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20 August 2007

Saying goodbye to an old friend

Jonathan Dawson marks the sudden passing of Findhorn resident Andrew Murray

By Jonathan Dawson


Ritual is a much-misunderstood aspect of human behaviour that we play with a lot here in Findhorn. The associations the word carries tend to be of austere esoteric rites that are practised only by the priestly castes. Here, our way of working with ritual is altogether more alive and democratic. It is seen as a tool that helps us truly connect with what is important in our lives and that we play with and adapt to serve our purposes.

These thoughts come to me in the context of yet another death in the community (there seem to have been so many over the last year or so). Last week, Andrew Murray, a young, slim and fit 61 year-old who has been here in the community for decades, following a long and cheerful afternoon meeting on the design of a new housing cluster of which he is a member, simply dropped dead.

Andrew is much loved in the community and there was a deep sense of shock. The next morning, and for each of the succeeding six mornings, many community members met at 7.00am in the Universal Hall to conduct an ancient Buddhist ritual – the sounding of 107-‘Om’s (‘Om’, in the Buddhist tradition, is the ‘divine syllable’ that encapsulates infinite truth.) The sounding of 107 Oms is a ritual used to help the spirit of the deceased break and release the ties that hold him to this material world.

As with all good rituals, the power is in the doing at least as much as in the believing. So, while I have spent time in meditation retreats and am interested in Buddhist ways of seeing and interpreting the world, the notion that by repetitively sounding a sacred mantra from an oriental tradition could be of much relevance to Andrew was not immediately obvious to me.

However, the experience of rising in the early morning and singing for an hour with over a hundred others, all of whom were holding Andrew deep in their grieving hearts was immeasurably powerful. It served to unite us in our remembering and celebration of Andrew and to bring us face-to-face in a very real and tangible way with the transient nature of all things.

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There is so much about Andrew that I love. My first contact with him was as a participant on a training programme he and a colleague, Ben, were teaching on conflict facilitation. He was a master in the art of using the energy inherent in conflict in positive ways. His teaching was that rather than fleeing conflict, we should try to harness it to deepen connection and understanding. He gave us the tools to do this. ‘Conflict is always a plea for greater intimacy’, he would say.

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Shortly before the course, my father had passed away. He had seen deep conflict among his siblings over a disputed will and was determined that this pattern would not be handed on to the next generation. So, he assured us, twinkle-eyed and smiling, that he would leave us so little in his own will there would be nothing to fight over. My three brothers and I each got £1,000 with the instruction that it be used not to pay the bills but for something memorable.

Dad was a great peace-maker. His values were framed by the action he saw during the war in North Africa and Italy, including the experience of being the only member of a tank crew to survive a direct hit.

So it was that I decided to blow his final bequest on Ben and Andrew’s conflict facilitation course. As a precious gift that will last me a lifetime, I could not have chosen more wisely. It was during this training that I first heard Andrew quote from the great fourteenth century Sufi poet, Rumi – in fact he loved and often repeated this quote and I cannot hear these words but spoken in Andrew’s wonderful, rich, actor-trained voice:

The path of love is not a subtle argument
The path there is devastation.
Birds make great sky circles of their freedom
How do they learn?
They fall
And in falling
Are given wings

Thank you Andrew.

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