Posts Tagged ‘Challenges’


Jul 22 2013

Major social insights from the world of barbeques


I’m happy to say that even now, in my sixties, I am a BBQ virgin.  Barbies have never appealed to me: they remind me of the joke, ‘Why do men do barbeques?’ : ‘Because they end up burning the meat better.’

However, my wife’s family are keen on the barbeque scene, and when we decided to invite them all to our house for a weekend party to celebrate Linda’s 50th, there was probably some self-interest in their decision to give her a barbeque set as a birthday present.

My father-in-law clearly felt it was his duty to train me in doing barbeques, not a view I shared.  However, it is thanks to Richard that I have a major social insight from the world of barbeques to share.  He explained that you need two kinds of charcoal to get a barbecue going well: firstly, fast-acting, self-impregnating for a quick and fiery start, and then lumpwood for a steady reliable flame.


Fast-acting, self-impregnating seemed a pretty good summary for the frenetic youth of today. And whilst lumpwood may not be the most elegant name for the over fifties, there’s such a desperate lack of a good collective name for them that this could be a strong candidate.

At least the term lumpwood suggests a solid, important, dependable, and central role, with a hearts of oak quality, which I feel is very appropriate to the many invaluable roles which we over-fifties could play in society, if we start to find our voice, re-discover our purpose, and act on it all. But then, to return to the barbeque analogy, it might just be the role of the fast-acting, self-impregnating generation to light our fire…



FutureScapes Scenarios for 2025

Jul 31 2012

FutureScapes is a recent collaboration of Forum for the Future a leading UK sustainability charity and Sony.  Their late 2011 report is available as a free download, but is work in progress, with public and organisations invited to join in its future evolution. This work is not a prediction, but it is an interesting set of speculations, and they are built from four Climate Futures scenarios, helped by experts from academia and think tanks, as well as Forum and Sony.

Technology, sustainability, virtuality… 

Common to all four scenarios is the expectation of a major, global, carbon crisis, somewhere in the 2010s or early 2020s.  However, the report shows how much difference there could be in our route to low-carbon living.  Here’s a brief view of each scenario:

  1. Hyper Innovation: This is a society still dominated by business, materialism, individualism, where rapid moves in technology make eco-living easier, cheaper and fun.  They quote several recent innovations to illustrate this trend, such as artificial meat, and the super-strong conductive material, graphene.
  2. Shared Ownership: Here, governments have changed the groundrules to ensure huge carbon cuts, and business has responded with innovations in the way products are bought and used.  Many products are leased and/or shared, and designs prioritise reusability and adaptability.  Such trends can already be seen; eg in car clubs, ‘personal factories’ (Ponoko), and online bartering marketplaces like Favabank.
  3. Centralised Survival: In this scenario, voluntary responses to climate change were too little, too late, so draconian intervention by governments around the world has imposed sustainable behaviour, with technology used to police and to reward behaviour.
  4. Prosperity Redefined: An extended recession helps shift the prevailing values in society to wellbeing, quality of life, and community.  Technology is geared to enabling this.  Denmark, which often tops quality of life lists, can be seen as a pioneer of this philosophy.  This scenario has many of the features of the way I hope the UK will respond to the problems ahead, such as:
  • More focus on neighbours and face-to-face communities.
  • Growth of donation and exchange of services and volunteering, less on the money economy and paid work.
  • Quality of life is a greater priority for most individuals and nations than maximising economic growth.
  • Traditional jobs are less important than learning, leisure, and contributing to the local community.

FutureScapes is tantalisingly silent on how we can help bring a preferred scenario about: but that’s what Facing the 2020s should help with!

Community, ecology, herbal tea… More lessons in life from Findhorn

Jun 27 2012

Why have I just spent all afternoon on my knees, weeding tiny tufts of couch grass from a flower bed? I’d never do this at home. The reasons why I’m weeding are complex, but they’re all because I’m at Findhorn.

You can’t easily sum up the Findhorn Foundation in a paragraph, but here goes. It’s a spiritual community, eco-village and education centre in a beautiful setting near the sea in North-east Scotland, founded 50 years ago, and it’s been a major source of inspiration and practical learning for me since 1990.

Findhorn people talk about work as love in action, and they walk their talk: this is one reason I’m weeding.  At the start of any Findhorn work shift, there’s an attunement: the work team join hands, connect with the purpose of the task, and ask to be guided to do it well.  This really helps me feel that my mundane, repetitive task is worthwhile, and I stick at it cheerfully.

Since the start, the people at Findhorn Foundation have worked in co-operation with the spirits of the land and the plants, which they call devas.  You may believe it or not – I do believe in devas, and I find a sense of delight and nourishment in the gardens at Findhorn which is not unique, but rare: I feel it on other land which has been tended lovingly and consciously, such as Hazel Hill Wood or Hilfield Friary in Dorset.

If you’re interested in sustainability, Findhorn is well worth a visit.  It’s the only place I know in the UK which deserves the name eco-village.  They generate much of their own electricity, they have a plant-based sewage system, free minibus services, a range of eco-houses, and they grow much of their own food.  Some of this is at Cullerne, where I was weeding a flower bed: here they aim to make the whole place beautiful, not functional.

The Findhorn Foundation started in the Sixties, and there’s a good number of ageing hippies living here.  In fact the age profile of the community is worryingly skewed over 50.  The good side of this is the way they are pioneering new ways to support people with severe ill health or infirmity.

An interesting feature of Findhorn’s Community Care programme is that it trains those needing support in how to receive it.  Strong personalities can get bossy and stroppy when they are infirm, and they need to learn new approaches, such as gratitude, asking for help, admitting they can’t cope.  And those giving support need new skills, like valuing what they do, and making sure they don’t burn out.

I am back here to recharge my batteries, meet old friends, and learn from this community.  All of this I can do in an afternoon of weeding, if it’s at Findhorn!

How to enjoy a wet May

May 11 2012

Finding your inner fire when the sun won’t shine

I am writing this at Hazel Hill Wood, sitting at the foot of my favourite beech tree, with a struggling campfire.  It has been raining heavily for days, now it’s merely a light drizzle pushed along by a strong South-Westerly wind.  This seems to be the shape of May 2012.

Early May is my favourite time of the year, especially at Hazel Hill: the bluebells are usually abundant, the birdsong is intense, and there is new growth everywhere.  As you may guess, this year it’s all pretty subdued.  Many bluebells haven’t even flowered.  The wood is damp and chilly like early March, and yet the Spring growth is here.  The green of young beech leaves is brilliant, almost electric, even in this weather.  But the lack of sun has shown me how much I, and probably most people, depend on Spring sunshine for our own sense of growth and renewal.

I know many organic farmers and gardeners who say that it’s best not to water and fertilise your plants too much.  Their approach forces the plants to root deeper in order to find water and nutrients.  There’s a useful parallel here for humans in a wet Spring.

The silver lining in these clouds is the chance to strengthen your will and intent, and dig deeper in yourself, in order to find the inner fire to fuel your Spring growth.  It’s like cycling instead of driving a car: not so easy and convenient, but it makes you fitter, stronger, less dependent on outside support.

How to do this?  Robert Osborn, who co-leads some Men Beyond 50 groups, offers this method: Find a quiet place outdoors, and sit comfortably on the earth.  Now imagine you are like a tree, and that your spine extends into roots below the ground, and branches with leaves above your head.  Visualise drawing deep red fire, the physical vitality of the earth, up through your roots.  Then combine this with drawing white fire down through your leaves from the sky, the inspiration of spirit in whatever form you conceive it.

Nature remains one of our greatest teachers.  Even in a dismally damp May, the trees’ roots are reaching into the warmer earth below ground, their leaves are finding whatever light there is, and they are growing with the season.  To quote from a song by James Burgess:

 By the fire that is under the earth,
 By the fire that is over the earth,
 By the fire in the heart of heroes… 

Elders, seniors, oldies: is there a difference? Learning from Findhorn’s Experience

Apr 13 2012

My involvement in the Men Beyond 50 project has prompted me to explore elderhood: for myself and others. This is one reason for my recent visit to the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland.  For more about Findhorn in general, see my blog (link to Findhorn posting once published) on this topic.

There is an Elders Circle at Findhorn, and I joined their fortnightly meeting.  The first part of this is a half-hour meditation, guided by different members of the Circle each time, with a range of relevant themes.  When I was there, the focus was tuning into the guiding spirits of the community, which I see as a valuable part of the elders’ role.

The meditation is followed by sharing and discussion, and then social time at the nearby Blue Angel Café.  I found the conversation fascinating, as it centred on different meanings of the term elders.  The aim of this Circle is as a gathering of what could be called tribal elders: those who carry and offer wisdom for the community, who could be any age: see more on this below.

However, some at Findhorn, in their 50s and 60s, who have this wisdom, have stayed away from the Elders Circle because they believe it is a social group for oldies.  The discussion recognised the ambiguity in the term, and the need for different words to describe those older in age, such as seniors.

I suspect part of the problem in all this is that most people, until really advanced ages, don’t like to think of themselves as old, or even as senior, let alone elderly or aged.  Do we need a new word?  At least oldies sounds a bit more fun.

My short definition of elderhood, from my forthcoming book Men Beyond 50: Lost and Found, is set out below: most of this applies for men and women.  This broadly matches the views of the Findhorn Elders, who don’t have a written statement.  So here’s mine:

The Elder is a term you often find connected with maturing men, and I hear it in many men’s groups.  It’s a word with various meanings, and maybe each man needs to quest for its significance for him.  This is a summary of what it means to me.

Traditional tribal cultures had a lot of wisdom still relevant to our times.  The warrior had a crucial role in protecting the tribe and hunting food.  Men beyond warrior age were elders.  Although we imagine these tribes as hierarchies with a chief, many were guided and governed by the elders as a group.  The elders carried the wisdom, knowledge and history of the tribe, and were respected for this.  They guided, trained and initiated the young men.  Elders resolved disputes, dreamed dreams, talked to the spirit world, wove stores, and lived in a continuity between the present time, the past and ancestors, and the future – including their own death.

The role of the elder needs skills which many men in our times lack, but would be enriched if they learned: collaborating with other mature men, and supporting younger ones, for example.  See Chapter 11 for more on all this.  However, we don’t live in a tribal culture which makes this easy and natural.  This is one reason why men’s groups are so vital, to encourage and recognise these traditional, archetypal roles.

This is an excerpt from Alan’s book: if you would like to receive further excerpts and information about the book, sign up to this blog as a subscriber.

I hope this debate will continue!  Please feel free to comment on this blog.