Acts of random beautification

How at Findhorn even inanimate objects are given names

We modern, rational people have proper and respectable post-Enlightenment ways of seeing the world. We know, for example, the difference between sentient beings (humans, dolphins, at a pinch midges and so on) and all the rest of the stuff that those sentient beings move through – rocks, rivers, mountains and all the rest of it.

This was not always so – and indeed, animistic shamanism is making something of a comeback in certain quarters. As a storyteller, I have always been thrilled by tales in which people shape-shift effortlessly with other animals. The ancient Irish story, for example, in which Tuan MacCarrill dies multiple deaths, being re-born in turn as a stag, a boar, an eagle and a salmon. As a salmon, he is caught in the nets of King Carrill's fisherman and eaten by the Queen who, nine months later, gives birth to him.

The new science, most notably James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, is lending some credence to the idea that conventional distinctions between the sentient and non-sentient realms may be mistaken – that everything is alive in an inter-dependent, global, self-regulating web of life.

But how many are sufficiently generous to extend their understanding of the web of life to include metal beings? Welcome to Findhorn!

Between the two main campuses of the community, a small fleet of white vans ferries guests and residents. Each has a name emblazoned proudly on its front: Sir George (named after one of early community’s supporters, Sir George Trevelyan), ROC (another early community member), Grace and Pegasus. Previous buses that have long since experienced re-incarnation sported names such as Jasmine, Woodstock (formerly a public bus that still advertised the name of its final destination – Woodstock, Oxfordshire), Brother Henry.

The washing machines glory in the names Vortex and Tornado. The dishwasher is called Big Bertha. Henry the hoover buzzes around the community centre, while people queue to fill their cups with hot water from the urns, Burt and Ernie. These urns are celebrated in verse, no less. Just above where they stand is a framed ode in their honour penned by our own bard, Margo Henderson. The first verse reads:

A bonnie blessing for our bonnie urns
(in the style of Rabbie Burns,
Like ‘Tae a Haggis’ and ‘Young Pretender)
Here’s tae Ample Ernie and Burt the Splender

Even our windmills have names. The first turbine, erected in 1989, is called Moya, a word in the Lesotho language of Southern Africa that means both spirit and wind. Now, she has been joined by three new siblings, named after the Three Graces – Joy, Charm and Beauty.

What is more, we can't just leave these new members of our metal-beings family in peace. Gangs of community members and neighbouring school children have covered the turbines in paintings. This habit of committing acts of random and senseless beautification is very much in keeping with the core ecovillage ethic. No surface is safe. Paths get transformed into mosaics, empty walls are seen as murals waiting to happen, road signs are defaced – under STOP, the word ‘Worrying’ has been engraved.

All this brings much colour and playfulness into our lives – and that is reward enough. However, at root, the impulse to give inanimate objects names also has a more serious purpose. This is to increase our awareness of the world around us, to treat everything respectfully and mindfully as manifestations of the sacred.

A washing machine?! A wind turbine?! – SACRED?!

Why not? The celebrated Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Tich Naht Hahn has written beautifully of the interdependence of all things by reference to a sheet of paper. In a piece of paper, he suggests, if we look mindfully, we can see sunshine, water, clouds, the river, heat, wheat, the logger and the logger’s mother. Without any of these things, the paper could not have been made. He concludes, ‘As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe within it.’

This is the level of consciousness we are after. Bert and Ernie might just help us get there.

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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We still have time to change our minds on Brexit

The British people will soon find they have been misled. 

On the radio on 29 March 2017, another "independence day" for rejoicing Brexiteers, former SNP leader Alex Salmond and former Ukip leader Nigel Farage battled hard over the ramifications of Brexit. Here are two people who could be responsible for the break-up of the United Kingdom. Farage said it was a day we were getting our country back.

Yet let alone getting our country back, we could be losing our country. And what is so frustrating is that not only have we always had our country by being part of the European Union, but we have had the best of both worlds.

It is Philip Hammond who said: “We cannot cherry pick, we cannot have our cake and eat it too”. The irony is that we have had our cake and eaten it, too.

We are not in Schengen, we are not in the euro and we make the laws that affect our daily lives in Westminster – not in Europe – be it our taxes, be it our planning laws, be it business rates, be it tax credits, be it benefits or welfare, be it healthcare. We measure our roads in miles because we choose to and we pour our beer in pints because we choose to. We have not been part of any move towards further integration and an EU super-state, let alone the EU army.

Since the formation of the EU, Britain has had the highest cumulative GDP growth of any country in the EU – 62 per cent, compared with Germany at 35 per cent. We have done well out of being part of the EU. What we have embarked on in the form of Brexit is utter folly.

The triggering of Article 50 now is a self-imposed deadline by the Prime Minister for purely political reasons. She wants to fix the two-year process to end by March 2019 well in time to go into the election in 2020, with the negotiations completed.

There is nothing more or less to this timing. People need to wake up to this. Why else would she trigger Article 50 before the French and German elections, when we know Europe’s attention will be elsewhere?

We are going to waste six months of those two years, all because Prime Minister Theresa May hopes the negotiations are complete before her term comes to an end. I can guarantee that the British people will soon become aware of this plot. The Emperor has no clothes.

Reading through the letter that has been delivered to the EU and listening to the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament today amounted to reading and listening to pure platitudes and, quite frankly, hot air. It recalls the meaningless phrase, "Brexit means Brexit".

What the letter and the statement very clearly outlined is how complex the negotiations are going to be over the next two years. In fact, they admit that it is unlikely that they are going to be able to conclude negotiations within the two-year period set aside.

That is not the only way in which the British people have been misled. The Conservative party manifesto clearly stated that staying in the single market was a priority. Now the Prime Minister has very clearly stated in her Lancaster House speech, and in Parliament on 29 March that we are not going to be staying in the single market.

Had the British people been told this by the Leave campaign, I can guarantee many people would not have voted to leave.

Had British businesses been consulted, British businesses unanimously – small, medium and large – would have said they appreciate and benefit from the single market, the free movement of goods and services, the movement of people, the three million people from the EU that work in the UK, who we need. We have an unemployment rate of under 5 per cent – what would we do without these 3m people?

Furthermore, this country is one of the leaders in the world in financial services, which benefits from being able to operate freely in the European Union and our businesses benefit from that as a result. We benefit from exporting, tariff-free, to every EU country. That is now in jeopardy as well.

The Prime Minister’s letter to the EU talks with bravado about our demands for a fair negotiation, when we in Britain are in the very weakest position to negotiate. We are just one country up against 27 countries, the European Commission and the European Council and the European Parliament. India, the US and the rest of the world do not want us to leave the European Union.

The Prime Minister’s letter of notice already talks of transitional deals beyond the two years. No country, no business and no economy likes uncertainty for such a prolonged period. This letter not just prolongs but accentuates the uncertainty that the UK is going to face in the coming years.

Britain is one of the three largest recipients of inward investment in the world and our economy depends on inward investment. Since the referendum, the pound has fallen 20 per cent. That is a clear signal from the world, saying, "We do not like this uncertainty and we do not like Brexit."

Though the Prime Minister said there is it no turning back, if we come to our senses we will not leave the EU. Article 50 is revocable. At any time from today we can decide we want to stay on.

That is for the benefit of the British economy, for keeping the United Kingdom "United", and for Europe as a whole – let alone the global economy.

Lord Bilimoria is the founder and chairman of Cobra Beer, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and the founding Chairman of the UK-India Business Council.