findhorn

Findhorn: Reflections on Peace

October, 2018

NB: This is a combination of two pieces that originally appeared in my personal blog Living from the Inside Out in July 2010 that has been edited and updated for publication in Pagan Pages Magazine in October 2018. I’ve retained the present tense the article was originally written in.

In 2010, I had the great honour of visiting Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. Doing an Experience Week there was really life-changing for me in more ways than I can speak about with words. I highly recommend a pilgrimage there to anyone who hasn’t been yet. First, it might be good to explain a bit about what Findhorn Foundation is and how it got started.  The Foundation is a spiritual community, education center, and ecovillage.  There are two geographical parts to the community: Cluny College is the main education center and where I am staying and then there is The Park, which is the place where it all started from a caravan about forty years ago. The purpose of this community is encapsulated in their vision: “By living and working together, putting spiritual values into practice, we are creating a positive and sustainable future for humanity and the planet.” The three principles Findhorn works with are as follows: listening to one’s inner voice, co-creation with nature, and work is love in action.

“The Findhorn Community was begun in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean. All three had followed disciplined spiritual paths for many years. They first came to northeast Scotland in 1957 to manage the Cluny Hill Hotel in the town of Forres, which they did remarkably successfully. Eileen received guidance in her meditations from an inner divine source she called ‘the still small voice within’ and Peter ran the hotel according to this guidance and his own intuition. In this unorthodox way – and with many delightful and unlikely incidents – Cluny Hill swiftly became a thriving and successful four-star hotel. After several years however, Peter and Eileen’s employment was terminated, and with nowhere to go and little money, they moved with their three young sons and Dorothy to a caravan in the nearby seaside village of Findhorn.

Feeding six people on unemployment benefit was difficult, so Peter decided to start growing vegetables. The land in the caravan park was sandy and dry but he persevered. Dorothy discovered she was able to intuitively contact the overlighting spirits of plants – which she called angels, and then devas – who gave her instructions on how to make the most of their fledgling garden. She and Peter translated this guidance into action, and with amazing results. From the barren sandy soil of the Findhorn Bay Caravan Park grew huge plants, herbs and flowers of dozens of kinds, most famously the now-legendary 40-pound cabbages. Word spread, horticultural experts came and were stunned, and the garden at Findhorn became famous.” (www.findhorn.org)

As part of the Experience Week program, we work in one of the departments in the community four mornings in the week.  The departments to choose from are: kitchens, gardens, homecare, and maintenance. Everything in this community is done in a ritualistic way.  When we gather in any circle of people–be it our experience week group, to eat a meal or in our work groups-–an attunement to each other is always done by holding hands and setting an intention for our time together.  This is preceded by a lighting the candle in a beautiful centerpiece garland of flowers that is common here in every room and pictured above at the beginning of the post.  In many ways, this centerpiece has come to represent what this community is about.  Everything that happens here is done with a particular intention set by the group beforehand. That doesn’t mean there are no problems, conflicts, or hiccups–we are human, after all– and yet because people are holding their intention with the commitment to take ownership of their shadow aspects, things seem to work out well in the end.

I have met a ton of people this past week from both campuses and what surprised me most was that these people are from every country in the world imaginable.  I thought that I was coming to a place where there would be mostly Scottish and English people.  In my group alone there are people from the following places: Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Norway, Canada and the US.  And there are people who have been living in the community for over thirty-five years.  It has been fascinating to talk to them about their personal journeys of evolution in that time.  All the founders have passed on besides Dorothy who still lives near the original caravan.  It is a vibrant community with a lot going on: various workshops and ongoing classes are offered on a regular basis. 

They really encourage people to meditate and to find a type of meditation that is natural for them.  I enjoyed hearing the different meditations that people did to get access to their inner voice: ironing clothes, doing dishes, sitting meditation, guided meditation, walking meditation, singing meditation, dancing meditation, and being in nature.  The last one seemed to be the most common; folks all over the world go out into nature when they want to quiet their minds and hear that inner guidance.  As a shamanic practitioner, it was not surprising to me that nature was considered the most healing source for people all over the world.

I have been attending the singing meditation every morning before I leave on the bus for my love in action work at The Park.  Singing has always been my main way of connecting with Spirit and with myself.  My mom and my godmother used to joke that I sang more than I talked when I was a kid.  I really always did have a song in my head and that has not abated as I’ve become older.  Singing for me is my way to express what is going on inside me and to let that out so that there is room for Spirit to enter and take care of the rest. Singing is also the way I celebrate life, expressing gratitude and joy.

In order to decide what love in action department each of us was going to work in for the week our facilitators took our group through a guided meditation.  They asked us to notice which department elicited an inner response of some sort when it was read aloud and to make note of it.  Then when the meditation was over, they read out the departments again and people raised their hands.  There were only a certain number of places to be filled for each department and so after a bit of juggling, everyone found a home.  I was really surprised that I was not in the gardens.  I was drawn to do homecare at the Park.  This work entails cleaning and caring for several buildings at the Park including all three sanctuaries and the big community center where everyone comes for their meals and tea.  In these communities, we all eat together and the kitchen department cooks for everyone so there isn’t a need for people to cook at home unless they want to. 

I wasn’t really sure why I was in Homecare at the beginning, but now at the end of the week, I am getting clarity around that after this morning.  Part of my love in action at the Park is caring for the sanctuaries.  We clean them physically and then energetically by sending up prayers or singing or ringing bells after our work is done.  I was one of the people who went to cut flowers for the sanctuary candles and then spent time arranging them.  I really love this creative work so I was thrilled to be with the flowers and make something beautiful for the community center tables and sanctuaries.  I was perplexed the entire week that in the Homecare Nest where we meet every morning, our sanctuary candle had rocks around instead of flowers.  After all, it is not winter where I could understand rocks, shells, feathers, and pine cones replacing flowers in a seasonal way.  Another thing I noticed is that almost everyone in the group had some sort of body illness or then were drained of energy.  Then today when I was cleaning the Nature Sanctuary (by far my favourite place on both campuses), I realized that I too was exhausted by giving so much of myself without taking time to receive some of that love in action.  When I went to do the flowers for the sanctuaries, this morning, I also grabbed our ceramic container from the Nest, emptied it of the rocks and created an arrangement for us to enjoy.  When we came back in after our love in action was done to debrief and “tune out” (give thanks and blow the candle out to a cause), I found it interesting that only one person noticed the new arrangement in the middle.  During my sharing, I explained my revelation and we all decided to clean the Nest for ourselves as a project for tomorrow (my last day).  

And I realized why I was there in that group.  I have that tendency in my life to give more than I allow myself to receive.  In a way, I think that those of us that are natural caregivers tend towards neglecting ourselves, our space, and our own inner lives.  When I looked around our group this morning, I saw exhausted people who simply had not taken the time to care for themselves.  It may seem like an insane thing to do when the “to do” list is a mile long, and I have learned this week that doing up a flower arrangement–even when there are piles of laundry to get through–makes all the difference.  It gave me the inspiration to do those piles of laundry with joy and love.  It took the drudgery out of the work and turned my focus to seeing it as a meditation.  Stewart Friendship, a Glaswegian man who is a longtime resident, told me that it is not love in action if you have the end goal in mind.  When he explained that, he said that everything that needs doing gets done eventually.  Part of the purpose of attunement is to align with the most easeful way to accomplish something.  What gets in my way, I realized, is all the planning of how I think it “should” go; if I am in the flow and stay in that meditative state, the most easeful way reveals itself step by step.

I took this practice out with me yesterday morning when I went out to do Earthshare with my group in the pouring rain.  Twenty-six of us descended on the muddy crop fields like locusts and weeded the rows of carrots and onions in about three hours.  Many hands do indeed make light work.  I am accustomed to working as a gardener in the rain and rather enjoy it most times.  Others in my group were not so sure about this!  The work ended up being playful and joyful.  We all sang songs or talked or went about our work quietly.  At one stage, it was so wet that the mud was spilling over into my hiking boots and I had to pull my feet out of the earth that was sucking me in.  I looked over at Ken and he had taken his shoes and socks off so I followed suit.  I felt like a kid playing in the mud.  Others started taking off their shoes in droves and soon we were laughing like children and having a good time.  I even made peace with the occasional encounter with what Scottish folks lovingly call stabbies and jabbies (another name for prickly thistles).  I enjoyed working the earth with my bare hands and feet and was so grateful that I got to garden after all this summer. 

As I looked around our group this week, I saw people from many different backgrounds, cultures, life experiences, gender, sexual orientation, and professions.  It amazes me still that peace and common ground can be found in such diversity.  I am not sure why it surprises me; nature thrives on variety.   Certainly, my creative ideas seem to come from places that my imagination reaches but my logical intelligence cannot always access.  I believe that Brent Cameron (founder of SelfDesign Learning Community) is onto something when he says that creativity is human kind’s best bet at getting out of the problems we’ve gotten ourselves into; the same thinking that created the problems will not get us out of them. 

In our group this week, I set my intention to sit in my heart space while being with people and listening to them.  I didn’t always agree with what they said or how they did things, and yet I understood where they were coming from with their words and their actions.  There is something interesting that happens with deep listening from the heart: all those differences evaporate and don’t actually matter anymore.  I think it all goes back to a principle that a wise kindergarten teacher once shared with me when I was a student teacher:  all behaviour makes sense on some level. She was encouraging me to put myself in the children’s shoes to understand why they might be responding a certain way, what they are feeling, and perhaps intuit what they might need that they can’t verbalize. And this week, I saw that with our group. 

The angel card we drew for our group was SUPPORT and I really saw people holding each other with openness in their hearts during some pretty rough moments.  And I think that is really what brings about peace.  Can we leave room for people to show up exactly as they are and hold a loving space where they have the possibility to transform a pattern in their life that is not working for them?  We were proof this week that this could be done cross-culturally.  And I find myself sending up prayers that world leaders, nations, and citizens of the planet wake up to this way of deep listening in order to access creative solutions to the problems that threaten to wipe out the human species.  As Brent Cameron said, these are human created problems.  We got ourselves into them and I know from experience that we can get ourselves out of them with a willingness to put our wisdom and love into action.

“What matters is creating the space where people feel safe to share their truth and support each other. To end the cycle of violence and bring peace to our families, communities, and the planet, we need to expand our ‘I’…and connect to the compassion of the cosmic…The ancient wisdom traditions of India offer three powerful principles for transformation and peace–one loving thought, one loving word, and one loving act at a time.”

-Deepak Chopra, M.D.

 

Resources:

Jennifer Engrácio’s blog:

Living from the Inside Out: https://jenniferengracio.wordpress.com/

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About the Author:

Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”

Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing

For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com