Making it up as you go along...

Rhiannon Hanfman on the importance of ceremony particularly at Findhorn and her reflections on how r


Jonathan Dawson is away so I am filling in for him for the next couple of weeks and I would like to pick up the theme of ritual that he touched on in writing about a recent death in our community. At Findhorn we do rituals rather well. Rather than rely on an established forms, we make them up as we go along so our ceremonies are alive and meaningful to those who take part. We have had rather a lot of funerals in the last couple of years and no two were alike yet each was deeply moving and appropriate to the individual being honoured.

News of a different kind of ritual came to my notice in the last week. David and Ilsemarie, a couple who have been married for 12 years or more decided to separate and have chosen to mark this event with a Ceremony of Separation. Initially I thought this was, well, strange but on reflection the idea grew on me. Separation and divorce have become a common rite of passage in our society so why should we not mark it in a conscious way that does not apportion blame or bring rancour and resentment.

Although divorce is no longer a recipe for social ruin, the end of a marriage still brings a sense of failure or shame and a feeling that someone must be to blame. No one celebrates it. Children are wounded, friends take sides and lawyers benefit from the couple remaining at war. Nobody wins.

In this community we try to find better and more loving ways of doing things and this ceremony was a kinder means of dealing with what was potentially a painful situation. This separation was not celebrated but neither was it mourned, nor was the occasion used to air old wounds. David and Ilsemarie symbolically untied the knots that bound them in a detrimental way, and in love and friendship let the other go. It was done in a way that brought healing rather than hurt and that must be a good thing.

This reminded me of another unusual ceremony I attended a few years ago. A young couple I know who lived together and had a baby but were not married had what they called a Family Blessing. It was not a wedding or a christening or a 1st birthday party for the child, though the ceremony had elements of all these things. Their purpose it seemed to me was to show their commitment and say to their friends, ‘Hey, we’re a family.’

We humans seem to have an innate need to publicly and symbolically mark the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another. It’s a way of saying ‘ this is important, this is really happening’. If we can create rituals that reflect what is real and genuine for us at a particular point, they are not merely empty forms but are alive and so enliven us. Our rituals, whether of celebration, grief or simply acknowledging what is, bind us together, strengthen us and bring us joy and healing.

Rhiannon Hanfman is a freelance writer/editor/designer and has been associated with the Findhorn community for more than 20 years. She has a background in theatre, publishing and science. She abandoned the science to go and live at Findhorn and currently does design work for the Findhorn Foundation and facilitates Game of Transformation workshops.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear