In 1984, when I was in my 33rd year, I was at a point of crisis in most areas of my life, including work, marriage and other relationships. It was at this very low ebb of my life that I took a decision that was to change my future direction. I went to spend two weeks in the Findhorn Foundation in the north of Scotland.
I suspect if I had known more about Findhorn at that time I wouldn’t have gone, as I would have dismissed it as a nest of dippy hippies with weird ideas. But for whatever reason, I felt a pull towards Findhorn which in retrospect I think was coming from my higher self. So I enrolled myself in an Experience Week (the orientation programme that all newcomers to Findhorn have to do before they can take part in workshops or courses) and also signed up for the following week, which was Findhorn’s Spring Arts Festival.
During the Experience Week, participants spend the mornings in group work and the afternoons with one of the work departments such as Kitchen, Dining Room, Gardening, Housecare etc. When you arrive, you are asked to attune to which work department is the right one for you. I’m a keen gardener and of course had heard about the wonders of the Findhorn garden with its giant vegetables grown in little more than sand; and so I had thought that I would ask to go to the garden department. But no, try as I might to change it, an inner voice told me that I needed to join the housecare department. So I did, and was put to work cleaning bathrooms and windows. Now I hate housework at the best of times (which is perhaps why I had to do it) but strange to relate, I began to find a certain satisfaction in taking care of bathrooms and making them clean and shiny. At Findhorn, each of the bathrooms has a name and even a kind of personality, which seems to be brought out through the care and attention that it receives and the little touches, such as houseplants or other simple enhancements.
While cleaning bathrooms, I learnt the truth of Peter Caddy’s advice that to make the best of any situation you should love where you are, love who you’re with, and love what you do. This actually works, as it changes your consciousness towards any task, however mundane or tedious. Resentment at having to do menial jobs can be transformed by starting to care about what you’re doing and seeking to do it as well as you can. It helps you to feel better about yourself and your situation and also brings a certain sparkle to those objects with which you are interacting!
The mornings spent in group work with around twenty people from around the world and led by two facilitators from the Findhorn community, were sometimes exhilarating and sometimes challenging, as you are brought up (very gently) against your own areas where further growth or development is needed. The American author Paul Hawken, who in the 1970s wrote a book called The Magic of Findhorn, has described Findhorn as being like a greenhouse that accelerates the growth of people, which in my experience is quite true. There were times when I was thrilled and uplifted to be there and other times when for two pins I would have packed my bags and left. It was at one of these dark times when I went into the woods behind Cluny and leant against a tree, wondering why I had come and asking myself whether I should leave. Suddenly a voice came into my mind, which I knew was not from my own thoughts – it was somehow quite distinct and authoritative. There were two sentences, answers to the questions I had been asking: “This (ie Findhorn) is not for you, though it is good for you to see it.” And then: “The yeast is in the dough, let it work in its own time.” These two sentences gave me the courage and resolution to stay with the process and see it through, which I was able to do – and I stayed on for the second week, the Spring Arts Festival.
The main venue for concerts, talks and performances during the arts festival was the Universal Hall, an extraordinary building which was constructed by community members. I read somewhere that, after it had been completed, an expert in sacred geometry asked the community whether they had worked consciously with the principles of sacred geometry as it was a perfect demonstration of how such a building should be made. The answer was that none of them had any knowledge or experience in this area but had simply done what seemed to them was needed.
It was in the Universal Hall that I found myself listening to a talk by Sir George Trevelyan, who during his lifetime was often called by journalists “the Father of the New Age.” Sir George was a craftsman furniture maker and adult educationalist who had been born into an aristocratic family with a penchant for radical thought and public service. His uncle was the historian and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, G. M. Trevelyan, a friend and contemporary of Bertrand Russell, another radical and outspoken aristocrat and grandson of the Victorian Prime Minister Lord John Russell. Sir George himself had had to relinquish hopes of inheriting the family property of Wallington in Northumberland when his father, who had been a Labour MP and minister in Ramsay Macdonald’s government, left it to the National Trust.
I can’t from this distance recall the subject of Sir George’s talk but in a sense it doesn’t matter because his subject was always the same whenever he spoke: he was advocating spiritual renewal, which was not a religious revival, but an awakening that is available to those of all religions and those of none. What I do remember very well, though, is that during his talk I found myself thinking: “This man is mad, mad – and what’s more you’re mad for sitting here and listening to him.” At the same time, however, another part of me was saying: “Yes, yes, yes…” I date my own spiritual awakening to this talk. It’s interesting to me also that I’m writing this account 33 years afterwards.
I discovered subsequently that there was a strange parallel here with Sir George’s own spiritual awakening. In 1942, he attended a lecture given by Walter Johannes Stein, who was one of Rudolf Steiner’s pupils. He said later that, as Stein introduced the ideas of Steiner one by one: “Everything in me said yes, yes, yes.”
As Ruth Nesfield-Cookson observed: “Although the work of Rudolf Steiner was what led George into an interest in the spiritual he searched for the truth far and wide, in the work of Shakespeare, Goethe, Blake, Hopkins, the romantic poets etc., and also in the works of more modern thinkers including Teilhard de Chardin, Wellesley Tudor Pole, Grace Cook and the White Eagle teachings etc. And from his close link with Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, the leader of the Sufi movement in this country, he saw that the fruits of Eastern as well as Western thinking had to be considered and represented. He knew there were many routes up the mountain and no one route was right for everybody. However he never doubted that, to quote his own words ‘It is Cosmic Christianity we are about’ “.
In later years, I got to know Sir George a little better; his talks had the same awakening effect on thousands of people that I had experienced in 1984 and his book Operation Redemption is still well worth reading. I also met Peter Caddy, who with his wife Eileen and their friend Dorothy Maclean, were the three founders of Findhorn. In my view, both Findhorn and anthroposophy are deeply Rosicrucian impulses and both in their own way are interlinked with positive forces of change in the world. They have set into world consciousness, albeit in homeopathic doses, what will one day lead us away from disaster.
Anthroposophy, in what I call applied anthroposophy, offers many young tendrils of growth for a different and kinder future for us all, while Findhorn continues to offer a new story or narrative of how the world could be. Whether we as human beings will have the courage or imagination to make the necessary changes is not easy to foresee. I suspect that we are going to be brought right up to the brink of chaos and catastrophe before meaningful change can happen.