Seek always for the answer within.
The postcard had been sent from the Findhorn Bay Caravan Park and contained the cryptic message: “I think you'll find it interesting here.”
That was in 1967 and the subtle enticement was enough to prompt John Willoner, a young English schoolteacher, to make the journey northwards to see what his friend Dennis was referring to.It was the year when the Beatles released their hit single All You Need Is Love; Donald Campbell died trying to better his own world water speed record; the Queen Elizabeth II luxury cruiseliner was launched in Clydebank; and the fledgling Findhorn Foundation community in the northeast of Scotland had only six permanent residents – co-founders Dorothy Maclean, Peter and Eileen Caddy and their three young sons Christopher, Jonathan and David.
John became the seventh, although it took a number of visits over a six-month period before it became clear that this was where he was meant to be.
What greeted John on his arrival was a somewhat bleak dunescape that was devoid of flowers, birdsong or mature trees – and yet there was something compelling that was happening as seeds were sewn for the birth of what was to become a world renowned mystery school and laboratory for change.
“I saw a rubbish dump and lots of dilapidated caravans and I was looking for site number 27 which was quite difficult to come by because it was out of sight from the rest in a hollow.”
His friend Dennis had been there a few weeks and introduced him to an older person called Peter Caddy. “They were smashing rocks to create a base for a bungalow that was due a couple of months later at Easter. I was given a sledgehammer and joined in.”He stayed a couple of hours and was back the next weekend for a little longer, his visits lengthening until he had a strong impulse to release the work he’d been doing as a teacher at a boarding school about 100 miles away.
“I gave in my notice not really knowing what was ahead. When I was a student I used to do international work camps and I really enjoyed those … Findhorn was a bit like the energy of one of those work camps only there were fewer people. The few visitors that came only stayed for a few hours or possibly a weekend and there wasn’t a pattern in those days of guests coming long term. There were no programmes. It was just physical activity like gardening that Peter led by example and there were some very big cabbages.
“In the early years it was a work pattern from getting up to going to sleep, seven days a week. We were totally focused and involved and that was the oasis where I just wanted to be. Peter was very clear that he expected people to work and to work hard physically.
“I really enjoyed the company of the three founders. There was some sort of magnetism that’s difficult to pinpoint. I enjoyed being in this place that was gradually growing around the first caravan and I had no wish to be anywhere else. Peter taught, not in a lecturing way, but while digging alongside him there were pearls of wisdom.“We did meet every day for meditation at 11:00am which was called ‘Peace’ time as local people used to have their ‘Piece’ that was a bun and cup of tea. So if the Caddy boys said their parents were having their ‘Peace’ time this was accepted.”
On his first visit there was a tea break where he met Dorothy and Eileen and the three Caddy boys. “Peter gave me some copies of what was called Guidance that I found inspiring.”
Looking back on an association that spans almost half a century, he says: “It’s a great thrill to see the changes, just knowing what was and what is. It gives me the belief that the desert can bloom and today it’s like a Garden of Eden compared to what it was.
“In the early days we were focusing on the garden and building foundations and it wasn’t until the early 1970s that the time was right for growing people, which was the start of our holistic education programmes. I feel a great passion for Findhorn and love to share it with others – especially the area around the Original Garden and seven bungalows where I worked.”Quiet, unassuming and soft-spoken, John’s huge contribution isn’t always obvious, although for me he personifies the spirit of community, service, generosity, humility and a non-judgemental approach to all whom he meets.
There’s also a steely determination which coupled with his love of the mountains has seen him scale all 282 Munros which are the highest peaks in the UK, as well as enjoying hiking adventures in the Himalayas of Nepal and Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
In recent years he has served in the Conference office and become friends with many of the spiritual teachers who have visited Findhorn, many having enjoyed memorable stays in his distinctive little hexagonal wooden Eco home called Honeypot, which is inspired by his passion for beekeeping. He shares this beautiful space with his South African-born partner Sylvia Black and often these days there is the happy sound of animated grandchildren visiting from down south. His love and patience with children is legendary.
Just how profound his impact on the community has been was underlined last year, on his 70th birthday, when he was surprised by a ‘This is Your Life’ evening based on the famous TV programme of the same name.
Among those present to celebrate his life was his sister Helen Kinley and daughter Marian Grothey with many around the world sending messages of goodwill and gratitude.Spiritual philosopher David Spangler, who pioneered the Foundation’s role as a centre of learning, insisted: “I can’t think of Findhorn without thinking of you. You occupy such a powerful role and imagery in my memory of the time I lived in the community. I remember your go-to spirit. Your willingness to try anything and the love and helpfulness that you brought to every situation and every day.”
Christian mystic James Finley described John as a genuinely grounded, loving, sincere and contemplative person. “How much I cherish our friendship because of the kinship I feel with you.”
Dorothy Maclean, the sole surviving co-founder who is now 95, was among the many deeply moved by the presentation secretly prepared by friends Will and Angie Russell and others. It was a tribute to an inspiring life that married historical and contemporary footage and slides with live appearances in the Community Centre that is just a few paces from where the story began.
John’s role in the lives of the three Caddy boys has been enormous and sparked a great love of the outdoors and a bit of a role reversal these days as John joins monthly community walks led by Jonathan Caddy.
Jonathan’s brother David remembers: “You were like a second father to me. You are a wonderful gift in my life.”Christopher Caddy, the oldest of the three sons, said: “I’m not sure that you realise what an immense impact you’ve had on my life. At a time when the roots of Findhorn, the foundations were being laid, our parents had little time to bring up their children and you took on the role of being big brother and surrogate father.
“You taught us how to erect a tent, cook using a primus stove, helped us choose our first sleeping bags, then took us hillwalking, mountain climbing, introduced us to caving and took us on those memorable trips around Scotland and even over to Ireland. All of this had a huge impact upon me. And at the same time you were there as my tutor, my educator, my teacher. I needed somebody to help me on my pathway, to help me with my homework, and there you were, sent from God to look after us. And you’ve done so well over so many years. So thank you, thank you, thank you.”