"I invite you to close your eyes, or you can focus on the center of the circle." Thirty-three people stand holding hands. We range in age from 20 to 67. Some are students, others professionals. We are all engaged in the five-week Ecovillage training at the Findhorn Community in northern Scotland.
The speaker continues: "Listen to the sounds around you. Feel the floor beneath your feet. Notice the presence of the people around you." We stand for a moment in silence, then squeeze hands, open our eyes and take a seat in the circle.
This is how all of our sessions begin here at Findhorn. We call it "tuning in." After the session is over, we will "tune out," usually simply acknowledging to ourselves what we have learned or accomplished.
Findhorn views techniques like these as an essential part of creating a sustainable community. "Tuning in" helps us stay focused on the process as well as on the result of any endeavor. In other words, how we accomplish something is just as important as what we get done.
One of the ways we practiced this was in a hands-on building project. We broke up into teams and were given half an hour to frame a window of a house using recycled materials. Each team went at it with a passion, trying to finish within the time limit. After the exercise we shared our feelings about the experience, another technique used often in this community.
In the group that had finished first, everyone seemed to feel bad. Some felt they had been pushed aside and not allowed to learn. Others felt guilty for taking control.
In other groups that had finished later, even staying after the time limit, everyone felt excited about having learned something and accomplished the task together. In Findhorn, these groups were considered more successful, because the process was better for the members even if they didn't finish by the time limit.
This mentality is used in every aspect of life at Findhorn. As part of the Ecovillage training, we participate in the community's work schedule, sharing responsibility for jobs such as maintenance of community buildings and kitchen cleanup. We're told to look at these jobs with the attitude that "work is love in action." As a result, Kitchen Patrol (KP), the cleanup shift, is often referred to as Kitchen Party, and includes music, if not dancing, and conversation.
While these and other aspects of the training are woven into every facet of it, in class we cover a wide range of topics. The second week focused on environmental economics and on sustainable food and farming.
Environmental economics takes a wide view of the system, pointing out that our economy exists within our environment. As the economy grows, we have a greater through-put of resources, using up more metal, oil, stone, water and other natural resources, and emit more waste. Since the natural resources of our planet are finite, our economy cannot grow forever. The solution is to reach a system in which resources are only depleted as fast as they can regenerate.
One way to reduce our impact on the environment is to keep economies as local as possible. For instance, most of the food we eat is shipped halfway around the world. If we buy local organic produce or grow our own food instead, we can reduce the environmental costs of what we eat.
Findhorn produces many of its vegetables in its three gardens, often using "polytunnels," plastic stretched over a frame, to lengthen the growing season in this northern climate. Other crops are grown at EarthShare, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm based a short drive from Findhorn. CSA farming is a system in which customers pay a certain amount each year, and receive weekly boxes of fresh produce in exchange. Several of these exist in Ashland and the Rogue Valley.
Christopher Raymont, one of Earthshare's founders, guided us around the windy hillside farm as we harvested carrots, Jerusalem artichokes and cabbages. In an ordinary farm, the petroleum-based fertilizers used release greenhouse gases into the air, contributing to global warming more than any other aspect of the agricultural process. As an organic farm, Earthshare's fertilizer is a mix of compost and manure, and its main use of fossil fuels is in its several tractors, a fact that is unlikely to change, though Christopher mentions they do occasionally use two Clydesdale draft horses.
Eating local does come with certain sacrifices. In February in Scotland, not many veggies are in harvest, and meals in the community center tend to be a bit potato-heavy. Of course, the community purchases food to supplement its produce, but as Christopher says, "Potatoes with butter and cheese, carrots, cabbage, as far as I'm concerned, that's exactly what my body needs this time of year."
Next week we'll hear from one of the faculty members about how he made the decision to live in Findhorn, and how that decision has changed his life. Remember — we are the ones we've been waiting for.
Elias Alexander is an Ashland resident studying in Findhorn, Scotland, one of dozens of intentional communities dedicated to sustainable living that dot the European map. After undergoing a month-long intensive Ecovillage training course there, he will spend the next three months visiting some of those communities. He intends to find out what they are doing to be sustainable, how they are doing it and what aspects can be expanded to a larger segment of the population. In weekly articles here, you can join him on this journey.