A Planetary Consciousness
Excerpt from Apprenticed to Spirit
In this excerpt from his book, Apprenticed to Spirit: The Education of a Soul, David Spangler, a Fellow since Lindisfarne’s inception, writes of his initial meeting and soul connection with William Irwin Thompson, founder of the Lindisfarne Association, and the early years of the Fellowship.
A Planetary Consciousness
In its August 21st, 1972, issue Time magazine ran an article called “The Mechanists and the Mystics.” It was an interview with a cultural historian from MIT named William Irwin Thompson. His newest book, At the Edge of History, had been nominated for a National Book Award, and a Time reporter had interviewed him at length on his ideas.
It was an amazing article about cultural transformation and the creation of a “deeply individuated self” through a transformation of consciousness. Reading it, I found myself nodding in agreement over and over again. It was as if the author were tapping into the same inner sources of emergent ideas that I was and was expressing some of these ideas in ways I had not thought about. In addition, the article contained statements like “the yogis and the mystics are world-activating, planetary men of action.” How could I, as a mystic, not find that appealing?
Reading this interview, I felt a soul connection with this William Irwin Thompson. I wished that I could meet him. The article said he had left MIT and was now teaching at York University in Toronto, Canada, a place I had never been; in any event, he obviously moved in scholarly and academic circles to which I had little access.
Then two weeks later Peter Caddy told me we were about to have a visit from some professor named Thompson.
“William Irwin Thompson?” I asked.
“One and the same,” Peter replied.
It turned out Bill was researching a new book on emerging planetary culture and wanted to do a chapter on Findhorn.1 I was delighted and amazed that my wish was coming true so quickly, though I shouldn’t have been. I certainly had had enough examples of this kind of synchronicity in my life by then.
When Bill arrived, it was like meeting a long-lost brother. We discovered we had a great deal in common in our vision of the future. Further, he also had mystical experiences of the inner worlds that in many ways paralleled my own, though he came to them through a yogic discipline in a different way than I did.
He was only at Findhorn for a few days, and we made the most of them getting acquainted and sharing ideas. We had long walks out onto the dunes to see the Moray Firth and down to the fishing village of Findhorn for fish and chips, all the while talking about new visions of culture and the spiritual life. Even John2 appeared to me now and again, interested in our conversations and giving his endorsement to our new friendship. Though Bill couldn’t see him, he could feel John’s energy and was aware of his presence.
Bill had met and been strongly influenced by the philosopher Ivan Illich whose book Deschooling Society had presented a radical critique of institutionalized education. Dissatisfied with the inadequacies of the university, Bill was inspired by Illich’s idea of creating what the latter called “counterfoil institutions,” informal settings for self-directed learning. Bill wanted to create such a setting by starting a contemplative community where mystics, scholars, artists, scientists, and others could come together to pool knowledge and skills on behalf of an emerging culture while providing an alternative educational model to the university.
He was hesitant about doing this, however, as he felt such an enterprise should be started by a spiritual master, and he wasn’t that. But I encouraged him to go ahead, saying: “Look around. There’re no masters here at Findhorn, and we’re doing pretty well.” This must have satisfied him, for when he returned to the United States after his research trip for his new book, Passages about Earth: An Exploration of the New Planetary Culture, he formed the Lindisfarne Association and started an educational community in the rural setting of Fish Cove, Long Island.
In addition he started and asked me to join the Lindisfarne Fellowship, which he described as “an association of creative individuals in the arts, sciences, and contemplative practices devoted to the study and realization of a new planetary culture.” Early members of the Fellowship included cyberneticist Gregory Bateson, author of An Ecology of Mind; Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog; economist Hazel Henderson; James Lovelock, the scientist who developed the Gaia Hypothesis; Lynn Margulis, the microbiologist who pioneered our understanding of the role of symbiosis in evolution; the founder of Esalen, Michael Murphy; economist and author of Small is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher; poet Gary Snyder; Buddhist priest and scholar Robert Thurman; Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, a leader in ecumenical dialogue between Buddhists and Christians; the inventors of the bioshelter, John and Nancy Todd; and musician Paul Winter, among several others.
Image: Lindisfarne Sanctuary, Crestone, Colorado.