There is no pattern the human mind can devise
that does not exist already within the bounds of nature…
Everything we do, see, write, notate, all are an echo of the deep seams of the universe.
Music is the invisible world made visible through sound.
—Kate Mosse, 1961–
The taxi pulled into the Field of Dreams and the driver slowed down, asking, “What number are you going to?”
“417” I answered, anxious that I was going to be late.
“And that’s where we are!” he excIaimed, pulling off the road and alongside a wooden house perched on the edge of a cul-de-sac. I paid the fare and jumped out into the pelting rain, weather typical of early spring in Scotland and known in the local lingo as “dreich,” which seemed apt.
As I ran toward the cover of the home’s front porch, the door opened, revealing a smiling couple who introduced themselves as Carin and Ian. I apologized for not being punctual and Carin said, “Not to worry, Ian is usually a few minutes late to Taize singing” as she efficiently helped me into a raincoat while Ian extended the shelter of his umbrella. Before I knew it, I was trotting off beside Ian toward Findhorn’s Nature Sanctuary.
The Findhorn Foundation is a spiritual community, eco village and an international center for holistic learning, based in northeast Scotland on the Moray Firth coast, 26 miles east of Inverness. The Foundation’s main campus is called “the Park,” which spans 32 acres and includes areas known as Bag End, the Runway and Duneland.
The community was founded fifty years ago by Eileen and Peter Caddy and Dorothy Maclean, each of whom had followed disciplined spiritual paths for many years. They first came to northeast Scotland in 1957 to manage the Cluny Hill Hotel in the town of Forres, which they did remarkably successfully. Eileen received guidance in her meditations from an inner divine source she called ‘the still small voice within’ and Peter ran the hotel according to this guidance and his own intuition. In this unorthodox way – and with many delightful and unlikely incidents – Cluny Hill swiftly became a thriving and successful four-star hotel.
After several years however, Peter and Eileen’s employment ended, and with nowhere to go and little money, they moved with their three young sons and Dorothy to a caravan (or trailer in American parlance) near the seaside village of Findhorn. Feeding six people on unemployment benefit was difficult, so Peter decided to start growing vegetables. The land in the caravan park was sandy and dry but Peter began to apply the instructions Dorothy felt she received in communicating with the intelligence of nature, which she called “the Devas.”
Amazing results ensued–from the barren soil sprouted huge plants, herbs and flowers of dozens of kinds, most famously the now-legendary 40-pound cabbages. Word spread, horticultural experts came and were stunned, and the garden at the Findhorn community became famous.
The community has grown to encompass more than 500 people and 30 organizations that range from publishing to pottery and the arts to alternative medicine. Today the Findhorn Foundation is a learning centre which offers a continual series of workshops, retreats and events that attract thousands of people from around the world annually.
One such soul was my companion on this early morning walk in the dreich dampness. Ian Rippon, 55, of Norfolk England first came to the Findhorn Foundation at the end of 2000 to participate in one of the community’s “Experience Weeks,” a seven-day program that includes meditation, sacred dance, nature outings as well as working alongside community members in areas such as the gardens, kitchen and dining room.
“One of the options during the week was to go each morning to Taize, which was vaguely explained as a singing meditation,” Ian told me. “As a keen singer, I decided to try it out and was completely blown away by the experience. There are usually about 20-25 people present each morning, depending on what courses are going on at the Foundation. In the winter we may have as few as six people but together we can create a beautiful sound and have a wonderful experience.”
I learned that Taize is the name of a French village that is home to a Christian Eucumenical community who share their faith through singing. With the practice at Findhorn inspired by this group, the term “Taize singing” has become synonomous with their morning choral devotion.
“Although we call it Taize, after a form of meditation developed by a spiritual community in France, the practice at Findhorn is much broader and includes sacred songs from many different traditions,” he explained. “From the first day I went singing I was entranced and eager to experience and learn as many of the songs as I could, and this continued even when I left and went back to my home and life. It became for me a connection with the divine and a time of peace and reflection, even when singing on my own.”
With the time it took for this brief introduction to the Findhorn community and their practice of Taize, we rounded a corner and came face-to-face with what looked like a magical hobbit hole built into the hillside in front of us. The low stone structure had Arts-and-Crafts style squiggly lines, with windows that had an amusement park fun house feel to them and a green roof alive with tufts of heather, mosses and grasses. My delight must have been visible on my face and Ian smiled and said “This is the Nature Sanctuary” as he opened the rounded wooden door.
Inside, there was a vestibule where slickers were hung on pegs and the floor was piled with footwear. Ian quickly slipped off his shoes and I did the same, following him to the adjoining chamber. The small round room was packed, with people seated at the bench built into its circumference as well below them on cushions on the floor. He made a beeline for a seat across the room and I scooted into the one remaining spot on the bench to the left of the door.