The art of changing gracefully

Does the Findhorn model have lessons for all of us?

Much of this last week was taken up with the visit of an old friend from what we here sometimes refer to as the ‘real’ world. I hugely enjoy such visits because it allows me to see this wonderfully unique place in which I live with fresh eyes. I have lived here for over 20 years and sometimes I take it for granted. Life feels quite ordinary and not that different to life anywhere else. And in many ways it is not. We eat, work, shop, watch TV, have families and other relationships, go on holidays and do all the things that people everywhere do. The difference lies perhaps in the way we do these things and the priorities we have.

I was showing my friend around and explaining to her the various connections between the Findhorn Foundation and the affiliated but independent organisations, the distinction between the Foundation and the community as a whole, the different relationships that individuals have with the place and I became aware of how complex, yet successful, this particular organism is.

There is no place quite like Findhorn— spiritual community/intentional community/educational centre/ecovillage/light centre/therapeutic community/experiment in alternative life styles/hippy commune—it has been called all those things.

All of these are partly but not entirely true. Take two or more Findhorn residents and ask them what this community is about, you would find that there is no agreement. So anything I write about it is my perspective only.

For me the uniqueness of this place comes from the fact that it has been allowed to grow organically, moving in response to an inner pattern that is not altogether clear but presumably knows what it’s doing, and outer conditions. This ability to metamorphose and adjust is, I believe, the reason why Findhorn continues to thrive whereas deliberate communities with a more rigid structure tend to die or become calcified oddities, estranged from the world and talking only to themselves.

From the early days the qualities of change and flexibility were highly valued here. Change was generally regarded as favourable (even when it wasn’t) and transformation welcomed. We were encouraged to embrace the New, whatever that was, and release the Old. This attitude has allowed the community to move gracefully with the shifts of time and circumstances.

The evolutionary imperative is ‘adapt or perish’ and Findhorn has proved itself able to adapt and survive. We will increasingly need these skills in the future. Major environmental change is in process and business as usual cannot continue despite the assurances of the dinosaurs. The small mammals like Findhorn and other ecovillages modestly lurking in the undergrowth, learning to live differently, may be the ones to show a way for us all to survive.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.