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.
Photo: Getty
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There's just one future for the left: Jeremy Corbyn

Labour's new leader is redefining Labour for the 21st century, argues Liam Young. 

The politics of the resurgent left comes down to one simple maxim: people are sick and tired of establishment politics. When one makes this statement it is usually met with some form of disapproval. But it is important to realise that there are two different types of people that you have this conversation with.

First there are the people I surround myself with in a professional environment: political types. Then there are the people I surround myself with socially: normal people.

Unsurprisingly the second category is larger than the first and it is also more important. We may sit on high horses on Twitter or Facebook and across a multitude of different media outlets saying what we think and how important what we think is, but in reality few outside of the bubble could care less.

People who support Jeremy Corbyn share articles that support Jeremy Corbyn - such as my own. People who want to discredit Jeremy Corbyn share articles that discredit Jeremy Corbyn - like none of my own. It is entirely unsurprising right? But outside of this bubble rests the future of the left. Normal people who talk about politics for perhaps five minutes a day are the people we need to be talking to, and I genuinely believe that Labour is starting to do just that.

People know that our economy is rigged and it is not just the "croissant eating London cosmopolitans" who know this. It is the self-employed tradesman who has zero protection should he have to take time off work if he becomes ill. It is the small business owner who sees multi-national corporations get away with paying a tiny fraction of the tax he or she has to pay. And yes, it is the single mother on benefits who is lambasted in the street without any consideration for the reasons she is in the position she is in. And it is the refugee being forced to work for less than the minimum wage by an exploitative employer who keeps them in line with the fear of deportation. 

The odds are stacked against all normal people, whether on a zero hours contract or working sixty hours a week. Labour has to make the argument from the left that is inclusive of all. It certainly isn’t an easy task. But we start by acknowledging the fact that most people do not want to talk left or right – most people do not even know what this actually means. Real people want to talk about values and principles: they want to see a vision for the future that works for them and their family. People do not want to talk about the politics that we have established today. They do not want personality politics, sharp suits or revelations on the front of newspapers. This may excite the bubble but people with busy lives outside of politics are thoroughly turned off by it. They want solid policy recommendations that they believe will make their lives better.

People have had enough of the same old, of the system working against them and then being told that it is within their interest to simply go along with it.  It is our human nature to seek to improve, to develop. At the last election Labour failed to offer a vision of future to the electorate and there was no blueprint that helped people to understand what they could achieve under a Labour government. In the states, Bernie Sanders is right to say that we need a political revolution. Here at home we've certainly had a small one of our own, embodying the disenchantment with our established political discourse. The same-old will win us nothing and that is why I am firmly behind Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of a new politics – the future of the left rests within it. 

Liam Young is a commentator for the IndependentNew Statesman, Mirror and others.