Findhorn at 40
he story of the Findhorn Community in Northern Scotland has become one of the inspirational legends of the last forty years. It tells the tale of three individuals, a British couple and their Canadian friend, who found themselves unemployed and penniless in 1962. With nowhere else to turn, they towed their green caravan to a remote and windswept trailer park thirty miles east of Inverness and began to scratch a modest existence from the poor and sandy soil. But these were not ordinary people. Eileen Caddy, the mother of three young boys, had a disciplined contemplative practice that enabled her in moments of great quiet to hear “the still, small voice within.” Dorothy Maclean found that she had the gift of attunement to what she called the devas, the angelic presences within and behind the world of nature. And Peter Caddy, a former RAF officer and hotel manager, was an energetic man of action and strong intuition who reposed a profound faith in the spiritual attunement of his two colleagues.
Together, to their great surprise, they were guided to found a ‘center of light’, a non-sectarian spiritual community that would demonstrate to the world attunement to the divinity within all creation, co-operation with the spirits of nature, and service to the planet. It sounds hopelessly optimistic if not delusional but, amazingly, that is exactly what they proceeded to do. By the early Seventies people of every age group were coming to Findhorn from all over the world and among the tiny collection of caravans and bungalows there began to emerge a community center and then a pentagonal Universal Hall for meditation, performance and conferences. Then, as Findhorn’s fame grew, Cluny Hill College was added, a large Nineteenth Century hotel in the ancient town of Forres, which became the community’s center for its educational programs. Before the decade was over there was also a retreat house on the sacred island of Iona on the West Coast of Scotland and a sister community on the nearby isle of Erraid.
The following years were not always easy as the community faced the familiar litany of financial and political issues that confront any idealistic impulse. The pattern of visitors changed with the decades from Americans to Europeans to, more recently, Latins and Asians. Yet today Findhorn remains a thriving and dynamic international center with around five hundred people living within, or locally connected, to the community, and members from every continent. The tinny and freezing old caravans that accommodated the first members have now mostly been replaced by eco-friendly homes complete with a large windmill and Europe’s first living machine for water purification. True to the Scottish spirit, a handful of beautiful houses have been created from recycled whiskey barrels, and Findhorn aims to meet 100% of its energy needs from renewable sources within the next five years. It seems that everywhere straw bale homes, turf roofs, and solar panels are popping up to create one of Europe’s leading eco-villages. And dozens of local businesses have emerged from the Findhorn Foundation in fields such as healing, the arts, ecology, publishing and management consultancy. The place is, in fact, popping with creativity despite the wind, rain and northern darkness, and the frequent, deafening roar of jet engines from a nearby RAF base.
By any standards, this is a remarkable achievement. Although Findhorn’s profile is not as high in North America as it was twenty years ago, within Britain the community has become a widely recognized part of the cultural landscape. Its recent fortieth birthday was accompanied by full page articles in most national newspapers and a ten minute segment on the BBC’s most prestigious news program. Surprisingly, the coverage was almost all positive given the mainstream media’s well know skepticism about hippy follies, alternative spirituality and the existence of any kind of higher reality. Clearly the community has gradually earned the respect of a suspicious outside world. It has even become a United Nations NGO actively involved in events like the recent Johannesburg Summit on Sustainability and the attempt to propagate the idea of the 21st Century as an era when Restoring the Earth must become a leading international priority.
Even the founders can’t quite believe what’s happened. According to Dorothy Maclean, “All we knew was that we were trying to follow the wishes of the divine. That a community of hundreds of people, visited by thousands more would result is an incredible, awesome miracle. After forty years the loving magic we helped ground at Findhorn is still doing its work. One can only be thankful, grateful and amazed.” Certainly there was a mood of immense gratitude, conviviality, and good humor when two hundred former members returned in mid-November to celebrate the community’s fortieth birthday. For a week, a non-stop round of parties, performances, dances, and fireworks lit up the long northern darkness. Everywhere there were old friends now living in different parts of the planet renewing their connections after years or decades with little contact. One thing was abundantly clear: Findhorn has created an immense well of love that refreshes and bathes its former and current members and that seems to generate tremendous creativity.
In the corner of Cluny Hill lounge one morning, three former members sat comparing notes on their lives since leaving the community twenty years ago. They learned that between them they had written sixteen books on topics like leadership, sports psychology and organizational development, some of which were best sellers while others had been translated into eighteen languages. A sampling of other ex-members spoke of their current activities at a gathering in the Universal Hall one evening and revealed a remarkable array of talents and commitments. Now they develop organic farms in Brazil, work with aboriginal children in Australia, run holistic consulting firms in Holland, serve as officers of the Norwegian army in Bosnia and Kosovo, produce television shows on peace building in Northern Ireland, or conduct research at Edinburgh University on animal consciousness and the effects of factory farming.
The famous magic of Findhorn is clearly real. Despite the least promising of beginnings and in the face of a harsh climate in stark contrast to the balmy breezes of California’s Esalen, Findhorn has become an improbable powerhouse of consciousness and love. It has quietly spread its seeds across the globe to produce countless transformational initiatives. Why has it worked so well? Perhaps the essential humility its founders, the absence of any cult-like guru worship, the placement of attunement to nature at the center of community life, and the ongoing effort to listen to the inner voice have all contributed to its fundamental sanity and longevity. For Cultural Creatives today seeking to implement positive social change, the Findhorn story may ultimately be one of faith fulfilled. It reminds us that even in our prosaic material world filled with hindrances, when something is truly needed for the benefit of humanity, the patience, persistence and perseverance long advocated by Peter Caddy can actually make miracles happen. As Findhorn turns forty it does so with a spring in its step and a song in its heart, confident that the world is now more open than ever to the way of life it pioneered. Thankfully, we now have holistic centers in virtually every North American city, but for those who have a special love for the winter coats, the wooly hats, the chilly mornings and the soothing patter of Scottish rain on the sanctuary roof, there will only be one Findhorn.
Alan Watson Featherstone
Community member Alan Watson Featherstone is founder and director of Trees for Life, an award winning environmental initiative that is working to reforest the Scottish Highlands. Who are we to criticize the Brazilians and Indonesians for destroying indigenous forests, he argues, when the notorious Highland Clearances back in the Eighteenth Century set the pattern for ecological degradation. Born in Scotland, Alan first experienced an overwhelming sense of awe in the far northern wilderness of Canada. After developing his sensitivity to nature by working for four years in the Findhorn gardens, he took a trip to Glen Affric in the Highlands where he experienced a “huge sense of pain in the land.” 99% of the original Caledonian forest has been destroyed and he felt that the last trees were calling for help. Starting in 1989 with 125 acres, Trees for Life has worked steadily in the Glen with mostly young volunteers to plant half a million scots pine, birch, rowan, hazel, holly and willow trees. In 1991 it was awarded the UK Conservation Project of the Year Award.
Ulf Ellingsen lived at Findhorn from 1988 to 1995 and is now a captain in the Norwegian Army. Before coming to Findhorn he had been part of the peace keeping forces in Lebanon engaged in mine clearance and detonation. He currently serves in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia/Kosovo developing health education programs for the local people and first aid for soldiers in combat. His experiences there have convinced him that “The power of self-justification is the only power stronger than sex.” How does he feel about the military life after years in a spiritual community? “We very much need officers who understand meditation and counseling, and that life, in its essence, is about love … If one person has less suffering in life as a result of my actions, then I have not lived in vain.”
Findhorn – www.findhorn.org
Trees For Life – www.restore-earth.org