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.