to the topic, I’d like to do a little more context setting. Our community here at Findhorn is very rich in many different ways. Daily life is packed with interest. In part, I’m motivated to write this blog because I know there will be lots of ‘raw material’ to draw on in the coming weeks and months. A strong aspect of that richness is our cultural life. At Findhorn, there is singing, dancing and performance of all kinds. We sing and dance spontaneously e.g the kitchen crew, which currently includes several Latins from Spain and South America, frequently dance their way through a work shift. And we sing, dance and perform more formally, for example: in Sacred Dance sessions scheduled once or twice a week; in fortnightly Open Mike sessions (impromptu performances by musicians and poets); in monthly ‘Sharings’ (of recitals, comedy, performances etc.); and in Taizé. Our cultural life is a key ingredient of the community glue here, along with our spirituality and ecological concerns and practices. These three strains to the culture are separate and distinct, but also blend together beautifully to help build the culture and strengthen relationships. I suspect that much of what I write about in the coming months will be these kinds of activities and events. But, back to Taizé… or rather off to Taizé. I’ve just noticed it’s now 7:50 and time to go singing. I’ll pick this up upon my return in half an hour.

Taizé landed in Findhorn in the mid 1980s with the arrival of Barbara Swetina, a much loved community songstress and musician who has lived here ever since. She had just come from the Taizé monastery and was inspired. Another long-standing and deeply appreciated community member, Ian Turnbull had just finished building the Nature Sanctuary. Ian’s sacred space seemed like a perfect match for Barbara’s prayerful singing, so together, they initiated half-hour long, morning Taizé sessions that have continued in the same space until today. The sessions are facilitated by one of a dedicated group of leaders who set up the space, select the songs and lead the singing. Somewhere between ten and thirty people attend, depending on the season and the number of guests we have visiting at the time. (The two are correlated; many more guests come in summer than at other times.) Most songs are sung in three or four part harmony. So we sit grouped in our voice parts: base, tenor, alto and soprano.

We begin by sounding three OMs. This is a way of bringing ourselves present, warming up our voices and somehow preparing the ground for spirit to enter – for the participants to align with their essence, source, higher self or inner divinity (pick your own understanding). There are usually just four songs, each or which lasts about five minutes. Actually, the song itself is only a few lines long but is repeated ten or twenty times. The first song is usually a round, without voice parts but still sprightly, requiring quite some focus and concentration. This will be followed by two more songs in harmonised voice parts. These are usually slower in pace and more meditative. They are melodic, generally quite beautiful, and simple (easy to learn). The lyrics are usually in Latin since they are mostly Christian in origin. But there are plenty of other songs from different religions and spiritual traditions.

After the third song, we spend a few minutes in prayer. As the leader will inevitably announce (for the benefit of newcomers), “prayers can be spoken out loud in any language or in the silence of our hearts”. I find this a particularly precious time of sharing what’s important to us, and of being reminded of the universality of being human i.e. no matter what our background, belief system, age or education…we share a commonality of: needs and wants; fears and concerns; dreams and aspirations. We usually have guests from all around the world, and mostly their prayers resonate with all of us … with the collective unconscious. Finally, we finish with an upbeat song that sends us out into the world with a smile … and in my case with an earworm. I usually sing aloud the same song as I walk to the Main Sanctuary which is the venue for the next phase of my morning practice. And the subject of anther post.

I want to finish this post on a personal note, somewhat prompted by this quote that I found on the Taizé monastery website… “To open the gates of trust in God, nothing can replace the beauty of human voices united in song. This beauty can give us a glimpse of “heaven’s joy on earth,” as Eastern Christians put it. And an inner life begins to blossom within us.” Those of you who have read my earlier posts will know of the unfolding of my spiritual journey at Findhorn and how I arrived here 9 years ago with little space in my worldview for such concepts as God, spirit, subtle realms, and the myriad more esoteric aspects of Findhorn’s history and culture. And that now, in the last few years at least, my attitudes have softened and changed. I am now much more open-hearted and open-minded. Well, I would say that Taizé has been one of the primary influences; its essence, it’s core message i.e. “to open the gates of trust in God,” has slowly seeped into my being. I now trust where once I would have been sceptical and suspicious.

The other way in which Taizé has been hugely personally transformative, and for which I will be eternally grateful, is this; I arrived in Findhorn convinced that I was not, and would never be, a singer. I had spent a lifetime being certain that I was tone deaf. So, even attending Taizé in the early days was challenging, but I have always loved listening to music, particularly choral singing. So I initially attended for the opportunity to listen in, and indeed, be immersed in some live, good quality, choral singing. It didn’t take long for the music to weave its magic. Due simply to the nature of the songs – that they are short, simple, tuneful, repetitive and easy to remember – I started to sing along, very quietly at first.

It took me a while and quite some practice before I gained confidence, but sure enough the confidence came. And, in what I perceived to be, the non-judgemental atmosphere of the sessions, I started to sing louder and with more feeling. Soon I started to believe that perhaps I was able to sing in tune after all. And when I asked the experienced singers on either side of me, they assured me that indeed, I was singing in tune and furthermore, I had quite a strong and rich singing voice. I have never looked back. These days I sing without self-consciousness. And in doing so, I completely lose myself in the music. It has become for me, a real meditation – a means by which I access inner stillness, peace of mind and openness of heart…every day. Such is the potential for personal growth and transformation in the practices we have evolved here in Findhorn .

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PS: As you can see above, we often have children attend Taizé, usually whilst we are running a Family Experience Week or some other family oriented programme. When this happens, we often vary the playlist to include at least one song that is more fun and accessible for the kids. I recorded a short video of a recent such occasion….

I am a New Zealander by birth; I grew up there. But I spent almost my entire adult life in Australia. On hearing this, people often ask me why I choose to live in Scotland when I could be living in Australia – the implication being that Australia has a lot more to offer. The question usually comes from someone who doesn’t know me well (or at all); often, for example, in a lunchtime conversation with an Experience Week guest. I can only imagine that they are thinking something like: Australia = warm weather, Scotland = cold weather; Australia = New World, Scotland = Old Country; Australia = land of opportunity, Scotland = dead end, etc.

The question is both easy to answer and tough to rationalise. The easy answer is: I am here because I have chosen to live in the Findhorn community and ecovillage, of which there is no equivalent in Australia. I hope that this blog is making clear why this is so important to me. The difficulty I have with it (and my greatest challenge) is something they haven’t usually considered. I have family in Australia: an aging mum whose health is not the best; two married daughters whom I love with my whole being (one in Oz and the other in NZ); two grandchildren whom I am watching grow up via Skype; and several siblings, as well. To be living in Scotland, about as far from them as it’s possible to get, is hugely difficult and conflicting.

But the Findhorn community is just my primary reason for living here. I doubt whether I could if I really hated the weather and found Scotland alienating. But actually, the opposite is true. I love this land: its nature, history, culture and politics. I can handle the weather here and I love the seasonality that it brings. What’s more, I don’t at all appreciate much of the history, culture and especially the politics of Australia. I find all of that totally alienating. And I struggle with the weather there much more than I do in Scotland. One can at least dress appropriately for a Scottish winter. I find it more difficult to endure a typical Australian summer. So for the moment at least, I am very happy to live in Scotland, despite the challenges. I am committed to be here until at least the end of 2016. If the pull back to Australia is much greater by then, and Tony Abbot is no longer Prime Minister, I will consider returning there to be closer to family. In the meantime, I deal with the separation by travelling there once a year and stay in touch courtesy of the Internet. But of course it’s hard.

All of this is by way of introduction to this post. I wanted to report back on the mountain walk I did with friends two days ago. But before doing so, I’d just like to expand a little more on my love of all things Scottish. Perhaps I’ll post more about this in the future. I have been here nine years now and am quite enamoured. Actually, it’s living in Europe that I enjoy as much, but that’s another story. I have permanent residency in the UK and hope to gain citizenship within a year. I have just registered to vote for the first time in my life (having always been a conscientious objector to party politics) just so that I can vote for Scottish independence. I am fascinated by Scotland’s history and culture. I love golf. And I adore the landscapes. What more can I say? Scotland rocks!

It’s the extraordinary landscapes, in particular, that I associate with my adopted home country, and that they are so pristine and undeveloped. Scotland is very under-populated. In North Scotland anyway, there is little noticeable ongoing change to either rural or urban environments. The countryside appears to be almost completely free from development; for better or worse, even new houses here look like old ones. There is hardly any traffic on the roads. And the Highland landscapes in particular are exquisitely beautiful (to my mind). Some people find them alienating due to the scarcity of trees. But I find them extraordinary! Let me see if I can illustrate.

Two days ago, I set out with four friends to spend a day hiking in the mountains. We drove about an hour from Findhorn to a town called Aviemore, a famous Highland destination for hikers, skiers and nature lovers. We drove on another 15 minutes, almost to the base of Mount Cairngorm, Scotland’s most well known winter skiing destination. In summer the area is popular for its flora, fauna, water sports and walking and hiking opportunities. We planned to climb, not Cairngorm itself (4080 ft), but the much less challenging Meall A’Bhuachaille (2650 ft) which, honestly, is just a foothill. But it’s perfect for a relatively easy mountain walking experience in beautiful, diverse landscapes and ecosystems. The whole area, although mostly privately owned (some would say stolen) by the landed gentry, is a National Park – indeed Britain’s largest. Cairngorms National Park covering 4,528 square km was established in 2003 under the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000.

We set out from Glenmore Visitor Centre, headed uphill through plantation pine forest and also areas that had been clear-felled where the vegetation was struggling to re-establish. Sadness was expressed by those who could see little regrowth since the last visit two years earlier. Once we got above the tree line the landscape changed radically and the views opened up. At this time of year, the heather is in full bloom. So for the next hour we walked through a lush lavender coloured carpet of heather up a recently constructed path-cum-stairway of local stone. Further up the mountain we met National Parks volunteers who were valiantly extending the route (see pic).

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As we came closer to the top, the heather gave way to a barren, rocky (shaley) moonscape. And the wind started to howl. It amazed me how we had no consciousness of the wind until we neared the summit and then, suddenly, without any apparent change in the weather, it became a gale. Easy to see how ill prepared or inexperienced, but occasionally even expert, hikers can get caught and sometimes perish in these mountains. I was glad I’d borrowed good quality outdoors gear from a work colleague. It was very cold, although not quite the minus7 degrees (with wind chill factor) that I’d seen forecast.

At the top, we sheltered in a ruined bothy (a wee stone hut) with several other hikers, all wearing brightly coloured mountain clothing. We, and they, pulled out our packed lunches of sandwiches, fruit, nuts, chocolate and thermoses of tea. We were high on the experience and ate mostly in reverent silence. It was a bit like a ritual of the inducted ones. And I felt honoured to be amongst them.

The 360 degree views were stunning; visibility was good. We could see countless other mountains, hills and valleys and about a dozen blue and green lochs scattered all about … with hardly a road or a building for as far as the eye could see. We could see wet weather all around us and had the privilege of watched it moving rapidly across the landscape. If you’re in it, of course, you don’t get that opportunity. And we could see some heading our way. So after eating, we posed for the obligatory group photo and headed back down … but by a different route.

We descended the other side of the mountain with the wind at our backs. I was grateful for the walking poles I’d borrowed. It felt like they stood between me and being blown all the way down. But once down a hundred feet or so, the wind died as quickly as it had sprung up on the ascent. We could see a tiny wee loch, Lochan Uaine, way down the bottom which was our next destination. Along the way we stopped briefly at an intact bothy – one of those facilities provided free by National Parks for hikers and skiers to take shelter in or perhaps sleep overnight. The interior was minimalist in the extreme, with just a fireplace and a built-in wooden window seat. I could live in it, I thought.

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We stopped next at Lochan Uaine, a mysterious phenomenon actually. It’s one of those rare lochs without a water course running into or out of it. There was an eerie green colour to the water and what seemed like submerged walls, which turned out to be huge bleached logs, not far from shore. We investigated an area of woods with a dense undergrowth of ferns and brackens. The path led to a recently constructed platform and seat overlooking the loch, which proved to be the perfect place for an impromptu céilidh (traditional Scottish dance). A member of the group, a guy I had not previously met, showed himself to be an excellent whistle player. The rest of us danced as light rain began to fall. It was a sweet moment.

We pressed on; the weather was threatening. We chose a return route through what’s called, the Caledonian Reserve. Remnant old growth Caledonian forest contains ancient native Scots pines (up to 500 years old) and a range of other trees, including junipers, birches, willows, rowan and aspens. They are powerful awe-inspiring places, dense with vegetation and wildlife. We walked in single-file and silence but for the accompaniment of Ian’s tin whistle, up and down along a narrow stone pathway that passed close by some incredibly gnarled old trees. The thick vegetation was wet and pungent. The whole thing felt to me like a clip from Lord of the Rings. Indeed, I think it took me back to childhood and hiking in dense New Zealand rainforest. I loved it!

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We got back to the car all too soon, drove back to Aviemore for a snack and then headed for home. The atmosphere in the car was one of deep nourishment and contentment – tired bodies and engaged minds, high on nature and the company. We vowed to do it again soon. I can’t wait!

The first three posts to this blog have featured my inner and domestic life; I haven’t yet ventured beyond my front door. There’s been little reference to the community or culture of Findhorn, which ostensibly is what this blog is about … and assuredly will be. But as a postscript to the first three posts, I’d like to make the point that much of what I have discussed has a context – the culture, dynamics and life of the Findhorn community. There is little (perhaps nothing) I will write about that can be taken in isolation. In community, everything is interconnected. This is true more generally, I believe, but in community the interconnectedness is more patently evident.

So for example, my home (the house I live in and subject of the first post) would not have been built but for a specific set of conditions, including a need for staff housing at the time and an enormous amount of community support, encouragement and resources. And similarly, my dietary journey (subject of the last post) has only been possible with the support of partners, friends, colleagues and coworkers. My organic, sugar-free and vegan preferences are supported both by our community shop which stocks the alternative foodstuffs I need to cook at home, and the kitchen staff who dream up and produce the fabulous meals in our Community Centre (CC). I typically eat there twice a day (lunch and dinner) and always there are ‘alternatives’ available for people on specialist diets or with particular preferences.

This, to my mind, is the inherent power of community – the way in which the collective can support the individual to become who they wish to be. And of course, it’s reciprocal – the members serve the collective, seeking to achieve the highest and the best outcomes for the community as a whole. At least, that’s the ideal. In practice, of course, it’s not so easy; we all have an ego that will make its own demands. When I discuss issues of decision making and governance I will consider this dynamic closely. But for now, it’s back to my practices.

This post is about one of my spiritual practices that was born and bred in Findhorn. On my living room table is a box labelled Intuitive Solutions; it contains three types of cards: Insight, Setback and Angel cards. The tag line on the box reads, A Tool for Inspired Action. Angel cards are well known around the world and closely associated with Findhorn. The other two types are perhaps less well known. The instruction book contains the following paragraph:

[This set of cards offers] a quick way to gain immediate understanding and direction. It enhances your creativity by helping you to dive deeply into a concern, think through difficulties, and make decisions in harmony with your values and integrity. You can use Intuitive Solutions to break through inertia and express your wisdom and clarity.

The cards were originally devised as an integral part of a board game called the Game of Life, later renamed the Transformation Game. The game was invented in the late 1970s by Findhorn members, Joy Drake, Kathy Tyler and their team as a means of simulating the Findhorn experience elsewhere, so that people around the world could learn the lessons and gain the insights that an immersive Findhorn experience provides without having to come here. Nowadays, the cards are available for use separately from the game. They can be used in many different ways but I use them as follows.

Every morning after breakfast, often as I’m running late to get to Taizé singing, I draw four cards in strict sequence: an Insight card, followed by a Setback, then another Insight and finally an Angel card. Before doing so, I take a moment to ‘tune in’ i.e. align with a purpose or intention for the day, or simply, a question I might have about something that’s going on for me. The message written on the first Insight card will prompt reflections that support a purpose or intention or perhaps answer a question. The Setback card will suggest an obstacle, personal limitation or impediment that might set me back in the process. And the second Insight card will suggest ways in which I might deal with the setback. Finally, the Angel card will suggest a quality that I might bring to the situation to assist in implementing the insights.

It is a very intuitive process which I find I’m struggling to explain clearly. What the process is not, is scientific. It’s mysterious. So I can imagine that anyone who has read my second post which describes my (once very) sceptical world view is wondering at this point about my sanity. Drawing cards like this is something I would have run a mile from for most of my life. I think I got burned during my hippie years. I lived in the area around the town of Nimbin, which is famous in Australia and around the world for its alternative culture of towns, villages, communes and collectives. I lived in the largest and most (in)famous of communes for 8 years back in the 70s and 80s. It was a community that attracted some very dippy hippies. Two of my fellow communards, for example, died from snake bites because they believed they could cure themselves by meditating. Another, our neighbour, was bitten one dark night by an unidentified snake. She sought advice from the I Ching as to whether she should go to hospital or not. I was there with the car running, ready to take her to hospital just in case it was one of the deadly species that frequent the area. But no, she insisted on throwing the Ching, not once, not twice but three times before she got a reading that suggested she perhaps should seek help. By this time she was almost unconscious. We bundled her into the car and got her to hospital just in time. She spent three days in a coma but survived.

These kinds of abuses of common sense fed my already well established scepticism. So for a long, long time, I rejected all such modes of ‘reading’ based on intuitive selection, such as the drawing of Tarot Cards or Runes, or the throwing of the I Ching. The drawing of Intuitive Solution cards is in essence no different to these other practices. They are all means of getting in touch with deeper levels of understanding. So, my using them now, indicates quite some turn around of my attitudes. The change has come as I have witnessed, time and time again here at Findhorn, the ways in which the drawing of the cards can deliver such value and meaning for people, and enable them to live more inspired lives. My concern now is not whether there is scientific evidence for or against the validity of such practices. The important question is whether the process: enables the protagonist to become a better person; brings them more joy; or helps them become a more effective change agent in the world.

So now, I draw cards myself. And I find that it works. The cards assist me to get in touch with what is going on for me at a deeper level. They do not, of course, foretell the future; they simply enable me to live a more aware and conscious life. And that in turn enables me to live more congruently with my values, which is for me, essential to inner peace and contentment.

I will complete this post by sharing today’s insights with you. This morning I am going hiking in the Highlands with a few friends. We have had the trip planned for months. Originally, we were going for two days to the West Coast. But there’s been cyclonic weather over the last few days causing widespread flooding and disruption. So we postponed the adventure by one day and shrunk our ambition; now we are going for just a day trip to a location less far. However, the weather forecast for the area remains dire – showers, high winds and cold temperatures (down to -7 C. with wind chill factor). So I’m feeling resistant and a touch apprehensive.

Let’s see what the cards can contribute to my thinking and feeling about the matter. Before drawing them, I simply ask for a reflection on the day and my resistance to going. The first Insight card reads: You readily appreciate and trust others. Well, this seems clear. I am being reminded that, even though I have little experience of hiking in the mountains, there are others on the trip that do. Indeed one is a wilderness instructor and others are well experienced. So I just need in this situation to release concern, appreciate the opportunity and trust. The Setback card says: Afraid, through lack of faith, to let go and lose control. Again, this has a fairly obvious interpretation. I am somewhat of a control freak. Today’s hike, given the weather, is literally and figuratively way out of my comfort zone. I have little experience to fall back on. So the card suggests, much like the first one, that I need to let go and trust. The final Insight card tells me: You live life to the fullest, enjoying each creative moment. This is a nice reminder. I do indeed like to live life to the fullest, as mentioned in my second post, A Spiritual Life?. The day’s adventure is likely to be demanding, but being in the wild, especially if it’s challenging, will be exhilarating. And there will be lots of personal learning available, hopefully of an inner strength and resilience that I haven’t tapped in quite this way before. Creative moments? Perhaps I should take my camera, after all. The Angel I selected was Gratitude. This is always a pertinent reminder, but especially today. I have unexpectedly been invited to accompany close and respected friends on an excursion into the wilds of nature. What’s not to be grateful about?

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There are a million combinations of cards and a myriad of interpretations I could make. These ones are quite literal and not at all deep. But that’s the way the cards fell. I am heading out with more trust, excitement and gratitude than I was feeling before. And that’s a good thing. I expect the trip may be the subject of my next post. So I’d better get some pics along the way.

Having just written this post, I’ve returned to the beginning in order to change the title (from Spiritual Practices to On Diet) and to add a disclaimer, or perhaps a warning. As I’ve said before, this will be a very personal blog. It’s in good part like the kind of journal that some people keep (though I never have) where they record their innermost thoughts, dreams, musings and reflections. This post is the most personal so far in that it’s all about me and my lifestyle choices. There’s very little here that’s conceptual. So I’m concerned that it might present as me being very self-absorbed. It seems that the line between being personal and being self-absorbed is a thin one. Because I’m so new to the blogosphere, am making it up as I go along and have not much read other people’s blogs, I’m feeling quite unsure of myself. So please, if you have advice or feedback, I’m keen to hear it. You can leave a comment by clicking on the speech bubble next to the date on the left.

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I’d like to follow up my last post, which was quite abstract, with a look at the more practical aspects of my spiritual life here in Findhorn – my daily practices. For, as Jonathan Dawson pointed out recently in an excellent article,* the path to a transformation of consciousness and values is one that can only be discovered in the walking, in the doing. Concrete change lays in the practice – not in the ideas, nor the theorising or the esoterica.

My day begins differently depending on whether my lover is staying over or not. If I’m on my own, I typically rise between 3 and 5, and begin the day with writing (as I am doing now, having just got up at 4am). I’ve always enjoyed working in the stillness of the early morning, when the mind is fresh or perhaps hatching ideas that have incubated overnight. I’ll work for a couple of hours then take breakfast. And this is where my daily spiritual practice begins, with breakfast. How so? Well, for me, diet is integral to spirituality. In the last few years, as my awareness has deepened, I have gradually been refining my diet. As mentioned in the last post, alignment or congruence is crucial to my wellbeing, as is diet, of course, from the health perspective. But the motivation to improve my diet has mostly come in the pursuit of congruence, not improved health.

It began about five years ago when I gave up alcohol. I’d been drinking since I was 12 or 13 and had always enjoyed whisky, in particular (an inheritance from my dad). Indeed, I ‘had a habit’. So coming to live in Scotland was always going to be dangerous. And so it proved; I gained a whole new appreciation of the local Speyside produce. At some point, however, after admitting to myself that I was probably a borderline (or worse) alcoholic, I decided to quit. And so I did, there and then, overnight. I simply decided that I would no longer have my resistant mind dictated to by my bodily cravings for the stuff.

I was delighted to find that giving up was easy – I had no withdrawals whatsoever. So I reasoned that I was probably not physiologically addicted after all; I simply had a (bad) habit. The main benefit was also a surprise. I felt incredibly liberated. I learned of the tremendous freedom available in being free from desire and craving. The change brought me into a whole new relationship with my body. I gained an appreciation of the value of congruence or alignment between mind and body i.e. not having physical desires dictate to a mind that knows better.

A year or two later, I did a 10 day juice fast. The motivation was weight loss. I was feeling the dietary consequences of a long and harsh winter – an overload of carbs and a scarcity of fresh greens. In our climate, given our preference at Findhorn for eating locally and seasonally, we enjoy a glut of fabulous vegetables and salads from our gardens in summer, but suffer from the opposite in winter. (And many of us avoid, minimise or boycott shopping in Tesco.) Anyway, the fast went well; I enjoyed the clean out. It didn’t result in much weight loss, but it did deliver further realisations. It deepened my appreciation of what my body really needed and firmed my resolve to act in response.

I gave up caffeine immediately, having had a serious coffee habit for some 30 years – a habit that began when I studied architecture and needed to get through ‘all nighters’. Later, coffee fuelled my mainstream lifestyle. Even after coming to Findhorn and adopting a more measured way of life, I continued to ‘need’ several strong espressos to kick start the day. And yet once again, I was able to quit without difficulty, both coffee and black tea. Since then, I’ve kept a coffee pot on the hob but use it just for guests.

By then, the ball was rolling. I wondered what could be next. At the time, I was reading of the evils of refined sugar. This seemed like the next logical step – to give up cakes, biscuits and puddings. And it seemed like it would be the toughest call yet. I love desserts in particular, and our Findhorn kitchen crew make them to die for. Furthermore, I was soon to go to Australia to spend time with my mum. I guess I must associate puddings with mothers’ love at some deep psychological level. So I decided to postpone giving up sugar until after my 6 month sabbatical in Oz. But the universe provided an unexpected twist. When I arrived there, I found that mum had, herself, only recently given up sugar. She was no longer baking cakes and making puddings. So clearly, it was ‘meant to be’. I gratefully grabbed the opportunity and did likewise. Once again, giving up was easy. There were no subsequent unmet cravings. It seemed as though my mind had switched off that particular impulse. So whilst I strongly believe that I have an addictive personality, it seems I am able to deal readily with abstinence. I think the cravings must reside in my mind rather than my body – be psychological rather than physiological.

Whilst I was in Australia, I took advantage of the gym, sauna and pool in my mother’s apartment building. I worked out daily and dropped almost 10 kg, returning to Scotland feeling fitter and healthier than I had for 20 or 30 years. That was a year ago. Most recently, with the influence of a certain woman in my life, I have released several more long held dietary patterns and moved quite rapidly toward becoming vegan. I have been a poorly committed vegetarian for 40 years, avoiding red meat but with a strong attachment to eating fish, eggs and cheese – even chicken, when out. Now, I eat none of the above. And I’m really benefiting, health wise. Almost overnight, sinus congestion I’d endured for decades almost completely disappeared, along with the mild asthma that it induced. My digestion has improved and I’m sleeping more soundly, despite having been a chronic insomniac since the 1980s.

In terms of the congruence I spoke of, I feel there is now little else to achieve in respect of diet. There is nothing more to give up. The process I’ve described, which may not sound like a spiritual path to some, has been central to my soul’s journey. My body and my mind have finally made peace; no longer are there substances that the former desires but the latter resists. This brings a great deal of inner stillness and contentment which, for me, creates a platform for deepening into spiritual practice.

This has become a long post and I haven’t got very far. I set out to describe several practices, but covered just the one. And it’s now 7am and it’s time for breakfast … sugar free muesli soaked overnight in rice milk with fresh fruit. To be continued….

*  See http://newstoryhub.com/2014/08/changing-stories-using-narrative-to-shift-societal-values/.

I would like to continue from where I left off at the end of the last post where I alluded to my “contemplative life”. I’m amused that this topic should be the focus of just my second post – an indication of its importance to me. I’m amused because I arrived in Findhorn nine years ago with a very long-held material and sceptical worldview. I believed I was without a spiritual bone in my body, a stance I had held since childhood. By the age of 12, I had decided there was no one (Judeo-Christian-Islamic) God. I studied science at school and university and, in time, became a social scientist. I still value the scientific method, take nothing at face value and seek evidence for any phenomenon that stretches my credulity (such as angels, devas and nature spirits, for those of you who know Findhorn). I have never believed in an afterlife.

As a teenager, I struggled to make sense of life, convinced there was no heaven, no God-given guidance by which one lives, indeed, no ostensible meaning to life? So I researched – searching for meaning in moral philosophy, political theory and existentialist literature. And I reasoned. I decided that if the gift of life on this Earth is all there is, then I damned well better make the most of it, else waste a unique and precious opportunity. I slowly developed a humanist worldview, seeing that we humans are born with enormous potential for growth, development and magnificent achievement. And yet sadly, most of us never realize more than what? 10%? 5%? 1% of that potential? I started to see unfulfilled human potential as that which provides meaning in life.

Ultimately, I came up with a home-spun ethos of my own by which I believed I could live and make sense of my life. I reasoned that creativity is a key potential that remains unfulfilled in most people. We are innately a creative species, evidenced by our extraordinary cultural and scientific development. Surely, creativity is one of our primary drives as a species. And yet, as individuals most of us rarely tap our creative potential. So I resolved, there and then, to strive as best I could to develop my creativity. But, I reasoned, this can be quite an individualistic, self-centred pursuit. Having read the kind of left wing political literature prevalent in the sixties, I had developed quite a strong socialist/egalitarian streak (one for all and all for one). The notion of a self-absorbed drive to realize one’s unique creative potential worried me.

The principle of service seemed to offer a balance. If developing one’s creativity was about meeting the needs of the individual, then service offered the opportunity to give something back. So it seemed equally important to realize one’s potential for service… to family, community, society and the planet. Happy with that, I still felt there was something missing – something that tied these two impulses together… integrating them somehow. Love provided the answer. I reasoned that whatever one does, should be done with love. And that the third imperative by which I would live my life, would be to deepen into love… in all its various manifestations. I would pursue greater creativity, with love; and I would seek to serve, with love. And I would love, with love.

So there you have it – my home-spun, tripartite, raison d’être. I saw these three impulses: creativity, service and love, as a kind of holy trinity. Developing my potential in these three arenas would be my purpose, my code of conduct and my ‘religion’. And so it’s been all my life. Whenever I’ve had a decision to make, large or small, I assess it against these three criteria and decide accordingly. I ask, “What choice will enable me to best grow creativity, service and/or love?” It’s as easy and as difficult as that.

This post has turned into a rather long-winded preamble. I set out to write about my life at Findhorn – my spiritual practices. (Those practices will now have to be the subject of the next post.) The relevance of the above, I think, lies in the congruence that I feel here, in this community. At Findhorn, we similarly value creativity, service and love; indeed, these are three central tenets to our community’s spirituality. It could be said that our key ‘mantra’, “work is love in action” synthesises these three aspects of our culture. We see all work as an act of service. We bring divine love to a task when we are fully present, engaged and acting in service. And action, certainly as it was modelled by Peter Caddy, is creativity made manifest.

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Herein lays the source of my contentment here at Findhorn. Living in this community enables greater alignment between my values and my lifestyle. This, for me, is crucial to personal wellbeing. Furthermore, living here has enriched my daily life. It has provided practices that enable me to further cultivate my purpose.  As the practices have become second nature, so my contentment has deepened. What’s more, living in this community for nine years has softened my worldview, a lot! Much of that change has occurred in the last few years. It took its time, but eventually Findhorn worked its magic on my somewhat limited worldview. And I’m extremely grateful for that.

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I want this blog to be personal. So what better place to start than with my home.

For most of us who work in the Findhorn Foundation, community life is very busy, often intense. Every day we interact closely with guests, many of whom we meet as strangers. This can be challenging, especially for an introvert like me. And of course it’s also very rewarding. But it requires (for me anyway) that I have a home to return to in the evening where I can recharge my batteries. Seven years ago, I had the privilege of designing and building the home I have lived in ever since.  The interior spaces in particular were designed to deliver qualities appropriate for co-workers of a spiritual community, whom often-times seek peace and tranquillity in their dwellings, away from the intensity of community life. The house is designed as a space of retreat; a place of psychological and spiritual nurture.

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It is located in an area of high ecological value and sensitivity where numerous full-grow specimen trees form a nature corridor linking two areas of wildlife habitat.  Because the building has a small footprint and touches the ground lightly it can be set amongst the trees with minimal impact.  There are currently three such ‘ecomobile’ buildings in the area. The building is approached across a bridge and under a pergola that carries climbing roses. An entry porch constructed of reclaimed doors and windows and lit at night with colour-changing LEDs, provides a space to gently arrive and deposit coats and shoes (see above). The progression from street to interior via a bridge (which is a metaphor for transitioning from one world to another) is designed as a series of experiences that encourage a subtle energy and mood shift from that of the busy outside world to a more relaxed and tranquil state of being.

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The building comprises: a single main living space, a separate bedroom and a link between them incorporating a bathroom and storage.  The main space (see pics above) has an octagonal floor plan. Its form and minimalist detailing induce a feeling of ease, comfort and nurture.  The 135 deg. corners are more subtle and easier on the eye than conventional 90 deg. ones.  Within the space, separate kitchen, dining and living areas pinwheel about a centrally located wood stove, symbolic of a primaeval hearth or firepit.  Each area borrows space and amenity from the others, enabling a smaller combined footprint.  Large windows and a central skylight deliver high levels of natural light.

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The linking corridor too, is flooded with natural daylight entering through its translucent roof and ceiling (see above).  The corridor, with full-length storage along one side, doubles as a dressing room.  A small but well-appointed bathroom incorporates toilet, basin and shower. Because clothes are stored elsewhere, the bedroom is minimally furnished (with just a bed).  Its cubic form (3.1m W x 3.1m D x 3.1m H), high ceiling and minimalist décor induce something of the qualities of a ‘sacred’ space (see below). A full-width South-facing clerestory lets in sun and light, and invites views of the stars and full moon. A narrow full-height window to the West offers views of nearby trees.  An East-facing deck, incorporating a hammock and an ofuro for two (a Japanese style hot tub) made from a whisky barrel, opens off the bedroom.

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The building cost approximately £40,000 to construct. At £800 per m2, that’s about half the construction cost of new-built, architect designed and detailed homes in the region. The biggest cost saving was achieved through self-building. The labour component of the overall cost was approximately 20% – considerably less than normal. I built the house single-handedly but help from the community was always at hand when I needed it (see below). Since I was both designer and builder, this reduced the amount of documentation necessary and eliminated any need for conventional architectural supervision.  Further savings were made through Internet shopping for materials, fixtures and fittings.  This resulted in many fewer trips to local service centres in order to buy construction materials, saving time, money and carbon emissions.

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The building is, in truth, poorly oriented for passive solar gain.  Site constraints dictated that it be elongated in a North-South direction, counter to passive solar design principles.  However, the South facing conservatory and large openings on South-facing walls provide considerable passive solar gain.  Heating is provided by the wood stove burning firewood from our own forest. The boiler is electric. The cook top is a low-energy induction hob.  There is no television, washing machine, clothes dryer, dishwasher or microwave.  Because the building creates no carbon emissions in its day to day running (the electricity is generated by our own windmills), it can be considered a ‘zero-carbon’ building. And in fact, it has probably the lowest running costs of any building in the ecovillage.

To summarise, the house is a vehicle for sustainable living. Designed for a couple, it offers high levels of comfort and amenity whilst enabling the occupants to minimise their environmental footprint. The building is about half the size (per person) of the average UK dwelling. Small dwellings require fewer materials to construct, less energy to heat, and can hold less material ‘stuff’. Beyond material considerations, however, it offers a supportive setting for ‘voluntary simplicity’ – a less consumerist, more environmentally benign lifestyle characterised by ease and beauty. A setting for a contemplative life; a place where the soul may find peace.

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