Findhorn's global reach

Jonathan reports from Wongsanit ashram in Thailand where he is on behalf of the Global Ecovillage Ne

Findhorn's boundaries extend far beyond these few acres of land in a distant corner of the north of Scotland. For, what has happened here over the last 45 years or so has struck a deep chord that has truly resonated globally. I never cease to be amazed at the reaction that mention of the F-word evinces in all sorts of folks I have met around the world.

I think immediately of Maria, a land-rights activist living among indigenous people in the interior of Mexico that I met at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

- 'Where are you from' she asked.
- 'Scotland'.
- 'Oh, which part?'
- 'A small village near Inverness' (No point in going further than this, thinks I. I have almost certainly exhausted her knowledge of Scottish geography already.)
- 'What is its name?'
- 'Findhorn.'

At the time, I wrote of what happened next in the following terms: 'Maria did not sink to her knees, cross herself and chant the names of all the saints of Christendom in thanksgiving, but it looked as if it took all her powers of self-control not to do so'.

Maria had never even been to Findhorn! She had read one of the early Findhorn books and had some kind of 'experience' – a form of vision, she said – and immediately left her life of luxury in the city to commit herself to activism with and for Mexico's poor and marginalised.

I have lost count of the number of similar stories I have heard over the last six years I have been representing Findhorn and GEN (the Global Ecovillage Network) in international gatherings. In most cases, those affected by the Findhorn magic had been there. But in a good number of others, like Maria they had not.

So, what is it that Findhorn represents that had struck so deep a chord in so many people? The appeal, I would say, can be captured in three words – spirit, community and simplicity.

Remember that Findhorn was created in an era, the early 1960s, characterised by great optimism in the forces of progress and development. Remember Harold Wilson's 'great, white heat of technology' speech? The Findhorn message of humility, simplicity and attuning with the divine would have had decidedly minority appeal in that era. However, as the myth of progress has become progressively tarnished in recent decades, the Findhorn ethic has made something of a comeback.

In the poorer countries of the global South, the virtues of spirit, community and simplicity were always held in higher regard. It is here that some of our strongest and most rewarding relationships lie.

So it is that I am now sitting at the Wongsanit ashram, about an hour outside of Bangkok, preparing for a series of meetings associated with the Global Ecovillage Network. Wongsanit is a Buddhist community devoted to 'developing and promoting an alternative lifestyle that is grounded in Dharma, cultural diversity, and environmental sustainability.' Among other things, it is engaged in grassroots leadership training, under its Spirit in Education programme, for communities in Thailand and in the neighbouring countries of Cambodia, Laos and Burma.

Strong ties exist between Wongsanit and Findhorn. Findhorners teach programmes here, while an ashram member (who happens to be married to a Findhorner) leads courses in Findhorn. Meanwhile, we have hosted members from the ashram and from their Spirit in Education network in each of the nine years that our ecovillage training programme has run. As I walk around the ashram, I am surrounded by familiar faces.

The links with Wongsanit and other sister communities of the South enrich us greatly. Not least, their engagement in programmes on behalf of some of the world's poorest and most marginalised people helps to ground us and keep us aligned with the struggle for global justice.

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.