Economic worries and divine intervention

Jonathan Dawson discusses the financial problems at Findhorn and the village's unique way of dealing

So, last week, I left the Findhorn Foundation dangling over the edge of a cliff (in the form of an £800,000 debt) and torn between divine guidance and economic discipline as escape strategies, with its bankers getting twitchy. In fact – I am afraid it is always thus with cliff-hanging episode-enders – the camera angle made the situation look more perilous than it actually was.

Though by 2000 the Foundation had run five straight years of deficits, a good chunk of this debt was incurred in one single necessary expenditure – the rewiring of its one of its two campuses, Cluny Hill College in the neighbouring town of Forres. Moreover, the Foundation had several million pounds worth of property assets and was never in any serious danger of going under.

Nonetheless, the very real liquidity crisis and the string of operating losses did raise important issues that went right to the heart of the community’s self-definition.

As explained in last week’s blog, guidance has always been core to the community’s decision-making processes. This has led us on many merry adventures that we would have been most unlikely to have embarked upon had we been governed by left-brain rationality and economic logic alone.

For some, this colourful and cavalier history appears to seen as proof that we are, in fact, exempt from the humdrum rules of the market. A number of senior members of the community, for example, left in protest when in the mid-70s the Foundation bought the hotel that now houses Cluny Hill College because it took out a bank loan to do so.

Such a course, so the argument went, was proof of a lack of faith in the community’s ability to manifest the cash necessary for the purchase. Since the decision to buy had been the result of guidance, so the logic went, we should have trusted that the cash would come in.

Similarly, by the late 90s, there was a voice within the community that the path out of our financial difficulties was by way of guidance and manifestation rather than self-imposed economic discipline. The former was presented as representing ‘abundance’ as opposed to ‘fear-driven’ thinking.

The then head of the Foundation’s management team, Mari Hollander, sees the period as an important turning point in the development of the community. Accounting systems and practices were improved, with each of the Foundation’s departments becoming more like cost-centres, with awareness for balancing costs and income. The Foundation received a few generous donations and sold several substantial property assets to members and supporters of the community.

Meanwhile, Foundation members rallied to the cause. A good number tithed and, where they could, deferred payment of their income to ease the squeeze.

In parallel, detailed decision-making, which had previously been in the hands of all the Foundation’s co-workers, was mandated to a management team – where it remains to this day. This team consults with a council of co-workers that sets strategic priorities on all key issues.

A five-year plan to get back into the black was designed. The goal was achieved in two years and the Foundation has made operating profits for each of the last five years.

Mari took a no-nonsense approach to the need for greater efficiency and financial savvy: “If we are to manifest our needs, we need to know what they are. If we are subsidising departments, we need to know.”

This is a down to earth wisdom that allows for the possibility that the divine may be found in the balance sheets as well as in the meditation sanctuary. That economic rigour and guidance allied with manifestation may be bed-fellows rather than in competition.

The trick, it seems to me, is to be aware of the financial bottom line but not necessarily to be driven by it. To leave space for the miraculous to happen, and to see economic intelligence not with suspicion but as a potential tool in facilitating the process. Do we have the balance right? Who knows? This is an ongoing and lively debate within an ever-evolving community.

An old traditional story has it that as the storm waters rose ever higher, a house-owner climbed up onto the roof of his house to escape the flood. Three times, rowing boats passed offering to take him to safety. Each time he refused to jump on board, declaring his faith in the Lord who he knew would come to save him. He drowned and went to Heaven where he asked God why He had let him down.

“I tried three times!”, God replies.

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.
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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage