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Soil Healing: An Inner & Outer Journey

Sprouting in Soil
Illustration by Lotte Verstappen

Weeding by hand is an endless task in a tropical garden where herbicides are not used, and burning is not carried out to clear the land. It forces us to slow down. It is the first task that participants – who come to the Garden of L.E.A.H. to experience the simple life of growing food, building a mud shelter, and living together in a mindful way – undertake.

As the sun and temperature rise in the quiet morning, some questions guide us to be attentive as we pull weeds from the soil: How often do we notice the call of the birds? Are we too absorbed in our thoughts to be aware? How present are we in each moment? How do we feel as we continue with this physical task while the heat increases and our clothes get wetter with perspiration? How patient and resilient are we in the face of these persistent weeds growing in the garden? What are the thoughts or habit patterns we want to weed out from our lives? How might we align our inner values and outer actions in our daily choices? 

Garden of L.E.A.H. started out in late 2016 as a personal project. Inspired by Japanese natural farmer and philospher Masanobu Fukuoka, I wanted to learn to grow my own food and build my own natural shelter. I saw reconnecting with the most basic needs in life as an extension of my yoga and meditation practice. 

The intention behind engaging participants in the seemingly mindless task of weeding is to allow the practice of observation: outwardly, by learning to identify the plants in the garden, and inwardly, by observing the way our bodies and minds respond to this physical task. In the process, we become aware of our thoughts, feelings, as well as our responses to these thoughts and feelings. 

Working with the land to recuperate from years of industrial farming, which had left the soil barren, has been an adventurous healing journey. The remedy: natural green manure, and time.


The weeds that are pulled up are piled on the ground as mulch to prevent the soil from drying out in the heat of the sun and eroding on days of heavy rainfall, especially during the rainy season. With time, the weeds dry and turn into organic matter, returning to the soil. This allows the microorganisms in the soil to continue growing, eventually increasing in biodiversity and immunity. 

The process of transforming weeds into green manure is part of a series of soil amendment practices I had initiated to nurture Garden of L.E.A.H. into better health when the project began. 

Over two seasons, sunn hemp seeds were broadcasted and left to grow for about sixty days before the young plants were chopped up and dropped onto the land to return as organic matter to replenish the soil. A member of the legume family, sunn hemp fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil, reduces the build-up of root-knot nematode populations and is an excellent soil-improving crop. 

With soil healing comes personal healing. As the land is given the opportunity to rest and recover, I learn to embrace the wildness of the ‘weeds’ growing, and humbly discover the biological intelligence of each plant in Mother Nature. 

In practicing patience while observing the slow seasonal changes of life of the trees and plants, I began to lean into the flow of the rhythmic cycle of life, realizing interbeingness – that we breathe the same air as the trees and plants around us, that the sun that feeds the plants also nourishes us, that the water, the air and the earth that make up all living beings connect one and all. 

Working on the land physically, I experience with my body this sense of biological unity with Mother Nature – that which we are all a part of. With this understanding, we practice mindfulness and balance to come into more self-awareness. 

Using our hands to work with the soil has been an enjoyable and gratifying experience. It has been more than a decade since scientists found that the bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, in soil, stimulates the brain cells to release serotonin, a neurotransmitter – also known as the ‘happy chemical’ – that is a natural antidepressant that also strengthens our immune systems. More recently, a new strain of bacteria, Streptomyces sp. myrophorea, found in the soil in Northern Ireland, has been reported to be effective against four out of six top superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.

Working with soil is an inner healing journey, strengthening our emotional, mental and physical well-being so that we may approach life more positively and healthily.


Harvesting and eating fresh from the garden also facilitates an inner healing process by reconnecting us to the most basic elements that nourish our being. This can be an empowering experience, given the consumer culture, where many in the city do not have access to locally-grown, chemical-free fresh produce. 

It is a very humbling experience when we learn about the abundance of nature and adapt our palette to what is available locally and seasonally. This way of eating connects us to the natural elements of where and how our food is grown as compared to eating food from the supermarket – disconnected from time and place, with no awareness of when, where and how the food is produced. 

In the plant-based kitchen at the Garden, there is a lot of room for creativity. Participants from different parts of the world have adapted their cultural dishes to be prepared with locally-available ingredients. They also enjoy tasting local food using fresh produce harvested or foraged from the garden and around the village. 

Each meal begins with a short and simple ritual prior to eating, honouring the energies that went into manifesting the meals that nourish us. This simple ritual sets the tone for us to eat mindfully and share conversations that support our personal and communal growth. The daily meals, taken in gratitude for the abundance of Nature, celebrate the spirit that is also alive in every moment that we are in awareness of life itself. 

Written by Vivian Lee, initiator & activator of Garden of L.E.A.H..

Illustration by Lotte Verstappen of


When home becomes shelter and Mother nature becomes home: Natural building in Northern Thailand

Leaving home can be very uncomfortable most of the times. You get things ready to go, but there is something deep down in you that says: just stay and be. Still, eventually you receive a call to really step out there. There is this strength and urge to explore everything you can and unexpectedly you are ready to step the feet out of the cave and hunt. It is when out there that all the walls break down and what once was a desire to expand becomes the need to reconnect. Such reconnection is more of a search for the comfort one only feels when safety and love are around and, honestly, it was never something that would cross my mind, make me draw lines and make up words about. Yet, recent experiences have brought me some insights on the topic… insights that more than anything rebuild, recenter, recall the depths of my being, reconstructing the world around me from the simplest place one can imagine: home.

As a backpacker who has been in the road for a bit more than one year, I have met many people who would claim themselves to have no home and many others who would stick to a plan and go back to their countries, to their families and plans. Sometimes I wonder if home is just the place itself, if it is the feeling or the people whom we connect with. The question we are looking at is: what is home after all?

It was during meals and laid back moments, while eating some fruit or having some smoothie at L.E.A.H. that the word safety came to the scope of home and everything it means. It is not the cushions, your bed, the comfort of your toilet and the leisure vibes of your living room that really define home. The bottom line is that we are beautiful creatures of this planet, children of Mother Earth and as all other beings we need to be safe in order to balance our energy into what we really are. We need to be safe in order to sleep and restore energy, there is no healing in danger places, there is no balance in dis-harmonic conditions… simply put, no creature can function, at the simplest and most biological level, when surrounded by threats.

Now if you ask me, safety does not come from a single place; love does not come only from people, and comfort does not come from objects at all. Bigger than that, there is something inside of us that needs to be understood: it is our constant state of inner transformation and understanding of the processes of life that allows us to acknowledge energy, resonate with it and decide whether to stay or to leave. This being said, let’s bring up the world “shelter” as reference to what many people would call home. When I think of shelter, as a non-native English speaker, I relate to memories of movies, natural disasters, times of war and political issues that have built my semantic field of the world itself, which would be in the scope of being in danger, seeking for temporary places to sleep, temporary houses/buildings that would help people/animals recover, heal wounds and all that sorts of it.

No wonder we used to move all around in nomadic times. Our home was never a designated and fixed spot back then. We were living in shelters, just like bears seek their caves when needed, cats seek the shade of a tree to sleep under and caterpillars build their cocoons when deep rest is required. Humans need shelter too: after hours of hunting in the concrete jungles of the cities, we go back into our caves, our cocoons to restore everything needed for the next day. Therefore, houses and buildings are a mere place to do what ants do when it rains: step out of the exterior world and wait till it is time to hunt again.

When was it that we lost track of our own nature and the nature of all things? We have built so much and destroyed even more in the name of what?

Reconnecting the words around what home really is has been a process truly involved with Natural building and simple living. Building something, let alone a house, from scratch, seeking resources in Mother Nature and her creative energy is double of a challenge as you no longer build simple walls, but become part of them and allow this greater energy of birth to breathe through you. Piece by piece, the walls around the house gain the most organic shape that flows with the energy of hands, but not just hands: love and connection all included. It is finding comfort, at the end of the day, in the support of everyone involved in such a process. Better yet, it is allowing Mother Nature to once more shelter us from the impermanence of our existence. If She is our mother, she is our own home and this is the greater lesson from natural building: there is no shelter safer than the arms of the Mother, the warmth of her love and the communal embrace of our brothers and sisters. Look at a tree, gaze at the horizon, pet a cat, listen to a bird, breathe the air around you and be, simply be everything you are. There it is, home. It is in us, around us, it is everywhere. In every being there lies the true love of creation, the most comfortable and nourishing embrace: the power of Mother Nature, Mother Earth. She is the one providing us all we need. Our strength to hunt does not come from markets, it comes from her.

As to the house at L.E.A.H.: it is almost done and it is a mix of eco-mud bricks, eco-plastic bricks, rice husk, mud, water, some bamboo structures plus old material from a previous house that was on the site. Trying to be less harmful to the environment around as the conditions allow, the place has grown in so many directions that what really comes to mind is what Vivian once shared during a hot afternoon of hard work: the intention is for the house to be as organic as it can be – shapes, design, material and everything. And this mirrors perfectly the events lived there: it has been two years since the whole thing started and things flow accordingly to the people who come and to the lessons they need to learn by their time being here. It has become more than just learning how to build a mud house and doing it; it is an opportunity to observe our minds, our patterns and little by little rebuild our own inner shelter for healing and recuperation, choosing materials that will really reflect our own fluid, chaotic and organic nature. It is finding our nature back, going back to the source.

Such work requires patience and awareness as we play with the laws of physics, chemistry, architecture and, of course, life. Creativity plays one of the biggest roles as our bodies swing according to the rhythm of new challenges, therefore, the days are never the same and once your hands get dirty with mud, you never go back to who you were; at the same time, you reconnect to what once was lost, the true self of oneness and the feeling of wholeness experienced as the wind flies in and out, as the mud gets squishy and the papayas naturally ripen at the garden.

Natural building is an opened door to rewiring our perceptions as to what home truly is, since it teaches us that it is indeed everywhere as long as it is in and with our Mother. It is an opportunity to transcend the endless cycle of disconnection in the modern and capitalist society. It is seeking only for what we truly need and being grateful for every single drop of water that comes in the rainy days, washing the hard walls down and every single particle of soil that protects us come night time. It is building the being and, simultaneously, being the building.

Written by Graziale Burmann, co-creator at the Garden of L.E.A.H..

With my sole on soil, I walk the Earth

With my sole on soil, I walk the Earth
No animal skin between my body and the Mother,
Except my own.

Some call it dirty, some call it grounding,
I could care less with no nail polish
that brings toxins into bloodstreams

Just the tickle of life beneath
That supports and holds me
Guiding my existence, taking each step
With care for all the living creatures we share space with.

Content and at ease
I jump and dance with the flowers
The bees join in, oh
And then the dragon- and butter-flies too!
Soon we have a party
Buzzing with coats of neon blue, green, cyan and red!

Swirling into the vortex of
The Milky Way
Coming home to the stars
Whence we come from

And in a burst the magic dust
Sprinkle, once again back
To Earth, with hearts so bright
One would think it’s no longer night
And wonder if it’s time
Beyond the beautiful Twilight

Has time passed on to tomorrow?
Where there are bills to pay
And ceiling to hit?

No matter! all are made of star dusts
As long as the elements stays
In our bounded bodies of colourful days
From dust till dawn and
Dawn till dust
Time is an illusion, a river we can never step into twice

Cherish the moment where eternity resides
No past nor future exist save in our fickle minds
In this flow and dance of Nature we rest in Truth
Of ease and light that cannot be denied.

Let the stocks fall or rise like a Frankenstein
The theatre of manmade life is a fantasy online
Rest in the mud and Trust in the signs
Of the Mother who will always provide.

Written by Vivian Lee, initiator & activator of Garden of L.E.A.H.

Peanut Butter Banana Cake

Peanut Butter AND Banana, the BEST marriage ever. Made into a cake, a CAKE!! And what’s even more fantastic is, it only needs THREE ingredients.

This absolutely simple and beloved recipe first came to us from an Argentinian lady’s vegan friend. It was one of those peak banana period and we had soooo much bananas that we either had them as smoothie (which is absolutely heavenly on a hot afternoon), or we made bread and cakes and whatever desserts we can think of.

VERSION ONE – The Original Version

The Original Version,
topped with bananas and crushed peanuts.
September 2018

I love this one because it only requires 3 ingredients, is gluten-free, and so easy to make. Simply make some peanut butter by dry roasting or toasting them, grind until smooth, add into the hand-mashed bananas in a big bowl, stir in some cacao powder, scoop into a baking tin and bake it for 30 mins at 180°C.

Since then, this recipe has evolved through different hands, had ingredients added, preparation method altered. 


The original version was nice and chunky, but I wonder how it would change if we added some rice flour and water, using the same hand process as before and baking it in the oven. It came out smoother and more like a cake.


Then came Graziele. She added more rice flour and put everything in a blender. Blend until smooth, pour in our magic pot (multipurpose cooker, yes, we like to magic-fy whatever we can here ;)) and cook with the ‘dessert’ mode. The result was a really smooth pudding texture which was very nice.

VERSION FOUR – The Final Version to Date

Now, somewhere along the line of our dietary experiments, we decided to use less processed ingredients. So I decided to take out the rice flour again, and keep the blending, and go back to the oven. 

Here it is my final favourite that combine the smooth texture by blending, and back to the same simple 3-ingredients. I also baked it instead of cooking it in the magic pot, as I like the little harder surface of the cake that gives a different texture underneath. 
Top it with some freshly grated coconut flakes or crushed roasted peanuts (if you want to keep it strictly 3 ingredient), and enjoy it warm or chilled. So simple, it’s a piece of cake 😉


  • 3 cups chopped bananas, blend it smooth
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts, grind with a pinch of salt until pasty
  • 1 TBS cacao powder


  • Blend everything until smooth in a blender
  • Scoop out into a baking tin (add coconut flakes in the bottom first if desired)
  • Bake in oven at 180°C for 30-40 minutes
  • Serve warm, or chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

Note: I also set aside some in a small bowl which I put into the fridge just to see how the texture would be when it is chilled. It is almost like the baked version except less held together and without the slightly firmer top. Possibly a version five?

The Vegetarian Festival

Hail to the Nine Emperor Gods!!

It’s that time of the year again when many people in Thailand would honour the Nine Emperor Gods by not eating meat for 9 days. It is also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. While this may be the origin of what is now known as The Vegetarian Festival, many non-local people didn’t know about it. The first time I encounter it in Chiang Mai two years ago, was on the day before I was going for a Vipassana meditation course in Lamphun. I had to pass through the Chiang Mai city to run an errand in a shopping mall. By the time I was done, I was so hungry and I didn’t think that there would be any vegan food in the mall. But to my surprise, there was a big pop-up stall at the food court selling specifically vegan food.

pronounced ‘jheh’
meaning vegan in the Thai language

In Thailand, vegan food can be identified by this word ‘jheh‘, which in Thai means vegan.

I was so happy, and relieved. I bought a noodle dish and some really delicious looking spring rolls.

As it was the first year I’ve relocated to Thailand, and my first time in that mall, I was curious if vegan stall like this is only in that mall. So I ask if my eating neighbour, a farang (caucasian), if he knows anything about it. Apparently, it is the first day of the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand and there are many vegan and vegetarian food all over Thailand in these 10 days. Yes, 10 days, not 9. I asked why is this a special 10 days, and he said it’s just a Vegetarian Festival that the Thai celebrates. Unlike many of the local Thais, he eats vegan everyday. I thought it is cool that there is such a festival lasting 10 days in Thailand and that many Thais who are not usually vegan or vegetarian, would actually abstain from eating animal-product during this time.

With the momentum gaining on the urgent conversations and actions required about the climate crisis, I thought, what a difference it could make too if this festival is celebrated throughout the world (except for places where there is no easy food choice access.) and that everyone, not just those honouring the Nine Emperor Gods, would stop eating meat too.

The dates for the festival varies on the Gregorian calendar from year to year as it follows the Lunar calendar. This year, it happens to be from September 28 to October 7.

Starting tomorrow, there will be many stalls who are not usually serving vegan food, offering vegan meals.

At the Garden of L.E.A.H., we hold a plant-based kitchen for many reasons. One of the most enjoyable part of being here is the space to create many kinds of plant-based meals using largely locally available ingredients. Since we have many participants from different parts of the world, we often learn about the original cuisine from each culture and adapt it using local ingredients.

In the past year, we have experimented with many different interesting recipes from the local Thai Lanna, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Malaysia, Poland, Singapore, U.K., U.S.A., Vietnam, Yunnan etc. This upcoming 9 days, in conjunction with the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand, I will recreate some of our favourites and share some of these recipes here.

Stay tune and enjoy!

Written by Vivian Lee, initiator & activator of the Garden of L.E.A.H..

We Have Lights!

Bananas, Longongs and Kadnom Chok (Lanna snack) in circulation

About a month or so ago, a couple friends came to visit for a few days. Like many participants who come through this space, ST & K are city folks who are used to having lights at the flip of a switch. Interestingly, ST, with his usual sense of humour described the house as something like an ‘old and torn temple’(破庙). Despite that, they both very quickly felt at home and comfortable in such a basic and simple space.

Together, the 5 of us, including Magic, spent the next 5 days doing some weeding, repairing of tools, harvesting, shared cooking methods and practices, visiting markets and friends in the area, practising meditation, the usual simple life we lead here in the village… and watching The Matrix 1 & 2 in the ‘old and torn temple’ and having interesting bilingual conversations on many things about life… basically co-creating space for taking care of one another. 

Time flew by and there are so much more nourishing and nurturing energies that can be shared. When we sent them off in the bus, ST said he left something for us under the pillow. I came back and found a red packet. Thanks to the generous monetary contribution by ST & K, we put some energy into installing the lights and power points in the mud house. 

Generous not because the sum was big, although it was a substantial boost of energy that brought about this next stage of growth to the space. ST & K are not from any wealthy family, nor are they drawing a salary or making money with a job – they are full-time Dhamma servers who live on a nominal stipend in the Dhamma center. And generous because it was totally unexpected, and given entirely out of goodwill and consideration of what it might take to create this space, and because they can and want to share. I remember reading somewhere that real generosity is the openness to give freely, and it does not matter how much you have, and it’s not just about giving money, but more importantly to spend time, share goodwill, food, smiles, hugs etc. Money is just one form of energy that we can circulate, and ultimately it works only because as a society we agree to the use of this currency. In and of itself, money has no intrinsic value, unlike relationships and other essential goods.

Since I’ve come to this path trying to figure out a simple & conscious way of living, facilitating the coming into being of the Garden of L.E.A.H., and opening up the space for participation and co-creation in the past year or so, I’ve learnt many lessons from the people and situations I’ve encountered. For every person who exploit our hospitality, there are more who bring life and goodwill into co-creating this space. Through this process I’ve also come to discover what real wealth might or could be, and it certainly has nothing to do with a bank account.

I feel really blessed and in abundance, to be a part of the circulation of energies that flow freely from the heart, from genuine care and giving, and not from any transaction. There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t receive a gift or two from the community, be it a bunch of fruits or a snack here and there. And there isn’t a week that goes by where there is not an opportunity to share the abundance of bananas, or time, or smiles, or heartfelt ‘how are you’ or deep sharing and listening with somebody. Just yesterday I distributed the abundance of bananas to a few neighbours without expecting anything back, but somehow knowing that the natural circulation of energies happen in non-linear and complex ways so whatever goes around, comes around. So many times we have come home to find some seasonal fruits or other on our table, sometimes we learn later who brought them, sometimes we don’t.

As I continue to navigate this so called ‘alternative’ way of simple living in a ‘modern’ society stuck in the old narrative, I feel grateful and blessed to be guided by the Universe and have the opportunities to meet every single person I come across and learn from the encounters. I truly believe in our ‘interbeing-ness’ (ala Thich Nhat Hanh), and know that we can live a content and prosperous life with a Gift Economy, and that we are at the time of evolution when it’s time to write a new story together; a new story of Love, Kindness, Compassion, Connection, Sharing, Empathy, Peace, Inspirations, Contentment, Joy and Abundance.

Written by Vivian Lee, initiator & activator of Garden of L.E.A.H.