Okay – I do seem to be able to post pictures after all. Have I been made a moderator, or could I do this all along and just wasn’t paying attention? These are the questions that bedevil me. x
Okay – I do seem to be able to post pictures after all. Have I been made a moderator, or could I do this all along and just wasn’t paying attention? These are the questions that bedevil me. x
Jennifer Clowes is a good buddy of mine, the only one outside Findhorn, in fact, who has made the trip up here to visit me (and get involved in various hippy shenanigans while she was at it of course). You can catch her blog here:
OK, well the Trustees have decided that when October comes, and Newbold has honoured all of its commitments to hosting workshops, the house will be sold or leased to a new project. In April they will look at all of the proposals and in May they will attune to the one that is most in alignment with them and the Findhorn way.
At the meeting in which this decision was revealed I received it quite philosophically. The prospect of living in community until October, enjoying the summer here, was an enticing prospect, and who knows, maybe the new project will be something inspired.
My equanimity was short lived, however. It evaporated a few minutes later when we were also informed that from April to October the community decision-making structure would be replaced by a management structure. If I wished to stay at Newbold it must be as a worker under a manager. My heart sank. I had quit my job in Swansea, as a worker under a manager, in order to travel North to live in community and a different way of life.
Now, for a little while at least, Newbold will be a place where I can work in order to have a roof over my head and my cost of living bills paid. And I’ll get some pocket money too.
When I voiced my discontent at my unwilling transition from an equal member of a community to an employee several voices urged me to understand that I could still have an experience of community if I maintained the right attitude. This is, of course, absolutely true. But to say it then was, in my opinion, simultaneously obtuse. But it was obtuseness born of not wanting me to feel hurt, disillusioned, disaffected, etc.
“Have the right attitude, Ianto, and you’ll be okay.”
Yep. I nod my head without irony, because it’s true. It’s true.
The Trustees have done the best they could in good faith and they are tired. It is as it is and I have had time to reflect.
During all of this mini adventure on the temporal plane I’ve also been engaging in a mini spiritual crisis. It’s always interesting to see how the inner and outer worlds reflect and affect each other …
I’ve read two books in the last month that have each inspired and dismayed me in equal measure. These were THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE UNIVERSE: two ascended masters appearing to the author and discussing the merits of A COURSE IN MIRACLES, and STAR MAKER, by Olaf Stapledon: a classic science fiction in which one man journeys through the cosmos as a disembodied mind in order to witness its birth, development and death and to ultimately meet its creator, before returning to his humble existence back on Earth.
What dismayed me in THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE UNIVERSE was the conviction that everything perceived by the senses is a ‘miscreation’ that does not come from God but from the insanity of the ego. This dismays me because it scares me and it scares me because it’s so compellingly believable.
STAR MAKER dismayed me because in his conclusion, Stapledon portrays the cosmos as a place in which the most terrible of torments can and are inflicted on the helpless creations of the Divine. This Divinity is described as something that is so beyond the comprehension of the limited perceptions of the human mind, that it can only be worshipped and adored for its ineffable ‘moreness’, despite what horrors may seem to be born from it.
Summarised like that it sounds quite heavy and depressing (which is fair enough, cos it is) but it’s also finely reasoned and compelling.
So two very different yet strangely similar views there of the human condition for me to appraise and wrestle with. I also found during this time that I became worn out with some of the online discussions I was taking part in, or reading. The pessimism of the people I was talking to with regards to the ‘imperfections’ of the human creature became too much for me to subject myself to anymore.
The message I have been bringing to myself, through these books, through these message boards, is this:
‘You are small. You are imperfect. You are incapable of knowing truth. You are incapable of apprehending the Absolute. Truth and beauty and divinity does exist but it is bigger than you, beyond you, better than you. Absolute perfection exists, but it is not you. You are doomed to be less than that which is truly good, and then to die.’
And the people bringing me this message are amazing, intelligent, eloquent, inspiring people. I admire them in many ways, I really do.
But this message has been brought to me in all of these different ways because I have been asking in my prayers for the Truth. This message has been brought to me so that I can appraise it and measure it against my own experience. This message has been brought to me so that I can respectfully decline it.
Yes, it is true that the cosmos around me seems to be so big and magnificent and ineffable that by comparison I am an insignificant spec. But the truth of my experience is that I am the very centre, the pivot on which two universes turn: the outer and the inner. What I see in the vastness surrounding me, spreading out to the stars and beyond, is balanced pound for pound by what is inside me. I know this to be true. I know it. It is blindingly obvious.
Size and relativity are illusions. The smallest grain of sand is absolutely equal to the entirety of God. The most depraved and devastated wreck of a psychotic human is equal to the highest of angels.
There is no hierarchy of worth.
There is no hierarchy of worth.
It does not exist.
There is no one thing that is not supremely miraculous nor patently inevitable. That the grain of sand exists at all is the most sublime of miracles to me. Why should the evidence of the existence of God seem bigger and better to me than the evidence of the existence of a grain of sand? How could one be more or less miraculous than the other? They are one and the same thing.
In THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE UNIVERSE the ascended masters say that the Absolute Truth can be spoken in just two words …
That sounds fair enough to me. Yet I have my own two-word sentence, an antidote to every belief that we are insignificant or somehow unworthy, and I say that it is the equal of ‘God is’ …
That is the truth of my experience. I am all that I know. I am all that I have ever known. There is no part of me that is less me than any other part. Anything that I experience is a part of me. So I am all that I will ever know. Nothing is excluded from what I am, not grains of sand nor God.
There lies the equality I was looking for in community. There lies the community I was looking for, and it will be there with me wherever I go.
Hmm … not quite sure about how I’d like to write this entry…
In the few months I’ve been here the old Members Group dissolved due to internal strife and burn out, an “interim management group” was formed to take its place during the “crisis” and then, some three weeks later, that group resigned. We are currently existing in a leadership vacuum where ultimate responsibility lies with a group of trustees who are largely not present until the end of February when they will meet for four days in order to make some radical decisions about the future of Newbold.
I have been told time and again about the pattern of burn out that occurs here. And so, the question:
How can we live together and be happy in a sustainable way?
I guess that’s a fairly generic question. Possibly any answer that fits could be applicable to most other human situations.
Making decisions by consensus seems egalitarian and enlightened but I am informed by old timers around these parts that it frequently leads to no decisions being made at all. Having a small leadership group can be good for decision making efficiency … it can also be good for alienating and disenfranchising those who are not part of the inner circle. And then of course there’s the dictatorship of having one overall leader option.
I’ve been thinking lately that adopted power structures, whichever model they follow, can be quite misleading. I increasingly get the feeling that power naturally flows to and rests with those people who it feels most attracted to. And the people that power is attracted to, I reckon, is those people who feel connected to their own strength.
Wow! The strangest thing: just after writing that last sentence, that last word, I looked up and saw a polished pebble on the desk (I’m sitting in the Newbold office). It caught my eye, I picked it up and looked at it. It has the word “strength” carved into it, the very last word I had just typed.
Anyway, what is power? What is strength?
I like to think of it in terms of sense of self. When I feel I am firmly sat in my seat of power, firmly connected to my sense of self, then I feel strong. When I am unsure of who I am, why I am doing what I am doing, why I am where I am, then I feel weak. It has nothing at all to do with what other people are saying or doing. It has nothing to do with what is going on around me. It’s what’s going on within me.
I believe that, like a person, this community will go through phases of being in and out of touch with its sense of self. I believe that the best chance for me to stay here while avoiding the burn-out that seems to claim all long-termers is for me to acknowledge clearly that I have no power or control over Newbold at all. None. I have responsibility for and to myself and myself alone. That’s it.
I’ve talked about this with a few friends and I’ve noticed it tends to make people uncomfortable or even angry. Isn’t it a supremely selfish attitude, one that doesn’t relate to healthy community living at all? The assumption seems to be that if I put myself at the top of my list I won’t give anything of myself to the people, the community around me.
My understanding is different. My understanding is that if I am sat firmly in my seat of power, connected firmly to my sense of self, I will be directly connected to all I have to offer. I will be a powerful resource, more than willing to give of my time, energy, skills, etc.
If a community was completely comprised of individuals who were all connected to their sense of self, all sublimely disinterested in controlling anyone or anything other than their own thoughts, words and actions, then … wow, … that could be something.
Yet “community” is an abstract concept. It’s a word that is used so much around here as if it were an actual, tangible thing. But it’s not a thing, it’s just a word, an idea. It exists only in our minds. The people who are currently here are the people who are currently here. The sense of community in the air shifts and changes from moment to moment, and from person to person. It’s completely ephemeral, and especially elusive when everybody is out looking for it.
I believe that the benefit and the power in living with other people is nothing but the opportunity to know ourselves better. It has nothing to do with creating structures that people can fit into, comfortably or not. That structure has already been established: it’s called Life. Community isn’t about controlling group dynamics. Communities are not designed in advance and then built. Communities happen. They happen when people are being themselves, when people are allowing each other to be themselves, which means allowing each other to be responsible for themselves, which means releasing all ideas of controlling or containing them.
I believe that if I stand in a good, strong, authentic alignment with my self, with my own truth, then the entire world around me will reflect the beauty and power of that. So in that sense I am actually directly and completely responsible for this place, at least while I’m here. So we’ll see how that pans out.
But as for the question of whether there’s a power structure that would allow the individuals at Newbold House to just get on with being themselves:
My answer is that there is no power structure that can prevent people from being themselves. That choice is completely and absolutely up to them.
Okay, so what do you want to know about? What do I think is useful to share about my living here at Newbold?
I’m fairly sure the first issue to go into is the spiritual aspect. This is what people want to know, especially those amongst my friends and family who don’t have any particular interest in terms like ‘spirituality’ or ‘the nature of existence’.
There’s a great line in Blackadder where Edmund says to Mrs Miggins: “I am quite happy to wear clothes without having the faintest idea about how they work.” When I think of people who are content to go about their daily business without being interested in how it actually works, how it is actually possible that it seems to have come about that they are a carbon based life form sitting watching Eastenders for the umpteenth time, or going to work, or going on holiday, or having an argument with their nearest and dearest, or having great sex by the light of the moon, then I think of that quote.
“I am quite happy to live life without having the faintest idea about how it works.”
Anyway, the question, I feel, that these lovely folk – can we call them muggles? It’s kind of cheeky but … nothing wrong with being a muggle if that’s your bag – the main question these lovely muggles want to ask me is this:
Have I joined a cult?
Well that’s it, isn’t it? What else could explain my sudden seeming obliviousness to the inadequacies of the state pension? Don’t I understand that if I keep this kind of behaviour up, come retirement age, I’m going to be screwed? Why should I be so indifferent to the ballooning house prices that I’m no longer securely positioned on the property ladder?
Well … it’s gotta be a cult, isn’t it? Stands to reason.
Well, I guess it depends on your definition of a cult, but whichever way you spin it I think the answer will be something of an anticlimax, for the muggle population at least.
There’s no guru here and there’s no set system of thought to which we are expected/required to adhere to. Yes, there is a group meditation we do once a week. It lasts about twenty minutes and doesn’t involve any specific technique as such, other than sitting together in silence. We hold hands to bless the food at lunch and dinner before we eat it. Somebody will say a blessing of their own devising at this time – again, there’s no set format, it’s just whatever the person wishes to say at the time. And before group activities the group in question will hold hands and ‘attune’ to each other and to the activity about to be carried out. Basically this amounts to simply stopping, pausing to bring oneself into the present moment to be aware of what you are going to be doing and who you will be doing it with, and to promote a positive attitude to that work. That’s pretty much it. Sorry.
The community will create it’s own ceremonies spontaneously from time to time, in response to an event, like a treasured member leaving or the desire to ‘do Halloween’ in a more thoughtful way. But this is done very lightly and casually. Whoever has an idea of what they would like to do will suggest it and those who are interested will contribute their thoughts. This kind of thing crops up continually and is very easy going.
So on the cult scale, Newbold is a pretty innocuous entity. What ritual is observed is focused on its members being transparent with each other and with themselves, and with honouring themselves and the environment within which they find themselves. That’s pretty much it. The rest of the time we’re just doing the things that need to be done, like working in the garden or the kitchen or maintenance, or running the office, running the house, taking in B&B guests and offering rooms as workshop space. There are various meetings and ‘sharings’ that occur on a daily or weekly basis, but these are community tools rather than spiritual ones.
So no, I haven’t joined a cult.
What then, do I get out of being here? Why was it worth it to me to quit my worthy and adequately paid job and let go of my comfortable flat? What’s up with all that?
Ah, it’s just a personal thing for me. I do not see community as a place where people have to agree with each other on what should be done and how it should be done (though I think many people in communities do see them like that). I see a community, any community, as a place where individuals can experience their own individuality BECAUSE everybody around them is so different. Yes, the community in question will develop its own group identity, but this will shift and change just as the individuals that comprise it come and go, just as our own identities as individuals shift and change as we grow older. If a community tries to base itself on the teachings of one person then perhaps community is not its primary interest or purpose, but something different, something (in my opinion) less dynamic.
In my life, these days, I am intent on one main thing: being myself, being as much myself as I can be. I am discovering that community is a much more conducive context to explore that experience in than living on my own in a flat while I go to work to get money to pay for the flat.
And yes, I am a bit of a kook. I don’t want to watch TV anymore (though try to take my dvd collection off me at your peril). I don’t want to read the newspapers or listen to the news that has been pre-prepared for my consumption. I don’t want to walk around in crowds of people who are indifferent to me because we haven’t been introduced yet. I don’t want to engage in endless conversations about how the world is a big, horrible, scary place and that the human race is stupid and nasty and fear-filled.
So what I find here is that, while I am very different from each other person, I’m not actually a kook at all. I’m just another person focused on being as much them self as they can be while enjoying the benefits of being in community. When I make a meal other people get to enjoy it too. When I lay a floor in the apple shed I get to see other people go in there and press apple juice. The fruits of my work are enjoyed by others in front of my eyes, and I get to enjoy the fruits of their work before their eyes. That’s so satisfying.
And when I do step outside of the community and back onto the High Street I get a jolt. Sometimes it’s a pretty big one. Oh yeah … the muggles. They’re still there, muggling along. I’d almost forgot. But don’t get me wrong: it’s not the people. Not really. It’s just all that stuff they’re swimming in: the processed food, the stacks of newspapers, heavy with weekend supplements, the packaging of all the consumerables, the in-your-face, in-your-face marketing. And it’s only the people in so much as it’s the faces they wear in order to face all of this stuff that is surrounding them. It’s all reflected in their eyes. Not all the time, perhaps, but too much of the time.
As a co-worker I will be paid very little money, but I will spend even less. Apart from Council Tax I will have no bills. None. I will not need to spend money on food or drink. When I visit the High Street it won’t be to buy bizarre products that I don’t really want.
Still not sure what I’m talking about? Next I’ll do a ‘Day In The Life Of Newbold House’. Watch this space.
Okay, my Newbold blog, where to start …
I lived in Swansea for 14 years having moved there to be with my partner. We were together for 12 years (married for the final 6) and when we divorced I lived in a flat on my own for two years. For the last 6 years of my time in Swansea I had a great job helping adults with a learning disability to develop their literacy, numeracy and communication skills. During all of this (though mostly in the final 3 years) I re-evaluated my ideas on life and relationships.
In May 2007 I had 3 weeks of annual leave that had to be taken. The reason I had these 3 weeks was because I kept putting off and putting off using them because, since separating from my wife, I didn’t know what to do with my holiday time. I decided to go on a road trip, tent in car, working my way North. The intention was to visit various friends along the way and finally arrive at the Findhorn Foundation in the North of Scotland.
I first heard about the Findhorn Foundation just after I had moved to Swansea to be with my partner. A friend of hers loaned me a book, The Magic of Findhorn, which depicted the founding of the famous spiritual community that began on a rather desolate little caravan park. The story was eccentric and unlikely and involved three characters: an ex RAF chap who was on a spiritual quest, his partner who had a habit of receiving guidance from an ‘inner voice’ and their friend, a woman who developed an ability to communicate with the intelligence of the natural world. The story of these three kooks on a caravan park would probably never have even become a story were it not for the gigantic vegetables they grew out of sand when they followed their inner guidance. Whatever their voices were telling them, the vegetables certainly seemed to agree.
I read about how a community gradually built up around these characters and eventually became independent of them. These days it is a huge affair, incorporating a village of beautiful eco houses, its own wind farm that makes itself sustaining in terms of electricity, and an entire wider community of eco friendly off-shoot organisations.
At the time of reading this book I felt really excited by it. I wanted to go visit straight away. My partner was not impressed by my wanting to swan off to Scotland so soon after we had got together, so … well, I didn’t go.
14 years passed by.
In May 2007, as I worked my way North on my road trip holiday, I found that only one person I had been intending to visit was actually available. After leaving my friend Jen’s house in Yorkshire I headed towards Edinburgh. I’d never been to Scotland before and thought this would be the natural first stop, but as I drew closer I noticed that the idea of Edinburgh depressed me, while the idea of driving straight to Findhorn gave me a chill that fell on the thrilling side of trepidation.
Because nobody was available to see me, because I had this build up of annual leave, because I followed my feelings and drove straight past Edinburgh, I arrived in time to find out about Experience Week (the Foundation’s core introduction course) on the Thursday, sign up for it on the Friday and start it on the Saturday, and also to have some time afterwards to hang around and do some volunteering. This lead to my meeting some people who have become very important in my life, it lead to me having the greatest summer I’ve had so far (despite the weather) and it lead to me having a mystical experience by the Findhorn River (I guess I’ll blog about that later). It also lead to me visiting Newbold House (a sister community to the Foundation) during Experience Week and having a lot of déjà vu here, which in turn lead to me returning in August to do 2 weeks on the working guest programme which then lead to me going back to Swansea to quit my job, work my notice, let go of my flat and come back here.
During my 2 years living alone in Swansea I had identified several things I wished for in my life that were definitely lacking: a sense of community (something still with me from my childhood when I grew up in a terraced street in Salford, until they were demolished when I was 10), a more active lifestyle, collaboration with creative people and also to be around people with whom I can discuss my ideas on the nature of existence. Basically I wanted to feel free to relax and be myself.
As I type these words I am sitting in an attic room of Newbold House, which I am hoping to claim as my room so long as fire safety regulations can be satisfied (it’s a touch on the cold side, but it’s big and beautiful – all bare stone work and wooden beams). I have completed six weeks of the working guest programme and one full week of being a co-worker. If I complete another six weeks of being a co-worker it is feasible that I apply to become a full member of the community and take part in the decision-making processes here.
I get a strong feeling of familiarity with this place. The air seems thick with memories of dreams I had when I was a boy, and those dreams in turn seem to be dreams of memories of things that haven’t happened yet. The place seems to resonate with the vibrations of all the people I will know here. I feel this at odd moments of each day, when I’m working on maintenance in the grounds, surrounded by the trees, when I’m in the kitchen sharing meals with the Newbold family, and when I’m up here in this attic space where the feeling is especially strong.
So, yes. Here I am.
Here I am.
Since leaving Swansea I’ve been promising friends I would start a blog about my comings and goings at Newbold. Jen Clowes reccomended WordPress so here I am. Let’s see how long it takes me to get my head around this format.