Divine guidance in public toilets

Jonathan Dawson explores the mysterious and unconventional origins of Findhorn

A sure sign that we are indeed becoming a village is that the community has its own weekly newspaper, the Rainbow Bridge (named after the bridge linking mortals and the gods in Norse mythology).

‘The Bridge’ is a 50-odd page compilation of reflections, dialogue, letters, information and advertisements for upcoming courses, job adverts, houses to let – the usual kind of stuff you would expect to find in any local paper.

However, the inside front page is unmistakably and distinctively Findhorn. Here, every week, we have ‘Guidance Through Eileen’ and a short inspirational piece drawn from the writings of Dorothy Maclean. Dorothy and Eileen (Caddy) were two of our founding elders.

This week’s pieces are on the subject of love: ‘Love is the key that opens all doors. Love is the light that lightens all darkness’, Eileen’s piece begins. At this point, we seem to be deviating from the staple fare of the weekly village paper.

The weekly guidance in The Bridge forms a very direct and tangible link with our roots. For the first wayward seed that was to blossom into today’s community blew up on this windswept stretch of Scottish coastline in response to divine guidance channelled through Eileen.

Eileen had strong and clear access to ‘the still, small voice’ of God and the early years of the nascent community were strongly driven by the guidance she received, implemented with some rigour by her husband, former military man, Peter.

(In a comic twist and as if to dispel any possibility of spiritual preciousness arising, Eileen was by now meditating and seeking guidance in the caravan park’s public toilets, where she retreated to get some peace from the noisy caravan she shared with her young family).

In fact, in those early years, the founders had not even conceived of the idea of creating a community. This emerged only over time by way of guidance received by Eileen, such as they should build a community centre capable of feeding 200 people.

Since hands were few, financial resources scarce and no-one could imagine the logic behind such guidance, this seemed like an unlikely venture to embark on.

However, so sure was the founding group’s conviction that Eileen’s guidance was divinely inspired that they set to work at once. Miraculously and against all the odds, the right people with the right skills arrived on cue and the necessary money poured in.

One of my own pivotal moments in deciding to come to live here was looking at the ‘before and after’ photos that compare the Findhorn Bay caravan park in the early 60s and the early 70s. The first set of shots show little more than a few isolated caravans on sandy duneland leaning disconsolately into the apparently unrelenting wind.

A decade later and the same landscape had been transformed into a riot of flowers, bushes and trees, framing a series of elegant wooden bungalows. In between, pictures of great gangs of happy-looking people digging trenches, building houses, planting trees.

A decisive moment in the community’s history arrived in the early 70s with Eileen returning from a meditation with the guidance – ‘no more guidance, you each have to access your own’.

This was wise guidance indeed, for it enabled the community to make the transition gracefully beyond dependence on powerful founding figures into a more mature and self-governing body.(This transition is a rock upon which many young communities and other initiatives of all kinds have foundered.)

Guidance remains central to our decision-making processes. The community was built on deep faith in an intelligence beyond the mind to which we all have access.

So it is that to this day, after issues of import have been considered, discussed and pondered, we enter a silent meditative space, allowing ourselves to open to a wisdom that is not accessible to the rational mind.

In my experience, this is a most useful thing to do on every level. It slows us down, softens the tendency of the mind to polarise and to see things in black and white, opens up possibilities of both/and where only either/or had previously been apparent, creates softness, defuses conflict.

But what happens when people of good faith seek guidance and emerge with different – and apparently incompatible – answers?

Of more urgent and practical importance, how does a community based on the primacy of guidance over the humdrum rules of the marketplace respond when the figures do not add up and it begins to slip heavily into the red?

This is no hypothetical question, for by 2000, the Findhorn Foundation found itself almost a million pounds in debt, with its bankers twitching nervously.

The competing claims of guidance and the need for financial solvency played out – and continue to play out – in the most fascinating way. I will return to tell this story in next week’s blog.

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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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