There is an amusing mismatch between the perceptions that many people have of life in an ecovillage and the actual day-to-day reality. This is reflected in the kinds of questions that communards tend to get asked when out in more mainstream society.
‘Don’t you mostly all sleep in dormitories (or yurts!)? I don’t think I could handle that.’
‘How do you manage with so little personal space?’
‘How much pocket-money are you given?’
And there are often questions that delicately and circuitously seek to gain insights into sexual life in communities – questions that often hint at fevered imaginings of what communal sexuality as a lifestyle might look like.
Sorry to disappoint. In many respects, Findhorn feels not so different from many other villages. There are some shared living spaces, but no-one lives in dormitories. Most people have a reasonable amount of private space and any shortage in this department is more than compensated for by an abundance of community spaces – theatre, craft workshops, community centre, saunas, hot tubs and so on.
Everyone earns salaries, many of which admittedly are not generous, but reflect what I suspect may be approximating long-term sustainable levels of purchasing power if we are to live within the planet’s means.
Most interesting of all (once again, sorry for the let-down), I am not sure I have ever lived in a place that is more sexually restrained. This, I think, is for two reasons. First, sexual energy is powerful and explosive, capable of generating both joy and suffering. In our conscious efforts to create a community of love and compassion, I suspect that most people here choose not to engage in casual sex at least in part out of a desire not to contribute to the suffering of others. They tend generally to leap after having had a long and considered look.
The second reason for restraint is altogether more down to earth. Relationship breakdown and its aftermath can be messy and painful, as former partners develop new liaisons while still living nearby and in view. This breeds caution.
However, whether their reasons are based in reality or not, it seems unlikely in the foreseeable future that most people will choose to live in ecovillages such as Findhorn. As a sustainability practitioner, this opens up the question for me as to how ecovillages can be of most service and relevance to the wider sustainability movement of which we form part. If, as seems likely, ecovillages will remain a minority, if not marginal, pursuit as a lifestyle choice, how are we to remain a vibrant resource to the growing surge of sustainability initiatives sweeping the country?
This last week, I went in pursuit of some answers to this question. A speaking engagement in Hereford and just two days later the Schumacher Society lectures in Bristol gave me a structure around which to plan a week of visits to sustainability initiatives involving government, business and civil society.
To explore the various themes that emerged during this last week deserves more space than I have here, so I will return to it in next week’s blog. However, I want leave you with an image that came to me during the week as I explored the astonishing wave of imagination and creativity that is building.
The image is of the waters of globalised economic activity dropping (in the face of steadily rising energy prices) to reveal initially isolated islands but eventually whole archipelagos of islands of sustainable models that currently lie just below the water-line. These are the community-owned agriculture and renewables schemes, the farmers’ markets, the alternative currency systems, the earth-based eco-education centres, the closed-loop waste-recycling businesses and so on that folk are currently working on up and down the country.
This is a time not for despondency about powerlessness in the face of the prevailing ugliness and waste – but for excitement at the shape of the new emerging from below the waves.