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.