Monday, 16 May 2016

Living in Community, Guest

From Sunday 20th March to Friday 15th April 2016, I participated in a programme called Living in Community Guest, at the Findhorn Foundation in northern Scotland.

A requirement of participating in LCG is to have completed a previous Findhorn programme, called Experience Week, or one like it. I completed Applied Ecovillage Living on the 11th March, and took a few days for myself in Edinburgh, before returning north to Findhorn.

LCG can begin on any Saturday of simultaneous availability and a participant’s choosing, and end in multiples of four weeks hence.

The LCG programme is structured as follows:

2 work shifts on Monday, 08:30-12:10 and 14:10-16:50
2 work shifts on Tuesday, 09:00 – 12:10 and 14:10-16:50
1 LGC group sharing on Tuesday, 20:00-22:00
1 work shift on Wednesday, 09:00-12:10
1 attunement/workgroup sharing on Wednesday afternoon, 14:00 – 16:50
1 work shift on Thursday, 09:00-12:10
1 group meditation on Thursday, 13:55-14:30
1 education session on Thursday, 14:35-17:15
2 work shifts on Friday, 09:00 – 12:10 and 14:10 – 16:50
1 fortnightly Homecare session, Saturdays 09:00-10:15
1 weekly Kitchen Patrol or KP session, 18:40-19:30 (mine was scheduled for Sunday evenings)
-1 work session off – ‘Creative Shift’

‘Work’ time per week – 24 – 2.5 = 21 hours 30min in garden, 1h 30min in kitchen/homecare (total 23 hours)
‘Group’ time per week – 6 hours
Education time per week – 2h 40min

During this time I learned a lot about myself, and my inner world. You don’t get much time ‘off’, although slightly more than you might, from a ‘job’. 

Work or ‘Love In Action’ sessions

Before each work session, everyone present for the shift gets to say a sentence or two about how they are feeling. Then, each ‘senior’ person on the team gets to say what work they plan to do in the shift, and how many people’s help they need. After that, each ‘junior’ person is asked which senior person they wish to join. 

In the garden, work group sizes ranged from 4 to 14, depending on who was present and how many extra guests there were.

Each team has one or more ‘focaliser’, the leader of that team or, more rarely, leader of a specific task. The garden team had three focalisers who seemed to be in-and-out, while focused on other goals in their lives, and so more on a part-time basis – Luke, Martin and Britta.
Focalisers are often employees of the Foundation, or at least, participants in LEAP, their 6-month-or-longer apprenticeship programme, if no staff are available to fill the position.

Departments that take in volunteers and apprentices include Cullerne Garden, Park Garden, Park Maintenance, Park Kitchen, Park Homecare, Cluny Homecare, Cluny Garden, Cluny Kitchen and Cluny Maintenance. I have volunteered in Cullerne  (20 working days) and Park Garden (4 half-days).

In most or all work departments, there is a subtle hierarchy in place, which I felt OK with because it seemed reasonable and was more flexible and flat than it needed to be, because focalisers or task leaders often ask volunteers and LCGs how they think they should approach a project rather than simply instructing them. One unexpected, though retrospectively logical aspect of this hierarchy is that it is usually those lowest on the hierarchy that have the most choice or freedom about what they would like to participate in.

The  (unwritten) hierarchy presented to me as follows

1. Staff/Foundation Members
2. LEAP – Living Education Apprenticeship Programme (these people can be promoted to Staff upon completion of LEAP, which can take six months or more)
3. LCG – Living in Community Guest (these people can join LEAP after three months of LCG)
=4. Programme participant, - e.g. Experience Week, Spiritual Practice, A.E.L
=4. Registered, residential volunteer
5. Temporary, non-residential volunteer

While I was working in Cullerne Gardens, the activities I participated in included food waste collection, compost making, seedling transplanting, sowing seeds, measuring and folding netting, measuring, folding, cutting and repairing Mypex, trench digging, trench filling, compost/manure spreading, soil preparation and food harvesting.

A normal work-day consisted of working from 9:05 to 10:30, taking a tea break, working from 10:55 to 12:05, breaking for lunch, working from 14:05 to 15:30, taking a tea break, and working from 15:55 to 17:05.

Initial guidance

On the first week of a participant's LCG, they will have a session with the LCG focaliser, in which they will discuss their purpose and how it relates to the LCG programme.

I intially wrote the long, complicated sentence "I, David, intend to discover the way to improve the world/myself, and am presently investigating whether community is the way that 1) I and 2) others 'should' direct our efforts and energies of transformation, or whether our focus can and/or should be directed elsewhere." I challenged the focaliser to be able to distill this into a simpler sentence, and expected her to find it difficult. However, she surprised me pleasantly, by, through a process, coming to the sentence "I, David, intend to discover ways to improve myself in life - in community and as a sovereign entity". I was impressed! I decided that maybe there was some wisdom to the process after all.

With this intention, I drew Angel cards, that offered me guidance as follows:

Group sharings

During my month doing LCG there were four sharings, each of which happened in a two-and-a-half hour session on Tuesday nights, from 20:00 to 22:00.

Each meeting had as few as twelve or as many as twenty people sharing, which would usually take between two and eight minutes per participant. A few people allowed their sharings to go on overly long, but I found that on many more occasions, people recognized when a good time to finish would be by considering the needs of the group.

I did feel that 20:00 was too late to begin such a process as, within an hour I am feeling tired and burnt out (if I am waking at 7:30am)

Something that did annoy me was being censured for talking about the 'work' sessions as being 'work', for legal reasons. I felt it amounted to an erasure of the actual effort involved in participating in the programme. Naming what you do is important in order to feel valued, and in this particular instance, I did not feel as valued as I would have liked to be.


Meditating in groups often felt very relaxing and like a good bonding session, but doing it right after lunch made it very difficult to concentrate.

We would walk into the Chapel-like Cluny Sanctuary, with soft white carpets and massive East-facing windows. There was a smokeless candle burning in the centre of the room, with the chairs arranged in a circle around the candle.

Meditations had a nice personal touch to them, when people on the programme were leaving, we would honour them by saying what we appreciated about them, or maybe share a funny moment that we had with that person. For example, when my room mate Roland was being ‘tuned out’ or said goodbye to, I appreciated him both for our interesting philosophical talks, and also for the fact that he didn’t snore (this got a good laugh).

Apart from weekly sessions held on Thursdays and department attunements on Wednesdays, there are also multiple open meditation events throughout the day. A few times, I attended the morning meditation sessions at The Park, held from 8:30am to 8:55am. Sometimes I found it very easy to drift away, other times I obsessed, thought and my mind just wouldn’t be quiet. However, each meditation I attended turned out beneficial, and I often met a friend of mine after the session to have a brief chat, before I would run off to Cullerne to try and be there by 9:05.

Education sessions

Education sessions were fascinating and full of wonderful and intriguing insights.

Week 1 was based off Don Miguel Ruiz’s work The Four Agreements. In our group session, we were transported off to the farm house Logie Steading, and then given a brief introduction to the Four agreements – Be impeccable with your word, Don’t take anything personally, Don’t make assumptions, and Always do your best. For each Agreement, we all paired off with a different person in the group and given five minutes each to discuss where we were at with each Agreement in this stage of our life.

Week 2 was Spiral Dynamics, presented by Jonathan Dover, as taught both by Ken Wilber and Frederic Laloux. I had recently read Ken Wilber’s novel Boomeritis, and after this class I downloaded and began reading Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations. The introduction we had with Jonathan served to introduce the group to the very interesting concept, which puts human, biological, social and organisational evolution into eight distinct, progressive stages. My names for these stages are Survival (beige), Superstition (purple), Domination (red), Civilisation (blue), Progressiveness (orange), Pluralism (green), Autonomy  (teal) and Enlightenment (white). For a summary of the concept of Spiral Dynamics, try this article by Mark Lewis.

Week 3 was on the  Elusive Obvious, or Non-Dual Selfhood. In this session, the presenter, Roger Linden guided us through a session in which he encouraged us to relax all our muscles. When we did this, I felt myself rapidly becoming emotional, almost tearful. When I allowed myself to feel it, I gained the insight that, for the first time, I was missing home and missing Cape Town, after 56 days of being away.  I realised that, far from being a sad feeling, that I actually was happy that I had a home and family to return to.

Week 4 was on Tarot and Self-Discovery, with  Jörn Fiebig. Jörn presented his knowledge on Tarot in two ways: first, he had us engage in a process of self-discovery without any cards: he had us focus on a question, which we would then walk around nature for 15 minutes, noting our observations and seeing how they relate to our question. Using Jörn’s guidance, I asked the question, “What blocks me when planning travels, job options and careers?”. On my observations, I received the following insights:

-When parts of us get old or unusable we may discard them.
-When your field of view is narrow, more surprises you.
-So much variety meets the eye.
-Softness in a tight place brings about more comfort.
-Shape follows function.
-Too much orderliness grows stale, but fractal nature never ceases to captivate.
-How life bursts before my eyes, when two months prior, it lay dormant.

From this I processed the insight that planning itself may be what is causing my ‘tightness’ in a tight space, and that the softness involves trusting in the good of the world and ‘going with the flow’. I wrote “Don’t try to hard to plan, just enjoy [life], for it is yours to enjoy! You are a designer, so if you’re not enjoying designing your own life, it probably means you’re thinking at the wrong scale or trying to force something”.

This is very difficult for me, for it means I need to let go of my need to control or even understand life, because this may well be detracting from my ability to enjoy and experience life to the fullest.

Expanding on this, I have recently read about Human Design and how I am a ‘projector’ type. A Projector needs to be invited to guide others – and guiding others is his or her true calling. If a Projector is not invited, he or she will often burn him/herself out trying to help. Projectors often fear that they will not be invited, but my research suggests that people often can’t help but notice Projectors’ unusual nature and highly focused, charged aura. People often do notice that there is something different or special about me, and this is how I can seek an invitation in order to guide. For Projectors tend to have great insights about how to guide others in the best use of their energy. Projectors also tire out easily when they are not around other ‘energy’ types of people, which explains why I experience narcolepsy in some boring classes, but hyper and continued energy when around fun/exciting people.  Projectors also have a hard time falling asleep, for they are frequently tired throughout the day, when it is inappropriate to sleep, and so they learn to ignore their bodies’ ‘tired’ signals.

This may mean, that as far as my future career aspirations go, that instead of burning out by trying to apply for lots of jobs, and eventually find one that’s a bad fit for me anyway but prepared to take me out of their own desperation for the post to be filled by someone, that I should instead put myself in situations where a job is offered to me. It is a similar wisdom to what I have learned about myself in relationships – I have had better relationships when I allow my partner to select me, rather than attempting to select a partner for myself. I never need worry that I am too boring or uninteresting to be selected for a relationship or a career. It is not my position to initiate directly, although I can certainly still be proactive by putting myself in a position where I am likely to be noticed and then ‘invited’.

After the observation session, we returned inside to meet Jörn again. He then introduced us to the Tarot, explained some of the Major Arcana cards and had us each ask a question, and then choose a card.

I asked the question, “What role does my new relationship with my
girlfriend play in my life?”

The answer was the Queen of Wands.


Saturday Morning Homecare, while initially seeming like it might be an annoying chore, actually turned out to be easy, and left me feeling productive and helpful when I was done. On both occasions I ended up vacuuming (or ‘Hoovering’ as the British call it) the passages, rooms and bathrooms. I was able to take seriously the invitation to bless the rooms with good energy as I cleaned them, and Homecare actually ended up cleaning my aura as much as I cleaned the rooms, for I felt good about my ability to help the place look better, and the Homecare teams I worked with contained positive and energetic people that I enjoyed working with.

Kitchen Patrol

Similarly to Saturday Morning Homecare, Kitchen Patrol seems like it might be an annoying chore. It involves washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen after a food-making shift. However, thanks to people’s good and positive energy, with the knowledge that it is almost always over within 45-60 minutes, makes it more enjoyable than it would otherwise be. People usually play music, and working as part of a team and contributing to the community feels good. So, while not one of the most exciting or interesting aspects of LCG, Kitchen Patrol was worth its while.

Time Off

During time off, I mostly lay in bed, or had philosophical discussions with my room mate Roland, or texted my girlfriend, or drank cider, or occasionally read books in the library at Cluny Hill.

On one Saturday, I went on a highly enjoyable excursion, a cycle track called the Dava Way from Forres, which terminates in Grantown, 22 mile South of Forres. With my two friends Karin and Martha to accompany me, we rode 9 mile, stopping along the river for a chat about conspiratorial topics.  By the middle afternoon we realised we needed to get back, and we had returned to Cluny by 18:35. In all, we rode about 20 mile (32 km).


Throughout all of these experiences, as well as experiences from the Sweat Lodge during the Applied Ecovillage Living course, I found that I still did not know who I was, and that now, writing in May, I still do not. The feeling of non-selfhood, and loss of personal identity, has persisted. It does not distress me or cause me to feel dismay, but it does cause me to feel a little confusion, in that I’m not quite sure what to make of future objectives, and that my ambition and motivation seems to be lower than it has been before.

 I think that this is a combination of the results of travelling, meeting my partner overseas and then living with her, living with a highly spiritual community, and not getting that much time by myself, along with all of the experiences as described above, that leads to me feeling this sense of confusion, and re-evaluation, about who I am and what I really want, if I even exist.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful article David. Reading it immediately transported me back to my studies with Gaia education and all the wonderful things it brought up for me in my life. Spending time with the people involved with these teachings really helps us to dig deep and it took me some time afterwards to find what my place was in the world and the role I was expected to play. You have to allow time for it all to be processed but the answer will come to you. Of that I am sure. Hope to see you again sometime soon so we can chat more about your experience and I can tell you a bit about what I have learnt from my experience of it all and get your take on it. Germaine x