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.
Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR