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 Femicide Census honours the victims of gender violence

The survey shows that the majority of women who are killed by men suffer their fate at the hands of a current or former partner.

 

The phrase “isolated incident” often turns up in media reports when a man kills a woman. The police use it at press conferences. It’s a code: it means the story ends here, no one else is in danger, the rest of the world can sleep safe because this particular killer does not have his sights on anyone else.

Thanks to the Femicide Census – a collaboration between Women’s Aid and nia, two specialist services dealing with violence against women – we now know how many of those “isolated incidents” there are, in England and Wales at least. Between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2015, it was nearly a thousand: 936 women (aged 14 and over) were killed by men in seven years.

As the census reveals, the killing of women follows a very different pattern to the killing of men, although there is one thing both groups of victims have in common: their killers are almost always men.

But female victims are more likely to know their killer than male victims. In fact, they usually know him very well: 598 (64%) of the women were killed by a current or former partner, 75 (8%) by their son, 45 (4.8%) by another male family member. Killing is often what the census describes as “the final act of control”: not an “isolated incident”, but the culmination of a long campaign of coercion and violence.

This means that trends in femicide – the killing of a woman by a man – don’t match the overall homicide trend, as a 2011 UN study found when it noted that the overall rate of homicide had fallen while killings of women remained stable. But official records have long failed to recognise this difference, and there were no statistics specifically on men’s fatal violence against women until 2012, when Karen Ingala Smith (CEO of nia) started cataloguing reports of women killed by men on her personal blog, a project she called Counting Dead Women.

That was the start of the Femicide Census, now a high-powered data project on a platform developed by Deloitte. The list has been expanded so that victim-killer relationship, method of killing, age, occupation, ethnicity, health status and nationality can all be explored.

Or rather, these factors can be explored when they’re known. What gets reported is selective, and that selection tells a great a deal about what is considered valuable in a woman, and what kind of woman is valued. As the census notes: “almost without exception, it was easier to find out whether or not the victim had been a mother than it was to find out where she worked”.

Killings of black, Asian, minority ethnicity and refugee women receive vastly less media coverage than white women – especially young, attractive white women whose deaths fulfil the stranger-danger narrative. (Not that this is a competition with any winners. When the press reports on its favoured victims, the tone is often objectifying and fetishistic.)

Women’s chances of being killed are highest among the 36-45 age group, then decline until 66+ when they jump up again. These are often framed by the perpetrators as “mercy killings”, although the sincerity of that mercy can be judged by one of the male killers quoted in the census: “‘I did not want her to become a decrepit old hag.”

Another important finding in the census is that 21 of the women killed between 2009 and 2015 were involved in pornography and/or prostitution, including two transwomen. The majority of these victims (13 women) were killed by clients, a grim indictment of the sex trade. The most chilling category of victim, though, is perhaps the group of five called “symbolic woman”, which means “cases where a man sought to kill a woman – any woman”. In the purest sense, these are women who were killed for being women, by men who chose them as the outlet for misogynist aggression.

The truth about men’s fatal violence against women has for too many years been obscured under the “isolated incident”. The Femicide Census begins to put that ignorance right: when a man kills a woman, he may act alone, but he acts as part of a culture that normalises men’s possession of women, the availability of women for sexual use, the right to use force against non-compliant or inconvenient women.

With knowledge, action becomes possible: the Femicide Census is a clarion call for specialist refuge services, for support to help women exit prostitution, for drastic reform of attitudes and understanding at every level of society. But the census is also an act of honour to the dead. Over two pages, the census prints the names of all the women to whom it is dedicated: all the women killed by men over the six years it covers. Not “isolated incidents” but women who mattered, women who are mourned, women brutally killed by men, and women in whose memory we must work to prevent future male violence, armed with everything the census tells us.

 

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.