I went to Findhorn for a week, and I left after 3 days.
Just before I left, I was chatting to someone loosely involved in the community who now lives outside of it. He told me he’d come seeking true, spiritual community, but what he’d found there was, more or less, “a retirement home for hippies.” I laughed. Findhorn is a lovely, lovely place, but I do get where he’s coming from.
Findhorn instilled in me a lot of frustration. Not always frustration at the community itself, but more at how that community in some ways reflected the things that irritate and confuse me about every “enlightened” (for want of a better word) community I’ve yet encountered.
There’s just something about utopian communities that fucks with people. Be they spiritual communities, activist communities, ecovillages, whatever, they’re amazing in some ways but they all seem to fall into the same trap, which is this: disappointing amounts of hypocrisy and judgment.
Just like, if we’re all divine and one and different reflections of that oneness and divinity, then we can serve each other while serving ourselves, and serve ourselves while serving others. And like, y’all get that at Findhorn. You do.
But the other part of it is that we are different reflections of that oneness. So like, only I can know what I need and only you can know what you need and that’s what being different people means, and if we’re going to live openly and honestly, we damn well better act in a way that’s honest and non-coercive. And if we’re trying to honor what we and each other need, then let’s actually honor that. If the thing someone needs isn’t actively harming you or others, like, let them be. An it harm none, do as ye will, y’know?
And maybe someone else’s idea of not harming you does, in your eyes, do you harm. But let’s break that down, because what looks like harm to us can sometimes just be other people taking care of themselves. For example, someone else not wanting to spend time with you may make you sad, but it does not harm you in the same way that punching you in the face does.
Believe me, I get that it’s hard to build a functioning community of open and honest people. Cooperation is fucking difficult. Because true cooperation is about harmony of freedoms and freely-chosen compromise, not proscribed order and forcing someone into their place. And coming up with harmonious actions based on mutual and often conflicting freedoms and needs is SO HARD and sometimes not even possible in every situation.
I came to Findhorn because I wanted to understand community. I wanted to talk about community. I wanted to learn from people who’d actively built community about what that meant functionally, what their struggles were, what issues they faced, where they hoped community could go, where they had to fall short of their ideals and compromise. I wanted to know what problems community living solved for people, and what problems it caused. What societal ailments it could remedy, and what it couldn’t, or at least, hadn’t yet in this community’s experience.
The impression I got was this – that small towns are small towns whether they’re full of spiritual gardeners or rednecks. That being accepting of spirits does not mean you’re accepting of other people. That no matter how much you meditate and sing hymns to our oneness, you can still be judgmental and closed-minded and controlling.
I’ve found this to be true with spaces like this before, and it never ceases to frustrate me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found a hell of a lot worse communities than Findhorn. For the most part, it’s a great place, and the people I encountered were genuinely interested in spiritual growth and conscious living. They wanted to work together with the earth to build a sustainable human lifestyle, they wanted to find peace and share love and work together with others to build a beautiful community. Almost everyone was very kind. They’re doing good work, I applaud them and their efforts.
But that doesn’t make it a perfect place.
I’m not trying to whine or complain, but I am a bit disappointed. Disappointed, but not surprised. I keep finding this in intentional communities, in spiritual groups, in radical activist circles: judgment. Lack of consent. Controlling people. Hypocrisy.
There are some things that groups like these are really good for and they can be so safe and refreshing and helpful. Like, not having to argue the idea of oneness and the overlap of the spiritual/mental/physical to someone is so nice. Just like not having to argue the importance of pronouns or intersectionality to someone is so nice.
But I always feel let down when these groups Get It on some front and not on some other. It’s like people who march for Planned Parenthood but oppose Black Lives Matter. Just… what? Y’all don’t make sense to me.
I feel like, if God is Love then Love is God, and institutionalized hatred and oppression are affronts on the divine. And if we’re all part of systems of oppression and privilege, then how we act towards ourselves and each other is political, and spiritual too. The spiritual is personal, the political is spiritual, the personal is political, it’s all the same shit and if you want to make that shit into gold, make it ALL gold.
I just don’t get how you can get to any idea of spiritual liberation without applying it to society and other people. It’s like how I don’t get how you can be an anarchist and not try to be non-coercive in your personal relationships. My view is that if you believe in freedom, you believe in freedom. The same goes for love. Your freedom ends where someone else’s begins. If you can apply that politically but not personally, or spiritually but not politically, or spiritually and politically but not personally, then I think you’re a hypocrite.
Negotiating what that means is difficult, and I don’t think there’s any one-size-fits-all answer. But I’m really only down with people who are trying on all fronts, or at least openly admit they’re not. I’m so much more accepting of people who don’t call themselves ‘spiritual’ or even ‘political’ but practice kindness and consent and honesty and openness, than I am of people who meditate and attune and read the Bhagavad Gita and have never thought critically about systemic oppression or wouldn’t know non-violent, authentic communication if it hit them in the face. And don’t even get me started on utopian activists who treat people like shit.
You can attune all you want to your own inner self and its needs, but in my opinion, the best way to attune to anyone else’s needs is to fucking ask them, and listen to what they have to say. And not to assume you know, because you don’t. And to respect their honesty and try your best to work with it.
To me they’re two sides of the same coin, consent and attunement. Asking God/our deeper selves or asking each other. Especially if you’re of the school that the divine exists in or as all of us. It’s saying, my conscious mind does not know everything, and I’m capable of listening to and harmoniously working with other forces in existence, be they God, the universe, your unconscious, the plants, or other fucking people.
Spiritual community without a massive emphasis on consent just makes no sense to me. I don’t get how you can think about liberation and harmony with God or with nature or with yourself and not have it click like, Duh, other people are a thing. I don’t get people who say they get non-coercion and personal freedom and still think it’s helpful to be judgmental or pressure others or deride people and act based on massive assumptions.
I don’t think this is a difficult idea. Difficult to practice? Hell yeah, it’s hard as fuck. But difficult to understand? It’s actually pretty simple.
Here is what I think: Love is the essence of divinity. Freedom is the root of love. Consent is the expression of freedom. That goes for your personal relationships and for society, though society has the added caveat of systemic problems (superstructures for you Marxists) that often need to be dealt with differently than individual human relationships.
I know I’m not perfect. I know I’m not. But I am at least trying on all fronts, and I’m in a place right now where if I’m in any situation and I feel like I can’t act in accordance with my own morality, I get the fuck out of that situation as quickly as possible and don’t engage again until I can. And if I’m in a place where acting in accordance with my own morality doesn’t fit in accordance with yours, I’m usually happy to explain myself. But removing yourself from a situation you think is toxic to your own ability to practice what you preach I don’t believe is ever morally wrong, and any group of people anywhere wishing to build itself on harmony between free individuals should understand that.
I’m trying to treat my relationship to myself and God and society and other people the same way, as best I can, because I think they’re all pretty much the same thing, and also, I’m tired of being a hypocrite. I know I can do better, and maybe so can all of us.
Maybe Findhorn’s just not the place for me. In fact, that’s not even a maybe – it isn’t the place for me. The place for me hasn’t yet been any of the communities I’ve visited, spent time with, gotten involved in. Maybe the place for me doesn’t exist, at least not yet. Maybe it isn’t one specific place or group of people. Maybe I’m meant to build this place, maybe I will. Maybe I’m meant to just be this, wandering in the world, as best I can.