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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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear