Our founding vision, mission, aims and principals
Until comparatively recent times the Earth was regarded as providing mankind with a limitless resource. Coal, oil, gas, water, wood, minerals and countless of other materials could simply be consumed at will for mankind’s economic or personal well being. When one resource ran out it was simply a question of looking elsewhere to find a new supply. Turning up the central heating or travelling half way round the world to go on vacation couldn’t possibly be anything but beneficial. Well, if you can afford it why not have a thousand pair of shoes?
Slowly but surely it has begun to dawn on us all that Earth’s resources might actually be limited and that consumption does have a negative side. Furthermore, we are all beginning to realise just how small the Earth is. Indeed it is so small we can sail round it single handed in less than 100 days, in fact just 62 days with the right yacht and crew. Just 100 years ago prominent politicians in South Africa still though the world was flat! So it is hardly surprising that the infinite Earth concept is such a deeply routed one especially as it really does provide us with all we need to live, grow and reproduce.
The recently published results of the International Panel of Climate Change study makes it clear that global warming is happening and at a faster rate than expected. The consequences of this are already being felt in the UK with increasingly violent weather as in the recent flooding and record snow falls.
Concerns about the environment are no longer the domain of doom mongers, cranks and tree huggers. It is the concern of all. Large numbers of people even want to learn what they can do as individuals as well as collectively.
Against this background the UK has been hit with a succession of food scares. These have had the effect of turning public opinion against industrial farming methods which have resulted in a plentiful supply of food and comparatively low prices.
While many environmental groups have conservation as their primary aim, and attempt to keep people out of some areas of lands, we are concerned with the more complex and challenging problem of developing a creative symbiosis of human action and natural processes.
Our challenge is to develop on a small scale, in an impoverished landscape, a methodology whereby we can learn to recognise the needs of the earth itself, while at the same time providing for human needs in a sustainable manner. As a scientific basis of this work we have chosen to follow the pioneering work of the German poet and naturalist J.W. Goethe which offers an excellent basis for the understanding and thereby deriving solutions to the current and anticipated global environmental challenges and led us to develop the term “Environmental Therapy”.
Our project site is at Pishwanton near Gifford, some 25 miles south east of Edinburgh, Scotland. This is a 60 acre partially wooded site at an altitude of 300 m which we purchased in 1996.
Starting with a clean sheet and with the premise that whatever materials were used had to be found on the site wherever possible and had to be a renewable resource, we have experimented with everything. From barns to bridges, from flowers to fences, from trees to toilets, we have examined everything and building as we go in one large scale living experiment.
Of course some things simply haven’t worked while others have been breathtakingly successful. One of our successes has been involving handicapped and other disadvantaged people, including those recovering from mental health problems. These are perhaps the last people one would consider involving in a scientific experiment. Nonetheless, in a myriad of simple, practical ways these people have greatly enhanced the project and have gained much for themselves. This allowed us to widen the term “Environmental Therapy” to embrace the therapeutic benefits enjoyed by so many while working to enhance and heal the environment around them.
In stark contrast to other environmental projects, Pishwanton is very people intensive. While a typical modern farm in this part of Scotland would employ one family and a part of time tractor driver, Pishwanton employs a large number of people. These people, whether a core part of the project team, whether trustees, experts of volunteers, come with a huge range of skills, experience and energy and give it willingly.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of our project is how many people have come from far and wide to work with us or attend one of our courses. To date people have come from Australia, Brazil. Canada, United States, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Russia, Denmark, France, Norway and New Zealand.
To build on the success so far, we now need to undertake a capital building programme in order to accommodate scholars from around the world and to achieve our vision for Pishwanton as a major centre for Environmental Research, Education and Therapy. This requires an important investment for which there are major public relationship benefits for Corporate Sponsors.
Our aim at Pishwanton is to create a whole environment uniquely advantageous to both humans and nature, an environment richer that the sum of its constituent parts. In practice this involves the development and teaching of the Goethean scientific methodology for use in a wide variety of fields -from architecture to herbal medicine, from agriculture to forestry, all aimed at improving the environment and its interrelationship with human cultural development.
The record of mankind’s damage to nature is such that is has become widely assumed that all actions are harmful and that “development” and “untouched nature” should be separated. However, humanity is impoverished if separated from the rest of the nature, of which we are an indivisible part. The health and social consequences that follow such disconnection are already evident on a world-wide basis.
The Pishwanton Project seeks to redress this balance bringing harmony, diversity and ecological health as well as biodynamic food production, architecture and landscape planning, research and education into a demonstration of the creative symbiosis of human action and natural processes. It will demonstrate a method of “environmental therapy” which depends intimately on the caring human presence working on and with the land. Environmental therapy invites integration and not separation of humanity and nature.
There are fundamental principles which are in balance in healthy human beings and in healthy landscape ecology and it is the aim of The Life Science Trust to determine, explore and educate others in these principles in order to achieve a sustainable natural balance between environmental and human needs. Our whole environment from landscape to farm and garden to buildings, interior decor and the clothes we wear has to be considered, researched and transformed.
The Pishwanton Project involves the development of gardens, orchard, woodland and wetlands, demonstration houses and workplaces and small scale agriculture on a piece of previously semi-derelict land. It provides a demonstration in architecture, landscape design and land management which will serve as an example and training resource for people ho can carry out similar work elsewhere.
It is in the integration of different interests that both the appeal and challenge of Pishwanton lie. The project provides a pioneer experiment in the sustainable and therapeutic integration of a variety of activities that might normally be seen as mutually exclusive, for example, agriculture, horticulture, medicinal plant cultivation, ecological conservation and research, education, the arts, community living and business. From the melting pot of these mutually exclusive activities the aim is to arrive at practical solutions that can be rapidly adopted elsewhere, achieving value and sustainability form land unsuitable for conventional agriculture.
The Pishwanton Project is thus an innovative, land based project which provides a pioneer focus for sustainability in the 21st century.
The project is to provide an educational, research and demonstration centre that will create practical solutions to current environmental problems and challenges being faced both in Scotland and globally. Its farming and gardening, forestry and lifestyle, agriculture and technology on a 60 acre semi-woodland site at the foot of the Lammermuir Hills in S.E. Scotland.
A Journey of the Goethean Scientific Process with the Art of Consensus Design as practised at Pishwanton
The Journey of the Goethean Science process can be regarded/experienced as a journey through the elements to the World Spirit/Logos or Christ being. Having opened oneself to this Being, which indwells both us and the whole of Nature, indescribable compassion is awoken within us to act for and on behalf of that which is most high in Nature. At the same time this awakens / touches that which is most high within us. This can be healing, inspiring, overwhelming and also terrifying, and can allow a new sense of morality to be borne in us and hence a renewed experience of responsibility for our actions on earth.
This is our aim at Pishwanton, to practice this journey – a life-time of work in itself.
We try to act as far as possible out of such deep spiritual experiences as we are allowed and to help those people who are interested to go on this journey. We are also very open to, and interested in, exchanging experiences with other people who are on different spiritual paths. This cannot but enrich us all.
There are many exercises practised by us and by others on this journey which aid us, in our modern consciousness, to approach the Spirit in Nature, which was probably more direct and immediately accessible in the past.
First of all we need to leave our everyday consciousness behind, our worries and concerns and become open to what is around us. Small children still have this capacity and it is our endeavour to come close to this experience. It is summed beautifully in a poem by Johann W. von Goethe. Understanding trees is one of the core topics in our course.
If we can get to the point of being amazed in wonder at the world and allow ourselves to feel deeply within our hearts what is speaking out of this wonderful world, we have come a long way. Is the same sentiment in the Bible:
In this moment, usually after a silent walk, we often “see” a plant, place or person for who they really are and can be deeply moved. Jochen Bockemuehl describes this moment as an “Intuitive Precognition” on I know you before I know you.
Sharing these delicate feelings in a group can strengthen ones own experience and help in theirs. Painting or drawing the feelings either as a group or as an individual picture also helps. The song “Some enchanted evening” expressed something of this quality of knowing before knowing too!
But then – the interest or initial love for something having being awoken, we want to get to know it better and now begins the first stage proper of Goethe’s scientific process.
Stage One: Exact Sense Perception
We begin to explore the place, plant, person in its physicality. We are getting to know its earthly body. What exactly is it that I meet. How big is it, where are its borders, what colour, its context in the world, the physical earthly components?
This is where measurement and all the sense perceptible faculties we can muster are our tools.
It often helps to look at something e.g. a tree from a distance, then closer and always from many points of view. To try and see a landscape or place from outside looking in, from inside looking out helps us to get as diverse a picture of it as we can.
Drawing exactly what is there, trying to match the colours, textures, size, proportion and context is essential. Here, drawing can be used as an aid to seeing. If it is a plant being studied, taste, smell and the physical effect on us are also useful. Sounds, temperature, wind direction, soil type, weather features are all useful to record.
The observational activities described above are identical to those practised by any good Naturalist and have formed the basis of Natural Science since Greek times but especially in the last three hundred years since Karl von Linnaeus the well known Swedish Naturalist, gave wonderful clarity to the results of descriptive process in his classification of plants and animals.
At a certain point in this earthly exploration there arises quite naturally the question Have you always been like this? or How did you grow? and How do you come to be the way you are?.
The answers to such questions cannot be immediately found by further observations. We have to approach the objects of our questions in a new way and expand our consciousness to receive a different kind of answer.
We need to enter the realm of “life” with a more fluid or watery type of consciousness then we used with our “Exact Sensing Procedures”.
Goethe called this next stop “Exact Sensorial Imagination” or “Fantasy”.
Stage two: Exact Sensorial Imagination/Fantasy
As depicted by the words this stage of our journey builds on the exact sense perceptions we have already made.
We might be studying a plant and see some flowers are open, others in bud, others already forming fruits and if we have drawn all the stages of development very carefully, we can then allow ourselves to enter into the developmental process itself with a fluid imagination using the facts of our staged drawings as stepping stones on the journey of living fantasy.
This can be practised with anything that reveals its biography in physical fact e.g. lengths of annual growth of a tree branch. The history of a landscape documented by tree stumps, old water courses, footpaths, walls, maps or photographs of times past. Geologists have to do this all the time.
We need to build ourselves a time line or sequence of vignettes in time, based on that which we “know” for certain from stage one: Exact Sensing.
We can allow our imagination to flow and watch the stages of development unfold like a living movie picture. It is much more exciting than a conventional, mechanical or digital movie as the living pictures are self generated within us.
If we are watching our self generated movies carefully and paying attention to the quality of this particular unfolding of life in time, there often appear particularities or gestures, which are unique to the plant or place – rather like the unique repeated characteristics of a persons biography. This is where the gesture or character of what we are studying starts to be revealed. It can be very subtle but also hits you in the face so that it is like “seeing something for the first time”. Goethe called this experience “Seeing in Beholding”.
Stage Three: Seeing in Beholding or the Revelation of Character/Gesture (Inspiration)
When this starts to happen there is a feeling as if one suddenly understands something – the light goes on and we “see” meaning, “who you really are”, or the spiritual essence of something.
This is the level of genius loci, or spirit of place. It is also the source of knowledge as to the healing properties of plants – a glimpse into the identity or essence of a place, a plant, a person. This is often the Being people meet on a shamanic journey with a plant or place.
If this is able to happen several times or in several people at the same time – there is an experience of oneness or consensus. “I am seeing the same as you, but form my particular point of view”. Through this one begins to feel so connected to the plant or place, it is as if you have “Become one with it”.
Stage Four: Becoming One With / or Intuition
“Becoming one with something” is as Einstein says an experience common to all great lovers, great artists and great scientists. It is the ultimate aim of art, journey and intuition with a capital I (Intuition means – being at one with.)
The moment when the outer world and the inner fuse – the language of the stage of Nature and our own inner experiences coincide. This, Rudolf Steiner says is “The True Communion of Man”.
It is very difficult to describe something when you are “at one with it”, or even to describe or share the experience, but it does have a very deep effect on many people.
You could say it is like meeting the moral ground of the world. Once something touches you on such a deep level, you know how to handle with it, what is morally right or true for it / from its point of view.
From this moment we try and separate ourselves again and an attempt is made to define or describe the essential Being of the place (or plant) in the form of its essence or intention.
This then gives a kind of “leitbild” (motiv) for all future activities within a place or becomes the guide for production of a plant medicine. The more clearly we can describe it, the better for the future.
Hence we can look back again over the journey and ask. Were there things we noticed at the different stages, which now, in the light of my encounter I understand better? These can be used to characterise and describe the Identity better. This is the end of the scientific journey at the start of art.
All of that which we have encountered so far comes from the past and has become fixed in matter through time – all the ideas and intentions of people, animals and plants, the weather of the past are written into the physical facts.
We want to help move our place or plant into its future. To do this in harmonious way we need to connect or insert ourselves and our intentions (seamlessly?) to the Biography of the place.
So the next thing we need to do is examine carefully the Intention of the human beings who own the place / who want to do something there and then to ask questions.
Is this really appropriate there? Does it fit to the Biography of this place? How do I need to modify a) my intentions and b) the place, so that past and future can marry together today?
The intention or essence we found is identified, examined and discussions made about moving into the future.
Stage Five: Aprehending the Idea, Atmosphere or Gesture
What atmosphere / gesture would enhance the intention of the place? How can the future of this landscape embrace my intention and then be transformed to support both without compromising its own essential being?
There then follows a lot of light and airy ideas. We try and play with all these as pictures – or blow them like soap bubbles against the background of what we came to in our experience of the spirit of the place and pay close attention to our feelings as we do this.
Some delight, others make us feel sick of our experience of the spirit or depressed. If several people are doing this in a group then usually the pictures which emerge at this stage are concurrent (this is the real meaning of Consensus Design).
“I see the same as you but from my point of view” and slowly a very living picture can be built up with all participants adding to it in a very creative way. The next question is how to bring this idea into reality.
Stage Six: Growing the Idea into Matter
There then follows a concentrated growth process of trying to express the Idea in one way or another. Drawing sequences helps here, or views from different directions.
Trying something like a pretend house or tree against the background of a picture of the place or in the place itself.
Looked at from several different points of view the new situation grows. Each step taken into the physical needs a reflective moment afterwards – “Are we still on track”? “Does what we have done fit to the picture”? “Is it right for the place”?
Sensitivity to the surroundings and use of ones feelings are essential here – also not trying to do too much too soon.
Stage Seven: Landing the New
The alive creative process is a continuous pendulum between Idea and physical world until everyone feels “yes, that’s right, we’ve done it”.
This may never quite be finished, especially if we are dealing with living things but the direction can be completed., plans drawn or written down and then be regularly reviewed, updated.
The key criteria for this having succeeded is that of other people who come at a later date and study what has been done they would experience “this is exactly right, I wouldn’t change anything”.
The whole journey is one of inserting oneself as a human being into the Will of the World. There is a deep element of sacrifice in this deed. I cannot do any more what I want but I can serve the World Spirit and do Its Will.
One becomes passionate as an advocate for another, like a mother fighting for her children, your own opinion gets lost. The difficulty is discriminating between own and that of others still exists but is helped in the inherent community building experience that this journey engenders – a truly peer review in an unique experience of consensus.
Dr Margaret Colquhoun (1947-2017)
We are proud of the buildings designed by Christopher Day and erected on the site.
These buildings are the outcome of a careful process of landscape study and consensus design. They include the Craft Workshop, with its magnificent turfed grid-shell roof; the Cruck Barn, the Crescent Barn, and the Goethean Science Building, which serves as a teaching and herb processing space.