Whenever I mentioned to people in ‘the real world’ that I was planning on visiting the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, I was greeted with mocking responses such as “Oh you mean wolly jumpers, lentils and open-toe sandles?” The Findhorn Foundation is a sustainable living community full of eco-houses and a retreat for spiritual / personal development, working in harmony / collaboration with nature and other human beings to form a veritable utopia. It was founded by Peter and Eileen Caddy, who due to seemingly unfortunate circumstances were forced to move their caravan and three sons to a derelict area of the park and had to learn to become completely self-sufficient. Eileen received guidance from a higher / inner divine source which she called ‘the still small voice within,’ and Peter was active in implementing the plans / instructions with unfaltering faith. They were also joined by Dorothy Maclean, who through meditation learned to commune with nature spirits known as ‘devas,’ that advised her on how to grow vegetables in unsavoury conditions. From the sandy soil grew huge plants, herbs, fruits and flowers and horticultural / soil experts came from miles around to marvel at the results. Hence, the garden became famous and the community grew. Today, the Findhorn Foundation is the centre of a widely diversified community of holistic businesses, service initiatives, retreat and workshop centres, artists, builders, book publishers and organic farms, all linked by a shared positive vision for humanity and the earth and a commitment to the practical spirituality established by its founders.
So, full of apprehension, I arrived at Cluny Hill College (aka Hogwarts) on Saturday morning with my friend Ian, who was due to move into Newbold House, having quit his job and left his flat in Swansea in favour of the Findhorn lifestyle. He had encouraged me to visit by talking so enthusiastically of his experiences and by sending me gifts such as a book entitled ‘The Magic Of Findhorn’ by Paul Hawken and the ‘Experience Week’ song by Mike Scott of the Waterboys. After registering for the course, I sat on a small bench in the garden, opposite the ‘contemplation’ sculpture, which was a Buddha-esque / meditation figure, in order to calm my nerves. And I briefly explored the ‘new age’ shop where there was a Buddha ornament which appeared exactly like my housemates, only smaller, so I conspired to purchase one so I could swap them on my return as a practical joke.
I met the rest of my experience week group after lunch; there were 3 boys and 9 girls altogether and 2 focalisers / leaders, Paul and Catherine. After a brief exercise in which we were encouraged to visualise our journey, we were invited to share why we decided to visit Findhorn. I spoke of how I was interested in spiritual books and new age theories and how fascinating it would be to see people living their lives everyday according to such principles ie: consulting their inner wisdom / higher consciousness and manifesting reality etc. I am also endeavouring to get out into the world more often, since suffering from anxiety and depression for many years. I also talked of the previous day, about staying over in Ian’s caravan and meeting the people of Newbold House who were an example of community living in action. Whilst in the company of a German man called Volkmar, I commented how it seemed that women often outnumbered the men during experience weeks at Findhorn and he replied, “well at certain workshops ie: on ‘free love and sexuality,’ you’ll find that the men outnumber the women!”
Sunday morning featured ‘sacred dance’ with a lively, eccentric teacher who was barefoot with a beard. Although it was obvious other members were enjoying the folk-esque dancing, I prefer gentler movements these days ie: I am considering taking up tai chi. In the afternoon, we travelled over to the Park, a beautiful and quaint, almost fairy-tale village. I enjoyed the group meditation in the Sanctuary. It is not something I am particularly familiar with and am uncertain whether I’d have the patience / discipline to practice by myself but in a group with a voice guiding you, it is amazing. And when sitting inside the Nature Sanctuary (aka the Hobbit’s House) during the tour, I felt electricity in my hands and feet, like pins and needles, a tingling sensation. It was most surreal, so I definitely felt a resonance with the place and surroundings.
On the way home, we visited Findhorn beach for a few minutes and I became slightly emotional over what work chores I would be assigned for the week. We then had an ‘attunement,’ whereby we were encouraged to listen to our intuition and select a location and department. There were 4 types available: Homecare, Kitchen, Garden and Maintenance. Due to the early start at the Park, I was actually considering working at Cluny but in the end, decided to listen to my heart instead of my head. Throughout the session, I kept visualising the original caravan and the garden surrounding it and took this as an indication / sign to choose park maintenance. I also remember having a pang of anxiety that everyone would choose it and I’d be forced to pick something else but luckily Paul started talking about how we could be doing anything including cleaning toilets and I felt relieved as I knew that would put folks off.
On Monday, I was scraping paint off a house in Bagend, which was a housing development beyond the ‘Field Of Dreams’ where the main eco-houses lived. Being outdoors with the wind blowing on my face in such a beautiful setting was refreshing but I had difficulty dealing with the dirt / dust. I tried hard to let the obsession of it being absorbed into my body go and imagine it floating away instead. Catherine had suggested we relate any work chore to something internal ie: if you are pulling weeds, imagine you are removing them from inside yourself. This seemed a familiar concept because when I am being productive and organised, tidying html code etc, I often feel like I am ordering my life. And when I am clearing away junk and dematerialising, I feel so cathartic. (See Do you de-clutter and re-organise? blog) At Findhorn, they describe work as ‘love in action’ and you can take your time and even have a break if required. Jobs are chosen on a particular day based on what people feel up to doing or are drawn to. It was also interesting to hear ‘sharing’ in a different setting (park maintenance) with different people. Members talked openly about a particular thought they’d been pondering or a dream they had had the previous night.
In the afternoon, we had discovery games in the ballroom. Again, I didn’t enjoy any of the energetic games, since I am looking for activities that calm me down but reveled in those featuring questions about yourself and in particular an exercise involving planet visualisation. My chosen planet appeared like Saturn and on the first underground layer, I imagined lots of little men (possibly elves) digging and doing various other everyday activities. It was a very chaotic scene. The next layer was more serene; a misty mountain landscape against the backdrop of a setting sun and naturally, the core was a giant ball of light. Personally, I felt uncomfortable with all the human contact, preferring to connect with most people through conversation, a mental or spiritual connection rather than a physical one. I reached the conclusion that this is one reason I like the internet; it is just mind to mind and often feels like contributing to a collective global consciousness. (See The Internet: One Giant Brain? blog)
By Tuesday, I was craving all the physical needs: sleep, food and warmth but emotionally, I was feeling rather content. My job involved sanding down paint filler on the sheds in preparation for painting. When standing on the ladder, I could feel the comforting sun on my face and I noticed some needles hanging from the roof in the shape of a star or pentagram. A gentleman with long grey hair in a ponytail asked me what I was contemplating and after explaining, he commented, “Ah yes, it has been ordered or arranged,” or words to that effect. This reminded me how wonderful it was to be around so many kooky folks, whereas ordinary people from the outside world would be more likely to laugh and ask what drugs you are on. By kooky, I am referring to those of a spiritual nature who have a combination of unique qualities such as depth, intelligence, open-mindedness and who are always exploring and questioning life, death and everything else. During the break, I was sat quietly on the sofas in the community centre listening to Michael play the guitar, while people mingled around him, sipping cups of tea and catching up with friends. It was a highly carefree and friendly environment. And it was safe too; I never felt like my personal belongings, my purse or camera would be stolen and this idea was reinforced by there being no locks on the bedroom doors.
The afternoon consisted of a trip to Randolph’s Leap, a beautiful reservoir of nature, featuring lichen covered mossy trees, sparkling rocks and a flowing river. Allegedly, Pan, the god of nature, a faun-like creature has been sighted at this particular location. We were encouraged to spend some time alone in nature and to be mindful ie: to notice the intricate details and beauty of the world. I wandered around for a while and settled between two tall trees on a cliff edge. In between them was a large rock pointing out towards the river flowing beneath. I was planning to read but found myself just sitting contemplating events of the day and absorbing my surroundings. And to my utter surprise, underneath the tree nearest me, I found a note saying “I love you dear tree, I promise to stay connected, Mary.” On occasion during the afternoon, I noticed that my hands felt light as feathers, which seemed to be related to the morning’s mediation and reaching a level of stillness where I could no longer feel my hands. It felt as if there was just empty space between my arms. There were also times when I was holding hands within the group during ‘tuning in / out’ and felt a warm glow of energy between us, so it was beginning to feel as if something magical was happening at Findhorn.
Wednesday involved learning about ‘Earthshare’ and participating in ploughing the fields on a nearby farm. In the afternoon, we visited the Morray Art Centre at the Park and were encouraged to draw like a child. As a web designer, I’m always tightening things up, making them more efficient and precise so I struggled with this exercise because I desperately wanted to be neat rather than messy. I was afraid to put marks on the paper because I wanted everything to be perfect. I’d like to encourage the artist feeling of letting go, so am considering doing some life drawing or returning for the ‘Healing Through Art’ course in the spring. One thought that sprang to mind was how a friend of mine from art college always described certain mediums as being forgiving, ie: pencils or pastels are forgiving as if you make mistakes you can erase or correct them easily. It just seemed apt as our group angel / angelic quality for the week was forgiveness.
Thursday evening involved some exercises related to switching negatives into positives. In pairs, we had to debate issues from each side within 10 second intervals. I choose the theme of whether it is possible to separate love / feelings and sex. We were also told to think of some insight we had reached during the week. I thought about how I seem to keep attracting romantic partners who use and abuse me so had decided to keep chanting the mantra, “I am deserving of love.” We were told to think of a situation in which we were happy and click our fingers 3 times and to select a related word and so naturally I chose ‘Love.’ Then we performed a ceremony whereby we lit each other’s candles around the circle and passed on the gift of our chosen word. It was beautiful.
On Friday, during the completion, I revealed something very personal about myself and later Catherine informed me she had received some guidance, “That it wasn’t an illness / disorder, it had originated from a past life.” She suggested I read a book entitled, ‘Many Lives, Many Masters,’ which I have since ordered online along with a book called ‘The Quest’ about how to implement practical spirituality in everyday life. In the group sharing, I also described how there seemed to be no difference between folks from all over the world. I thought I’d feel alienated and alone since I am a hermit and not particularly well-travelled but personalities seemed to transcend any language or cultural barriers. I remembered one conversation in particular involving two Norweigians and an Icelander. I sat there oblivious to what they were discussing and Ove pointed at me and said in his native tongue, “She doesn’t know what we are talking about.” Then, Gis and I discovered that we were both web designers and began talking about design programs and web-based jargon, and Camilla piped up, “Now we don’t understand!” It was absolutely priceless.
I wouldn’t call it a break / holiday because it was overwhelming and exhausting at times but definitely a spiritually enlightening and revealing experience. Even life-changing perhaps… So I went to Forres train station, slightly sad to be leaving but relieved to be going home and prepared for my all-day train journey. And Ian was quite right, it was like returning to life amongst the muggles. All of a sudden, I felt submersed in the negative energy of the real world: fighting neighbours, trivial discussions on sport and general anger and frustration. They had insisted at the Findhorn Foundation, that it wasn’t a utopia; that they have the same problems as other communities / societies but in my humble opinion, it’s possibly one of the closest things to heaven, you’ll ever find on earth.