Guiding the game

Standing in for Jonathan Dawson, Rhiannon Hanfman tells us about a game that has become an important


When Jonathan asked me to fill in for him again, I had just come out of a workshop called The Game of Transformation.

This workshop is possibly the most imaginative and original workshops offered by the Findhorn Foundation.

The Game of Transformation is just that — a game. Dice are rolled, pieces are moved, and players move towards an objective. The difference between this and other games is that the objective is not to win but to increase awareness and gain self-knowledge.

The idea of a game facilitating spiritual development is not new. I remember stories like Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, where mysterious monks in remote monasteries play games with incredibly complex and arcane rules. This is something like that but it’s a lot more fun.

Nevertheless, there are complex and arcane rules so every game has five players and two facilitators or guides. The guides are known as Game Overall Directors, or G.O.D. I am one of them. One guide writes everything that happens down in a chronicle for the players and the other facilitates the process.

The game was the brainchild of Joy Drake, who lived at Findhorn in the 70s. She thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a game that we could play on long winter evenings, like Monopoly but with more consciousness. She worked on the idea and, with the input of many others in the community, something began to emerge.

The process was creative and experimental. Different things were tried. Some worked, some didn’t. In the beginning it was a light-hearted exercise but it soon became apparent that something deeper was going on. The game seemed to develop a spirit of it’s own. This presence or energy became known as the Game Deva.

The Game Deva is mercurial, humourous, one minute frivolous, the next profound. It’s a bit of a trickster that leads you down some awful road and only at the end can you see why you had to go that way. It is a joyous, life-loving spirit. At least that is how I experience it.
The Monopoly analogy fits but rather acquiring property and wealth, players acquires self-knowledge and self-acceptance. The game symbolically re-enacts the journey of life and each player enters the game with a purpose or intention. They are ‘born’, and are gifted with free will and intuition with which they can create their game. On their life path, they experience insights and setbacks; miracles and dark nights of the soul; opportunities to serve, appreciations and nature experiences, pain and joy.

How can a game, however complex, facilitate spiritual development and personal growth? I think it is this: we play games in much the same way as we live our lives. We react in the same way and make decisions in the same way. In our real lives much of this may be unconscious but in the structured environment of the game, patterns become apparent and what we do is reflected back to us very clearly. This can be a real eye opener.

The game in its various forms has been part of the life of Findhorn since its inception. In addition to the original version we use in workshops for guests, there is an abbreviated version, the Box Game, that is frequently played by departments within the Foundation to clarify their issues and by individuals for any number of reasons. The Angel Cards that are used ubiquitously here came from the game.

The game absorbed me completely last week as it tends to do and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love guiding the game and feel it’s a privilege to see my five players blossom and change so profoundly in such a short space of time.

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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad