Jonathon Porritt, summiteer, Findhorn Fellow and Founder of Forum for the Future, shares his personal story one year on from Findhorn’s New Story Summit….
To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed in myself.
At various points over the last ten years, I’ve tried to take myself in hand to achieve a better balance between inner and outer realities, between reflection and action. That was one of the reasons why I set time aside for the New Story Summit – essentially to engineer not so much another one-off moment (which I’m quite good at), but to ensure an immersive, deep rebalancing dive.
And it worked. Within a few months, I’d fulfilled one long-promised but endlessly deferred commitment: to undertake a proper guided retreat. It was only three days, but it was a wholly good experience, for all sorts of rather wonderful reasons. Here’s the promise I made to myself on returning to the regular work routine:
“Ensure that this retreat should not be just another one-off experience, albeit an intense and deeply moving one-off experience, but should be the start of a phase in my life where I balance the inner life much more purposefully with the outer life; that I take time out for further silent retreats; and that I bring some of the practice learned here into my daily life.”
Well, you can probably guess what happened next. Or, rather, what didn’t! Within a few months, even that limited commitment had receded so far into the hinterland of my working/relaxing life as to become a distant memory. I was regretful about this, but insufficiently motivated to do very much about it.
And then I found myself going whole weeks without so much as a passing thought or even a single contemplative breath. I’ve hugged a few trees along the way, of course, but over the years that’s somehow become very much part of the ‘regular routine’ anyway.
So I’m taking this ‘one year on’ opportunity to interrogate what it is about me/my lifestyle/my priorities that makes it so hard to live out in practice even a small part of my spiritual hopes and aspirations.
It’s an important question for me. Those aspirations have played a really important part in my life ever since I got involved in the Green Movement back in the early 1970s. I’ve consistently acknowledged the centrality of a spiritual dimension to the shared work that we do, and celebrated the inspiration of spiritual leaders.
For instance, I’ve just nominated Alastair McIntosh and Matt Carmichael’s ‘Spiritual Activism’ as my book of the year; discovering the work of Shams of Tabriz (the friend and spiritual instructor of the much more famous Rumi) has been a truly joyful experience; Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘Love Letter to the Earth’ has been my companion over the last few weeks.
But this is all in the mind! Even this enquiry has been a bit abstracted, almost as if I’m observing someone else undertaking the enquiry. And therefore far less troublesome than it probably ought to be. Indeed, the dominant feeling has been one of regret and a sense of loss – not of anything I’ve properly experienced, but of something I’ve yearned to experience.
So what if the ‘doors of perception’ I’ve looked forward to ahead of me are in fact closing, not opening? What if I can find no further consolation in these words of Sweden’s much-loved poet, Tomas Tranströmer:
“There the voice of a faceless angel
caught me, filled me whispering into
my body; do not feel ashamed, human,
be proud. Inside you, vaults are opening,
and new vaults beyond these – for ever.”
I still hope so – devoutly. As a Findhorn Fellow, I can still draw down on that source of ‘spiritual strength in depth’, and I have some wonderful friends with whom I continue to share this frustrating but still uplifting journey. From that source, I’ll give the last word to Shams of Tabriz from his ’40 Rules of Love’:
‘East, West, South or North makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.’