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.
Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.