Photos by Elaine
The extreme heat (above 35 degrees celsius) and the rains of this past summer has both helped our plants to grow and mature. Some plants like the Coriander have dried out, which I had expected as they are very fast-growing, short-living beings that need to be plucked regularly for their leaves to continue growth. They are beginning to grow their seed, which we will harvest for next year's growth. We have also discovered a stowaway Tomato plant, growing in our pot of Lupins. It grew late in the season so we will see if it will have enough time to fruit. The Garden Project adventure has gotten many of our team members on the balcony, watering and sharing in its growth. Looking up from Falknerstrasse to see living beings on our balcony is very satisfying. Not just that they are beautiful, green and blossoming, but also to know that life can thrive in the harshest of environments by adapting.
Photos by Elaine
"To retreat" means to take a step back or to withdraw. Often this word was used in war or fighting strategy, which most often presents a negative situation of being in an inferior position or impending defeat. However, there is another indication to it, meaning to take time out or away from our everyday lives to a calm, secluded place. Many spiritual traditions have practiced this as a way of intensifying the connection to the divine, by focusing the mind, spirit, maybe the body in specific practices such as meditation or prayer or physical movement.
This past July, as every July for the past 10 years, my family and I were in the area of Ftan/Scuol, in Canton Graubunden, where the Inn River flows out of Switzerland into Austria. ICM has organized a Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong retreat in this area for that long along with some Qi Gong colleagues from Appenzell. My husband, Frank, and our colleague, Petra, lead the practice, which lasts half a day ending by lunch. It has been our experience that we visit a wonderful environment, where the energy of the land is strong and nature pure, but we almost never had time outside of training time to see the sights or do our own exploration of the area. Over the years we have planned retreats that last only till lunchtime and participants can go off on their own later in the day to do whatever it is that they need to continue their process of withdrawing from their everyday lives and finding what they need to regenerate, whether it be resting, bathing in thermal baths or taking a hike in nature.
Many times now, we have discussed changing the venue of our Summer Retreat and every time we have decided to stay in this area of Switzerland. Scuol/Ftan lies in the Lower Engadine region of Graubunden. Looking at a map a few weeks ago, I finally found out why it's called Engadine. "En" is the Romansh name for Inn, hence, Engadine is the "Valley of the En River". The Inn River is the only river in Switzerland that ends in the Black Sea as it merges with the Danube River in Passau, Germany. It begins in Piz Bernina (4049m) and flows downward through Scuol (1290m) and then into Austria. It has a special blue-green color and the powerful current enlivens the spirit, inspiring calmness and awe. This is not the only body of water that exists in the area. Between the towns of Scuol, Ftan (1648m), Sent (1440m) and Vulpera (1287m) are many underground springs that flow mineral water, rich in minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium and even natural carbon dioxide, giving the water a natural sparkling quality. Since the 1300s, people have been coming to this area to bathe in the thermal baths and drink in mineral drinking halls. Surrounding all these are mountains over 3000 metres high, many covered in Swiss Stone Pine trees. In the region, Europe's highest forest of Pinus cembra lies at 2400m, grow trees as old as 700 years. The Swiss National Park is close by, where wildlife like deer, alpine ibex, marmots, and plants like Edelweiss and Arnica montana grow freely.
As you can imagine, these are all reasons that draw us to return here every year, to practice Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong in an environment so rich and vibrant in Qi. My feeling is also that here in these mountains, heaven meets earth more intensely and the 5 elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal) are at their purest and so vividly present, as well as so easily accessible. This is an environment with little industry and I get a sense of respect of the elements from the people who live here. They take care to beautify and adorn the many fountains, through which mineral water from the many springs flow into, with flowers and sculptures. The water is pure, refreshing and perfect for drinking. There is a public thermal bath here that you can bathe in, while looking out into the mountains, which my father described as "being in heaven" when he bathed here a few years ago. All the retreat participants often tell us how well and strong they feel after practicing and being in this environment, even if it were their first time practicing Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong. So next July ( July 12-17, 2020 ), do come practice with us and retreat into this place of wonder that still exists. You may be surprised by what you find in nature and within yourself.
Photos by Elaine.
All our plants are in their pots and growing. Since the cooling down rains and then the heating up these last few days, our plants are bursting into growth. We have Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Calendula, Coriander, Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Oregano, Majoram, Hyssop, Perilla, Tarragon, Goji, Lupines, Lovage and Swiss Chard. Most are thriving, except for a Rosemary plant. Not sure why. Once a gardener told me that plants are like humans, if they don't like the environment they are moved into, they don't thrive. I thanked him for his words of wisdom and remember that plants are living beings like us humans.
Photos by Elaine
As I sit basking in the sunlight of the arriving spring, I can feel the inspiration to do and to create. Things bubble in my being, just as the shoots of the plants start to tickle the earth with its impatient need to find the warm sunshine. The red shoots in the picture are of Peony, which is a Chinese medicinal plant. Spring is a time of ideas, sometimes they rush at us at crazy speeds but some may take time to manifest, sometimes years.
Sometime last spring, I walked down the street to ICM, along Falknerstrasse. It's where the tram passes through. I realized how un-green it was. I looked up to our practice on the 4th floor and realized that we have 2 beautiful little balconies, that we almost never come out on. I watched all year through how the sunlight from the eastern sky shines onto them and how the angle of light changes through the year. It inspired me to begin something new already then. This Spring, we will initiate our ICM Garden Project. It will be the "greening of Falknerstrasse" starting from the top, hopefully downward.
What has happened since this seed was planted last year in my mind/being, is a sort of quiet observation process. Every time I came to ICM in the morning as I prepared the treatment space, I was observing the sunlight and the sensing the Qi of the space. I've also been researching what containers and seeds to sow, as well as when. This process has begun to change my view of things on so many levels. It's crazy, exciting, depressing sometimes yet wonderful! How something so small can have an impact on my life and change how I live life.
It's like this. First, I really wanted to recycle as well as I could, to stop or at least limit consuming/buying. So I tried to find out more about plastic containers, such as PET bottles and other plastics containers, to be used as planting containers. Here I opened a "can of worms" that I cannot turn away from. What I found out made me realise that we take too many things for granted and that we need to be more vigilant. So I've decided to get good old terracotta pots for our garden project, which we will use for a long time instead of recycling any unsafe plastic. We, at ICM, my family and myself are limiting our use of plastics as much as we can, especially those dealing with food and drink, as well as planting food in. I don't want to get too deeply into this topic here, so I will reference a blog I have been reading about plastics, www.myplasticfreelife.com.
I am reading more about Permaculture, which is pretty cool and I hope to garden/live more in this manner, as I find many similarities to Chinese medicine. I will write more about it in future posts. At home we have started a bokashi compost, in addition to our garden compost we have had for 5 years. These will be feeding our little project at ICM along with fertile soil for growth, as well as many other ideas and actions.
We will begin this month of March with growing seeds, mostly herbal plants like basil, coriander, calendula and even the ever popular Chinese herb, Gou Qi Zi. Let spring live through you, be the hand that plants the seed, that grows the tree and let the ideas blossom. It is what the world needs right now.
Photo by Elaine
The Chinese New Year begins today. So much of Chinese culture, whether medicine, astrology or cooking, incorporates the philosophy of the five-elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element has its characteristics and follows 2 cycles of interaction, the generating (clockwise circle in diagram) as well as the controlling (pentagram in diagram). Even each season is related to an element: spring to wood, summer to fire, late summer to earth, autumn to metal and winter to water. This year is the year of the Earth Pig. The Chinese revere this animal as a symbol of wealth and abundance.
The Chinese follow parallel to the regular (Gregorian) calendar a traditional lunar-solar calendar. The Chinese New Year lands either on the second or third new moon after the winter solstice. Each year is associated with an animal, 12 altogether, and with one of the five element that changes every third year. So the same animal and element comes by again in 60 years. There is are many stories associated with the order of the animals. As a child, I recall seeing a calendar with a picture of the animals in the order of the years arriving to greet Buddha. I have heard of another one with the same animal order coming to greet the Jade Emperor. I imagine this is the Daoist version as opposed to the former, a Buddhist version. The animals obviously possess their strengths and weaknesses, affecting how the year will turn out. Depending on your element and animal, which also has its own related element, these also determine how your year unfolds. Personally, I do see some correlations to the traits of the animals and elements on the year's events, but my belief is that we create our own reality with our actions.
This is the beginning of spring for the Chinese. I remember going to the market with my parents as a child to the get new year decorations and food imported from China, as we do not have four seasons in Malaysia. Cherry tree branches with buds was a standard, symbolizing the start of spring, which I could never really understand in the scorching heat and constant growth of plants in the tropics. I don't think I really understood spring until I moved to the west and experienced it for myself. Right now, looking outside with snow flurries still falling or frost on the grass, the feeling of spring hasn't really set in here, yet if you really look deeper you will notice that some plants have already begun that springy action of breaking through earth to manifest its destiny to blossom, like the daffodils in my garden. They are just waiting for the most perfect moment to blossom their delicate blooms of golden. This happens just when the light and temperature are ideal. Something I learnt from planting and reading about Narcissus is that their leaves need to be left alone till they wilt and become brown, which you can then cut off, as these allows bulbs to store enough energy for the next year. For such a short time in the year, for maybe 2 to 4 weeks, these blossoms are at its fullest and then spend the majority of the year storing under the earth in a kind of hibernation.
So different it is with us humans in our day. We spend little time sleeping or having time to contemplate. We give a lot of energy for action but little for quiet, self-reflection. We wonder then why we are often so tired or rundown. Maybe it's time we learn something from the plants around us and take time for quiet reflection and storing, go to bed a little earlier and spend time during the day doing calming things such as reading or even just breathing. So that when spring officially hits, at the vernal equinox on March 21, with bright sunshine and blossoming plants, we can manifest our life blossoms with a feeling of powerful strength and be able to maintain this all season long.
Photo by user:Bru-nO pixabay
Diagram by Elaine
I am a Chinese Medicine practitioner at ICM, mother of 2 boys, living on my third continent. I love to share my perspectives on healing, TCM, gardening, social change and life.