The dawning of the New Year has again been an incredible gift in a setting as magical and inspiring as I could wish for.
Last year I was deep within Antarctica, lathering myself in suntan lotion and experiencing blindingly bright 24-hour days, while a year earlier I celebrated the birth of the new at the Mountain Club hut on Table Mountain, which is the iconic backdrop for the beautiful city of Cape Town. Both places took my breath away with their beauty and this year was no different.
January 1st found me hunkered down in the secluded Traigh Bhan retreat centre on the sacred Hebridean Isle of Iona, as gale-force winds raged around me and rain and sleet battered the window panes.
It was wild and achingly beautiful outside; the wind whipping up great plumes of spray from the wave tops, while inside I was warm and snug as I focussed on a candle flame and committed to the exciting year ahead.
This is the year that the Findhorn Foundation community in northern Scotland commemorates 50 years as a force for positive change and new ways of living harmoniously and sustainably; while Traigh Bhan celebrates four decades as a spiritual extension of that pioneering international community.
In 1971, when Jessica was approaching her 80s, she gifted the retreat home to Findhorn newlyweds Katherine and Roger Collis who in turn decided the house and sanctuary was for a wider purpose and should be made available to the many people who would be called to Iona in the future. They arranged for the deed to be transferred to the Findhorn Trust, ensuring it remains an intimate extension of the Findhorn community in perpetuity.
Just days earlier I’d met the couple for the first time at Findhorn as they prepared to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary and I marvelled at their generosity of spirit – I’m but one of so many people who have been grateful beneficiaries of that grand gesture over the years.
Making my time on the island extra special was the fact that I was sharing it with Findhorn friends Antonio Palmieri, Adele Napier and Guy Riggs, each of whom has strong bonds with Iona.
The island has been a centre of Christianity and pilgrimage since the arrival of Irish monk St Columba in 563 AD and significantly for me it was in the Sanctuary at Traigh Bhan, with its perfect views across to the neighbouring Isles of Mull and Erraid, that I had joined a meditation six months earlier before setting off on my own pilgrimage to walk with a message about treading lightly upon the Earth.
Looking back on recent weeks and months I delight in how far my feet have taken me. They’ve carried me across Scotland, parts of England and France, and the breadth of Spain on the legendary Camino de Santiago. Considerably more than three million steps according to my pedometer.
While based at Findhorn I’ve also had great fun and enjoyed living simply, with the Christmas season bringing home to me how much my life has changed for the better. The biggest celebration I took part in was an honouring of the Winter Solstice on December 21 which is seen as a time of symbolic rebirth at the end of the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.
Happily there were no frantic last-minute visits to crowded shopping malls and no bombardment of irritating advertising jingles in the build-up to what is supposed to be a sacred day.
Besides, had I joined the Christmas shopping mall ritual that has become synonymous with materialism and consumerism for me, where on the shelves would I have found the things that really matter: freedom, faith, friendship, health, happiness, joy and peace of mind?
Instead I feel I’ve found all these qualities in my new, simpler way of living and by seeing my world through new eyes.