A Magical Book About a Magical Place

The Magic of Findhorn is a magical book. I first read it when it came out in paperback more years ago than I care to remember. For more than a decade, I reread it now and then to savour Hawken’s sweet distillation of the spirit of the time. Those were the heady days of pot-smoking hippies, smiling flower children, and idealistic communes. Findhorn added fairies, giant cabbages, and bushes that got out of the way when you wanted to make a path through them. It was wonderful to imagine that I might run off and join the small band of romantics building a new kind of community on what was once a garbage dump. I never did, of course. Sometimes I think I missed a great chance. Findhorn still exists, although it is now a foundation and calls itself a “New Age” community. Naturally, there is a website.

First paperback edition cover

An enchanting look at an early New Age community in Scotland.

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Simone de Beauvoir on Life’s Possibilities

Simone de Beauvoir believed that, “The programme laid down in our childhood allows us to do, know, and love only a limited number of things; when the programme is fulfilled and when we have come to the end of our possibilities, then death is accepted with indifference or even as a merciful release – it delivers us from that extreme boredom that the ancients called satietas vitae.” The notion that our childhood defines us is sound. Our genes (character, behaviour) interact with our environment, we form a sense of how the world works, and we build a set of values. The development of this unique set of emotionally important ideas lays down the foundation of what will or will not motivate us as adults.

Simone de Beauvoir at 60

Simone de Beauvoir thought our lives are programmed in childhood with a limited set of possibilities. (Photo: Wikipedia)

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Schiller’s Idea of the Heroic

German poet, philosopher, historian, and playwright Friedrich Schiller had some strange notions about the nature of the heroic. He singled out Medea, in Greek mythology the princess of Colchis who aided Jason in taking the Golden Fleece from her father. However, rather than the daring deed of fleecing Papa, it is boiling her own children alive that earns Schiller’s accolade of heroism. She is heroic because she “defies nature, defies her maternal instinct, defies her own affection for her children, she rises above nature and acts freely.” (Berlin, 1999) The argument is, because she is able to set aside her genetically inherited emotions and maternal instincts, she has transcended the natural limitations of being human and somehow heroically liberated herself. Observe the assumption that the natural limitations of being human are somehow undesirable.

Portrait of Friedrich Schiller

Schiller thought Medea’s boiling of her children alive was an act of heroism! (Image: Wikipedia)

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Sartre on Freedom

French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre saw freedom, not just as a state of being or of mind, but as something with a distinct psychological or philosophical purpose. In his existential classic, Being and Nothingness, he writes, “Freedom is the way human beings put their past out of play by secreting their own nothingness.”

Jean Paul Sartre

Sartre had an exaggerated need for freedom, which may have come from his experiences in Nazi-occupied France. (Photo: WPClipart)

Sartre proposed that “nothing” is both the ground of human existence and what makes human existence possible. Unfortunately, this strange reality also generates an anxiety so unbearable that we all yearn to fill the nothing with something. From the psychological perspective, arbitrarily filling the nothing with something is an attempt to falsify ourselves and become what we are not. The something with which we choose (using our freedom) to replace the nothing is the foundation of our personal inauthenticity. In other words, there is nothing within us so we must “fill the vacuum,” so to speak, with an artificially constructed sense of self. Sartre’s motive for taking this unusual line is his desire to eliminate the old notion of dualism and replace it with a new monistic vision. To eliminate the perceived inside versus outside duality of the human being, he had to propose a situation where there was but one thing.

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Creative Individuals Are Promethean Rebels

Prometheus Bound

Prometheus stole the gods’ fire. Creative individuals steal the gods’ thunder by exercising free will. (Image: public domain.)

Resistance Is Not Futile

“It is the possibility of resistance to the needs of desire, on the one hand, and the dictates of intellect and reason, on the other, that constitutes human freedom.” The quote is from Hannah Arendt’s Willing. My own rewording of the idea goes like this: Human will is able to steer a course between the powerful urges of instinct on the one hand and the incessant petitioning of reason on the other. It reminds me of the old Greek legend of Scylla and Charybdis. Will is like a ship traversing the narrow strait with the devouring monster of instinct on one side and the drowning whirlpool of nagging reason on the other.

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