Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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The sophisticated and cosmopolitan city of Zurich was the scene of a terrorist shooting at a mosque yesterday. I always admire Swiss tolerance, but know that recently they have been concerned about the immigration problems plaguing all of Europe. Zurich is my favorite city on earth, and Switzerland my favorite country. The form of government just thrills me because they leave decision making and almost all the taxes in the hands of local cantons. The arrangement is called a confederation. It was formed for the sole purpose of self defense back in feudal times. They speak 4 official languages, and typically don’t bother to learn the other three that are not their mother tongue. The exception to this rule is Romansh, a language that much resembles Latin, spoken by a few Alpine hillbillies. The Romansh speakers have to learn Swiss German to communicate with the outside world. I heard Romansh a lot when I first went to Gruadbunden in 1985. I found it easier than German because I studied Latin. It is now slipping into history, but a few pockets of speakers still use it, mostly in isolated villages. Localism is the theme and the heart of governance for the Swiss. They may have been thrust just a little too quickly into their own version of globalism.
I had some visitors last winter who teach school in Zurich. They teach German language, and speech pathology respectively. We talked about the changing attitudes toward foreign workers inside the country. The tensions they described did not exist when I spent time there. They took as many refugees as they possibly could and put them all to work. They created special businesses just to give them jobs. They are trained in language and job skills. Now the system has been strained to the maximum, and the population is changing. The strength of their currency and economy continues to be a magnet for immigrants from everywhere. My friends reported a large number of kids in school who don’t speak the language and become disruptive. They never had this kind of thing in classrooms in the past. It is a sign of some kind of breakdown.
The city of Zurich is the economic, but not the political, capitol. The nickname of the city is Downtown Switzerland because of the undeniable sophistication it has. These terror incidents can happen anywhere now, but I am shocked and dismayed to learn that a mosque was attacked near the main train station. It makes me very sad to know that even the Swiss are now living with this threat.
My friend Steffi Burger is one of my German teachers. She was actually born in Germany but will soon join the Swiss club, the most exclusive and hard to join club in the world. She has lived there for about 20 years I think, and fully knows Switzadootch. She will never be able to speak like a real Swiss because she uses German as it was learned in Stuttgart, and will not be able to hide that ever.I am in a category of Swiss speaking much worse than Steffi. I do not speak or read hochdeutch, based on my theory that it has nothing to do with the language and culture of Switzerland. I have tried to learn this very funny and dialectic local code by absorbing it. Results vary. Sometimes I can read stuff and discover the meaning, and others I am totally off course when I read. They capitalize all nouns, which I joke about and have never found to be all that helpful. This is why….the noun is likely to be an entire paragraph. They just love to combine words in their language. I often really like them just for the way they sound. My new favorite word in German is weltuntergang. It is giving me flashbacks to the very first things I learned to say. My friend Beth and I learned a phrase from Ursula of Berlin, the most fashionable woman we had ever met. She taught us to say, ” Let’s be friends. The world is a village.”( Luts uns freude sein. die welt ist ein dorf ) It was my only full concept so I used it in response to everything and everyone. I knew some nouns and the verbs to ice skate and to ride a bicycle. But if the nouns I knew neither ice skated nor had a bicycle I had no way to make any coherent sense with my vocabulary. Welt, or world was in my initial lesson. Now the welt is going under in a single word. Wow, so much as happened, but one thing that has not happened is my magical acquisition of German or Swiss languages by osmosis.
I asked Steffi about parties in Langweiss or Zurich to celebrate the end of the world. She said this had not caught on as a festivity. It is sometimes hard to explain humor when the cultural background is missing. It is complicated to tell someone that the end of the world pot luck party you are excited to attend is to mock the people who are actually afraid of the end of the world. Gives new meaning to you had to be there. I spent the summer of the World Cup partying with the Swiss when the event was in held Germany. I could never convey to an American how the Euros feel about soccer. You truly have to be there to see what they do. Same with Fastnacht, it is inexplicable to people outside the culture. There are intense reasons to celebrate that are generational and not yours if you are born elsewhere. So the Swiss really do Advent, and appear to be skipping the idea of weltuntergang celebrations. I hope the world will not end before I get the chance to go back to Switzerland to party Swiss style. Stay neutral, my friends.
If you could go back in time to any place and time where would you time travel? I know I would go straight to Bad Ragaz (via Zurich) to party like it is Christmas. I would attend the tree lighting choral evening and giant buffet offered by the Grand Hotels Bad Ragaz. There is nothing like it anywhere.buffet for the whole town
I would go back to the day before the beautiful people redesigned the spa, when bads were bads, and bademeisters were bad ass.
The 6 of December is St Nicholas Day. In Europe the popular Krampus, also known as Shmutzli in Switzerland, is St. Nick’s full time side kick. In Austria Krampus is much more popular than the saint, representing old time winter. I have been in Vienna on Krampus night, when people dressed more or less like gorillas run around with big sticks frightening pedestrians. I also saw 6 Krampuses on Austrian television creating a hexagon with the big sticks and circle dancing. The Euros are not afraid to link the ancient religions to the present day. In fact, that is what makes them Euros. They may not know the enitre history of traditional local customs, but they have an strong affinity with preservation of provincial attitudes and ancient practices. The ancestors make them do it.
In Switzerland Santa is paid by neighbors to come to your house and scare you on Dec. 6. Your parents give him alcohol and tell him all about your worst behavior. Shmutzli is with him carrying a sack of ashes. My friend Edith lived at the end of Santa’s route in her village, so he was pretty schnockered on schnapps by the time he arrived at her home. She remembers he smelled like alcohol and pretended to put her in his sack to haul her away from home for bad behavior, of which he knew every detail. She was really scared of St. Nick. During the three weeks between 6 Dec. and 25 Dec. the kids conspicuously make efforts to amend the problem disobedience chastised by St Nick that frightening night. On Dec. 25 the baby Jesus will fly through the window to leave oranges and walnuts to well reformed children. The customs vary from place to place, with the Swiss love of regional tradition and language. What is the same about all the places I have visited during the dead of winter in Europe is a community effort to scare away the winter blues and share light. They still have plenty of real fires on the streets roasting real chestnuts and warming up the spiced hot wine they serve in seasonal huts set up for the purpose. These pop up specialty bars often sell a regional specialty they make each year at the time. There is a big effort to create warmth outdoors with food, alcohol, festivals, fires and lights. These efforts are less personal and more spread across the community, with less focus on the large material haul (or obligation if you are the parent), more on the party atmosphere shared with neighbors.
We Americans may be overlooking some important lessons about stress, greed, and balance that Krampus represents. By teaching kids that a never ending stream of new material objects flowing steadily, but gushing and flooding the world in December, is the key to satisfaction and fulfillment we may be creating a new kind of Christmas monster. I am in favor of importing Shmutzli to the US, as a new superhero action figure and video game.
When we identify ourselves we use memory and words to describe our personalities. We play different roles in our lives, which can be broken down into archetypes. Understanding the ancient pantheon or modern breakdown of archetypes at work will reveal your true motives and those of others. The use of astrology in art is a way to place different aspects of life in alignment with different personality traits. In the Renaissance it was suggested that by painting the gods and goddesses that rule each planet of the birth horoscope on the bedroom ceiling as a reminder of the many forces at work, a student of magic/medicine would be well served. The plants and medicines were ruled by planets, and the maladies each had a planetary influence as well. To practice medicine was to be in tune with all that science could offer and all that folk medicine could prove empirically. Symbols work directly in the healing arts just as they do in religion. Beyond words, meaning conveyed through amulets, talismans, astrological paintings, and other magic objects goes to work at a subconscious level. What is your environment saying to you?
To unplug from our own daily delusions through meditation and retreat is healthy. Carl Jung built his stone tower to surround his soul with art that directly symbolizes his inner being. To be fully individuated was the intention behind building the tower by hand in Bollingen and living/decorating it with the symbols that had meaning to him. Living off the grid, and on the water Jung was able to create a retreat that embodied his own psyche. Using his own nature combined with the spirit of the place Jung built a living evolving hermitage. He was interested in alchemy at the end of his career. He was an esteemed shrink with many followers, yet when he went symbolic alchemical on them they did not appreciate the work he had decided to pursue. He was in a position to do as he pleased. The publication of The Red Book after his death has revealed how much he did exactly that.
If you had a place on the water with funds devoted to your building of a retreat what kind of temple would you construct? If you had your choice of materials and colors how would you design your surroundings? If there is no lakeside property in your holdings, do you have a corner of a room, or a space on your window sill to set aside as your own altar or sacred reminder? Is there an inherited item that belongs in the spot, or does it need some art created by and for you? Do you successfully use your gifts as they arrive, while always developing a deeper, more confident, content sense of yourself in this world? Do you have a big backlog of inherited symbols that do not belong with you at all, but are still hanging around in your life? How much of your environment feeds your soul? Can you find a place for personal art and meditation, whatever that means to you? Do you have a few minutes each day to be still and know? These small steps can be a change in direction toward a full happy life. Find a space and a few minutes. See what you can do with them.
I am not the only one wishing the political campaign dollars had been spent on the real problems instead of talking about those problems while blaming others. If you have children who must compete for attention, dollars, education, etc, picture a nation of these children. The soon to be elected leaders are trying to become head of our national household. They are advertising, traveling, and spending money like crazy to convince voters that they are the best for the job. The race it self is boring, but the budgets to bore are outrageous. Vast sums that can be traced to donors, and even bigger super pacs whose donations remain anonymous run the heavily negative ads.
Imagine how your life would be if the members of your household voted on the leadership who control the money spent in the household. What kind of ads would be run to woo the members of your family? Politics always chooses winners and losers by crafting legislation. This never ending cycle of winning/loosing/changing the laws is paid for by the people subject to those laws. Parents and monarchs can dispense with being elected or making a promise to anyone. We know what to expect from their performance after we observe them in action. Some are wise, some silly, egomaniacal, or weak. The good ones seem to get better with time and experience. They do not need to constantly campaign to stay in the monarchy or parenthood, so they can develop wisdom with all that spare time.
The country that allows all this wasteful expenditure on political campaigning is not in a position to afford to blow so much money. Part of the big argument is about the nation’s debt. I do not see any future in keeping the system that proclaims that we are too big to stop borrowing and too cranky to agree on how to spend money. The Swiss are famously cranky about how to spend money, but have solved this problem within their political system. They keep the tax revenues in the canton, working for the people who paid the taxes, as they see fit. They have, but do not go overboard, with the idea of a federal government. There is a beautiful building in Bern to house the congress, which has two chambers, similar to our own. There are no lobbyists, no free parties for the federal employees who serve in the Bundeshaus. In fact, congress is in session in Bern for only 25% of the year. The rest of the time these civil servants go live at home and make a living like other citizens. The salary to serve is not high, so they must want to do it for the service aspect. I wish the US congress could be treated like that. If they did not have that full time free lunch waiting for them every day from lobbyists, they might be able to work effectively for the people who paid all those taxes. Throwing new groups of bums out every 4 years does not seem to be leading to enlightened governance. It makes sense to throw out the system that creates all these bums.