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.