Wind Turbines at the Findhorn Foundation
Findhorn Foundation promotionalism presents a glamorous picture of an alternative organisation offering educational, ecological, and spiritual benefits. The downside of this scenario has been effectively suppressed. The article below presents some of the loss in context that has occurred.
2.1 Commercial Workshops, Grof Therapy, and Dissidents
2.2 The Deceptive Priority of Economics
2.3 Spiritual Work as Economic Exercise
2.4 Debt, Business Enterprise, and CIFAL Findhorn
2.5 New Age Buddhism
2.6 Trees For Life
2.7 Dissident Kate Thomas
2.8 Ongoing Commercial Workshops
2.1 Commercial Workshops, Grof Therapy, and Dissidents
The Findhorn Foundation has presented an anomaly to close observers. That community acquired NGO status in 1997, and promoted themselves as a centre for spiritual education and “transformation.” During the 1990s they established the Findhorn ecovillage, a project which exists on the same territory as the Findhorn Foundation. The ecovillage became the focus for another project of ecological associations.
In 2006, UNITAR endorsed what became known as CIFAL Findhorn. This decodes to the twelfth CIFAL centre worldwide, existing for the purpose of ecological training programmes associated with the UN. The glowing promotionalism for these activities has been prodigious. So why is there such a mood of reserve amongst the critics?
Close analysis of these events has revealed some disconcerting factors. For one thing, the ecological activities exist side by side with the commercial workshop programme of the Findhorn Foundation. This has been an ongoing means of income for many years, and has given support to many alternative therapists and other entrepreneurial entities associated with what is now known as “new spirituality.”
The doubtful agendas incorporated in the “workshops” are sold for noticeably high prices, and cater for an international clientele. The promotionalism for this long established programme strongly encourages an uncritical approach to the themes and practices being sold. These workshops frequently last for a week or so, and cost on average several hundred pounds, the fee varying somewhat.
The commercial workshop programme has nothing to do with ecology (though a version of sustainability is represented). Critics dispute that this programme should be described in terms of spiritual education. It amounts instead to an entrepreneurial form of fashion in “alternative” concepts. The format of the workshop programme bears strong resemblances to the commercial schedules maintained by the Esalen Institute in California. Since the 1970s, the Findhorn Foundation has received many American guests, who transmitted the “alternative” conceptualism emanating from California.
Prior to the 1970s, the nascent Findhorn Foundation was under the more exclusive influence of Peter and Eileen Caddy, whose situation on a caravan site caught the imagination of the late 1960s “new age” trend in Britain. See Myth and Reality. In the 1970s, the Foundation commenced a phase of expansion via property acquisition. Cluny Hill College in Forres became a key venue, but conventional standards of education did not apply. That college was run as a centre for alternative therapy and related trends. This situation was glorified in terms of the so-called “holistic” experience claimed by the Findhorn Foundation.
There were other problems also. The Foundation acquired a severe economic deficit during the 1990s. The persistent attempts to conceal this flaw lapsed in 2001, when a debt of £800,000 was publicly declared. Elaborate measures were taken to offset this drawback, including a proliferation of business enterprises that were nominally independent. The trend continues, with CIFAL Findhorn also being run as a separate business, namely CIFAL Findhorn Company Ltd. Close inspection of the community under discussion is similar to charting a business combine with different faces all having the same head.
While under the long shadow of undeclared economic malaise, the Findhorn Foundation became an NGO in 1997. Exactly how they achieved this became a matter for local speculation. They were deriving income from dubious commercial workshops even while accumulating a debt that soon led to the mortgage of Foundation properties. The Findhorn Foundation College was born amidst the overdraft anomalies, and was another exercise in holistic claims that are deemed superficial elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the fabled “eco-houses” were appearing in the new ecovillage. The price of these dwellings became expensive, and it was locally said that only affluent persons could afford the luxury abodes. The ecovillage was also run on business lines, and there is no doubt that profits were involved for the entrepreneurs. Yet the promotionalism gave the impression of an ecological utopia deserving of UN patronage.
Dissidents were unwelcome to the point of exclusion. In 1996, only a year before the acquisition of NGO status, a book was published in Forres that aroused the wrath of the Foundation staff. The dissident book was unofficially banned. The blockade was confirmation of the unyielding managerial attitude to dissident views and complaints. Democracy was something generally assumed within the Foundation, but in practice was a long way off. The reality did not match the sentiments in vogue.
The dissident book was entitled Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation. The author was Stephen Castro, a resident of Forres who had for seven years witnessed the discrepancies prevalent in the expanding community commenced by the Caddys in 1962. This annotated work contrasted with the enthusiast literature favoured by the management, whose publishing arm set great store in simplistic partisan accounts and the “God Spoke to Me” output of Eileen Caddy.
Hypocrisy and Dissent reveals an authoritarian regime who were customarily evasive on the subject of local dissidents. Trustees, management, and staff were all dismissive of problems on their doorstep, despite their constant claim of expertise in conflict resolution. Above all, the hierarchy could not accept criticism of their policies, even when such policies involved blatant injustices. The favoured recourse was repression and stigma. This was the new age of “holistic” achievement and entrepreneurial “spirituality.”
The Castro book met two distinct fates. In 2001 this volume was favourably reviewed by ICSA, and recognised by some academics as a valid stand against bad management and dictatorial strategy. Yet within the Foundation, that book was continually maligned and made the subject of a dismissive internet stigma of 2002. The Foundation management chose to favour a statement, from a zealous supporter, that the dissident book was “not worth reviewing.”
Chapter six of Hypocrisy and Dissent is particularly relevant to the commercial workshop programme of the Foundation. This chapter describes events attendant upon the sponsorship of Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. within the community during the years 1989 to 1993. Stanislav Grof was a former prominent resident of the Esalen Institute, where he had improvised Holotropic Breathwork as a commercial therapy. Grof was also an influential advocate of LSD “therapy,” which had become illegal.
Grof had undertaken many LSD sessions, and was furthermore actively involved in MDMA “therapy” before this too became illegal in the 1980s. MDMA is popularly known as “Ecstasy.” Grof remained a staunch partisan of the drugs LSD and MDMA, and yet he became unwisely celebrated at the Findhorn Foundation as an expert in psychology and spirituality.
At the Foundation workshops, Holotropic Breathwork was observed to create serious problems for some clients, including “screaming, vomiting, hysterics,” and also hallucinatory experiences plus unpleasant aftermath symptoms such as disorientation. Yet the management was strongly resistant to due criticisms of the Breathwork, especially as the Foundation Director (Craig Gibsone) had become a practitioner of this exercise in hyperventilation.
Holotropic Breathwork was eventually suspended due to a recommendation from the Scottish Charities Office, which in 1993 duly acted upon a negative report from the Pathology Dept of Edinburgh University. Despite the official warning, Craig Gibsone and other Foundation personnel subsequently perpetuated the controversial therapy in a “workshop” setting. This tendency has been the subject of complaints. Gibsone became a leading celebrity of the ecovillage, where standards of conduct leave much room for improvement.
A major critic of Holotropic Breathwork was Kate Thomas, a local dissident and eyewitness who was effectively outlawed by the Foundation management. She was proven correct in her reservations concerning Grof therapy, but instead of duly conceding this factor, the Foundation hierarchy continued to stigmatise her for independent views. They created acute distortions of her complaint at their unjust policy in her direction. Their tyranny is indicated by a recent document of Kate Thomas, which the Foundation has so typically ignored. See the Letter of Kate Thomas to UNESCO (2007).
Other responses to the Letter to UNESCO were of a different kind entirely. A copy was despatched to the Hon. Tom Sackville, Chairman of FAIR, who sent a sympathetic reply dated 1/10/2007. Sackville transpired to be critical of the Findhorn Foundation. A former MP, Sackville had been an official in the Home Office, though he had become very critical of British government lethargy in relation to malfunctioning organisations. Acting upon advice from the Chairman of FAIR, Thomas subsequently contacted her local MP, who proved sympathetic to her case (see 2.7 below).
Meanwhile, occurrences such as Grof therapy are glossed over by the Findhorn Foundation publicity tactic. Critics refer to ongoing Foundation promotionalism and “workshops” as a form of miseducation that causes widespread confusion amongst susceptible subscribers. Such matters are treated at more length in my recent and critical webpage Findhorn Foundation Commercial Mysticism (2008). [See also Findhorn Foundation, 2010.]
2.2 The Deceptive Priority of Economics
In 2006, complaints were addressed to UNITAR about the proposed CIFAL centre in Moray. The suitability of the Findhorn Foundation as the location for this public service training centre was strongly contested by three critics of the Foundation, including a retired accountant living in Scotland. There was no reply from UNITAR, a fact which caused further alarm. Official plans and decisions evidently considered public complaints irrelevant.
An elaborate screening process was in occurrence. The major fulcrum for this was Moray Council, who had recently decided that economic prospects were strong in relation to the new CIFAL centre. That council refused to acknowledge a circular of complaint that was sent out to relevant persons in June 2006. Moray Council were anxious to push through the new plan without any obstruction to their aims, and in September 2006 they gained success by finalising the scheme for CIFAL Findhorn, in collaboration with UNITAR and the Findhorn Foundation. The local Forres newspaper reported that a “deal” had been signed in Geneva between those three parties.
UNITAR is the abbreviation for United Nations Institute for Training and Research. That organisation is based in Geneva, and has been accused of inadequate research into the Findhorn Foundation, who have been glorified by the official strategies ignoring public complaints.
Reference here to certain correspondence of 2007 is pressing. John P. Greenaway wrote a letter dated 26/03/2007 to Nicol Stephen MSP. This communication gave relevant information about matters relating to the Findhorn Foundation and the UN. In March 2006, the prospective CIFAL project was promoted in the local press of Moray, and subsequently received a supporting majority vote from Moray Council in the ratio of 13-5. Later, the construction of a £1 million CIFAL training centre was formally announced (and embellished in some reports).
In the face of this official support, Greenaway and other critics had pointed out the disparity involved in the accounting discovery that “for well over a decade, the Findhorn Foundation, a registered charity, has been running a covert fund, probably mostly invested in property, for the benefit of its leading affiliates. This amounts to approximately £1 million, over and above its publicly revealed assets of £2 million approx.” Greenaway continues: “I am informed that, back in 2002, this analysis was accepted by the Financial Services Authority in London, but the FSA did not have the power to act.”
Furthermore, “widespread local negative perceptions of the Findhorn Foundation were reported to Dr. Winifred Ewing [MSP], who was a parliamentary representative for Moray for 29 years until her final retirement in May 2003." In 2002, Dr. Ewing alerted three other parliamentarians who were billed to speak at Foundation conferences. She informed them that the true state of affairs included financial irregularities, exploitive prices, extensive deceit and manipulation, and the dangerous ongoing therapy known as Holotropic Breathwork.
Those three politicians then decided not to attend the conferences. Their identities were Rhona Brankin MSP, Michael Meacher MP, and Mo Mowlam MP. Greenaway adds that Dr. Ewing never changed her mind about the organisation under discussion, and she was still writing on that subject in 2006, admiring the perseverance of a critic like himself.
Both Westminster and Holyrood failed to act on the critical medical reports available about Holotropic Breathwork (HB). Although that high risk “therapy” was dropped from the Foundation programme in 1994, HB continued to be dispensed on a private basis in this organisation. Furthermore, a group of influential Foundation personnel “began to conduct annual HB workshops every autumn” at the Foundation-associated venue of Newbold House in Forres.
This defiance of medical warnings continued until 2005, after which renewed official concern acted as a deterrent. The key HB presenter was Craig Gibsone. Yet discrepantly, he and his wife have been described as “the leading link throughout between the Findhorn Foundation and the UN, mostly via Dr. Pierre Weil in Brazil” (Greenaway epistle cited). The anomalies and lunacies of this situation have been obvious to critics.
Greenaway dates to circa 1996 the Foundation process of revamping into smaller units. The trend of apparently independent projects “disguises connections with the parent body, and makes it easier for Foundation connected concerns to successfully apply for Scottish Executive or EU grant aid or Lottery money" (epistle cited). This trend as been described as an economic deception.
The same informant raised the question of why Scotland could not run a national ecological training centre, either alone or in partnership with England, thus bypassing the Findhorn Foundation problem. The relevant letter was mediated via Nicol Stephen to a presiding official.
The Scottish Minister for Environment, Michael Russell MSP, sent a response to Nicol Stephen MSP dated June 2007. To quote here from that letter:
“Your constituent expressed concern about the suitability of the Findhorn Foundation as the location for a public-service training centre and asks why Scotland cannot run its own, similar centre. Decisions on the location of CIFAL centres rest entirely with the relevant UN agency having due responsibility for training issues, namely UNITAR, and it is to them that your constituent should address their concerns in the first instance. The Scottish Executive welcomes the establishment of the centre in Moray, and both the Moray Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise Moray are supportive of the development of the CIFAL centre. Indeed, HIE have assessed that a CIFAL facility located in Findhorn has the potential to bring additional economic benefits to Moray over and above those they have identified as flowing from the Findhorn Foundation.”
This quotation demonstrates something of what critics had been complaining about and still are. There was no recognition by the Scottish Executive of prior events. The assessment in terms of economic benefits remains shallow and unconvincing to those with a larger compass of information than is afforded by bureaucratic convenience. The shallow pursuit of economic interests is an ingrained feature of contemporary politics, and one that so frequently curtails educational events and creates confusion about due priorities.
Michael Russell also referred to concerns about accounting practice which had been raised in relation to the Findhorn Foundation. The mode of dismissal is here memorable:
“I am not aware of any irregularities in accounting practice which give grounds for concern. I note also that HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise) Moray has been made aware of these concerns in the past, and by the correspondent’s own admission responded to the effect that a copy of a critical analysis of accounting practices at the Findhorn Foundation was not relevant.”
Was anything here being unduly dismissed or uninvestigated? According to the critics, the political support for economic interests had seriously obscured the record.
The constituent referred to in the above-quoted letter was the author of a book on the Findhorn Foundation, a man closely familiar with many events in the far north, being an inhabitant of Aberdeen. John Paul Greenaway gained a degree in law at Hull University, and later became a civil servant. He had intermittent contact with the Findhorn Foundation during the years 1974-1992, and is classifiable as a dissident. He wrote an informative reply to letters from Nicol Stephen, the MSP for Aberdeen South. The major Greenaway epistle is dated 16/09/2007, and this took exception to some statements made by Michael Russell MSP in the above-quoted letter.
Greenaway reiterates in his epistle to Stephen that he had in fact addressed his concerns to UNITAR, and more specifically, to Marcel Boisard, the Executive Director of UNITAR. His lengthy letter of July 2006 to Boisard had not gained any response. To make quite sure of receipt, Greenaway had even sent a follow-up copy, which likewise did not receive acknowledgment.
Furthermore, a retired accountant of Moray had submitted to Boisard a copy of a significant analysis of Findhorn Foundation accounts. “This reveals a £1 million hidden fund, verified by the FSA (Financial Services Authority) in London.” The accountant was named in the letter to Nicol Stephen, but otherwise wishes to remain anonymous. That accountant had sent a covering letter to Boisard, along with his analysis. Disconcertingly, there was again no reply, not even an acknowledgment. The analysis of accounts was also sent to Nicol Stephen, who had duly responded.
Greenaway also mentions that a third communication was sent to Boisard, this time from myself, and one receiving exactly the same indifferent treatment. In fact, Boisard was a major recipient of my Letter to the Home Office – About the Findhorn Foundation and UN (2006).That lengthy circular achieved two versions, the first being despatched to the Home Office, and the amplified sequel having a cc. list which included many members of Moray Council. The latter contingent notably furthered the tactic of evasive non-response for which UNITAR is now notorious in Britain. See the expanded Letter to the Home Office.
The epistolary account of Greenaway continues to fill in important details ignored by the Scottish Executive and their commercial inspirers. He starts with the significant detail that in 2002, Dr. Winifred Ewing MSP had written to the Dept of Public Information (DPI) at the UN headquarters in New York. The Findhorn Foundation continually invoked the DPI as a source of legitimation. Dr. Ewing accordingly requested information from the DPI as to how the Findhorn Foundation had managed to obtain the various UN affiliations that were commercially advertised. Dr. Ewing received no response from the DPI, indeed not even a formal acknowledgment of her very relevant enquiry.
The convergent negligence in communications protocol of the DPI, UNITAR, and Moray Council has aroused comment. The failing has recently been described in terms of the deficient apparatus of a semi-literate and high-handed bureaucracy whose decisions and mandates are in very strong query. However, that reflection does not appear in the Greenaway epistle, which maintains polite format throughout. Greenaway does, however, make the pertinent point that UNITAR policy resembles a “bureaucratic autocracy” in the absence of a more desirable regulatory procedure which should “take soundings from the local and broader community.”
Dr. Winifred Ewing was a parliamentary representative for Moray and the Highlands for 29 years until her retirement in 2003. Her complex political career commenced in 1967. She was the first female MP in the Scottish National Party, and acted as President of the SNP during the years 1987-2005. In May 1999 she chaired the first session of the Scottish Parliament.
Dr. Ewing had a senior position to Angus Robertson MP and (the late) Mrs Margaret Ewing MSP, both of whom are associated with furthering the CIFAL Findhorn project in nascent stages. Greenaway urges that Robertson and Margaret Ewing failed to communicate to UNITAR the strong reservations of Dr. Winifred Ewing about the Findhorn Foundation. Margaret Ewing (d. 2006) was the daughter-in-law of Dr. Ewing, and MSP for Moray.
Greenaway refers to a lengthy conversation he had with Dr. Ewing at her home in January 2002. She then told him how she had received “innumerable complaints” about the Findhorn Foundation over the years from her constitutents. She also expressed her own strong aversion to the Foundation, based upon reports and experiences. Greenaway also states that he has “a considerable file of letters from Dr. W. Ewing through nearly four years which substantiate her view.”
Grievances have arisen over the enthusiastic and uncritical sponsorship of the Findhorn Foundation by two relative newcomers, namely Angus Robertson MP and Richard Lochhead MSP. The point is made by Greenaway that if Dr. Ewing had been consulted, the CIFAL project in Findhorn could not have gone ahead with any due justification. The changes in local opinion have been attributed to the activities of Robertson, who is implied as a convert to Foundation ideology, and who has been in close association with controversial Foundation celebrities.
Greenaway strongly questions abilities of assessment in the support faction for the Findhorn Foundation. To quote from his letter:
“Where in the array of support for this CIFAL Centre is there anybody (a) with accounting qualification up to Chartered Accountant or equivalent? (b) with long years experience of accounting, particularly in the use of techniques for detecting fraud? (c) who, possessed of a and b, has actually examined the Findhorn Foundation accounts, as Mr. -------- has done?” [This reference is to the accountant in Moray].
Greenaway informs that what has been proffered instead by Findhorn Foundation supporters is “the ludicrous ‘Economic Impact Assessment’ (EIA) commissioned by HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise), by an ‘economist’ about whom we know nothing, including nothing about his prior relationship with the FF and its conditioning workshops (examined in several book exposes). This so-called ‘EIA’ is full of implicit value judgments which are political in nature.”
The HIE has been described as the economic development agency of the Scottish Government. Yet there have been reservations, and the Moray branch has acquired a poor reputation amongst critics. That situation was not remedied when, in 2003, the HIE Chairman refused to provide the professional accountant in Moray with a copy of the full EIA. This accountant was the same man whose analysis was accepted by the Financial Services Authority in London.
Greenaway further comments:
“So much for the ‘open government’ as interpreted by HIE! Behind a smokescreen of fashionable terminology, HIE are still stuck in the old ‘sub rosa’ groove. HIE has made only a shortened version of this EIA available to the public.”
Suspicions attaching to the maneouvre known as Economic Impact Assessment (dating to 2002) are pronounced, implying an instance of the propagandist tendency noted to be at work in the Findhorn Foundation for many years. Glowing portrayals of Foundation expertise and achievement have invited strong repudiation from those well informed about the internal tactics of Foundation celebrities and their ideological agenda.
Following up his critical reservations, John Greenaway provides significant information. He asks in his letter: “What is ‘support’ from Moray Council and HIE worth?” The answer he supplies is relevant to quote here in full:
“On Feb. 8, 2006, ‘Audit Scotland,’ an official body of the Scottish Executive, issued a damning report on the general competence of successive Moray Councils through the period 1996-2004. (I have given some further detail on page 7 of my letter to Mr. Boisard, UNITAR, copied herewith.) In August 2007, as reported in local Moray Press, Audit Scotland stand by their damning assessment. HIE, and particularly its local Moray version, has not been a respected organisation either. Please see my account, on pp. 5 and 6 of my letter to Boisard, of serious criticisms of HIE from economist Tom Mackay, and from EU auditors.”
It is reasonably evident that the discrepancies in the CIFAL Findhorn general situation are sufficient to arouse strong caution, and merit critical scrutiny rather than facile acceptance. A further reason for caution is the fluency of tactic on the part of politicians.
Nicol Stephen MSP duly reported to Michael Russell MSP the substance of concerns raised by John Greenaway. Russell replied to Nicol in a letter dated November 2007. That reply was rather more guarded than the former commentary from the Minister for Environment, but is considered to have been disappointing by critics of the Findhorn Foundation. After three opening lines of formality, the second and final paragraph read as follows:
“I have little to add to my reply to you from June this year about previous correspondence from Mr. Greenaway in which he raised a number of concerns in connection with the training centre at Findhorn. The matters which Mr. Greenaway raises are ones which he would be best advised to pursue directly with those to whom his points are addressed, namely UNITAR, the local authority and enterprise company,the named individuals in his letter, and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. I note that Mr. Greenaway has already taken steps to contact some of the parties mentioned above, and while it is unfortunate that he has not received a response to his questions, that approach would appear to be the appropriate course of action.”
Commentaries on this episode should be duly critical of the Scottish Executive. The “appropriate course of action” is so often contradicted in contemporary British political circles. Excuses for sanctioning inappropriate situations are too frequently improvised. Some critics say that too many politicians and bureaucrats make the wrong decisions at the public expense. All that really counts, in too many cases, seems to be economics and salary, which has been the basic pursuit of the Findhorn Foundation managerial elite, to judge from much of the data afforded.
It has proved impossible to elicit any response from UNITAR, whose degree of irresponsibility towards public complaints is not admirable. The local authority (Moray Council) and enterprise company (HIE) in Moray are regarded as a joke by critics. Nor does OSCR (Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator) command any deep respect amongst close observers. Greenaway did refer to this administrative body in his informative epistle, asking what had happened to the formerly envisaged investigation of Findhorn Foundation accounting by OSCR. Greenaway states that the Investigations Officer Thomas Thorburn, of Dundee, had commenced such an investigation, “acting under new powers emanating from the new Charities (Scotland) Act.” Greenaway asked if this investigation had ceased, and if so, why ?
OSCR communication has been considered less than perfect. In my own case, an exchange of letters in 2006 with Senior Investigations Officer Thomas Thorburn confirmed that the Findhorn Foundation had categorically denied hosting Holotropic Breathwork in recent years. This denial was transparent as a facesaver, but OSCR failed to follow up relevant cues and indeed failed to reply to the second letter I sent to Thorburn dated December 2006.
Thus, OSCR also fell in line with the precedent of evasion set by the Findhorn Foundation and UNITAR. The new Charities and Trustee Investment Act 2005 was effectively meaningless in such bureaucratic situations of inertia. The diverse implications have been considered alarming. See my Letters to Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator .
2.3 Spiritual Work as Economic Exercise
The Scottish Executive effectively buried the accounting anomaly discussed above in relation to the Findhorn Foundation. However, that matter did receive published mention in my book Pointed Observations (2005), pp. 383-5, note 175. It is there stated that the relevant document was entitled A Financial Appraisal of the Findhorn Foundation, and had been accepted by the Financial Services Authority in London. “The details pertain basically to the 1985-95 period, though with some reference to the few years succeeding.”
The disconcerting details found in A Financial Appraisal include a disclosure made in 1992 which provides a significator of the general trend. The Foundation then admitted that the net worth of their company known as New Findhorn Directions (NFD) had fallen from £99,100 to £21,000. The Foundation is said to have increased loans to this company as the risk of insolvency increased, a fraught situation implying that NFD directors risked the potential loss of savings deposited by their adherents. The Financial Appraisal urges that such measures would normally be considered a misuse of funds.
The same document duly states that “the entire management team resigned” after the Findhorn Foundation profits had dwindled significantly between 1995 and 1997. The new management team likewise failed to stop the escalating debt, but all such details are omitted by the official sponsorship of the controversial community, who spell “economic benefits” to political parties in strong contention.
The Financial Appraisal names the members of the new management team who took ineffective “control” in the late 1990s. The three most well known of these personnel are Alex Walker, Eric Franciscus, and Robin Alfred.
Alex Walker is strongly associated with New Findhorn Directions, having been the managing director of that enterprise. He insisted that “a major task is to marry business and spirituality,” a theme evocative of the “Spiritual Businessman” role attributed to Francois Duquesne, who had been the Foundation leader in the early 1980s after the retirement of Peter Caddy (see Carol Riddell, The Findhorn Community, 1991, pp. 223, 269ff., 88-9). Walker cultivated the long-term profile of a management consultant.
Published in 1994, Alex Walker’s edited work entitled The Kingdom Within served to screen out the ongoing economic deficit, providing a glorifying view of the Findhorn Foundation, as is indicated by the sub-title A Guide to the Spiritual Work of the Findhorn Community. The consequences of “Spiritual Work” and “Spiritual Business” led to the debt of £800,000, a very big deficit for such an alternative community as the Findhorn Foundation, which began life on a caravan site in the 1960s. The debt was not declared until 2001, by which time it was obvious that the new management team had failed.
The presumed “spiritual work” is viewed by critics as an exercise in economic gains and losses. The insidious promotionalism encouraged by Walker and other Foundation celebrities has presented the Findhorn Foundation in such glowing terms as “demonstrating a way of life in conscious co-operation with God.” Another exalted description favoured by this organisation was “a centre of spiritual service in co-creation with nature.” A description favoured in 2005 was “a centre of spiritual education.” There has been an elaborate promotion of NGO status associated with the UN Department of Public Information, who were repeatedly invoked over the years by the “intentional community.” They currently describe themselves as "a unique spiritual community" (2009).
Taking cover behind such designations, the Findhorn Foundation have continued an extremely evasive policy in relation to dissidents and critics, who do not exist in the high-flown surfeit of glowing descriptions. The case of Kate Thomas is particularly graphic. See 2.7 below and article 1 on this website.
The mood of evasion is contagious. Eric Franciscus was one of the management personnel notorious amongst dissidents. He gained the reputation of a dictatorial bully, and his very revealing conversation with the dissident Kate Thomas is preserved intact on a tape recording dating to 1994. The verbal and behavioural excesses of Franciscus were amongst the drawbacks mentioned in a critical account that was submitted in the form of a complaint to another organisation closely associated with the Findhorn Foundation.
The so-called Scientific and Medical Network (SMN) are known to have encouraged the assimilation of Findhorn Foundation subscribers and concepts, especially via the Wrekin Trust [and the failed University for Spirit Forum], a body which is likewise intimately related to David Lorimer, who has the widespread repute of being an impresario of "alternative" conferences and workshops.
My document entitled Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer (2005) was sent out as a circular in 2006. That was a fairly lengthy epistle. Lorimer failed to reply, as did all but one of the other SMN members specified in the cc. list. Observers grasped that the Findhorn Foundation meant a source of revenue to the SMN, an economic priority precluding any ethical scruple. The SMN are an “alternative science” organisation whose performance is handicapped by an indifference to pressing matters of scruple.
Lorimer and other members of the SMN are enthusiastic about themes like “near death experience.” Critics say that such themes are no excuse or justification for failure to extend due responses in the epistolary dimension. There are too many pastimes of exchequer value in the activities and outreach of such evasive organisations.
2.4 Debt, Business Enterprise, and CIFAL Findhorn
Long before 2001, the Findhorn Foundation had failed dismally in their proclaimed economic prowess. The replacement management team at first gave the impression that the problems had been rectified. A superficial strategy was used to preserve the propagandist image of inviolability, more especially because NGO status was achieved in 1997.
Local observers like Dr. Winifred Ewing MSP were very sceptical of how such a distinction had been achieved. The details were very difficult to penetrate. The smooth promotionalist jargon gave the impression that NGO status was a natural outcome of great holistic achievements. The economic malaise was carefully concealed from public view. The UN Department of Public Information became the major publicity prop for the imagined prowess that was effectively bankrupt and so heavily supported by donations.
In 2001 the duplicit image was shattered. The extensive debt of £800,000 was now impossible to conceal. This would represent a small sum to a large organisation, but the Foundation had never become an economic giant. Lost to open view, though well known to dissidents, was the influential factor of an increased salary structure that was so very much desired by the new “executive” personnel. In former times, the Foundation staff had lived on pittances, a dearth possibly more suited to their proclaimed spiritual expertise that was doubted by critical observers.
Yet Director Craig Gibsone changed this situation irreversibly at circa 1990. Not only did Gibsone tenaciously sponsor Grof Transpersonal Training Inc., but he also wanted an income that more resembled the Grof purse than anything evocative of renunciate values. Gibsone toyed with Mahayana Buddhism, but was never a world-renouncing monk.
Dissidents have stated that the economic malaise was in part caused by the desire of Foundation staff for increased salaries; these innovations soaked up funding, but were consonant with the capitalist agenda of such an influential management consultant as Alex Walker. In this extreme "old age" atmosphere, the hapless communal assets of the Findhorn Foundation were privatised during the 1990s. Such factors contributed to an axis of operation that was in no way different from the prevailing capitalism in the outside world. The sphere of “spiritual business” was geared to balance sheets, revenues, donations, and the annual commercial programme of misleading “workshops” in pop-mysticism and alternative therapy.
Another form of commercial activity was invented in the form of “eco-houses.” Critics say that this subject was invested with elaborate mythologies serving to conceal too much of what was really happening. The “ecovillage” concept can easily be distorted and even abused. In 1997 the neighbouring territory known as Dunelands was purchased by a number of Foundation members. The new acquisition of land adjoined the location known as The Park (near Findhorn village), where the Universal Hall was situated. Dissidents have said rather pointedly that the investors made the most of this expansionist opportunity.
Even some Foundation members were puzzled by the soaring prices of “eco-houses” over the years. Yes, these dwellings certainly did have features that can be identified with the ecological incentive. However, they were also part of a commercial trend that catered to affluent subscribers who were not necessarily always well informed about what was supposedly in progress. It was observed, for instance, that people who purchased eco-houses tended to want a substantial return upon resale. There are now over fifty of these dwellings, varying from the basic "barrel houses” to rather more elaborate abodes that have been compared to a luxury housing estate. While simplicity is an apparent keynote of the former, a degree of affluence hallmarks the latter.
The commercial overtones of the buzzword “sustainability” became notorious amongst critics. Craig Gibsone was a major innovator in this direction, presiding over commercial “ecology” workshops that were promoted with the customary exuberance (or spiel) in the annual brochures for an affluent international clientele. Grof Transpersonal Training had fallen from favour, and sustainability was the new ploy for income.
The Foundation annual commercial brochures were and are all about the economic factor, whatever the minor thematics varying from A Course in Miracles to neoshamanism. The workshops and courses were widely known to be expensive, but this discrepant factor was offset by declarations to the effect that spiritual education was endorsed by the Department of Public Information, indelibly associated with NGO status.
The debt declared in 2001 was given various attempted remedies such as the mortgage of Foundation properties. The overdraft on Cluny Hill College was stated to be £500,000 (Greenaway, In the Shadow of the New Age, 2003, p. 333; Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005, p. 190). In November 2002, that particular debt was declared to be reduced to £305,000, a matter stated in the local press.
Proliferating business drives within the community gave the impression of comprising entirely separate enterprises to superficial scrutiny. However, a convergent impulse was evident in this programme. For instance, Duneland Ltd appeared as a separate concern to Eco Village Ltd and the Findhorn Foundation. Close analysts kept track of the integral complexities.
“The leading director and founder of Duneland Ltd is John Talbott, who is also founder and leading director of Eco-Village Ltd” (Greenaway, op. cit., p. 346). Application for the latter enterprise was accepted by Moray Council in 1997, shortly before Duneland Ltd was announced (ibid., p. 115). Greenaway reports that Talbott (a major celebrity of the Foundation) had asserted that The Park and the bordering ecovillage “are one and the same” (ibid., p. 346). This factor of geographical identity tends to support Greenaway’s description of “the Findhorn Foundation conglomerate,” a phrase used to specify the overlapping business activities of this disputed community.
It is clear that the ecovillage team were anxious to enlist the support of Angus Robertson, MP for Moray, who became sympathetic to their cause after Dr. Winifred Ewing retired from her political role in 2003. To quote here from my Letter to the Home Office (2006):
“Moray MP Angus Robertson has collaborated with the Findhorn Foundation (abbreviation FF) in their plan to host a new UN training centre in Moray. Robertson has described this as an ‘audacious and innovative proposal.’ The audacity merits investigation. His alliance with the FF has only been in process for about two years, and critics say that he is not duly informed about FF history, much of which has been repressed in the facade presented. Robertson’s enthusiasm has replaced the earlier reserve of Dr. Winifred Ewing, who retired in 2003 after expressing scepticism [of the FF]. She had to wait six months for the FF management to reply to her pressing letter. The incentive for the new UN training centre in [Findhorn] Moray originated within the FF, not within the UN. Robertson has acknowledged the FF as ‘the moving force behind the project.’ ”
The ecovillage celebrities implied as the prime movers in the UNITAR liaison are Craig Gibsone, his wife May East, Alex Walker, John Talbott, Michael Shaw, and Jonathan Dawson. They influenced Robertson, who in turn produced a political effect upon Moray Council. The culminating public relations tactic of the Findhorn Foundation in 2006 involved “lying low” for several months in the face of some criticism, though their dormant publicity vehicle was dramatically reactivated in September with the news of the coup engineered at Geneva via the collaboration of Moray Council.
Practically all of this passed unnoticed to general view, save for the end result, and the Scottish Executive were entirely dependent upon what they were subsequently told by the chief mediators in this scheme. UNITAR remained a distant and largely inscrutable Continental mechanism of endorsement, even to Scottish ministers of high standing.
The Findhorn Foundation ecovillage project to secure CIFAL status required some length of time to implement, and depended crucially upon the assisting parties named. All warnings and public complaints were ignored. By gaining UNITAR sanction for the twelfth CIFAL centre on their territory, the Findhorn Foundation moved from the downside economic position to one of prestige advantage for gaining further donations and subsidies. The additional economic benefits coveted by Moray Council (via UN connections) were allowed to obscure the precise situation of what the Findhorn Foundation had been doing for many years in their commercial workshop programme and other activities.
Critical observers subsequently took close note of the fact that CIFAL Findhorn operates as a separate business within the Findhorn Foundation "conglomerate" of commercial enterprises. CIFAL Findhorn Company Ltd did not convince critics that a viable or intrinsic ecological role has been demonstrated in the disputed situation. The charges made to subscribers (private and official) attending CIFAL Findhorn training programmes are substantial, and tend to underline the business concept involved.
While the ecological content of these programmes seems applicable, some observers query the daily rate of charges, varying in 2008 between £100-145. There was a slight reduction for two days at £190-270. Three day attendance has been listed at £280-405. Some seminars have been restricted to 30 people or less, and obviously the scope of financial advantage is then limited. Yet critics call the phenomenon ecobiz, especially as such subscriber events accompany the commercial “workshops” in sustainability that are chiefly associated with Craig Gibsone (see 2.8 below).
However, the partisan view is rather more glowing. Strongly associated with the Findhorn Foundation is GEN (Global Ecovillage Network), which has become a major tool in the promotionalism. GEN was inaugurated in 1995, and funded by Ross Jackson of Denmark, who "became wealthy by designing his own currency trading system." In January 2005, May East promoted the related Ecovillage Designer Education to UNESCO (Paris) and UNITAR (Geneva). This move is reported to have secured UNITAR approval, and was the preliminary to negotiations for the CIFAL programme at Findhorn.
That same year, the Findhorn Foundation became noted for their declared objective of being “the focal center of a network of light around the planet.” This exotic concept had originated with the predictions of co-founder Eileen Caddy (d. 2006), who did not figure in the governing strategies of the community after the early phases associated with the Findhorn Bay caravan park. Her “new age” books continued to be a popular focus for subscribers, but the management and economic directive was vested in other bodies. GEN became associated with the "network of light" believed to be of divine origin.
GEN has asserted “a new kind of global education” for the twenty-first century. A key word in this project is sustainability, though one tending to be monotonous in “workshop” schemes. At the Findhorn Ecovillage, Jonathan Dawson became noted for outlining the "economics curriculum" of GEN. There is also said to be an ecological curriculum, a social curriculum, and a spiritual curriculum. Dawson became the President of GEN, and has also been described in the Findhorn Ecovillage promotionalism as “helping to establish the community’s alternative currency (the Eko)," and as teaching Applied Sustainability and Sustainable Economics up to undergraduate level.
The Findhorn Ecovillage has featured an expensive commercial programme under the rubric of Ecovillage Design Education. A four week course in this subject occurred in October- November 2008, and was advertised as having the endorsement of UNITAR. The price tag was substantial, stipulating £1595 to £2125 depending upon low or high income of the applicant. A similar range applied to the charges for one week or “module” at £455 to £605. The device for maximal extraction is now pervasive within the Findhorn Foundation. The “facilitators” (an American term) of this programme included Jonathan Dawson, May East (the organiser of CEO for CIFAL Findhorn), and Michael Shaw. Critical observers wonder at how every subject in this sector becomes a lever for economic contributions.
There is also the factor that CIFAL Findhorn and the Ecovillage are ultimately inseparable from the large array of other commercial workshops promoted by the Findhorn Foundation on the same territory. Content in many of these varying “workshops” is controversial. The accusation has been lodged that clients and guests are prone to being misled and miseducated by the pop-mysticism and related themes and practices.
The “transformation” hype is very strong in this sector. The Findhorn Foundation have stressed “personal and spiritual transformation” as part of their activity in being a registered educational trust (e.g., the inside back page promotion in Findhorn Foundation Courses and Workshops May-October 2004). Nobody is supposed to argue with this trend, supported by invocations of the UN Dept of Public Information that regularly appear in the commercial brochures of the Findhorn Foundation.
2.5 New Age Buddhism
The Findhorn Foundation is attended by some associated ventures and independent charities. One of these has aroused criticism, namely the Shambala Retreat in Findhorn, which is in close proximity to the Foundation. In 2005, the Retreat received a substantial loan of £1.36 million from an anonymous donor “connected to the Findhorn Foundation.” The venture was thus able to acquire a large property in the area. There was some speculation about the loan or donation being influenced by the fact that leading directors of the new retreat had long-term status within the Foundation. Craig Gibsone was prominent in the Shambala administration.
The Shambala Retreat has been described as an interfaith centre for healing. A therapy message has been detected. A Buddhist orientation has been claimed, though a contradictory item emanating from that new venture appeared in Rainbow Bridge, the internal magazine of the Foundation, which stated that “much of Tibetan Buddhism is outdated and not in tune with the energies of the New Age.” See Update November 2005 to my Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer. Some commentators have accordingly described the Shambala Retreat venture in terms of “new age Buddhism.”
Three years later, in September 2008, the Shambala Retreat for Healing and Universal Compassion gained publicity via the worldwide Maitreya Project Relic Tour. An article in the local press received criticism (“Buddha relics tour offers rare opportunity,” Forres Gazette, Sept. 17, 2008, p. 3). Author John P. Greenaway made clear his objections to that article in a letter to Moray Councillor John Hogg dated 30/09/08. Greenaway here complains that the style of reporting is too reminiscent of Findhorn Foundation marketing extravagances, as in the Gazette reference to “representatives from all the major religions and Buddhist groups will also attend.”
The critic was similarly suspicious of subsequent photographs which appeared in the same local newspaper, one of these showing Angus Robertson MP and three Moray Councillors who were present at the unveiling of the Buddhist artefacts. Moray Council is not noted for a prior interest in Buddhism, and a political intention has been surmised elsewhere.
Greenaway has some knowledge of Buddhism, more especially the Tibetan variety, and his comments are of interest. The press report stated that many Buddhist masters had donated relics for the project under discussion, including the Dalai Lama. John Greenaway here objects:
“This seems rather cleverly worded to suggest that the Dalai Lama is supporting this Findhorn Foundation related Shambala project. In fact, the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa, as respective heads of leading lineages who originally supported the Shambala project, both withdrew their support some two years ago.”
The Director of Shambala is Thomas Warrior, a close affiliate of the Findhorn Foundation. The press reported him as saying: “We are very excited to host the world-famous Heart Shrine Relic Tour at Shambala for the first time in Scotland.... a very unique event in this day and age.” Greenaway sceptically comments:
“This is the Findhorn Foundation hype machine at work ! Buddhism does not express itself like this. Show business does ! When living in Aberdeen, 2003 to 2007, I attended weekly meditation meetings at a Buddhist venue. They [the participants at that venue] were invited to visit an earlier showing at the Findhorn Foundation of these relics. They declined, on the grounds that this kind of Buddhism is showy, materialistic, and superstitious.”
The critic had another grievance which he expressed quite incisively in the letter to hand:
“Thomas Warrior, Director of Shambala, at inception cited Chogyam Trungpa as inspiration. This notorious lama, who died in the late 1980s, was a compulsive sex addict (though his followers believe he was taking his devotees’ karma on himself) and long term drug abuser - hash, cocaine, and LSD. When he died (of cyrrhosis of the liver caused by alcoholism), the American who replaced him as head of Trungpa's group was a promiscuous bisexual who already had AIDS. Trungpa had given him a magical mantra, so he believed, which meant he would not pass on the infection to further partners. So he (the successor) continued his sexual pluralism, and of course duly passed on AIDS to several partners. (I know Thomas Warrior is not like this at all; my point is, he is naive and only quoted the dead Trungpa after the living heads of Tibetan schools withdrew their support.)”
A third topic of grievance was broached in the Greenaway epistle on these religious matters:
“Thomas Warrior is on record as stating that Tibetan Buddhism is now out of date, as it has been replaced by the New Age. Yet relic tours are distinctly Tibetan Buddhist, and a large majority of Buddhists, including many Tibetans, find them embarassing and feel they should be dispensed with."
2.6 Trees For Life
A rather different form of activity is also associated with the Findhorn Foundation, namely Trees For Life. Founded in 1981 by Alan Watson, this project was initially part of the Foundation, but became an independent charity in 1993. The speciality was here tree planting in Glen Affric, which became the geographical focus in 1991. Critic John Greenaway was appreciative of this activity and wrote that an office for this charity was retained at the Foundation property known as The Park, though Trees For Life “is technically independent of the Foundation conglomerate” (In the Shadow of the New Age, 2003, p. 36).
Recently, Trees For Life has expanded by purchasing the Dundreggen Estate at Glenmoriston in the Highlands. This acquisition of 10,000 acres involved £1.65 million and also required two years of negotiation. The project entails the planting of 500,000 native trees to connect (or rather reconnect) the forests between Glenmoriston and Glen Affric. In 2005, Trees For Life gained as a patron the Scottish journalist and broadcaster Muriel Gray, who planted the half-millionth tree that year in Glen Affric.
If projects such as Trees For Life were all that comprised the Findhorn Foundation, there would be no opposition from critics like the present writer. I might instead have joined the Foundation when I moved to Scotland many years ago.
As a matter of record here, I did not find much ecological pursuit in evidence at either Findhorn village or Forres, and I lived for a time in both of those places. I did notice that a solitary wind turbine (installed during the late 1980s) functioned at The Park (Findhorn), but this landmark was not enough to cause any conversion on my part to a very disconcerting milieu dominated by commercial “workshops” and alternative therapy.
There were other factors that were even more offputting, such as the treatment of dissidents and the attendant evasionism which was in total contradiction to any genuine democratic spirit. The new and strongly promoted eco-houses were no answer to deeply entrenched problems.
I could never understand why so many visitors to the Foundation preferred to pay exorbitant prices for entrepreneurial new age “workshops” instead of sampling the joys of Glen Affric and other Highland zones that were available for free. All one had to do was bike or motor out to those beauty spots and wild places. Of course, the really hardy types just walk everywhere, but I was getting too old for that.
According to close reports, the Foundation staff were not generally athletic types, and were not in the habit of walking the glens or climbing. The Foundation literature left me unmoved, and indeed nauseated. The Eileen Caddy genre of “God spoke to Me” made no difference to my general scepticism, especially as I knew in detail to what extent that co-founder had permitted discrepancies in the annual programme.
One of my initial inspirations of the 1990s was Muriel Gray’s book The First Fifty (1991). That title refers to the mountains known as Munros which are scattered throughout the Highlands. I took to a backpack, waterproof clothing, and solid walking boots. I took my first fifty in two years, and then just kept going, though developing a habit of returning to my favourite locations.
Scotland forever, but an end to predatory “workshops” and evasive managerialism.
2.7 Dissident Kate Thomas
When I first journeyed to the far north in 1989, I was already a sceptic of the Findhorn Foundation. Their promotionalism repelled me, although I agreed to suspend judgment because my mother became an associate member of this organisation. She argued that there could be potential for something much better. My suspended judgment turned to deep scepticism as the new drama unfolded.
My mother (Jean Shepherd, alias Kate Thomas) discovered that Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. was being ardently promoted by the Foundation Director Craig Gibsone, who opted to become a practitioner of the disruptive Grof practice called Holotropic Breathwork (hyperventilation). She found that complaints were not tolerated, and that objections to managerial policy were regarded as an aberration to be rejected without further hearing.
Another major influence within the Foundation was Alex Walker, managing director of the trading arm New Findhorn Directions. Walker tended to gain the in-house reputation of an adept in “spiritual business,” a phrase also evocative of Francois Duquesne, whose leadership in the early 1980s had “strongly supported expansion beyond the Educational Foundation of the Trust Deed into a spiritually based community, embracing business activity” (Carol Riddell, The Findhorn Community, 1991, pp. 88-9). In the 1990s, Duquesne was one of the Foundation Trustees, who were all found to be evasive and non-communicative about valid complaints addressed to them.
During the early Grof phase, Alex Walker was insisting that “at present the community is in a very healthy state, economically, socially and spiritually” (ibid., p. 223). That very questionable contention did not gain anything from Walker’s denial in the local press that Kate Thomas had ever been a member of the Foundation. Coming from a Trustee of the “spiritual business” community, this inaccurate denial of 1992 was not a good sign for aggregate memory performance of the staff, who continually demonstrated a habit of forgetting or ignoring important details. The obscured membership was reported in a dissident book which arrayed many facts unwelcome to the Foundation elite (Castro, Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation, 1996, p. 15).
Kate Thomas became the major dissident at the Findhorn Foundation in the days when Stanislav Grof was regarded as a saviour of alternative therapy. Grof was confused with spiritual achievement, and ecology was just a mute handmaid of the commercial programme. The acute hostilities and distortions achieved by “Education” manager Eric Franciscus were almost unbelievable, and to suspend judgment any further (on my part) would have been an act of sheer folly.
I composed an analytical paper on the Findhorn Foundation in a book (published in 1995) that was too long for the therapy victims to read. They were totally indoctrinated with clichés and entrepreneurial “techniques” of a very commercial type that sold for hundreds of pounds at a time. Grof workshops sold for over £400, and numerous other bizarre inventions were not far behind. The new age was worse than the old age, and based on the same predatory principles of capitalism, though the vaunted “education” (extolled by Franciscus) was far inferior to anything found in universities.
The drama expanded to include medical doctors, Edinburgh University Pathology Department, the Scottish Charities Office, leading journalists, the local watchdog Sir Michael Joughin, and yet others far afield. Many events were recorded by Stephen Castro in an annotated work that was vilified by the Foundation staff as unfit to read, because they and their policies were the subject of criticism. The disillusioned Castro had also been an associate member, though he eventually became a computer technician and an accountant (an employee of the Inland Revenue). His book was published at Forres in 1996, and was memorably suppressed within the Foundation (see 2.1 above).
A number of investigators have only recently caught up with these details. The mood is one of amazement that such things could happen under the auspices of a registered charity who became an NGO in 1997. The precarious context in which the Foundation became an NGO was a precursor to the anomalous situation in which the same organisation gained CIFAL status a decade later.
In more general terms, the partisan tale of how Eileen and Peter Caddy created the “magic of Findhorn” in the 1960s, and how this became an ideal “intentional community” fully equipped for UN honours, is one that arouses disagreement elsewhere. In this vein of dispute, for instance, the Hon. Tom Sackville (Chairman of FAIR) stated in a letter to Kate Thomas (dated 01/10/2007) that the Findhorn Foundation “should not be classed as an NGO.” Some tactics of the organisation at issue have been compared to the tendencies of cults, which are now quite closely defined.
Sackville was here responding to the Letter to UNESCO composed by Thomas and dated 01/09/2007. That document afterwards became available on the internet and comprises a concise statement of the treatment meted out toThomas by the Foundation staff and Trustees. She addressed that communication to UNESCO because attempts to contact UNITAR (and the DPI) had proved futile. She reasoned that the good reputation of UNESCO would ensure her letter receiving a due response on behalf of the United Nations. UNESCO is the abbreviation for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation. This body has a somewhat higher repute than the Dept of Public Information (DPI) associated with formal investiture of NGO status. See further Letter of Kate Thomas to UNESCO.
Thomas was disappointed when UNESCO failed to reply. Not even the briefest acknowledgment was forthcoming from the official to whom her lengthy letter was addressed. In contrast, the Prince of Wales sent an exquisitely courteous response to the copy that was despatched to him.
Subsequently, Kate Thomas sent a much shorter letter to the Director of the Findhorn Foundation, namely Bettina Jespersen. This letter was dated 23/11/2007, and is here reproduced in full:
There was no reply to this letter from either Jespersen or May East (the wife of Craig Gibsone). May East held the key official position in CIFAL Findhorn, located on the Foundation campus. Thomas had no prior contact with Jespersen, who was a recent Foundation Director. She had formerly encountered East, and without any friction occurring.
At length Thomas agreed to contact her local Member of Parliament (as Tom Sackville and others had advised her). In August 2008, she obtained an interview with Robert Walter, MP for Dorset, and he proved very sympathetic to her case. Walter expressed surprise at the extent of the evasive treatment about which Thomas complained in relation to the Findhorn Foundation. He was of the firm opinion that UNESCO needed to be recontacted, and that the Foundation required a separate reminder of their negligence.
Robert Walter MP accordingly sent communications to both UNESCO and Bettina Jespersen. This was in late August. There did ensue a reply from UNESCO, but a very brief one. The relevant email is dated 02/09/2008 and came from secretary Kate Overton, on behalf of the Office of the Director General at UNESCO. This communication read as follows:
This response from UNESCO evoked much word for word and contextual analysis. The prestigious body was obviously not prepared to say anything more on the subject, and was effectively disowning any link with the Findhorn Foundation. The abbreviated nature of the response aroused some comment in the circle of acquaintances of Kate Thomas, and this format was considered to be a drawback of current bureaucratic agendas. However, it was also a logical deduction that any further claim of the Foundation to have UNESCO auspices, however indirectly, would not be supportable to informed parties. The response of UNESCO annulled various associations in that direction which the Findhorn Foundation had made over the years in promotional literature.
Probably the most well known instance of those strongly accented associations concerned the Living in Peace workshop conducted by Pierre Weil and advertised in relation to UNESCO, whose General Assembly had recommended this activity some years previously. Weil was elaborately profiled by the Foundation as UNESCO’s Adviser on Education for Peace. In 1993 Weil “facilitated” his workshop at the Foundation, an event in Forres which gained local notoriety for the exclusion of close British neighbour Kate Thomas by an American “peacemaker” and “focaliser” (Castro, Hypocrisy and Dissent, 1996, p. 110). The obstruction to peace was Foundation staff member Stan Stanfield. See also article 1.4 on this website. See also the related details on Pierre Weil and UNESCO in my web article Criticism of the New Age (2008).
Robert Walter MP was disconcerted to find that there was no reply from the Findhorn Foundation to his separate communication. Not even the briefest acknowledgment of a few words. Robert Walter had now confirmed beyond all doubt that Kate Thomas had a genuine basis for complaint. The situation as a whole was very thought-provoking, involving a disclaiming UNESCO, a remote and aloof UNITAR, and an evasive Findhorn Foundation management.
Kate Thomas subsequently resorted to solicitors in contacting the Findhorn Foundation management. That correspondence is detailed in article 1 on this website (Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation). A reply was elicited in this manner from the Foundation Director Bettina Jespersen. However, the response fell far short of satisfaction. My subsequent Letter to Robert Walter MP was dated 27/11/2008, and is reproduced in full as article 3 on this website. That epistle lists the contradictions and undisclosed complexities evident in the Jespersen response. [See also Findhorn Foundation Discrepancies.]
2.8 Ongoing Commercial Workshops
Meanwhile, as an accompaniment to the revealing events recorded in 2.7, the calendar of commercial workshops was continuing in pricing advantage at the Foundation campus. Those workshops do vary in content, and some are far more objectionable than others.
The long established attraction and novelty known as the Game of Transformation is still very much in evidence after thirty years of advertising. In November 2008, four days of this Game were being advertised at between £385-£555 depending upon low or high income. This Game is capable of arousing strong criticism from outside parties, to put the matter politely. The web ad declared:
“Centred around a circular board symbolising each player’s world, the Game offers a playful yet substantial way of understanding and transforming key life issues.”
There was the further insistence that “this is a wonderful opportunity to receive a high degree of masterful attention and make a quantum leap into greater wholeness.” Two skilled guides and five players are mentioned. There was also a one week version of the Game on offer in December 2008, the charge being £515-£715 depending upon level of income. Such details were conveyed by the official website at www.findhorn.org.
The third variation of this allurement is a two week Facilitator’s Training in the Transformation Game. Scheduled for November 2008, the cost was £1,620 (including accommodation and board). The objective of this extension is to license others with the ability to conduct these workshops. The commercial aspect of the Game of Transformation is glaringly obvious. Such activities flourish in the absence and suppression of criticism.
Craig Gibsone reappeared as another commercial fixture in Ecovillage Training 2009, when he and the Foundation Faculty conducted a four week ecology workshop (Feb. 2009). The incessant theme of sustainability was here accompanied in the advance web ad by “Deep Democracy,” though dissident letters to the management are evidently taboo and carefully screened from the clients taught “Deep ecology and earth restoration.” The ecology programme does not restore relations with dissidents, and possibly cannot be trusted to restore very much else when such discrepant attitudes are so sustainable for many years on end.
The charges for EcovillageTraining 2009 were £1395 for clients with low income, £1595 for clients with medium income, and £1845 for those with high income. There was the option of a one week participation for the graded fee of £425-£545. Commercial sustainability is not cheap as chips, and some deep pockets are needed for deep ecology.
However, for those who cannot afford the full charge, a bursary is in prospect. Yet nothing may be lost here, as “if you can afford to pay more than the full fee for this programme, your donation will be gratefully received and used to help those who cannot afford the whole fee.” Deep ecology is ingenious in making client suggestions, and the Findhorn Foundation is accustomed to receiving donations.
Even bigger celebrities were visible on the workshop calendar. Two American heavyweights were scheduled for May 2009, a three day event being advertised at £475. The web ad warned that “this event is expected to be fully booked; please book early to avoid disappointment.” Persuasive stuff to facilitate the appearance of Andrew Cohen in person and Ken Wilber by phone link. The title of this event was Co-creating an Awakened Culture.
Cohen was here described as a “spiritual teacher,” with Wilber being billed as “the world’s leading ‘integral’ philosopher.” There is no hint of any critical view of these celebrities. The ad does ask an ambiguous question: “What would a fully awake, vibrant and conscious culture look like in the early 21st century?” This could be interpreted to mean that the Findhorn Foundation milieu is fully awake, though deep slumber is an alternative verdict from sectors resistant to the enthusiast programme.
Andrew Cohen has gained reproach from ex-devotees who deny his status as a guru. Ken Wilber has received criticism from ex-partisans who question his ambitious cosmology and version of integralism. These two celebrities are now closely linked, having become a dialogue attraction in Cohen’s magazine What is Enlightenment? The “guru and pundit” duo were further glorified by the Findhorn Foundation workshop programme. One theme eulogised here was “a radical shift in our consciousness.” Such a favoured expression, appearing in the ad, can mean almost anything to the presumably “awakened culture” emphasised by the workshop promotionalism. A radical shift appeared in the hippy boom of the late 1960s, and the confusion still lingers. A radical shift was also capitalised by Grof and other therapy merchants in favour at the Foundation.
For a rather more sceptical view of Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber, with reference to critics, see my web entry Evaluating Perennial Philosophy (2008). [See also American Guru]. See further Quadrant Theory, Andrew Cohen, and Stanislav Grof.
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
Copyright © August 2009 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.