Ecovillages restore, honour and celebrate the four elements – earth, wind, fire and water – and their interconnected processes in Nature and in people.
If I could wave a magic wand and inspire more people to care deeply about each other and our precious Earth I’d invite them to attend an Applied Ecovillage Living (AEL) experience at the Findhorn Foundation.The annual month-long programme was birthed within our community almost two decades ago – and continues to be a life-enhancing catalyst for change and new ways of being of service to all life.
Seven years ago it was the AEL course that attracted me to the pioneering Findhorn Ecovillage in the northeast of Scotland, showcasing new possibilities and providing me with many tools I use daily to live more joyfully and sustainably.
“If it’s not fun it’s not sustainable,” 74-year-old Australian-born focaliser Craig Gibsone insisted, providing a pearl of wisdom that has helped me to embrace a more Earth-friendly lifestyle and radically reduce my ecological footprint.
“AEL continues to embody the living and learning experience of the Findhorn Ecovillage, which is a full featured settlement embracing all dimensions of sustainability from the spiritual to the transformation of our sewage. It’s co-creation on the physical, emotional, mental and metaphysical levels.
“This year’s course opened the participants to question their worldview and deepen their commitment to planetary service.”His 32-year-old co-focaliser, Portuguese-born Vera Franco, added: “I feel this immense privilege to be a witness and facilitator of the transformational journey of AEL. The month provides the participants with a living laboratory where they can explore with depth and fun what is it like to be alive right now – and how we can live in a way that is more meaningful to ourselves, others and the world. I feel it connects people with their longings and empowers them to live more authentically.”
Participants are invariably energised both by the diverse content of the course and their time within the community.
Soon after settling in the Ecovillage I remember meeting an overjoyed 20-year-old Sonia Melocco of Slovenia: “I always had the feeling that something fantastic would happen when I got to Findhorn,” she said. “And it has blown me away. My love of nature, gardening and my love of people brought me here and those elements were present in the programme.”
I see the world as a crazy place and Findhorn feels safe being among people who are awake, conscious and relate to each other in a deeper way.
New Zealand farmer Greg Hart was equally pleased and said that it was well worth travelling halfway around the world to attend. “The real value is taking home the spirit of Findhorn. I see it as carrying a torch to create a light in my part of the world, putting love into everything we do.”
Working with the simple principle of not taking away more from the Earth than we give back, the Ecovillage model applies equally to urban and rural settings and to both developing and developed countries.
AEL provides a practical forum for learning and for developing action plans, with this year’s programme attracting participants from various walks of life spanning five decades from 19 to 70 years of age.German Laura Bolz, the youngest participant at 19, echoed a common sentiment: “It’s been intense, fun, beautiful and really really transformational.”
For many a highlight was a visit to the Trees for Life conservation project at Glen Affric that was hosted by its passionate founder Alan Watson Featherstone.
Just one percent of the original Caledonian Forest remains but a fence erected to keep the deer out has allowed young trees to flourish – and stepping through the gate is like entering another world where wild nature is staging a comeback.
Jamie Sykes, a 22-year-old Scottish explorer, says: “I like to think of the fence as a green line we drew across the landscape and said: ‘The retreat of the forest stops here.’
“For me the course has been very empowering and I’ve felt I was rekindling a lost connection with the Earth, the fauna and flora and the use of plants. I’ve enjoyed the practical things like working in Craig’s permaculture garden and learning more about edible and medicinal plants on a walk with community member Eveline Rodenburg.“I see the world as a crazy place and Findhorn feels safe being among people who are awake, conscious and relate to each other in a deeper way.”
Fellow Scot Stephanie Graham, 24, signed up for Experience Week first. “It was very, very powerful and I felt swept away in a good way.” The Trees for Life outing was a highpoint, demonstrating the power of positive action.
Her dream is to co-create a new Ecovillage with friends somewhere in the north of Scotland.
Maria Cooper, a 24-year-old international relations graduate with Scottish and Swedish roots, feels she is part of a dynamic group of young people travelling and studying permaculture. “We’re networking nomads who travel between projects and pollinate them. Young people bring energy and enthusiasm.
“It was not so much the content of the course but the process of how to engage with other people that really inspired me. It created a very deep process where I was engaging and understanding on many levels simultaneously.“For me, the AEL managed to pull together the eco-threads of what is otherwise a predominately spiritual community, and Craig does it in a way that makes sense and is a lot of fun. I got a lot of deep honest inspiration from it.”
Other programmes, which draw on the expertise of the Findhorn Ecovillage and introduce permaculture principles, are now running in places as diverse as The Gambia in West Africa and the Azores islands in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Plans are already underway for a 2017 AEL course beginning early in February that will provide a practical forum for learning and developing action plans for the future.