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
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Responding to George Osborne's tax credit U-turn should have been Labour's victory lap

He changed the forecast, we changed the weather. But still it rains.

The Labour Party should have rested on its laurels in the Autumn Statement. While Gideon name checked his Tory colleagues for their successful lobbying, he should have been reading out the names of Labour members who changed his position.  I'll let the Tories have the potholes, (even though it was in Labour manifesto) but everything else was us. 

He stopped his assault on tax credits. Not because he woke up in his mansion in a cold sweat, the ghost of Christmas Future at the foot of his bed, ringing out the names of the thousands and thousands of children he would plunge into poverty. Nah, it's not that. It's as my sons might say "no way George, you got told!" The constant pressure of the Labour Party and a variety of Lords in a range of shades, supported by that media we are all meant to hate, did for him. It's the thousands of brilliant people who kept the pressure up by emailing politicians constantly that did it. Bravo us, boo nasty George!

As Baron Osborne thanked the Tory male MP for his brilliant idea, to spend the Tampax tax on women's services, I wanted to launch a tampon at his head. Not a used one you understand, I have some boundaries. He should have credited Paula Sheriff, the Labour MP for making this change. He should have credited all the brilliant women's groups, Yvette Cooper, Stella Creasy, Caroline Lucas and even little old me, for our constant, regular and persistent pestering on the subject of funding for refuges and women's services. 

On police cuts, his side should not have cheered him at all. We are now in a position when loud cheers are heard when nothing changes. So happy was his side that he was not cutting it, one can only conclude they really hate all the cutting they do. He should not have taken a ridiculous side swipe at Andy Burnham, but instead he should have credited the years and years of constant campaigning by Jack Dromey. 

I tell you what Georgie boy can take credit for, the many tax increases he chalked up. Increases in council tax to pay for huge deficit in care costs left by his cuts. Increases in the bit of council tax that pays for Police. Even though nothing changed remember. When he says levy or precept it's like when people say I'm curvy when they mean fat. It's a tax. 

He can take credit for making student nurses pay to work for free in the NHS. That's got his little privileged fingers all over it. My babies were both delivered by student midwives. The first time my sons life was saved, and on the second occasion my life was saved. The women who saved us were on placement hours as part of their training, working towards their qualifications. Now those same women, will be paying for the pleasure of working for free and saving lives. Paying to work for free! On reflection throwing a tampon at him is too good, this change makes me want to lob my sons placenta in his face.

Elsewhere in Parliament on Autumn Statement day Jeremy Hunt, capitulated and agreed to negotiate with Student Doctors. Thanks to the brilliant pressure built by junior doctors and in no small part Heidi Alexander. Labour chalks up another win in the disasters averted league.

I could go on and on with thanks to charities, think tanks, individual constituents and other opposition MPs who should have got the autumn cheers. We did it, we were a great and powerful opposition, we balanced the pain with reality. We made Lord sorry the first Lord of the Treasury and his stormtroopers move from the dark side. We should have got the cheers, but all we got was a black eye, when a little red book smacked us right in the face.