By conference co-focalisers, Stephanie Mines and Graham Meltzer.
“It is probable that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may well take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Stephanie: I recently told a student and her husband, a retired oil executive, that I had decided to move into a cohousing community because I saw it as the best way to thrive in a climate changing world. The oil executive scoffed at what he assumed was my naiveté. “You just want to escape and go backward to a tribal way of living,” he exclaimed. I wondered if he was right, reflecting on why I would be drawn to collaborative living after decades of enjoying my independence and protecting my privacy.
Then I realized that this new impulse, so surprising when it came that it startled my husband, arose from my body’s response to the needs of our time. It was a somatic, authentic attunement to the exigencies of a climate changing world. And it was a choice for life – not only for the lives of my biological offspring, but for the children of the future. New communities will form out of the creativity that climate change is stimulating amongst those responsive to its collective signalling. It is not a backward step; there is no going backward. And climate change is fast accelerating. But how do we switch gears from isolated individualistic striving to inclusive collaborative thriving?
Co-focaliser of the Climate Change & Consciousness conference, Graham Meltzer, has some thoughts about this, based on decades of researching and living in intentional communities including the last 12 years at Findhorn. He has a passionate, life-long commitment to communal living. I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce his reflections on what this journey means to him, and in particular, that there is a direct link between communal living and the needs of a climate changing world.
Graham: I was once asked to write a short piece for Diggers & Dreamers, the ‘guide to communal living in Britain.’ The question I was asked to address was: ‘What is the purpose of communal living?’ In a sense, I think the question misses the point. To my mind, communal living doesn’t need to be justified, defended or even described in terms of its purpose. I do not see communal living as a fringe activity pursued by a small minority with a particular agenda or purpose.
Rather, I believe that communal living is the most natural way for human beings to cohabitate. It is, or should be, the default setting! And of course it was the norm up until the Industrial Revolution some three hundred years ago. For millennia beforehand, humans lived mostly as interdependent, mutually supportive members of tribes, hamlets, villages and towns. And generally, we lived sustainably! If present day communal living has a purpose at all, then perhaps it’s to remind us of this long forgotten fact.
Particularly over the last one hundred and fifty years, a sense of oneself as an integrated member of society has been supplanted with a measure of one’s economic worth, which has, in turn, been closely associated with personal status and power. Basic human values have fundamentally shifted from the social and the cultural to the economic and the material. Most recently, human needs and wants have become divorced from social satisfaction and cultural meaning. Instead, they’ve been increasingly associated with, and met by, consumption, not only of commodities, but also ‘entertainment’ and substances. Never mind that this trend has fuelled global warming and climate change, it’s more than enough that it has eroded our innate capacity for connection, creativity, service and love.
If we are to regain our basic humanity, then the specious satisfaction offered by consumption needs to be replaced by satisfactions that are non-material. Communal settlements are the perfect setting for this i.e. replacing psychological attachment, perhaps even addiction, to superficial stimulation and material gain with location-based social fulfilment and cultural rejuvenation. Anti-consumerist values are, in fact, common amongst members of intentional communities and axiomatic for many sectarian, egalitarian and alternative lifestyle groups. Intentional communities model a more humane, pro-social, values-based way of life. In so doing, they encourage a return to a more modest, measured and, dare I say, spiritual way of life.
Findhorn’s community offers an enduring, practical example, a model even, of exactly this kind of values inversion and lifestyle transformation. We are a diverse, flourishing community of about 700 souls, living in and around the settlement known as The Park (because it has always been a liscenced caravan park) in the historical village of Findhorn, Scotland. We have a second campus in Forres, five miles away, and outposts on the West Coast islands of Iona and Erraid.
The Findhorn Foundation & Community, as we prefer to be known, is diverse in its demographic, complex in its organisation and rich in its social and cultural milieu. We were born of the ‘60s as a spiritual community and harbinger of the New Age. In the ‘80s we acquired a second impulse as an aspiring ecovillage, namely, to develop a low-impact settlement that strives to reduce its carbon footprint whilst simultaneously developing its economic, social and cultural offerings. We are also an education centre that attracts thousands of residential guests every year to our workshops, courses, events and conferences.
In my experience, having been involved over the last 12 years in both the physical development of the ecovillage and the educational programmes, it is rare that a visitor leaves here unaffected. Many, I would even claim most, are deeply moved and inspired by their experience of a community life based on non-material (i.e. spiritual, social and cultural) values. And of course we are not perfect; far from it. But we are constantly working on it, striving, as we say, for the ‘highest and the best.’ And we are doing so, as we say, with love!
If you join us in person for the Climate Change & Consciousness conference, I promise that you too will feel the transformative ‘magic of Findhorn.’ But beware! It may well cause you to radically reconsider your lifestyle, to begin to seek more community in your life, to even decide to relocate to an intentional community … much as my friend and colleague Stephanie has done in choosing to move into cohousing.
Note: Graham’s contribution to this post (including the pics) is extracted and adapted from his book published in 2016, ‘Findhorn Reflections: A very personal take on life inside the famous spiritual community and ecovillage.’