The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) grew out of the conference ‘Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities for the 21st Century’ hosted by the pioneering Findhorn Foundation and Community in 1995. Findhorn hosted GEN+20 in 2015, celebrating 20 years of this inspiring network that has since expanded into all continents. This year it was hosted by the fabulous Angsbacka in Western Sweden with over 600 participants from countries throughout Eastern and Western Europe.
The strong theme was present in each moment – Conscious Happiness: Living the future today. Solidarity. Resilience. Hope. Inspiring speakers gave keynote talks – Helena Norberg-Hodge and Charles Eisenstein – as well as lesser known names, bright lights within the movement. Each one sharing their passion for ecovillage life, networking with each other and learning new ways of living more lightly on the earth.
I arrived early as a Findhorn Foundation Delegate to attend the General Assembly and election of the new GEN Europe Council, chosen to guide the network for the next two years. Witnessing the sociocratic election I felt like I’d been air dropped from one community process to another, ready for a rest from it all! I felt inspired though by the willingness of everyone to stay present, voice their concerns, and reach a graceful completion that embraced the younger generation.
We welcomed the new council of Riccardo de Amici (Italy – Comunità di Etica Vivente), Isabelle Malleze (France – Oasis), Ethan Hirsch-Tauber (Portugal – Tamera), Irene Goikolea (Basque Country – Amalurra), Camilla Nielsen-Englyst (Denmark – Hallingelille), and celebrated the re-election of Thomas Heuser (Germany – Zegg) for a further term. As we moved into the main conference the group grew tenfold from 60 to 600 and each day there were plenary sessions, activities and a range of workshops to choose from. I joined in Dragon Dreaming with John Croft, shadow work with Irene Goikolea from Amalurra and learnt the history of Angsbacka, appreciating the pragmatic approach of the founder.
The Angsbacka houseband sang devotional music each morning in the Big Barn and I fell in love with their presence! Imaginal, six mime artists and creative spirits from different ecovillages, wove one magic moment into another. The sound of a handmade instrument signifying a shift between presentations, creating a seamless flow of interconnection. I loved the sense of intimacy in different exercises, connecting with strangers, as unknown faces became friends and I found my place among the crowd day by day.
I felt humbled by the extent of the network, tens of thousands of ecovillages throughout the world, and questioned my ability to guide the Holistic Centers Network into a similar expansion. I deepened in trust, knowing my journey has led me into this unique position, prepared me for the role, and I sensed the vast potential of HCN in transforming lives through personal and spiritual growth.
One of my highlights of the conference came through the home groups. We were a mini gathering meeting for an hour each afternoon. Jonny from Tarifa in Spain, Durten and Vera from the Findhorn community like me, Viktoria from Sweden, and Jens, the father of one of the Angsbacka volunteers. He came to the conference with his wife, curious about the community where their daughter had chosen to live. Perhaps more traditional yet also open, he’d worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years.
As each day unfolded Jens recognised his own sense of community and the influence he had in leading the organisation into the future. “I’ve already started to share the inspiring new ideas, and the importance to bring in the earth as a separate individual, and take as much care for the earth as for any human being”, he says. I feel excited by ‘the edge’ – we’re not all in the ecovillage or holistic movement, but there’s so much potential around the places where contrasting paradigms connect. The cross pollination of ideas and inspiration.
In such a large crowd, sometimes I experienced the paradox of feeling alone within community. I set the intention to connect with the Angsbacka management team – knowing my interest was more in how we organise ourselves as centers and how can we thrive, the social more than ecological aspects of sustainability. That afternoon in perfect synchronicity one of them approached me with a colleague, both keen to talk about Community Exchange with Findhorn.
We sat in animated conversation on the grass in the sunshine, comparing our volunteer/student programmes and organisational structure, all three inspired and fascinated. After a few hours it was just two of us, the conversation became more personal about family and vocation, then she mentioned her father at the conference. I put two and two together and realised the connection, knowing I was witnessing a healing journey within the family constellation – of feeling seen, loved, accepted and understood for the choices we make.
Having lived and worked in the spiritual community of Findhorn for over seven years as part of my own healing journey, I’ve grown to appreciate the eco-village aspects. Personally I feel more drawn to the spiritual and yet value sustainability as an expression of a conscious life. We might not be on the cutting edge of technology or as radical anymore, our role has perhaps evolved into seeding other ecovillages around the world.
One afternoon we ‘took a walk through some of the ecovillages of Europe’, areas set up with the flag of each country, folk sharing stories and visuals. I felt truly inspired hearing about abandoned castles being transformed into community homes, thriving businesses and abundant gardens, and holistic centers flourishing with creativity in places I’d never heard of before.
I’m passionate about community and the concept that we’re all connected. Born in England and an immigrant to Australia, I believe in global community and the positive side of being able to engage with each other across cultures in the spirit of mutual learning and respect. I hadn’t fully understood the impact of globalisation and in my naivety had perhaps gotten them confused. An evening screening of the 2011 documentary The Economics of Happiness was educational in this regard, opening my eyes more widely to the impact of corporate power, the need for systemic change and the seemingly insane trade agreements that move produce unnecessarily around the world.
In the 3 minute trailer of the documentary, Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy says, “The number of Americans who say yes I’m very happy with my life peaks in 1956 and slowly but steadily goes downhill ever since.” Is there a correlation with the leading holistic centers of our time, Findhorn Foundation and Esalen, being established soon after, in 1962? I imagine the world needed such places in response to the yearnings of the human spirit, and Findhorn has played a vital role in demonstrating how humanity can work in harmony with the intelligence of nature. As industry and technology progress more and more, around the world we’re being called to return to the more traditional, local and holistic way of living, through the modern day ecovillage and transformational learning centers.
During the ten days I forged friendships with other communities and felt keener than ever to visit the Community of Living Ethics and Damanhur in Italy, Tamera in Portugal, Zegg in Germany, Auroville in India to name just a few, and develop our Community Learning Exchange. It feels vital to extend our gaze, beyond the communities we know so well, where we live and work on a daily basis, to go beyond internal politics and organisational challenges, and connect with the larger vision of why we exist. The importance of the role we play in creating a more peaceful and sustainable world. The conference was fun, sometimes challenging, certainly enlightening, and as one of our great elders says here, “If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.”