Learning in a Holistic Community: The Findhorn Foundation
by Lisa Tucker (2018)
Just as a child’s development hinges on the people and experiences of their immediate environment from an early age, so too, their ability to learn is significantly influenced by the characteristics of their educational environment. Most schooling worldwide is mandated and institutional in nature, however there are numerous schools and centres where learners choose to attend, and where the possibilities of transformative experiences await them.
The Findhorn Foundation in northern Scotland one such a place. Although it was not intended to be a community or holistic learning centre, it developed organically around the founders Peter and Eileen Caddy and their children, and their friend Dorothy Maclean. Over 500 people live in and around the Findhorn community representing over 26 countries, and as a spiritual community, ecovillage, and holistic learning centre, has recorded the lowest eco-footprint of any community in the industrialized world, with their energy footprint being 21 per cent of the national average (they produce 40 per cent more electricity than they require with their wind farm). Their food footprint is 34 percent of the national average as their diet is mainly local, organic, seasonal vegetables. It welcomes over 10,000 visitors annually, with over 2,000 guests participating in residential programs. The community has a wide range of influence and collaboration with neighbouring towns and villages, including Forres, which is a transition town. It is the most inspiring and peaceable community that I have ever experienced.
The principles that the members of the community follow are to engage in deep inner listening and then to act from that source of wisdom, co-creation with nature’s intelligence, and inspired action. The Findhorn Foundation and Community has become an internationally recognized holistic learning centre and learning occurs in many forms. The Findhorn College which was established in 2001, provides opportunities for students to learn about sustainability within the context of a sustainable community.
Courses in permaculture design and ecovillage design are offered. The learning is experiential and occurs through collaboration, cooperative inquiry, and collective learning. “Education in the Findhorn community is experiential and transformative, a journey of self-discovery that changes people’s lives and is helping to create a sustainable and peaceful world. Living education is an integral part of the community’s work. Recognising the interdependence of all life is at the heart of education here”.
The form of learning that most participants engage in is workshops that they offer year round. The core program of workshops include Experience Week, which is an introduction to how the community works, Being in Community, and Spiritual Practice. They also offer a range of workshops from interspecies communication to visual art, and these are led by a balance of trained community members as well as international teachers. They also host numerous conferences every year including an International Forum on Sustainability, a Festival of Sacred Dance, Music and Song, Climate Change and Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth.
What is unique about learning in this community is that it is occurs within a rich and dynamic context. People who live there are consciously living in a manner that is peaceable, innovative, sustainable, and transformative, so that workshop participants benefit from interactions with the residents as well as being supported by the spectacular natural environment. Due to the contemplative practice that all community members engage in, there is a unique quality to how it feels just being there.
Although people still deal with their individual and collective challenges, there is an expectation that people will communicate clearly with each other in a heart – centred manner, and that really is a game changer. Workshop leaders create safe, open spaces for participants to share and express their ideas and needs, and others are gently guided to just listen. There is no fixing, giving advice, or challenging of ideas in these groups. The result of this ethos is that people feel accepted and cared for exactly where they are at a given moment. As the group becomes more cohesive through a variety of experiences including trust games, nature walks, and doing service in a community department, the ground is laid for deep learning.
I have attended workshops in the community for five of the past six years with my husband (including spending a week at their retreat house on Iona last year), and I have had some of the most transformative experiences of my life there. We now serve as Resource People for the Findhorn Foundation, and deliver presentations and provide interested parties with information packages.
Several years ago my husband and I attended a workshop entitled Spiritual Practice with Clay. Our workshop leader was a longtime resident of the community and a visual artist and potter. The first day was spent on community building with our group, settling into our accommodation, and setting an intention for the week. On the second morning we walked to Findhorn Bay which opens onto the North Sea, and our leader dug up some clay, which we put into plastic bags for the trip back home. We then entered what is referred to as the earth lodge, which is a semi-subterranean structure with a hole in the top.
A fire pit was in the middle of the structure and we all sat around it with our clay on wooden boards. Our leader lit a fire and for several hours we worked with the clay. We were in silence for most of the time, as people were very absorbed with their work, and on several occasions our leader asked us if we wanted to break for tea, at which point no one responded. Later on during the process, the leader brought his didgeridoo into the earth lodge and played it. It was quite a shamanic experience for me, as I felt as though I was in the centre of the earth, working with clay as my ancestors did.
For the remainder of the days, we participated in the kitchen, gardens, and maintenance departments for a few hours in the morning, followed by lunch (which was eaten in the community centre dining room), then worked with clay in the afternoons. We also attended events in the community including a performance in the Universal Hall and a summer equinox gathering at the Cullerne Gardens. We made several friends during that experience and are in regular contact with some of them.
I have incorporated many aspects of community development that I have experienced in my visits to the Findhorn Foundation into my work, and my teaching has deepened as a result. My husband and I have also worked towards creating a more sustainable life for ourselves based on what we have learned by being immersed in the community, including food production, building techniques, and social structures.
My husband and I lived in the community for the month of May this year, and loved engaging with the community. Their principles of inner listening, co-creation with the natural world, and inspired action contribute to this transformative learning environment. The Findhorn Foundation and Community feels like home to me as I deeply resonate with their ethos, and being there greatly contributes to my happiness and well-being. Findhorn is a living model for the future. Every year the community welcome thousands of fellow-adventurers from all over the world to participate in the workshops, conferences and special events. Explore how to live deeply connected to self, others, spirit and nature – a uniquely transformational learning experience.
Lisa Marie Tucker inspires people to connect with their deepest self, others, the Earth and beyond. With over 30 years of experience as an educator, she has served as an early years teacher, the Director of Programs and Exhibits at the Manitoba Children’s Museum, and an instructor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Winnipeg. She is a Resource Person for the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland; a holistic education centre and eco-village.