After his third deployment to Iraq in 2007, Warrior Transition Unit Headquarters, Headquarters Company Commander Army Capt. Jason Ewing found peace and relaxation with potting soil, scissors, pruning shears, wire, a chopstick and a tiny “tree in a pot,” also known as a Bonsai.
He recently shared his hobby with a group of wounded, ill and injured warriors at Walter Reed Bethesda in a workshop where they each learned to create their own Bonsai.
“This workshop is an alternative method used to reduce stress in today’s fast-paced society,” explained Lori A. Roettger, a social services assistant with Battle Company, Warrior Transition Brigade, who helped organize the workshop with Ewing and James Elliott, a certified licensed clinical social worker with Battle Company. “There is a deep philosophy in the spiritual dimension of the art as the grower,” she said. “As you trim, prune, re-pot, water and so on, it takes your mind elsewhere and allows you to focus on these simple tasks.”
“I’ve been doing this as a hobby for about five years and I’m not a master by any means,” Ewing explained. A collection of Bonsai he has grown and trained, fill his office. The Soldier said the art helps him focus and release anger.
The root of anger is pain and that pain can stem from anything: grief, trauma, a whole host of things, Elliott said. “People get stuck and when they get stuck they kind of lose their way.” Elliott claims his primary focus is cognitive behavioral therapy, cultivated in workshops like Bonsai gardening.
Ewing discovered Bonsai gardening during an assignment in Korea, an extension of his studies in Buddhist philosophies. He said Bonsai first started in China and moved to other countries like Korea and Japan when the Buddhist monks discovered it as a way to bring outdoor trees they liked inside, adding an ornamental quality and distinct ceramic pottery. He explained the connection between Bonsai and the Warrior Code.
“The Samurai, considered the great warriors of Japan, incorporated Bonsai gardening as part of their kharma ritual to make them well-rounded individuals,” Ewing said. They needed to be able to fight, and have some artistic abilities - some chose writing poetry, others painting, or gardening - incorporating both beauty and discipline. “In a way, it’s a form of meditation for me,” said Ewing. “In my mind, these plants start to become like a ‘pet’ to me, so it was a way for me to take care of [something]. And it’s an art, so it was a way for me to [express] my artistic side, along with going out on patrols and all that fun stuff.”
A group of seven joined Ewing for his first Bonsai Workshop recently at Warrior Transition Brigade. Elliott believes the small size of the group helped promote interaction.
“While it’s in the pot, you want to start shaping it based on the prettiest side, removing leaves, trunks and branches to make it look the way you want it,” Ewing told them.
“I don’t want to hurt it,” said Spc. Wilbur Robinson, Jr.
Major Nekita D. Hunter, who said she enjoys gardening, chose a smooth, green pot for her Bonsai. She carefully pinched and snipped her small tree. Hunter came to the workshop seeking peace.
“Figure out what your plants like: [the amount of] light, water or fertilizer,” Ewing told the group.
“I’m excited. I can’t wait to see if mine survives,” Hunter said.
“I’d clean that up right there,” Ewing said, pointing to a twig. “It’s all about what you want that tree to do.”
“I want the tree to live,” Robinson replied.
“I thought the Bonsai was a particular kind of plant but I guess it’s not - it’s basically any plant,” said Spc. Kerry “Bart” Bartholomew, who grew up farming in Kansas. “I hope to get into aquaponics when I leave Walter Reed Bethesda, so [the Bonsai workshop] goes right along with it. And, my wife loves Bonsai too,” he said with a smile.
Bonsai gardening is new for Sgt. Sergio W. Cano, as well. The Soldier said he decided to try Bonsai gardening, “because it’s a relaxing thing for me.” Cano explained he generally doesn’t participate in workshops offered, but was drawn to the activity for its calming qualities.
Ewing hopes to offer the workshop again in February for cadre, as well as ongoing sessions for the recovering service members. For more information about workshops and programs hosted by the Warrior Transition Brigade, contact James Elliott, Battle Company Social Worker, WRNMMC WTB: James.A.Elliott.firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-400-0421.