If you were to rewind half a century to 1968 and the modest beginnings of the Findhorn community you might bump into a young Australian, making his first tentative visit, and being greeted by a none-too-inspiring landscape of barren sand dunes and decaying military infrastructure.
“The physical landscape was completely trashed and there was no sign of life other than perhaps a seagull or two,” Craig Gibsone recalls with a sense of wonder.
“When I first came there were about a dozen people and in the 70s it rapidly went up to 100, 200 and then 300 people. But you could still know all of them and now that’s impossible. Today the community in its wider context probably spreads in a 30-mile radius from here.
”Another thing that’s completely different is that I was so innocent, in a sense naïve,” he remembers. “The founders had such a powerful, clear intention of what they were going to do – change the world!
“They have really contributed to the Global Ecovillage Network… Today it exists throughout the world.”
Casting his mind back to 1968 he says: “I just turned up. That’s what you did in those days. There were no bookings or telephones. And I was totally accepted from the word go. I got to stay in a caravan with nine other people.
“The strongest experience was feeling my heart opening to a sense of limitless love. It just happened spontaneously in meditation.”
As Craig approaches his 77th birthday he can take quiet pride in being part of the powerful impulse that created the pioneering ecovillage and spiritual community that’s been variously described as an experiment, a mystery school, laboratory for change and a hothouse for spirituality.
He shies away from any perceived rank and privilege that might come with a half century of contribution, although I can attest to the fact that he’s touched countless lives, mine included.
“Feral elder sounds pretty good”, he says, explaining his role. The truth is that he serves as the senior co-ordinator of ecovillage programmes and is a former focaliser of the community. He’s also a painter, potter, musician, builder and passionate permaculturist. Recently he co-authored a book entitled Permaculture – A Spiritual Approach.
What’s the glue that has kept him engaged? “A supported daily spiritual practice that allows intuition to flourish, with no form of dogma”, he says without hesitation. “I like the way that meditative or reflective practice, from walking on the beach to sitting in the Sanctuary, is accepted and practised daily.
“And there’s an outer dialogue that happens everywhere and at all times – over meals and in community meetings.
“It has helped me evolve my listening and communication skills, not just with my fellow human beings, but with all life. Findhorn had such a feeling of being a life school, and it wasn’t just me alone, but a group of like-minded people with the same intention. I feel that same spirit and energy within the community today, and it’s keeping me nourished and alive.”
Does the magic exist for new and younger visitors? “The person to ask is an Experience Week guest. A large number of people have some heart-opening and experience of a different way to live. I see it does do that.”
Perhaps more than anyone else I know, I see Craig being totally open and welcoming to a constant stream of visitors to his recycled whisky barrel home and wild and abundant permaculture garden.
“It is important for me to live a holistic lifestyle and allow younger generations to experience an environment that is soft, playful and fun, while exposing them to the practical reality of fulfilling their dreams. I use the house and garden and my daily life as part of the classroom for my work as an educator. And I believe that the best way to mentor and support others is to invite them into my own spaces and experiences.”
Fun and laughter are part of the mix and a popular Findhorn saying is: “If it isn’t fun it isn’t sustainable.”
Of course, living in community brings its own challenges. “The hardest lessons of my life have been here,” Craig admits. “They’re a place that says ‘OK Craig, you are the problem. So resolve that within yourself and with one another.’
“It’s a constant thing of renewal of yourself and your attitude. Don’t go to sleep. It’s too easy to go to sleep.”
Despite his obvious energy and vitality, some community members worry about Craig’s health and current cancer journey, although he personifies an embracing of life and letting go of fear and limiting beliefs.
“I almost have a naïvety about health, even though I have cancer again. I had my first bout of cancer when I was 24 and if I look at my health thing I’ve had my appendix removed, my tonsils removed, melanomas removed, I’ve had dengue fever, been shipwrecked, held hostage … and all these things could be life-threatening. But they’re just things that are happening and I don’t have any fear around them.
“When it comes to cancer I’ve been living with it fairly consciously for over 50 years and my first choice was to stop cobalt therapy while in my 20s. It was so debilitating and the worst possible experience …”
Around three years ago he was diagnosed with an aggressive prostate cancer and chose not to go under the knife, or have any chemical or radiation treatments. Instead he embraced a series of mistletoe treatments and modified his lifestle to avoid toxins while eating healthy organic food, much of it from his own garden.
“The mistletoe has an intelligence I have to work with,” he explains. “I’m not looking to eradicate the cancer or cure myself. I’m just learning to live with it. I think we’re all living with cancer to some degree, and through some process of imbalance, it asserts its presence.”
He looks at humanity and the spread of cities, deforestation and climate change and sees parallels with the explosive growth of cancer cells. “I used to refer to us as a plague of locusts … it seems we humans are very paranoid about cancer and fighting it tooth and claw. I have to release myself from a paradigm of a battle that I have to win.
“How can I live with it and with global warming and be responsible, grow my own food, reduce my footprint, recycle and create a permaculture loop where there is no waste?
“I’ve been blessed with an upbeat, positive, almost childlike attitude to life, and feel freer now than ever.”
To make his point he laughingly bursts into song, singing lines with which his mother serenaded him during his early childhood: ‘When I grow up I want to be me, the best me you ever did see, so my task will always be, to keep me free.’
You can join Craig in 2019 for Spiritual Retreat – Permaculture, a seven day Active Spiritual Retreat. He will guide you to deepen your spiritual connection to the consciousness of Nature through permaculture, as well as time in the Earthlodge and the dunes, forests and bay of Findhorn. The retreat runs in both August and October, 2019.
Craig and Maria Cooper will also be leading Applied Ecovillage Living. In it he will be sharing from his decades of experience as an ecovillage pioneer, giving you skills in low impact lifestyles, sustainability and right livelihood. It is also an ideal way to encounter the Findhorn community, as you will be part of a thriving ecovillage in both of our sites: Cluny and The Park. Join him and help co-create a better future for our planet!