How astonishing it is that a global pandemic has achieved in weeks what spiritual teachers have been encouraging for centuries: Slow down, be still and take time to connect with Divinity, whether you call it that Still Small Voice Within, God, Spirit, Allah, the Great Mystery or any other name.
As much of humanity takes a deep breath and time for introspection and deep listening, I find myself in a benign lockdown within The Park Ecovillage at the epicentre of the Findhorn Foundation spiritual community.
Where better on Mother Earth to be? It feels divinely orchestrated and I notice I’m asking some of the same questions that were with me when I first came to visit in 2009, having signed up for a month-long Applied Ecovillage Living programme.
Is there another way of living that is kinder to each other and all other lifeforms? What would love do now? What is mine to do?
Then it was already obvious that the way we were living simply wasn’t sustainable. Rampant consumerism and the acquisition of more, more and even more stuff was stripping the Earth of its abundant gifts, while polluting our outer and inner worlds. Something profound needed to happen and I prayed it would be in my lifetime. It’s happening!
Many agree that Nature is sending us a message.
Author and social justice activist Sonya Renee Taylor sums it up: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal, other than we normalised greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
It feels to me that this is what the Findhorn community has long been striving for.
In nearly 60 years of existence, the community has been described as many things: The Findhorn experiment, a mystery school, a laboratory for change, a greenhouse for spirituality, a training centre for world leaders, and a lighthouse beaming love and light into a troubled world.
Co-founder Peter Caddy referred to it as a graveyard for egos. Being here – and living also with the shadow side of our personalities – isn’t always easy as we confront our personal and collective challenges. And perhaps never more so than now in 2020.
And yet this community in the north of Scotland continues to be a beacon of hope, attracting guests from around the world. Many sign up for Experience Week, the core programme. Others are drawn to a diversity of offerings ranging from Interspecies Communication to Permaculture Design and healing modalities like Esalen Massage.
In response to Covid-19 the doors closed to residential guests in late March, although online offerings remained available with more being developed. As I write this it seems likely we’ll see some guests again from October.
I’ve been based within the community for a decade and was initially surprised to discover the number of resident South Africans, ranking around fifth after UK citizens, Germans, Americans and people from the Netherlands. It’s very international.
Some have been here for decades and almost all speak of being drawn to the place, sometimes mysteriously.
For me it was a sudden and powerful inner knowing during a solo Vision Quest in the wilderness: Go to Findhorn, your next steps will be revealed there. And they were as I transitioned from Petrolhead to Pilgrim and began walking the world with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly.
South African-born Avalon Santos Willmott, a graphic designer, art director and mother of three, recalls: “I was working in Paris when I met a woman who lived in Findhorn. When she said the word Findhorn it was like a light went on in my head.”
She enrolled for Experience Week and the community has been her home for 13 years. It’s where she met her Scottish husband and they now have three young children. “Findhorn is a magical place to bring up children,” she says. “Not only because of the freedom and the natural beauty that surrounds us, but also being within this unique community.
“Living here has also influenced my work. I am focused on working with clients who are in the third sector, promoting sustainability, ecology, social health and wellbeing.
“Some of the key attributes of living and working in Findhorn for me are being more conscious around communication, conflict resolution and exploring new forms of leadership, economics and governance.”
Sylvia Black, a therapist and tennis coach who represented South Africa on the international circuit in her younger days, is a neighbour and friend. She first visited almost 30 years ago and says: “I remember loving the whole area. The beach, river, woods and landscape were so natural and had a quality which was hard to put my finger on. I noticed that the birds didn’t fly away when I walked past them as they weren’t frightened. I also enjoyed the very friendly people, who appeared to be so ‘normal’ and relaxed.
“Findhorn is known to be a place of transformation and I went through my own journey of cancer during my time here. The support I had was profound and played a big part in my eventual recovery.
“Because I was living here when I got ill, I knew I had to be honest, which most people are here. I thus asked my husband for a divorce, which was incredibly difficult to do at the time. But once I fully recovered a few years later, I met my present partner, who has been part of the community since the late 1960s. We share a home right in the middle of this amazing place and lead a happy and fulfilled life.
”This place is part of my soul and will be forever.”
Mary Inglis, a trainer, facilitator and coach, grew up in Nigeria, Lesotho and South Africa and had a pivotal life experience when she first visited in 1972.
She and her mother, Katherine Inglis, were treated to a tour by retired bank manager John Hilton that began with the three of them sitting in the sunshine outside the Community Centre as he related the story of the development of the community.
“While he was talking about the connection and work with the devas and nature spirits, I felt someone come up behind me and put their hands gently on my shoulders. That’s nice and friendly, I thought. I didn’t look round at that point, but continued to pay attention to John. When I did eventually turn to connect with whoever was behind me, there was no one there.
“It felt as if I was being greeted by some friendly and welcoming non-physical presence. Who or what it was, I don’t know, but that opened a doorway to a desire to engage collaboratively with the non-physical as well as the physical dimensions of earth.
“Since then, the exploration and practice of engaging the whole of life has been a key element – learning to partner with and create community with all aspects of life, human and non-human, physical and non-physical, material and spiritual, solid and energetic, in the specifics of daily life. It’s now called incarnational spirituality and ‘Gaianeering’ – a practice of giving shape to ways of being that support the wholeness both of ourselves and of the world. Not just physical, not just energetic and spiritual, but both.
“For me, the exploration and practice of this at Findhorn and in other places around the world is an important part of what we can contribute to planetary change.
“My mother returned to Cape Town, where she established a Friends of Findhorn group and later became a Findhorn Foundation resource person. She organised several tours, the first being for co-founders Peter and Eileen Caddy and myself in 1977. She was one of the early supporters of Odyssey Magazine. She visited the community periodically and, in 1986, moved here to live. She died here in 2007.
“I’ve been involved in a variety of things during my time at Findhorn – gardening, homecare, cooking, personnel, core group, candle-making, editing and publishing and many of the educational programmes.”
Mary has been involved with the Game of Transformation and game-originator Joy Drake since its early beginnings in the ‘70s. She continues to work with InnerLinks, the organisation that researches and develops Transformation Game® programmes and products and offers trainings and workshops, that have taken her to South Africa several times.
Zimbabwean-born Adele Napier runs a holistic coaching and consulting business that supports people and organisations to make their best contribution to the world.
She swapped a career with a multinational consumer goods corporation, working out of Johannesburg, then London and Geneva, for a very different life in Findhorn.
In 2001 she came to visit a friend for what turned out to be a life-changing weekend. “It was super-eventful,” she recalls. “A wildfire in the gorse came right up to the settlement of wooden houses and I felt humbled by people’s calm, measured response to having their homes threatened in that way. The wind turned at just the right moment in front of a line of meditators letting life know it really mattered to them that it came no further!”
Another highlight was seeing the northern lights for the first time, but the pivot was probably “sitting in the café and having a powerful heart-opening experience and sense of falling in love with the place, which was really falling in love with life in a new way. I had found something I’d always longed for, without fully knowing it.”
She moved to the community in 2003 and says: “Findhorn’s constant invitation to grow into my whole self in service of something bigger and experiencing what we can create together when we apply spiritual principles in practical down-to-earth ways, has meant a lot to me.
“Experiencing what I call the living intelligence inside me, in nature, in all of life around, and then how rich, connected, creative life can be when doing so, has been a revelation and inspiration.”
After years of facilitating educational programmes, her last project with the Findhorn Foundation was to help lead a change process for the organisation as a whole. “I saw the profound possibility for organisations when we listen to each other as a living system and act from there.
“This inspired me to create a business which helps people and organisations access their living intelligence and the sense of purpose, insight, natural energy and collaborative, ecological relationship with life that follows when we do so.
“This changes the game in how meaningful and satisfying work can be and in how businesses can thrive as a positive force of change in the world.”
Of course, community life is often far from Utopian. “Community can be incredibly tough when things go awry and you live and work and love and be in such close proximity.”
But she feels this life and place has much to offer the world, especially now. “Findhorn’s foundations are based on connecting to our innate intelligence, our inner wisdom. As we live into this, we experience more of our own wholeness and a natural desire to contribute to the wholeness of the world. This simple – not necessarily easy or overnight – shift is radical in its implication. It has the potential to transform the way we see and engage with everything from the personal to ecological, social, political crises of our time. I believe this is the planetary movement we’re in.”
Her friend Sylvia Black agrees: ”I think the principles that Findhorn was and still is founded on, of co-creating with nature and living our lives by attuning to the God within, are what is needed even more in the world today. We are all connected and part of the Earth and everything on her. I think the South African expression of Ubuntu which states: “I am because we are and we are because you are” is alive and well in Findhorn. Hopefully it can spread throughout this beautiful planet of ours!”