Findhorn's global reach

Jonathan reports from Wongsanit ashram in Thailand where he is on behalf of the Global Ecovillage Ne

Findhorn's boundaries extend far beyond these few acres of land in a distant corner of the north of Scotland. For, what has happened here over the last 45 years or so has struck a deep chord that has truly resonated globally. I never cease to be amazed at the reaction that mention of the F-word evinces in all sorts of folks I have met around the world.

I think immediately of Maria, a land-rights activist living among indigenous people in the interior of Mexico that I met at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

- 'Where are you from' she asked.
- 'Scotland'.
- 'Oh, which part?'
- 'A small village near Inverness' (No point in going further than this, thinks I. I have almost certainly exhausted her knowledge of Scottish geography already.)
- 'What is its name?'
- 'Findhorn.'

At the time, I wrote of what happened next in the following terms: 'Maria did not sink to her knees, cross herself and chant the names of all the saints of Christendom in thanksgiving, but it looked as if it took all her powers of self-control not to do so'.

Maria had never even been to Findhorn! She had read one of the early Findhorn books and had some kind of 'experience' – a form of vision, she said – and immediately left her life of luxury in the city to commit herself to activism with and for Mexico's poor and marginalised.

I have lost count of the number of similar stories I have heard over the last six years I have been representing Findhorn and GEN (the Global Ecovillage Network) in international gatherings. In most cases, those affected by the Findhorn magic had been there. But in a good number of others, like Maria they had not.

So, what is it that Findhorn represents that had struck so deep a chord in so many people? The appeal, I would say, can be captured in three words – spirit, community and simplicity.

Remember that Findhorn was created in an era, the early 1960s, characterised by great optimism in the forces of progress and development. Remember Harold Wilson's 'great, white heat of technology' speech? The Findhorn message of humility, simplicity and attuning with the divine would have had decidedly minority appeal in that era. However, as the myth of progress has become progressively tarnished in recent decades, the Findhorn ethic has made something of a comeback.

In the poorer countries of the global South, the virtues of spirit, community and simplicity were always held in higher regard. It is here that some of our strongest and most rewarding relationships lie.

So it is that I am now sitting at the Wongsanit ashram, about an hour outside of Bangkok, preparing for a series of meetings associated with the Global Ecovillage Network. Wongsanit is a Buddhist community devoted to 'developing and promoting an alternative lifestyle that is grounded in Dharma, cultural diversity, and environmental sustainability.' Among other things, it is engaged in grassroots leadership training, under its Spirit in Education programme, for communities in Thailand and in the neighbouring countries of Cambodia, Laos and Burma.

Strong ties exist between Wongsanit and Findhorn. Findhorners teach programmes here, while an ashram member (who happens to be married to a Findhorner) leads courses in Findhorn. Meanwhile, we have hosted members from the ashram and from their Spirit in Education network in each of the nine years that our ecovillage training programme has run. As I walk around the ashram, I am surrounded by familiar faces.

The links with Wongsanit and other sister communities of the South enrich us greatly. Not least, their engagement in programmes on behalf of some of the world's poorest and most marginalised people helps to ground us and keep us aligned with the struggle for global justice.

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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Something is missing from the UK’s draft transition agreement with the EU

The talks could go to extra time.

The European Union has published its draft transition agreement with the United Kingdom, setting out the terms of the standstill period after March 2019, when the UK will have formally left the EU, but its new relationship with the bloc has not yet been negotiated.

There is a lot in there, and the particularly politically-difficult part as far as the government is concerned is fishing: under the agreement, the United Kingdom will remain subject to the Common Fisheries Policy during the period of transition, and two Scottish Conservative MPs, both of whom have large fishing communitiesin their seats, are threatening to vote against the deal as it stands.

But the more interesting part is what isn’t in there: any mechanism to extend the transition should the United Kingdom and the EU be unable to agree a new relationship by 2020. This is something that people on both sides believe is likely to be needed – but as it stands, there is no provision to do so.

The political problem for Theresa May is that some pro-Brexit MPs fear that transition will never end (which is why she persists in calling it an “implementation period” in public, despite the fact it is as clear as day that there will be nothing to be implemented, as the future relationship will only have been agreed in broad outline). So finding the right moment to include the ability to make transition open-ended is tricky.

The danger for the government (and everyone else) is that the moment never arrives, and that the United Kingdom either ends up making a agreement in haste, or not at all, in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.