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.
– ‘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?’
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.