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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle