I recently passed some time visiting our friend in Findhorn in Scotland. Officially I think it is described as a spiritual community, potentially with the word eco in there somewhere as well. It’s the sort of place where people stop and talk to each other in the street, food grows outside front doors, small creative ventures involving pottery, weaving, painting, music, you name it, pop up everywhere, and there is a sense that your occupations (intentional plural) consist of what you want to do rather than what you are supposed to do.
There is a fantastic story behind the community, which was set up by three individuals who seemed to be following some higher calling. The legacy of this story can still be felt – there is an emphasis on spiritual practice e.g. through (non-mandatory) daily meditations, taize singing, and many other things. There is a lot of work to be done with running courses and maintaining the communal areas and gardens, but there is an attempt to do it in a mindful manner.
There are also of course many visitors coming to Findhorn, and many courses take place there. There is a business side of the community, and I heard some people struggling to make sense of how the business organisation could be reconciled with the spiritual, mindful, and non-exploitative approach being sought in the community.
I spent my days being shown around many of the incredible projects and structures of the community by my fantastic host. There is a lot to get your head around. The community itself is stretched across two main sites: the main Park, where most people live in their own house/caravan/yurt/apartment and there is a shop, community centre, Universal Hall etc., and then there is Cluny Hill, an old Victorian hotel where some community members live and many courses take place. There is also a third site, Newbold, which is not officially part of Findhorn but has very close ties to it. There is the Findhorn Foundation hosting all kinds of courses and workshops, and running the place, and the New Findhorn Association bringing together all the independent businesses and projects within Findhorn. And then there are all the other amazing projects that people are doing.
Most people seem rather middle class and middle aged. I did get to meet some people more my own age, most of them rather involved in the Global Ecovillage Network. It was encouraging to talk to them, and they could answer some of my questions around whether living in a community with such a focus on inward spiritual practice can become a bubble, and how engagement with the rest of the world works. In fact, many people choose not to live at Findhorn full time, but come and go. One person I met told me how she has a vision of herself, one hand firmly planted on the ground, connecting to the earth and its vibrations, and another reaching out into the world.
Speaking of growing soy plants, one of the evening we watched this amazing film called Symphony of the Soil. If you haven’t seen it yet you have to look it up! It’s all about how soil works, its different qualities and functions, and the mind-blowing amount of life and activity it hosts.
I made an Israeli friend who had recently been to a talk with the director of the film. Apparently, the film was first pitched in a very different way, looking at all the practices that are destroying our soils – chemicals, monocultures, etc. At a preview of the film someone had pointed out that the film was extremely depressing and negative. So, the filmmakers decided to turn it around, and focus on all the amazing qualities that soil has. I liked that story, and it’s true, the film does actually feel positive and inspiring. And it makes soils sound so cool. It instills a sense of awe and appreciation for soil that is badly needed.
Findhorn was in many ways a very safe and secure place. But even through all the circles of sociocracy, attunements and check-ins, meditations and neighbourly mediations that define the community life, the news from the events in Paris on November 13th seeped in. When watching the Symphony of the Soil I kept reflecting on the recent events. Its overall message was that soils are superimportant and fantastic, and we can’t really do anything else on earth if we don’t build our lives on well-functioning soil.
Something in me keeps saying that we need to focus on building soil literally and metaphorically if we are ever going to have a chance of peace, in Syria, the Middle East, everywhere. But with the current approach – increased airstrikes in Syria for example, I can’t help but feel like this is an approach similar to that taken by Monsanto. They have developed methods (Roundup is the most famous) that can be sprayed everywhere on the ground. Everything is killed – other plants, weeds, soil microbes that are vital to plant nutrition. The only things that can grow are the plants that they have tampered with through gene modification, which at first means that they do very well because of the lack of competition. But what we are seeing now in agriculture is that this is neither sustainable nor productive in the long run. It requires more and more external help in terms of fertilizer, and yet the plants grow weaker and weaker as they get no nutrition from the soil. I believe there is a lesson there for the unfolding situation in Syria with Daesh. There is no point in solving the problems through killing more, as important and nurturing structures inevitably get targeted. The only people/government/structures that can survive in that environment are the ones that are propped up by external assistance (are the fertilizers in the political world spelt foreign military aid, the arms industry, and crony capitalism?). And, as we can see in monocultures, the fertilized species will inevitably grow weak and vulnerable. Instead of spraying fertilizers and killing chemicals, those who build soils focus their energy on putting down materials that can contribute to a healthy, living environment, like compost, carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients in a good mix. It is understood that we will not have a peaceful, dynamic, and productive environment unless we put in the right components. Imagine if the war in Syria and Daesh were approached in the same way…
Such were the thought patterns in Findhorn. It felt like home, I felt like I fitted in easily, and I saw the young people’s lives there and felt like I wanted that. I’m sure I will return at some point.