Archive for the ‘Transitions’ Category


If you want to cultivate Peace, protect Creation

April 7, 2012

These were the words of Pope Benedict XVI on the World Day of Peace, 2010, sentiments echoed in the ethos and philosophies of all the major religions the world over. Here on Holy Isle we have a long history of maintaining a strong ethic of cultivating a responsibility for environmental stewardship. As Lama Yeshe said at the beginning of the project (see the interview at the end of this post), the main ecological aspects of the Holy Isle Project are “Being in harmony”; with nature, with the community on the Isle and with the wider community of Arran, Scotland, and Earth itself.

Rinchen planting trees at the South End

Last Autumn the environment department planted 600 new trees on the south west side of the island. These trees included Cherry trees, Elder’s, Dog Roses, and several other varieties of berry-bearing trees. The aim is to provide nourishment for the islands bird population, and also to provide nourishment for the usually outnumbered human inhabitants of the island in the future. We have planted Cobnuts, a wild Hazel nut, for the same reason. In the coming few weeks we will be planting a further 200 trees at the South end of the island in a newly enclosed area next to the long term women’s retreat.

Rinchen with a bag of trees

Holy Isle continues to run a “Trees for Peace” project which has been developed in consultation with the Forestry Commission, the Scottish Office, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and many environmental experts. The aim is to reforest the island, and there is work around the year to make our aim of planting 50,000 trees a reality. You can send an email to to request further information.

Work on reforesting the island includes tackling the mammoth Rhododendron problem

With increasing concern over our interaction with nature, from a shortage of renewable energy sources to a desire to boost local industry and reduce our carbon emissions, many organisations are rising to the challenge of addressing the issues of how we live in harmony with our environment. There is the website Hazon which deals exclusively with the ecological principles of Judaism and aims to cultivate sustainable communities, and HH the Dalai Lama‘s website contains an extensive selection of articles relating to the environment while the Alliance of Religions and Conservation provides an excellent summary of the key aspects of conservation in many religions on their Faiths and Ecology site. continues to be a driving force in the development of sustainable approaches to living through religious principles.

As William Blake so beautifully put it,

“To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour“.

To me the teachings of the Dharma share this wisdom and point us ever towards our interconnected nature. Just as Chenrezig took vows to remain in the world until all the suffering of the world ceased, so too do many of us realise that as long as any single individual remains in bondage to any form of tyranny, oppression or poverty, none of us can be truly free. Having suffered hardships the like of which most of us cannot imagine, the Tibetans who fled the occupation in the 50’s have had a shocking reminder of what is truly valuable and worthwhile in this age, and I think it is partly for this reason that Akong Rinpoche continues to forge his vision, a vision based on being able to “feed everyone”, while Lama Yeshe continues with his project which aims to provide a place like the Holy Isle where these aspirations can be realised.

The same ethic is central to Islam, to Hinduism, and to Judaism, among many other religions. In the Muslim Declaration on Nature, which was delivered in 1986, it is stated that “The central concept of Islam is Tawhid – the Unity of Allah. Allah is Unity and His Unity is also reflected in the unity of mankind, and the unity of man and nature. His trustees are responsible for maintaining the unity of His creation, the integrity of the Earth, its flora and fauna, its wildlife and natural environment”. As ARC point out so succinctly, the central message of the Bhagavad Gita is simply this:

“Conserve ecology or perish”.

An Interview with Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche

Why do you think the Holy Island Project ha caught the imagination and interest of so many people around the world?

Lama Yeshe: Because this project of ours is unique, but not only that, we have gained the trust of the other major religions who are interested. We have a strong tradition, which includes tolerance of other points of view. Because we try to create understanding between people, we are trusted in what we do. So we are successful.

Is there any danger that inter-faith activities dilute traditions?

Lama Yeshe: No. What I mean is, it can only dilute a tradition if you do not have clarity. If you are nto sure about your religious practice, then there is a chance of getting things mixed together. But if you have clarity in your tradition, there is no danger of that happening. It actually enriches your knowledge.

Can you say something about rebuilding the old Celtic chapel on Holy Isle, and how this will be done?

Lama Yeshe: It has a meaning for Christians, and those with an interest in St. Molaise, the cave and the tradition connected with the island. I am saying I would not stand in their way if our Christian friends wants to rebuild it, I will be more than happy to help them achieve that goal. I am saying I won’t be able to do it myself, but I welcome Christians who want to rebuild there. Interest has already been expressed in this by Lord Tanlaw and we shall be seeing how the Project can be realised.

What is the connection between religion and ecology?

Lama Yeshe: I think there is a strong connection. There are many similarities between them. For example some people believe that Nature is simply a reflection of the Creator; others believe there are beings in all forms of life, in trees, even in the rocks, the river, in spring water etc.. We believe in respect for all aspects of the environment.

What are the main ecological aspects of the Holy Island Project?

Lama Yeshe: Being in harmony.

What are the long term ecological plans for the Isle? Who will do the work needed there?

Lama Yeshe: Rawdon Goodier (recently retired after 29 years with the NCCS) has drawn us a conservation management plan for the Island. Our stewardship of the Holy Isle will involve partnership with bodies such as Scottish Wildlife Trust and Scottish Conservation Projects. Voluntary work has begun already on the Island. We shall need much more volunteer help to complete our projects. We need skilled individuals to lead teams of volunteers on conservation and renovation activity holidays.


The Island and I

August 15, 2010

The Island and I
by Joe Haydon, August 2010

Everyone comes to Holy Isle for a reason. I came for the first time last year to find the space I needed to confront the turmoil in my life. I stayed for a week. I worked half days and slept in a dorm to knock the price down a little – I was not a rich man. In fact – at twenty one I was barely a man. Holy Isle almost immediately felt like home. I worked in the beautiful gardens, I swept and mopped floors, and I worked in the kitchen with Rob – one of the outstanding cooks and a fellow Geordie. In the afternoons I spent my time soaking up the island’s breath-taking scenery and plundering the library’s books. All this was very rewarding and I found the peace and space that I was after. I left to confront the issues I had waiting for me, vowing to return.

I now find myself sitting in the Holy Island Peace Hall looking back over this year’s visit. On my arrival a week and a half ago I felt like I was returning home. I am here not to work this time but to take part in a course. That course is Qigong, and Meditation led by Sue Weston, learning the Wild Goose Qigong form, of which there are 64 moves. It was soon clear that with Qigong – which runs far deeper into the practitioner’s inner being than I had ever imagined – and the guided meditations, coupled with the island’s palpable natural and spiritual power, this was going to be an incredible week.

Practising out in front of the Centre

For the first few days I and many others found the Wild Goose form difficult. There is a lot to think about, after all. Throughout all of this I must highlight Sue’s gentle guidance and expert teaching. At no point did anyone feel excluded. All questions, however abstract or personal, were welcome and answered very clearly. Soon things began to slot into place. I began to feel the gentle nature of the form come alive and tried to help those who were having difficulty, something which I found immensely rewarding. The course ended with a demonstration for the volunteers led by Sue and – to my surprise – me. It went wonderfully well. This was followed by a ceilidh which was a riot and hugely enjoyable.

The next morning a slight air of sadness hung over breakfast. Bags were packed and at noon the boat arrived to take the first group from the island. Tears were shed all round at the parting of what we now hold to be lifelong friends.

Staying on the island as a volunteer for a few more days I had to bid all but Sue and two others a safe journey. The people I watched leaving the island were not the people who arrived the week previously. They leave walking taller, smiling broader, and above all wiser and happier than the people they were. Bringing the inherent lightness of spirit that Holy Isle instils to the wider world.

After my three extra days of Holy Isle, I think of my imminent departure tomorrow. Like the others I leave a different person: taller, happier and wiser than before. But again, I leave a place that I have grown close to very quickly. I will leave a place that feels like home, vowing to return.


The Shieling Dryer – our latest environmental innovation

September 28, 2009

Holy Dryer 1

The transition movement (see blog entry June 16, 2008) has inspired all of us to look into the manifold options of saving energy and reducing our carbon footprint. The kitchen volunteers are working on providing a diverse range of local and organic quality food whilst maximising these to capacity. This aim is supported by the gardeners who increase our self sustainability with more production and a greater variety of home grown vegetables.

Likewise the housekeepers identified the tumble dryer as one of the main “Black holes” of energy in the Centre, and we’ve been looking for green alternatives. The indoor options for gaining drying space weren’t promising. When Dolkar, the Southend-gardener told us about the “Shieling Dryer”, we immediately thought this could be the solution for us. It had been developed in Mull, specifically for the Scottish weather with its ever-changing mix of wind, rain and sunshine, thus making it almost impossible to use the outdoor drying space except for the occasional stable high pressure days.

This tent-like construction uses the wind tunnel effect to dry the laundry, even if it is pelting down with rain. Last May David and Moira Gracie, the inventors of this green alternative to tumble dryers, came to raise a bigger, “professional” version of the Shieling (5x4x2m with a total of 100m washing line) for the Holy Isle.

Holy Dryer 2

With this novelty on our premises, we have managed to reduce the use of our tumble dryer by 70 – 80 % which has saved money as well as given us a sense of contributing to a much healthier environment. This is especially true for the changeover periods between courses when we wash heaps of linen and towels. We can also now offer some drying space, especially for visitors who come back soaking wet after having been out in the rain.

Holy Dryer 3

In addition to this, over the course of the last few months, we’ve discovered a side effect that shouldn’t be neglected. This is that the Shieling Dryer is a perfect “home-trainer” in Mindfulness. If used the right way, it can easily take up to 7 loads of washing, and, as it is used by housekeepers, volunteers and visitors alike, the logistical challenges educate each one of us in using it in a co-operative and sensible way.

Holy Dryer 4




June 16, 2008

Below is an article on its way to an Arran newspaper written by Natalie – who has been a volunteer on Holy Isle on and off for about a decade – about Transitions, a project aimed equip communities for the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. Although the article is focussing on Arran, we’re really happy to let you know that Lama Yeshe is as fully into it as the rest of the Holy Isle community!

Invitation to The Great Turning: Transition Arran
By Natalie McCall

The most exciting movement of all time is underway right now and, like it or not, we are guests to this party! Forget the agricultural, industrial and technological revolutions; the Great Turning is the revolution we are living through right now; the change from globalisation and oil dependency to renewed, restored and rediscovered community resilience. Small is beautiful, local is wise. Arran is amazing.

Here’s the big picture. We live on a beautiful planet that for millions of years has evolved complex natural systems that self-regulate the climate which in turn supports all life on earth. The forests, the oceans, and the story of chlorophyll; that most divine dance between sun and earth. We are temporary inhabitants on a planet of finite resources.

Yet, ever since we first discovered sticky black gold, we have been gobbling up the stuff at an ever increasing rate, transforming our local (and later global) society into an oil dependent one. One petrol tank of fuel is the equivalent to 4 years of human labour! Oil is the magical elixir that has given us wheels and given us wings, has enabled us to make the most incredible discoveries in medicine, science and technology. Future generations will marvel at the inventiveness we unleashed in this age of oil abundance!

But they will also have cause for lament. For we have also used oil to get faster and faster for cutting down trees, digging up mountains, paving the planet and lighting up the universe. If we think about it, our ways of farming, travelling, working and living are all underpinned with the belief that there will be an endless supply of cheap energy. Oops, we forgot ourselves: we live on a planet with finite resources!

The rise of fuel and food prices we are experiencing right now are the twin effects of Peak Oil and Climate Change. Climate Change is now common parlance to most of us so here is but a quick refresher. Climate change is caused by emissions from fossil fuels in combination with the destruction of ecosystems (e.g forests, the lungs of earth). This impairs the ability of the biosphere to regulate the earth’s temperature. Minute changes in temperature create massive climatic effects, flooding, drought, species extinction, forest fires…

But what about Peak Oil? Peak Oil is right here and right now. It is the top of the demand/supply curve. Peak Oil is when global oil production (namely supply) has peaked, maxed out. It doesn’t mean that oil is running out, but it does mean that we have collectively gobbled our way through half of all earth’s oil reserves (the easy to reach stuff, the clean stuff). There may be a few more oil fields discoveries here and there that may keep us at peak for a few years or decades longer but the fact of the matter is that from now on in, access to oil will diminish day by day, year by year. Prices will continue to rise. The age of cheap fuel is over.

The best analogy I’ve heard (from Rob Hopkins in The Transitions Handbook) is that our journey up the peak oil curve has been like sitting at the bar of a swanky pub and being pulled a pint of the finest beer. While the journey down the curve will be more like an alcoholic desperately sooking stale beer from the pub’s carpet to get their fix…unless that is we both diversify and drastically reduce our energy consumption.

And here is where the party starts! The Transitions approach to the challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change is an invitation to work together as a community to create the Arran we really want; a strong, healthy community that can meet the majority of its own needs from the inside and so be resilient to the shocks and bumps of food and fuel prices. For information on the approach go to There is much guidance, resources, training and funding available to help us on our way. However, the most important ingredients to this party are our enthusiasm, our imagination and our commitment to making this island a safe and sustainable home for us and all who come after.

So far Transitions Arran have run film-nights, discussions, and set up work groups looking into relocalisation of transport, energy and food on Arran. Ideas coming out so far include Community Supported Agriculture (Arran community pledging to support local Arran growers and so working in food feet rather than food miles!), community transport (bike schemes, hitchhiking schemes, community transport) and community gardens / allotments / composting in each village and village school.

Arran is ‘Scotland in Miniature’. Let’s up the ante and Transition Arran fast so we can help other communities do the same. Transition Arran needs all of Arran to get involved…and fast! We will be holding a series of events (film-nights, meetings, discussion, projects, plans) in a village near you in the near future. For more information on how to get involved, how to learn more about the issues, or how to book a transitions presentation for your local community group please contact Natalie from Transitions Arran on:  or 07963 630088.

Lets get this party started!