EarthSings Conference
Singing for Unity and Wellbeing 4

A Findhorn Foundation special event 30 March – 5 April 2013

Wednesday night

EarthsingsWednesdayKarinePolwart2It's Wednesday night and I'm here in the Universal Hall, waiting for highly acclaimed Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart to step onstage. The atmosphere in the Hall is alive with the excitement and expectancy of a crowd who have come from near and far, some only for tonight's concert and others here as part of the EarthSings conference.

Accompanied by her brother Steven Polwart on vocals and guitar, and by Shetland native Inga Thomson on vocals, accordion, finger piano and percussion, Karine sings a diverse range of songs, accompanying herself at times on a melodious instrument resembling a harmonium.

While known for the way she draws from folk music's long tradition, it is very obvious from the words she's written that Karine is keenly aware of the issues affecting people in Scotland today. Sharing with us what inspires or enrages her, Karine draws us into her world, and connects us to the world we all share. More than once, she invites our participation by teaching us the chorus of a song and encouraging us to join in.

EarthSingsWednesdayKarinePolwartKarine has come to Findhorn with her partner and children, enjoying a few days of holiday while celebrating spring. She tells us that one of her children is really excited that tomorrow they are going to visit the 'Hobbit House', which is of course our own beloved Nature Sanctuary. Family life is clearly paramount for Karine, heard in the tenderness with which she sings Five More Sleeps, a song about Skype phone calls with her children when she is away on tour.

Birds also feature strongly in Karine's lyrics. The robin, with its red breast; the wren, the King of Birds; and her favourite, the heron, which she reckons she would be if she was a bird. We laugh with Karine as she describes the heron as a bit gangly and slightly uncouth, identifying with this very talented woman who has the ability to take herself lightly.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this evening, my heart and soul truly touched by this trio of singer/songwriters.

Thursday afternoon

After experiencing the bliss of Michael Stillwater's Chantwave on Tuesday evening, I am really looking forward to today's session with him. This afternoon is the Honouring Ceremony, healing through music. We are recipients of transformative, spontaneously created songs of healing. This time with Michael is a chance to surrender to spirit, to the moment, and to whatever is alive within us. The invitation is to step forward into the circle to release something or call something forth for change and healing.

EarthSingsThursday MichaelStillwater4Entering the Universal Hall I find groups of participants dotted around and as Michael invites us all to come closer, an intimate circle is created around him. Michael explained to me earlier that he has always done the honouring on his own, calling forth whatever moved within him to offer as a healing song. For the first time here at Findhorn other singers will join Michael, spontaneously offering their voices and words to Michael's. I was surprised and delighted to see that the singers, sat in a half circle around Michael, were our EarthSings presenters Kathy Bullock, Fionntulach, Ali Burns and Karine Polwart! Joined by community members Barbara Swetina and Martin Barker they make up a ring of talented musicians. Hearing all of them sing together in this intimate gathering of healing feels like such a privilege.

The ceremony begins with the first recipient stepping into the circle. Michael suggests that she allow the possibility that the healing has already occurred. He then plays gently on the guitar and begins to sing, filling the circle with his powerful voice. Joined at first by a few, then by all the singers, an exquisite communal song emerges. Each singer comes in with their own felt words and melody, joining each other to compose one beautiful harmonic mantra. These are all extraordinary singers alone but together they make a moving, powerful call to spirit, a celebration of voices, a prayer. The music flows over me, through me, beyond thought to body, energy and spirit. We all move to the music and join in as each piece resonates within us.

Michael again has created a spell of blissful connection. As the ceremony draws to a close I understand why Michael calls this the Honouring ceremony. I feel we have been honoured by these healing glorious voices, but above all we have honoured the process of healing through the communal power of intention and song.

Thursday evening

Tonight I have the wonderful opportunity to attend what I discover is another first taking place in the Findhorn Foundation. Arriving at the Community Centre for a Georgian supra, I am immediately struck by the warm and inviting atmosphere that has been created to welcome those of us participating in this ritualised, sacred collective meal. The polished wooden tables, normally spread out around the room, have been joined into one big table. I learn that in Georgia the table is a symbol of unity, and so for this meal during which we remember and reinforce the universal human values and principles that hold us together, no table is allowed to be separate from another. Our appreciation is offered to Park Homecare and David Janes for their ingenuity in arranging the tables to be as one.

EarthSings Thursday SupraCandlelight and flowers add their softness and beauty, while bread and wine speak to us of nourishment and sacrament. As is tradition here at Findhorn, we begin by blessing the delicious food that has been prepared, with gratitude given to Thomas George, Desie Opgenoort and the kitchen staff, volunteers, gardeners and all those who have brought this meal into being. Appreciation is given to the Cullerne gardeners who are serving our meal and cleaning up afterwards.

As the Foundation's representative, Peter Vallance holds the place of host for this supra. After welcoming his guests, it is the host's duty to choose the Tamada, or toastmaster. The Tamada is the one who leads the supra by choosing the themes of the toasts that give the meal its structure and rhythm. He opens himself to be inspired by the people at the table and lets come to him the words that will progressively lead the people to open themselves and share their most intimate thoughts and feelings. Tonight we are honoured to have Frank Kane as our Tamada and Barbara Swetina, whom Frank has chosen, as our Moadgile, or deputy toastmaster.

Peter starts us off with a Celtic blessing, drawing our attention to the empty place left at the table for the stranger with whom we share our hospitality and the abundance that we ourselves are about to enjoy. More than once tonight, the similarities between ancient Scottish culture and that of Georgia are brought to our awareness. Peter then hands over to Frank who speaks of tonight as an opportunity to learn about a ritual form used by the Georgians to build cohesion. In this ritual form, the words we say to each other are an act of cohesion and the drinking of the wine the way in which we make sacred the words we've spoken. The songs that are sung will be those that capture the spirit of the toasts that are made.

EarthSings ThursdaysupraOne of the themes that Frank leads us into is that of ancestors, origins, roots. Sharing from a very personal space, he speaks of his 12 years of coming to Findhorn, of the acceptance of humanity that he found here when he came for Experience Week back in 2001. Appreciating what he refers to as an acknowledgement of his right to exist, Frank talks about feeling this same acceptance when he is in Georgia. Toasting Eileen and Peter Caddy, Dorothy Maclean, the Findhorn Foundation, the people who are attracted to come here, the nature connection and innovative arts programmes, Frank offers Happy Belated Birthday wishes and blessings on our next 50 years.

Barbara follows on by sharing about when she first came in 1978. Offering a special toast to Dorothy, our surviving founder, as a fountain of inspiration, love and wisdom, Barbara mentions these three pieces of guidance from Dorothy:

All religions agree God is love
God lives within each one of us
Go within

Voices in the ancient polyphony that is a hallmark of Georgian singing fill the room with Mravalzhamier, the Georgian song sung for birthdays and which means many years.

Another ancestor who is honoured tonight is Edischer Garakanidze, the first one to bring Georgian singing to Findhorn in 1995. Here for the conference Songs of Heaven and Earth, Edischer sparked the beginning of what has become a tradition of Georgian singing here. Today that tradition is kept alive by Bill Henderson, Vera Bohlen and Jacqui Watson through the local group they lead, Bukhari (hearth in Georgian) and by Frank through the workshops he offers whenever he comes here.

As the evening unfolds, I experience a depth of intimacy, love and joy between us all that I wouldn't have expected within the context of a formal meal. At one point Frank leads a toast to the power of love in all our lives. Fionntulach offers a Gaelic chant (Love above all else) and invites Kathy Bullock to join her. Together they turn it into a gospel song that I daresay touches the hearts of everyone in the room.

EarthSings ThursdaynightAt sunset Peter tells us The Tale of the Woodcutter, a Muslim story of Mushkil Kusha – The Remover of All Difficulties. With sweet dates for us to eat, both as a symbol and a reminder, we are invited to recognise the abundance in our lives and the importance of giving as well as receiving. We then sing a soothingly beautiful healing song Batonebis Simghera that many of us have learned while in Frank's workshop this week.

There were so many exquisite moments tonight and I want to offer my heartfelt love and gratitude to everyone who was there and gave of themselves. Our sacred meal comes to an end with Peter being the first to celebrate Frank as the toastmaster, thanking him for creating this space. As a final blessing, Frank offers these words:

"May the love we've shared be of benefit to all of existence."

Sandra Mitchell and Mo Haley

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