A tribute to Eileen Caddy

Jonathan Dawson pays tribute to Findhorn co-founder Eileen Caddy who has died aged 89

This week saw the death of Eileen Caddy, one of the co-founders of the Findhorn community, at the age of 89. Eileen has been a treasure and a huge source of inspiration to the community.

The last of the many gifts that she gave was the clear instruction that her passing be a cause for thanksgiving rather than mourning and, true to her wish, the community seems almost to have an extra skip in its step this week.

So many glorious stories surround Eileen and the other early pioneers who were involved in the creation of this settlement back in the early 1960s. Most centre around her unwavering obedience to the guidance she received from the inner source that she called ‘the God Within’.

This guidance ranged from the bizarre (‘Build a community centre that can seat 200 people’ at a time when there was neither money in the bank nor any plans to create a community as such) to the unexpected (‘if the caravan you are sharing with six others is too noisy, go meditate in the public toilets’ – she did, for years) to the many gems of wisdom on achieving stillness and connecting with inner divinity that were later collected into the book ‘Opening Doors Within’.

Whether it made obvious sense or not, Eileen’s guidance was the compass by which the emerging community steered.

The key moment in defining the nature of the community came in 1971 when Eileen returned from a meditation with the guidance that it was now up to members to get their own guidance – no longer would she be the sole source of authority. This mirrors a tricky moment in the evolution of many intentional communities: how to stage the transition from the founders to the next generation?

This is all the more difficult in cases like Findhorn, where the authority of the first, founding generation is recognized as being divinely inspired. Eileen’s guidance ensured the transition to a mature community that had to find the wisdom and inspiration to make its own decisions.

Guidance remains at the heart of our decision-making structures to this day. So, meetings tend to begin and end with periods of silence and are often punctuated with short meditations. For sure, there is no guarantee that peoples’ guidance will always coincide – make of that what you will! However, the attempt to gain access to deeper sources of wisdom is surely laudable, on the premise alone that the intelligence potentially available to us is not limited to the rational mind.

Take, for example, the new piece of land just to the south of the built settlement that is coming up for development, called Duneland. We could limit our process around this to rational discussions involving planners and architects. What we have chosen to do is to walk the boundaries of the land singing, to sit in the land getting to know its moods and shapes more intimately, to seek to create a silence in which the spirit of the land and of the other creatures that share it can communicate with us.

This is not just more fun than heady discussions in darkened rooms – though we are no strangers to these too! – but is also capable of opening us up to wisdom that can only accessed in stillness; we are ever seeking ways of listening more deeply to the vibrations of the web in which we are but one thread.

This is the legacy that Eileen and her co-founders have left to us. For this, and so much else, thank you.

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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.