A month before the Centers Gathering at Hollyhock in B.C. Canada, 12-17 May, I received an email from our friend and HCN Board member Sean. “Bene Wellness is going to hold a new product launch on May 20th in Beijing,” he wrote. “Songlin sends his invitation to you as VIP guest for the ceremony. We totally understand if you can’t make it.” The invite to return to China in a few weeks came as a surprise.
Although I knew the date clashed with our annual HCN Board meeting I was intrigued to find out more. “It’s a new program series that’s been inspired by our experience at Findhorn last year,” Sean explained and I smiled at the news. He’d already booked his flight which meant missing the HCN Board meeting and I knew that wasn’t an option for me. I had a week in my diary where I could potentially travel though and knew I wanted to support our partnership with Bene Wellness.
They held the launch ceremony 20 May as planned and announced the formation of Ancient Ginseng Institute. The programs will be offered through this new business entity with Bene Wellness as the mother company. Songlin invited about 100 people, many of whom were his former business partners of the company he founded 15 years ago who came to show their support.
Sean played a video of the Holistic Wellness Forum held in Beijing last November, gave a presentation on HCN and a brief history of the holistic movement. “The international involvement caused a big sensation,” he said. “Most people were unaware of the connections Bene Wellness has with HCN. Now they know, they’re impressed!”
One week later I embarked on a journey from Cortes Island west of Vancouver via Beijing to arrive at a traditional village a few hours from Shenzen at 2am. It was a long 30+ hour journey with a 15 hour time difference, however, on the drive from the airport I enjoyed an animated conversation with Fabio my millennial translator who grew up in Beijing and studied in Canada. He’d faithfully translated all the keynote talks from the Forum and was inspired by the different holistic centers.
Later that morning I understood I’d be joining a small group of friends to explore and co-create ideas for the first program. In the Chinese style of rapid development there was another surprise! The first Findhorn inspired five day Holistic Development Week began that day from 29 May – 2 June with a group of about 20 participants and 10 mentors. It was a follow on from Songlin and Sean bringing a group to Findhorn for Experience Week last June and the Holistic Wellness Forum in November and I was happy to feel the warm welcome from familiar faces.
We were together in an experiment to develop a program that integrates personal growth, ecological awareness and ancient wisdom. This all took place in a natural setting with both indoor and outdoor classrooms, a short drive from the ocean. We began with meditation, dance and tai chi every morning, some sessions during the day were interactive and experiential, others more theoretical. Led by different teachers, each session was designed to be inspirational and transformative.
Findhorn inspired elements included outdoor learning through gardening, collecting litter from the land, paddle-boarding, sailing and sharing afterwards. The participants also learnt some ideas from The Haven including the Relationship and Communication Models. It felt familiar to sit in circle and introduce ourselves, the main difference being some of it was lost in translation. Diversity, equity and inclusion had been a key theme at the Hollyhock gathering weeks earlier and it was humbling to be the only westerner, unable to easily converse or understand, to experience the challenges of not being in the dominant culture or language. I felt grateful for the shared language of the heart and the warmth of everyone present.
I was there very much to listen and learn. To share the Findhorn spirit, represent HCN, share ideas and inspiration. On the second afternoon I introduced the founding principles of Findhorn – inner listening, co-creation with nature and love in action – through attunement and movement. I’ve often thought they represent a simple and yet profound lifelong practice. I was surprised when Sean shared afterwards this session was significant. “To make the link between inner listening and outer action is new within Chinese culture” he said. I slowly realised the huge shift was perhaps related to the historical lack of personal freedom. The very premise at Findhorn is personal and planetary transformation and I had a deeper understanding of the sensitivity to spirituality. Like any culture there are complex issues to consider. By focusing on ecology it’s safe to offer personal growth. One lady expressed with a great smile, “I never realised I could have a relationship with nature!”
Who is the program designed to serve? Bene Wellness explained it’s for; Anyone who is stuck in their career and would like to make breakthroughs in their professional development; Anyone who would like to develop ways of creating conscious business; Anyone who is interested in learning relationship skills or living in a more sustainable way. Songlin brings an extensive and successful background in corporate training and Sean brings years of experience leading personal growth programs. Together they aim to create a middle way. Neither corporate, nor therapeutic, instead with a focus on a holistic way of life. In service to the Chinese commitment to become the first ecological civilisation.
I was touched by the natural facilitation style of Songlin and Betty who held a few sessions. They were always emanating heart filled presence. Last year they had been participants in Experience Week and it felt in the ebb and flow for them to now be holding the space. After a few days I started to experience flu like symptoms. In many ways China is a great place to be ill, so many people were natural healers in the room offering traditional medicine, massage and various remedies. It was only on the return home I realised it was a sensitivity to the damp and humid atmosphere of Shenzen and the mould was having an impact on my wellbeing.
I enjoyed the Chinese cuisine of rice, greens, whole fish, soups and spicy dishes. Eating noodles for breakfast was definitely a change though and not feeling 100% physically I was starting to long for some western food. Again it deepened my empathy for the Chinese group at Findhorn last summer and their need to enjoy some foods that were familiar and nourishing for them. I remember the stir it caused in Cluny Dining Room even though it seemed only natural to be flexible in this way!
At Findhorn we build trust in groups and develop a sense of community during the seven day Experience Week that’s been running throughout the year since 1974. It’s a transformational program that opens hearts, builds both safety and strength in vulnerability, and connects people on a deep level to ourselves, each other and the world around us. Through dance, games, learning in nature, being in service and reflecting on our insights change happens. In China we became a community through heartfelt sharing and a range of experiential learning; making dumplings one evening, tie-dying silk scarves one afternoon, planting flowers in the blossoming ecovillage and for many people from inland China being on the water for the first time.
One of my favourite sessions was at the nearby yacht club. Wisdom, the Tai Chi teacher whose smile melted my heart every time, with his eyes emanating joy and kindness, talked through a powerpoint about the wisdom of the I-Ching. I didn’t understand a word choosing not to have translation. I was sitting in the back row with Betty who was concerned about my cough and offering the most amazing healing massage I’d ever experienced, with a deep and intuitive touch and soothing balm. What I could glimpse from the PPT visuals was something about balance. The session flowed into a perfect blend of theory and experiential. It was a grey day and I was amazed when the whole group changed into swimsuits and went out on paddle boards. Having learnt the theory of balance they were now out there on the water putting it into practice. I watched as they paddled, toppled, clambered back on again and enjoyed the elements. Later on the group went sailing and enjoyed the great outdoors.
One afternoon Songlin and Betty offered a session on the consciousness of money. I thought this was fascinating as it’s a theme we’ve been exploring over the last year and during the Gathering at Hollyhock. Many holistic centers as non-profits struggle with financial sustainability and China has surprised by the world by the entrepreneurial spirit and huge material success of the last 40 years and yet here we are both eastern and western cultures exploring the energy of money. Within moments of a constellation being set up for each participant to explore their relationship with their mother, father and money, one women ran out of the room vomiting and I was concerned about the cathartic nature of the session.
As I wasn’t feeling physically well I chose not to participate. The next morning I was surprised I woke up with such clarity about sending a short and strong message to request an unpaid debt. Sitting in the morning circle everyone was invited to share a feeling. I was aware of anger within me and didn’t want that to be misunderstood by the group. It was a moment where there needed to be deep sensitivity by the translator. It’s a strange feeling not being able to speak for oneself! It was only that evening that I made the connection with the constellation. Even though I hadn’t actively been in the exercise I’d still been involved energetically. It was powerful to connect with the energy and truth of deep feelings. It wasn’t comfortable and yet it felt important as a pathway to healing.
The week was a time of mixed emotion. It was positive being in an emerging ecovillage and I could feel the real intention behind the program. However I could almost see the pollution on the land, the deadening of nature. Yet trees and plants were growing, nature was alive. The butterflies surprised me. Delicate ones, pale yellow in colour. Larger ones, a vibrant turquoise. There was natural beauty here amidst the human impact. The soil seemed devoid of energy and I thought of the early years of Findhorn and the barren land of the Findhorn Bay Caravan Park that years later birthed the Global Ecovillage Network. The three founders, Eileen, Peter and Dorothy, and the three children, lived in a caravan next to the rubbish dump in the early 1960s. Slowly the land was transformed by pouring love into the ground and inviting the invisible intelligence of nature to partner with humankind in regenerating the earth.
I could imagine a similar transformation slowly taking place here. Creating art through tie die was a tangible way to relate to nature, through the different seeds and spices that created colour and transformed raw silk scarves into a piece of art in less than an hour! The owner of the craft business explained the many different patterns and then we were let loose with marbles, elastic bands and wooden pegs as we tied and twisted silk in a myriad of ways, dipped the fabrics in coloured water and then marvelled at the unique beauty of each one. We were invited to make an intention as part of the creative process. When Fabio, a Leo in western astrology, displayed his silk to us all there was a lion’s face clearly visible in the center, a powerful symbol perhaps of his inner strength.
A perfectly intact 600 year old wall surrounded the ancient village nearby and the contrast of rapid industrialisation was also present even a few hours from the modern city of Shenzen. One afternoon we put on coloured boots, aprons and gloves and walked around the local land collecting rubbish. Personally it’s always heartbreaking to see trash discarded on the earth and there’s something satisfying about a clean up day that’s a practical response to the bewilderment. As we filled one large bag after another though I began to wonder, where does it go from here? I was grateful to be in touch with a deep grieving for the earth and although the task ahead felt overwhelming, here we were in a little pocket of China making a difference.