The major centre for “alternative thought” in Britain is the Findhorn Foundation, located in Moray, north Scotland. Commencing on a caravan site in 1962, the Foundation is now an NGO, with an extension in CIFAL auspices, this addition denoting a role in the UN ecology programme. See CIFAL Findhorn and Critique of CIFAL Findhorn.
The Foundation has made several basic claims over the years, including that of dispensing a spiritual education. One of the numerous phrases in use after 2000 has been “a centre of spiritual service in co-creation with nature.” Critics have objected to the rather extravagant wordings. The phrase “personal and spiritual transformation” has also been in favour, a theme that is common in the alternative sector. Amongst the commercial promotions is “The Game of Transformation,” a novelty commencing in 1978, and for which the participant charges have been high. An additional detail is that a million decks of “Angel Cards” were sold by 2003.
By the year 2000, the Ecovillage project was underway, with much deference paid to the concept of sustainability (which was also sold in “workshops”). The factor of ecology (in the non-commercial sense) is not in dispute with critics, at least in my own case. See Club of Rome theme and Climate Change Complexities. Rather, it is the general ideological context of the Foundation, onto which the ecology interest was grafted, that remains the focus of disagreement. See Myth and Reality (2007). The influential “Experience Week,” carrying noticeable price tags, has for long comprised the introduction for beginners, encouraging interest in commercial workshops also provided by the annual programme. The affluent international clientele has numbered many Americans and Germans, with other nationalities also being represented.
Over many years, the Foundation promotional literature and online extension has evidenced a strong commercial component in what are known as “workshops.” These activities demonstrated the strong influence of the Esalen model from the 1970s onwards. The concepts involved were largely in the field of alternative therapy, generally imported from America. A major manifestation of that trend occurred with the instance of Holotropic Breathwork (HB), a creation of Stanislav Grof during his Esalen phase (1973-1987).
HB workshops were conducted at the Foundation during the years 1989-1993, and under the auspices of Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. Despite the glorifying promotionalism, some paying clients experienced mishaps and problems that were suppressed. HB therapy was administered in the belief that spiritual benefits were occurring. HB workshops notably featured prolonged hyperventilation, to the accompaniment of “bodywork” and music. A common response of participants was screaming; there were also various other extreme manifestations of behaviour, such as vomiting and trauma.
Grof lore was not questioned by the Foundation personnel who sponsored the commercial workshops. Complaints of victims and local critics were viewed as a threat to the proclaimed Foundation mandate of being a “planetary village” and a leader in “raising consciousness.”
The Foundation management were obliged to suspend the HB workshops after five years of this activity. The Scottish Charities Office made a recommendation to that effect, after commissioning a professional report from the Pathology Department of Edinburgh University. The report gave warning in medical terms about the hazardous nature of the controversial HB activity.
No error was acknowledged by the Foundation staff. Instead, they censored and stigmatised a local British dissident who had legitimately complained at the discrepancies in clear evidence. That dissident was my mother, and so I am well acquainted with the relevant details. See Criticism of New Age (2008) and Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation (2010). See also Letter of Kate Thomas to UNESCO (2007).
In 1996, a book was published locally (in Forres) that documented the fate of several dissidents. The Foundation responded by suppressing the book to a notable degree. Staff members ignored the contents, and in 2002 the prohibited work was declared on the web as being not worthy of a review. The Foundation management instigated this questionable development, and in the face of favourable reviews appearing in more responsible quarters (including ICSA). The book was entitled Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation, and the British author was ex-member Stephen J. Castro. Amongst other matters, Castro documented the problematic phase of Holotropic Breathwork, which was conveniently forgotten by the management. See further Findhorn Foundation: Problems (2009).
The alternative philosophy of the Findhorn Foundation was superficial in the estimation of critics, despite the elaborate partisan attempts to portray all criticism as being a purely subjective matter, a projection of the critic’s own mind. Alternative therapy ignored criticism and dissidents, and instead gave lip service to the meaningless theme of “conflict resolution.”
Observers noticed that for many years the American “channelled” book known as A Course in Miracles was conspicuous in the activities of Cluny Hill College, the Foundation therapy centre in Forres. A major sentiment was forgiveness, which never applied to dissidents. Unconditional love was another of the unconvincing themes in circulation.
The more literate subscribers to this curriculum were known to read books by Ken Wilber, Stanislav Grof, and Fritjof Capra. The general partisan consumption was fed with numerous fads and doubtful menus varying from Aleister Crowley magic to the discourses of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The Foundation bookshop was criticised by a female dissident who was not permitted to gain any democratic hearing.
The Findhorn Foundation College arose from the decline of Cluny Hill College, which suffered diverse vicissitudes at the time of severe economic debts incurred by the Foundation in the late 1990s. The experiment known as FCIE (Findhorn College of International Education) was disastrous, quickly terminating after enrolled American students rebelled at the curriculum in 1996.
In recent years, the Findhorn Foundation College has shown a tendency to modify some of the “holistic” emphases in terms of an advertised “academic” ballast. An operative phrase is now “integrating academic and experiential learning.” Critical analysts have concluded that the presumed “spiritual education” still encounters difficulties in professedly holistic demonstrations.
The major female dissident eventually commenced a solicitor confrontation with the Foundation in 2008. This episode has been documented online. The responses of the Foundation management have been widely considered deficient, and to an extreme degree. See my Letter to Robert Walter MP (2008). The management even attempted to deny the membership record of the dissident (Jean Shepherd, alias Kate Thomas), a ruse which was unsuccessful. See Denial of Membership (2010). Alternative “spiritual” education remains a suspect factor.
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
September 20th 2010
ENTRY no. 32
Copyright © 2010 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.