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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Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours - but at what price?

The tensions date back to the maverick rule of Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

For much of the two decades plus since Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father to become emir of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich emirate’s foreign policy has been built around two guiding principles: differentiating itself from its Gulf neighbours, particularly the regional Arab hegemon Saudi Arabia, and insulating itself from Saudi influence. Over the past two months, Hamad’s strategy has been put to the test. From a Qatari perspective it has paid off. But at what cost?

When Hamad became emir in 1995, he instantly ruffled feathers. He walked out of a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) because, he believed, Saudi Arabia had jumped the queue to take on the council’s rotating presidency. Hamad also spurned the offer of mediation from the then-President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. This further angered his neighbours, who began making public overtures towards Khalifa, the deposed emir, who was soon in Abu Dhabi and promising a swift return to power in Doha. In 1996, Hamad accused Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE of sponsoring a coup attempt against Hamad, bringing GCC relations to a then-all-time low.

Read more: How to end the stand off in the Gulf

The spat was ultimately resolved, as were a series of border and territory disputes between Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but mistrust of Hamad - and vice versa - has lingered ever since. As crown prince, Hamad and his key ally Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani had pushed for Qatar to throw off what they saw as the yoke of Saudi dominance in the Gulf, in part by developing the country’s huge gas reserves and exporting liquefied gas on ships, rather than through pipelines that ran through neighbouring states. Doing so freed Qatar from the influence of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Saudi-dominated oil cartel which sets oil output levels and tries to set oil market prices, but does not have a say on gas production. It also helped the country avoid entering into a mooted GCC-wide gas network that would have seen its neighbours control transport links or dictate the – likely low - price for its main natural resource.

Qatar has since become the richest per-capita country in the world. Hamad invested the windfall in soft power, building the Al Jazeera media network and spending freely in developing and conflict-afflicted countries. By developing its gas resources in joint venture with Western firms including the US’s Exxon Mobil and France’s Total, it has created important relationships with senior officials in those countries. Its decision to house a major US military base – the Al Udeid facility is the largest American base in the Middle East, and is crucial to US military efforts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – Qatar has made itself an important partner to a major Western power. Turkey, a regional ally, has also built a military base in Qatar.

Hamad and Hamad bin Jassem also worked to place themselves as mediators in a range of conflicts in Sudan, Somalia and Yemen and beyond, and as a base for exiled dissidents. They sold Qatar as a promoter of dialogue and tolerance, although there is an open question as to whether this attitude extends to Qatar itself. The country, much like its neighbours, is still an absolute monarchy in which there is little in the way of real free speech or space for dissent. Qatar’s critics, meanwhile, argue that its claims to promote human rights and free speech really boil down to an attempt to empower the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha funded Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups during and after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, while Al Jazeera cheerleaded protest movements, much to the chagrin of Qatar's neighbours. They see the group as a powerful threat to their dynastic rule and argue that the Brotherhood is a “gateway drug” to jihadism. In 2013,  after Western allies became concerned that Qatar had inadvertently funded jihadist groups in Libya and Syria, Hamad was forced to step down in favour of his son Tamim. Soon, Tamim came under pressure from Qatar’s neighbours to rein in his father’s maverick policies.

Today, Qatar has a high degree of economic independence from its neighbours and powerful friends abroad. Officials in Doha reckon that this should be enough to stave off the advances of the “Quad” of countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - that have been trying to isolate the emirate since June. They have been doing this by cutting off diplomatic and trade ties, and labelling Qatar a state sponsor of terror groups. For the Quad, the aim is to end what it sees as Qatar’s disruptive presence in the region. For officials in Doha, it is an attempt to impinge on the country’s sovereignty and turn Qatar into a vassal state. So far, the strategies put in place by Hamad to insure Qatar from regional pressure have paid off. But how long can this last?

Qatar’s Western allies are also Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s. Thus far, they have been paralysed by indecision over the standoff, and after failed mediation attempts have decided to leave the task of resolving what they see as a “family affair” to the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Sabah. As long as the Quad limits itself to economic and diplomatic attacks, they are unlikely to pick a side. It is by no means clear they would side with Doha in a pinch (President Trump, in defiance of the US foreign policy establishment, has made his feelings clear on the issue). Although accusations that Qatar sponsors extremists are no more true than similar charges made against Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – sympathetic local populations and lax banking regulations tend to be the major issue – few Western politicians want to be seen backing an ally, that in turn many diplomats see as backing multiple horses.

Meanwhile, although Qatar is a rich country, the standoff is hurting its economy. Reuters reports that there are concerns that the country’s massive $300bn in foreign assets might not be as liquid as many assume. This means that although it has plenty of money abroad, it could face a cash crunch if the crisis rolls on.

Qatar might not like its neighbours, but it can’t simply cut itself off from the Gulf and float on to a new location. At some point, there will need to be a resolution. But with the Quad seemingly happy with the current status quo, and Hamad’s insurance policies paying off, a solution looks some way off.

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