The Findhorn Community began in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean. They first came to northeast Scotland in 1957 to manage the Cluny Hill Hotel in the town of Forres with great success due to their unorthodox management style driven by intuition and receiving “guidance” from spiritual sources. Cluny became a four-star hotel, but after several years the three lost their jobs and were forced into unknown territories.
With their three young sons and Dorothy, the group’s caravan stopped in Findhorn where the ground was dry and sandy. With no money and no prospects, Peter decided to grow vegetables to feed his family, though the earth was barren. However, Dorothy discovered she was able to communicate with plant spirits- which she called angels, and then devas – who gave her instructions on how to make the most of their fledgling garden. Eventually, the land yielded incredible results including huge plants, dozens of varieties of herbs anf flowers and the now legendary 40 lb. cabbages. Obviously, news quickly spread and horticultural experts came to investigate. They were stunned and the garden at Findhorn became famous.
Michael Mitton was born and raised at Findorn which has evolved into a model Ecovillage offering year-round educational opportunities in holistic living, spirituality and community building. I had a chance to ask Michael about what Findhorn is like today, and how far it has come.
JHR: There is so much mythology and lore surrounding the story of Findhorn and how it was started. Can you talk a little bit about how the community began and how it has evolved over the years?
MM: When I read this question, my first reaction was to think “Yes, lets put all the myths aside and look at what really happened.” But I found I couldn’t because in truth it was very mystical and mythic. Three people following their own inner wisdom despite hardships, deprivation and isolation discover a deep and abiding relationship with the subtle realms of nature. The miracles of 40 lb. cabbages spring forth from the sand. An inspirational community is born, deeply grounded in encouraging spiritual harmony between all beings. They build a world renowned ecovillage on an abandoned air force base where the answers to the problems of our age are developed and embodied. Could make a movie about it. In fact, I know a few people who have been talking about for a few years now.
The Findhorn now is different than the Findhorn I grew up in. It’s larger, more complex and sophisticated, more intergrated into the world around it, and it’s still the same. The simple magic that attracted so many people in the early days is still affecting people today, there has always been a feeling about the place, a sense of belonging and ‘rightness’ that many people feel as soon as they come in the entrance. That has never changed. I hope it never will.
JHR: I understand that you were born and raised in Findhorn and that must have been an extraordinary experience as a child. Now that you’re an adult, how do you perceive your upbringing and how has it informed your life?
MM: That’s a question I have been asked a lot since I returned from the States 6 years ago, so I have had a lot of chances to consider this. Ultimately, it was wonderful. No childhood is without pain or suffering, but I do believe that growing up in this community was a blessing. When asked if Findhorn is a good place to raise children I always say unequivocally yes, it’s one of the best. There is something about not having to do it alone. I think that kids are more likely to develop a balanced spirit if raised by a community rather than the nuclear family unit. They have a wider range of role models and thus are less likleyto merely copy the idiosyncrasies of their parents. So it was great to have a 150 parents growing up, but it was also awful. I couldn’t get away with anything!
Also, my creativity and imagination were encouraged to a great degree, and I was really allowed to find myself. There’s a wonderful quote from Eileen, that I can’t find for the life of me, but it’s something about children being like flowers and they should be encouraged and helped to grow but not constrained and be allowed to develop into whatever beautiful blossom they truly are, for God’s garden is great with variety and includes flowers of every colour and shape. Or something like that, she said it a lot better.
And I look to the results. Everyone I grew up with I have such a large amount of respect for, they have all excelled at whatever field they choose for themselves, be it arts, science or academia. They are chemists, doctors, archaeologists, dancers, singers, snowboarders, you name it! But they all seem empowered by an incredible self belief, this faith in themselves that they can do it, whatever it is that ‘it’ is in their lives. They are all amazing, i am often in awe of my friends achievements.
JHR: In your view, is the planet currently in a state of environmental emergency? If so, what can people outside the community do to stop and reverse the damage?
MM: Yes. The most important thing that we can do is to start working together on this. The fact that we must do something is irrefutable but I find that many people are at a loss because they can’t see how one person can make a difference to such a big issue. So get involved in your local community through eco-friendly groups like the transition town movement(http://transitiontowns.org/TransitionNetwork/TransitionCommunities). Or start one yourself if there is not one in your area. I like what they have to say on their site:
• if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
• if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
• but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.
Also check out http://www.350.org. It’s one of the most important movements of our time.
JHR: Findhorn is a model community for living intentionally and respectfully with nature. Do you see the innovations and ideas developed there to be a model for other similar places around the world?
MM: Absolutely. One of our most popular programmes, the Ecovillage Training, is in it’s 11thyear now. It takes many of the aspects of our community, the social, the spiritual, the ecological, the economic and presents them in a very accessible, grounded, hands on fashion, while still being very in depth. It’s a powerful course, 4 weeks of intense community education, and at the end of it you’ve left with a whole bunch of ideas that you can take back to any community, or even start your own. The Gaia Education Design for Sustainability takes this even further. Check them out at: http://www.findhorn.org/programmes/evt.php and http://www.findhorn.org/programmes/programme353.php
Also here’s an article I wrote about them:
JHR: For over 45 years the Findhorn Foundation has offered a wide range of workshops and programs which encourage self-discovery. What can people expect to experience when they attend a workshop or spend seven days there during Experience Week?
MM: “Seven days that can change your world” was the tagline we came up for for Experience Week. I think that sums it up well. Even after having grown up here and done a whole bunch of experiencing the Findhorn community, I still found it to be a fantastic, life-affirming, and life-changing experience.
Experience Week is a wonderful opportunity to find out what it is like living in this community. It’s like it takes a whole month or two of activities and fits it all into one week– very intense and you get to see and be a lot in just one week. A comment I hear a lot from guests is that they were amazed to discover that work could be joyful. The whole ‘work is love in action’ thing that we try to live by seems to touch many souls. They say “I never knew work could be so fun!” Is it work then? Didn’t Confucius say “they who love their job, never work” or something. Seems apt.
JHR: What are some books that have influenced you in your work and in your life that would like to share with readers?
My two top authors are Richard Bach and Terry Pratchett, I often refer to them as two of the foundations of my life philosophy. I love how they can deal with very deep and profound subjects with humour and great insight. It’s important to not take things too seriously.
Eileen (Caddy), of course, has been a constant source of inspiration to me and I quote her all the time when I’m waxing philosophical.
I read Peter’s autobiography (In Perfect Timing: Memoirs of a Man for the New Millenium) when I was growing up and I found that to be very powerful. He had such a powerful faith which enabled him to do such incredible things. I would love to be that sure of myself!
On the eco front, I found George Monbiots Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning and Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies to be wake up calls for myself to really consider the scope of the problem we face and to really engage with finding a solution.