Web of life

In his latest blog, Jonathan Dawson reveals the key to the continuing vitality of the Findhorn commu

So, we have come full circle. In my first blog, almost exactly a year ago, I began by looking up into the northern skies to watch the geese fly in from the Arctic to their over-wintering grounds. Now, they are back, lacing the high blue autumnal skies in exquisite sweeping arcs, filling the air with the wildness of their cries.

I made it clear in that first blog that I was making a conscious choice to begin my exploration of what it is to live in an ecovillage not with the visible hardware of sustainability – the wind turbines, eco-housing, waste management facilities and so on – but rather with the quality of our relationships, with other people and with the rest of creation.

The primacy of relationships and of community – the software of sustainability – seems even more paramount to me today. As I look back at over a year’s output of blogs, I can see that the researching and writing of these weekly vignettes has helped me come more awake to the richness and diversity of life within the community and to the multiplicity of ways in which it seeks to serve.

When travelling, representing Findhorn or the Global Ecovillage Network, I am often asked what is ‘Findhorn’s position’ on this or that issue or question. I almost always reply that, in truth, there is no one single position – that the Findhorn community is hugely diverse and one could often find as many views on questions of importance as there are members of the community.

This is a huge strength. Reflecting on almost all of the various initiatives that I have referred to over the last year – the green burial ground, the EarthShare organic CSA box scheme, the recently-opened Moray Arts Centre, the Living Routes educational programme that brings undergraduates from US universities here to study, the wind turbines, the Eko community currency, the link with the Kitezh orphan’s ecovillage in Russia, the cluster of ‘whisky barrel houses and so on – almost none can in any sense be said to have been created by the Findhorn community as an entity.

Rather, pretty much all of these initiatives have been the brainchild of individuals or small groups of individuals within the community. There is no master plan! Inspired, anarchic creativity comes closer to the mark. In this sense, the Findhorn community can be seen as a yin holding vessel that permits the proliferation of yang programmes and projects.

I think that this has been key to our continuing vitality. This is always a challenge for mature organisations; as operations become larger, more complex and inevitably more bureaucratic, how to retain freshness and inspiration? The way I see it, what is happening here is that while some of the more mature organisations within the community are passing into dignified middle-age, the raft of new, visionary initiatives being born keeps alive the spirit of vitality and inspiration.

I would argue that the aliveness and robust good health of the community lies close to the heart of this proliferation of new initiatives. Over and over again, I note that the dominant response to increasingly serious challenges, especially on the climate change and peak oil fronts, is one of determined (and often even optimistic) engagement. This comes so much more easily to a community built around a core of shared values that consciously seeks to be of service to something larger than itself.

So, another year has turned. Another intake of Living Routes students dazzles us with their creativity and sweetness. Another group of 30 or so social and environmental activists from various parts of the world – including Burma, Gambia, Chile, Argentina, India and Nepal – has joined us for our annual month-long Ecovillage Design Education programme.

And, high up in the skies, the geese sing to us of the long, slow turning of the Earth, whose children we all are. The pulse that sends them down to Findhorn Bay in their clamorous throngs every autumn is the same pulse that ties us all in to the web of life.

In the words of Mary Oliver:

“Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

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.
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.