Joined: 13 Dec 2006
Location: Cleveland, OH
|Posted: Dec Sat 16, 2006 1:16 pm Post subject: Cycles of the Seasons
|Cycles of the Seasons
CHI: The Energy of Life
by Neil Gumenick
We are nature, no more, no less. The ancient Chinese knew that man and woman are bound to nature and its laws as surely as any plant, animal, or other phenomenon of creation. Chi energy is the life force that creates and maintains all living things, and its attributes were described and understood by the Chinese through the model of the five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.
For a plant to grow, there must be a seed capable of growth (Wood), sunlight and warmth (Fire), soil (Earth), minerals, trace elements, and air (Metal), and, of course, Water. These elements manifest in us in the shape of our organs, systems, and their functions. They give us, according to their degree of balance, our level of health.
Being "whole," or healthy, in traditional Chinese medical terms, means living in harmony with nature's rhythms. The cycle of the seasons is an expression of the different phases of the five elements; each season presents an opportunity for us to learn how to live in unity with natural laws.
The Season of Wood Energy
After a winter rest, the power of springtime surges through nature - through us.
As the days become warmer and brighter, nature rouses from her winter slumber and looks ahead to the new growth of spring. The Wood, which has been at rest, storing and concentrating its energy under a winter blanket, now bursts forth with new buds, new life piercing Earth's crust. The swelling Wood of spring initiates rebirth-a surge of rising energy, like the young lamb staggering up to nurse, like the dandelion whose growing edge can burst through concrete if it must. Wood is the energy of youth and growth: a new beginning, a vision of a whole new cycle. The Wood energy of spring is an expression of life at its strongest.
If we have followed nature's way and taken a winter rest, we too emerge into spring "raring to go," with clear vision and a sense of purpose. This is the season to plant seeds for a future harvest, to look ahead and make new plans, formulate new ideas, make decisions, and determine our direction for the coming year-and to take action.
Spring's increasing warmth encourages us to stay outside more than we did in the winter. Warmth comes not only from physical heat, but also from the interaction of friendships and relationships. In this season, we want especially to take advantage of opportunities for growth through the observations and insights that come from others as well as from ourselves. It can be painful to see ourselves through different, and perhaps clearer eyes, particularly aspects of ourselves that we are unaware of. Similarly, it can be difficult to convey an unpalatable truth to others. While the energy of spring supports and challenges us to grow and change, we may feel discomfort from these processes. We can temper our pangs with the warmth of friendship, as well as with the recognition that we all experience growing pains in the process of realizing our potential.
Springtime is associated with the element Wood. In traditional Chinese medicine, the Wood element represents the liver and the gall bladder. The liver function is called the Official of Strategic Planning, the grand architect for our vision of the future; this official sees the directions we must take to live our lives in harmony with nature. Its companion, the Gall Bladder Official, gives the ability to make decisions and judge wisely. Making a decision is not a matter of choosing between equal alternatives. Through these officials we can see both new possibilities and the wisdom of the past, and thus see the clear and appropriate course to take. Without Wood's vision and plan, decision and direction, no movement is possible-there is only frustration.
The Wood element within us governs our sense of vision, the emotion of anger, and the sound of shouting. When vision is stifled, we feel anger: we've made our plan, decided to act, taken aim, and suddenly our plans are thwarted. We're told: "No, you can't!" Everything that said "Go" is now blocked. At times like this, we commonly feel anger and frustration and want to shout-but then we can level out. If our Wood is healthy, we can readjust and begin again.
What of people whose Wood is chronically imbalanced, who can't level out? Aside from the many problems that can arise in relationship to the liver and gall bladder, imagine the perpetual anger and frustration of those who feel blocked in all directions, to whom every interaction is a confrontation. Such people are unable to experience growth and rebirth-unable to experience springtime within; they sense growth and change happening all around them, yet are stuck inside themselves, their lives so chaotic they can't see a direction, a plan, or even how to begin. Or imagine how it is for the person who can't see the forest for the trees, who is so fastidious that nothing ever gets started because it's never quite right? It's not that one would choose to be this way; but for a person in a state of Wood imbalance, there seems only one choice-this is how it must be.
To help unblock stuck energy, acupuncturists choose among hundreds of acupuncture points, each with its own special quality, each uniquely appropriate for a patient at the right time in treatment. As patients, we can learn about a point's special energy and "spirit" and use that insight to help nature do its healing work. Here, for example, are descriptions of two points on the Wood meridians:
Gall Bladder 24, located in the seventh rib space in line with the nipple, is called "Sun and Moon." The Gall Bladder Official requires clear vision in order to decide on a course of action. All possibilities must be seen and considered. When we are out of balance, we identify with only one position and become attached to it; in so doing, we lose our wise judgment. We see things as either black or white, dark or light. This acupuncture point creates a balance that enables us to see both sides impartially-to see by both the "light of the sun" and the "light of the moon." From clarity, we can take action with certainty and strength.
Liver 1, "Great Esteem," is located near the lateral corner of the nailbed of the big toe. This is the first point on the Liver meridian-the beginning of spring growth: the energy is present, the plan formulated, the way clear. Any new undertaking is accompanied by uncertainties and risks, but they must not thwart us in reaching our goal. It is in our nature to grow, to begin anew and take our first steps. "Great Esteem" grants us the confidence to surge forth with the power of springtime-to push ahead, give birth, and grow. Welcome, spring! Go for it!
Suggestions for living in harmony with the spring season
Begin your day early, with a brisk walk.
Feel the sunshine pull you up and out, like the plants and animals. Watch buds rush into leaf, often doubling their size in a day. Look for birds' nests-you'll find them everywhere, even on top of air conditioners. Feel the life within you, like that outdoors, thrust up out of darkness into new possibilities. Make a garden. Eat greens.
Begin new things-at home, in your work, and in yourself.
In this season when nature reinvents itself, we too can see people and situations with new eyes. Let new tissue grow over old hurts, and take fresh hope. Be creative. Make things, do things. Begin!
Consider how you wish to make ready for your summer harvest.
Spring does not last forever. Use its bountiful energy wisely, so that the crops you sow-again, in yourself, in your work, and in your life-are those you wish to harvest. The energy of spring brings vision.
Tending Our Fire
Summer's special gift-the energy of Fire-allows us to give and receive warmth. By giving and sharing, we build our own Fire, open our own flower, and bring more of the summer sun to the world.
We experience Fire, one of the elemental powers, most fully in the season of summer, the time when young energy that arose in the spring expands to its maximum potential. We, who are part of Nature just as surely as all that surrounds us, can enhance our own health by understanding the special functions of the hottest of all the seasons. Through this awareness we can help balance our own Fire energy.
When Nature's energy flourishes and blossoms in the summer, it is time to enjoy the fruit from the seeds we have planted and the visions and plans we have made. If a tree doesn't flower and bear fruit, there can be no harvest; for us, similarly, if we do not allow ourselves to flower during this season, we will deprive ourselves of a late summer harvest to carry us through the year. Autumn, the season of letting go, will be all the more difficult for us if we haven't experienced the fruition of our hopes and plans.
When Fire is deficient
According to Chinese traditional medicine, the Fire element manifests in our body through the heart, small intestine, pericardium, and the function known as the triple heater, which regulates internal body temperature. Imagine a few of the myriad symptoms that can arise if our inner Fire is deficient: chills and numbness of the extremities, impaired circulation of the blood and bodily fluids, and menstrual, urinary, and sexual dysfunctioning. The lungs can lose their ability to expand and contract fully and easily, resulting in poor oxygenation of the blood, coughing, and nasal congestion. We may experience sluggish digestion, abdominal pain, and watery diarrhea because the digestive organs lack the heat needed to process and assimilate nourishment.
When Fire is excessive
At the other extreme, excessive heat can result in painful inflammation of the joints, hypersexuality, chronic infections, dryness of the lung, inflamed throat and sinus, burning diarrhea and urination. Excess heat can also dry out the stool and cause constipation. Affecting the heart, an excess of Fire can cause anxiety and sleep disturbance.
Fire affects the amount of fluid in the body: Too much heat dries up our internal reservoirs and waterways, and at the other extreme too little heat can result in an excess of fluid. Menstruation, sexual secretions, lubrication at joints, digestion, and metabolism, to name a few, reflect and depend upon the balance of our Fire element.
Fire at the spirit level
On a deeper level, the Fire element expresses itself as joy and manifests within us as love, laughter, and enthusiasm. During summer, the season of maximum expansion, we can become aware of ourselves at our fullest. Drawing on the expansive warmth of Fire we can reach out and relate to the world like a flower opening.
The ancient Chinese recognized the connection among the energetic powers they called Five Elements, and they understood which specific power manifests most strongly in each phase of the cycle of seasons. The special capacity of spring, for example, is the power of birth, as seen in the emergence of new life-the beginning of the growth cycle. Summer holds the power of maturity: In summer, the buds of spring mature into full flowers and now are able to share their pollen to make more flowers. With us, it is the same: Only in the fullness of maturity do we have the inner abundance and self-sufficiency to truly share with others.
Before maturity we are dependent on others. In the springtime of our lives, we depend on our parents and peers for our survival and a sense of identity. Then as our powers blossom, we move to the next phase of the cycle. As Oscar Ichazo points out in his profound book, Between Metaphysics and Protoanalysis, "Maturity, of course, arrives in our lives when we become self-sufficient, when our identity becomes determined exclusively by ourselves." Within such fullness of maturity we can share love unconditionally.
It follows that the well-being of our relationships is very much a function of the health of our Fire: When Fire is balanced within us, we are able to give as well as receive warmth and delight in the company of others.
When our Fire is low and we experience no inner "blooming," we feel the lack of something to share-joy or compassion, for example. Though we might crave these qualities, our relationships may be fraught with anxiety and fear of rejection. We may be sexually frigid and inhibited, shy, or emotionally cold and easily hurt, or even overly dependent on our partner. Without the knowledge of who we are in the strength of our flowering, we can neither enter into relationships fully nor express our true selves. Instead, we plan and calculate our moves defensively, then present an image of ourselves that isn't truthful, which only perpetuates the fear of eventually being "found out."
At the other extreme, a Fire imbalance can manifest as being stuck in overexpansion like a never-ending summer: too hot, too much, the perpetual clown, always laughing, always joking, always talking, always "on," never allowing a decrease.
How is your Fire?
Just as a healthy plant naturally produces flowers, a healthy person produces a healthy Fire. When our Fire is healthy, it responds appropriately to meet the tasks at hand. Like a thermostat, it knows when and with whom it can be warm and open, and when and with whom it needs to be more protective.
How is your Fire? Is there joy and laughter in your life? Are friendships important to you? Did you grow up in a warm family? Was it cold? Hot and cold? Hardhearted? Brokenhearted? How are love and sex related for you?
Know that in summer the energy of Fire supports you in enriching your enjoyment of life, your relationships, getting closer, opening outward, being receptive to others. Your flowering may not be as bright or as big as you want, but remember that every flower is different and unique, necessary and perfect for where it is. There will be another summer; in the meanwhile we will have many chances to open, to extend compassion, to forgive. While we all need love, the sick need it most-not only the physically ill, but those who are suffering in mind and spirit.
We've looked at the sadness and emptiness of a Fire imbalance, but any of the Five Elements in distress will produce its own brand of suffering. All of us can respond with love: By giving and sharing we build our own Fire, open our own flower, and bring more of the summer sun to the world.
How acupuncture helps balance our Fire
Classical acupuncture utilizes hundreds of points along the energy pathways of the body to create harmony and balance and generate what is lacking in body, mind, and spirit. Virtually every point has its own unique and profound power, appropriate to a patient at the proper time. I illustrate the following points in the context of the Fire element to which they belong. The point names suggest the special treatment potential in each:
Heart 1, "Utmost Source"
Our flowering as individuals is possible only because we are part of Nature: we are sustained continually by the same immeasurable energy that supports all of creation. If unaware of this essential truth, we can feel isolated and spiritually cut off, uninspired, fearful, empty, and disconnected from life. When the acupuncture point "Utmost Source" is used at the right time, it can reestablish our connection to the Divine and can awaken us to the security provided by the current of love that permeates existence.
Small Intestine 16,
The small intestine in Chinese medicine is termed the sorter of the pure from the impure. Physically, this organ separates nutrients from the waste in the food we eat. Similarly, the enormous amount of mental and emotional input we absorb daily undergoes an "ordeal by fire" that separates what is useful from what is not. Sometimes mental pollution overwhelms us faster than we can process it, and we begin to view the world as negative and hopeless, a despair that then may affect the body. When the "Heavenly Window" is opened, light can enter and dispel that toxicity. We can begin to find within ourselves the clear space to expand into the joy present in every season-but especially so in the summer.
Ways to tend your inner Fire
Have fun on a regular basis, even if you have to work at it at first. Make it a priority-schedule your fun, if that's what it takes. Don't compromise. Consider fun as important to your well-being as work or anything else you do.
Give of yourself to others. Take the time to listen. Take the risk of dipping into your own heart and finding what you have to give to others unconditionally-then just do it.
Live your passion, whether it be the church choir, roller blading, preserving the environment, or poetry-writing. If you don't know what your special passion is, be willing to admit that you don't-meanwhile, stay amused and don't stop looking. When you find that great interest, dive into it wholeheartedly and enjoy!
Get physical. Get into your body and out of your head. Love, exercise, dance, run, play. Get your circulation going.
CYCLES: LATE SUMMER
The Season of Earth
The Chinese associated the power of "decrease" with late summer and, at the same time, referred to it as the period of abundance. Physically and spiritually, this period of late summer is a time for slowing down and gathering in. It is a time when we recognize and hold the fruits of our labor.
Once summer has reached its height, the year's cycle begins its inevitable decline into the season of late summer-the season of Earth.
To us, late summer seems a welcome relief from the intense heat and brightness of summer. From the Chinese perspective, it is a season unto itself with a unique energy and function in the cycle of the year. The Chinese associated the power of "decrease" with late summer and, at the same time, referred to it as the period of abundance. With the coming of late summer, nature returns the fruits it has made, which are ripe and ready to be picked. A good harvest fills the larder. It means autumn and winter can be survived without scarcity, and that energy can be conserved during the cold period when outer growth ceases.
As it is for the seasons of the year, so it is for life's seasons. The work done on ourselves during the earlier part of our lives-the growth and strengthening of the body, cultivating meaningful relationships, challenging and developing the intellect, spiritual practice-all determine the quality of the harvest we reap-and what we have to share with others. Whether at the breast of the physical mother or the breast of Mother Nature, the earth and the archetype of Mother have always been connected-survival would be impossible without the nourishment both freely give. Though most of us today may not grow our own food, we ought to keep sight of the fact that prior to being put in packets and stacked in supermarkets, the food we consume is nonetheless a gift from the earth. Despite the abuse it has to endure, the earth is forgiving and continues to feed and provide for us.
In our spiritual lives, the Earth element grants us the ability to internalize the mother by learning to nourish and care for ourselves. Imagine a child who hasn't experienced the security derived from being properly loved and cared for; an imbalance in the Earth element may well be a result of this lack of mothering. The infant nursing at the breast, receiving the milk and (as importantly) the love of its mother, is the very perfection of Earth.
But mothering does not stop in infancy. The patience and compassion that come from the mother are needed for years, as we grow and learn how to care for ourselves. What if this essential teaching and nourishment are missing? A preoccupation and search develops for the mother that we lacked. If we have had no nurturing, there is a feeling of being deprived and misunderstood. We are in continual need, seeking from the external that which is lacked internally. Unless the imbalance caused by this trauma to the Earth element is resolved, a search for mothering may continue right through life.
The emotion associated with the Earth element is sympathy, an important emotion when expressed in appropriate circumstances. Compassion and empathy arise spontaneously when the moment is right. I marvel at how my six-year-old knows in an instant just how to comfort a friend who is hurt or crying.
As well as the ability to express sympathy toward others, however, we must be able to receive it, too. It is necessary that others understand how and when we hurt, that others know what we are going through. When a child is in pain, it calls immediately for its mother, the source for sympathy and understanding. But with an Earth imbalance, the need for sympathy can become excessive and insatiable; or, in its opposite manifestation, sympathy may be completely absent. We all know people from whom we can expect no compassion, regardless of circumstance. And there are also those who cannot receive sympathy or help at all-the sort who say, "No, I can do it myself."
An identical imbalance can be created by over-mothering, which can stunt a child's capacity to care for itself and to learn from its own experience. In either extreme, rather than expressing real needs, a person develops manipulative ways of relating to others-exaggerating, over-complaining, whining to attract sympathy, or keeping silent and denying real needs, distrusting other people's motives, and feeling that no one understands.
In our bodies, the earth is represented by the stomach and spleen, the organs that receive food and enable us to be nourished by its essence. As the process of digestion begins in the mouth, food should be chewed thoroughly and mixed with saliva, the bodily secretion of the Earth element. Icy cold foods and drink should generally be avoided, as extreme cold strains our Fire element (whose job it is to maintain a normal body temperature). The period between 7 and 9 a.m. is the time in which nature gives the stomach a measure of extra energy, so that this is the optimum time to take in nourishment. Yes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day-we should instinctively begin the day as we did when we were infants, with fuel in the tank.
The Chinese did not view the vital organs as physical entities only, but also as officials, with functions that manifest on a non-physical level. Parallel to body functions, how information and feelings are taken in and "digested" is largely a function of the Stomach official, seen as the agent who receives and processes emotional and mental "food." A failure of this function means that thoughts and feelings churn endlessly, ultimately developing into obsessions that can't be processed and rendered useful.
There are forty-five acupuncture points on the stomach meridian (energy pathway). Each point has a unique and specific purpose in restoring balance and harmony to the stomach function as Nature ordained it, healing in ways that are often suggested by the name of a point. The following is an example:
Stomach 20: "Receiving Fullness"
The experience of an inner harvest may be unknown and unavailable to someone whose Earth element has been traumatized. Feeling barren, such a person seems to bring nothing to fruition.
Even in the presence of caring friends with helpful ideas, or in any other nourishing environment, nothing can be received or made one's own. For a person in such a state of depletion, Stomach 20 can open the empty storehouse so the person can begin to receive the abundance that Nature offers to us all.
The other Earth official, the Spleen, according to Chinese medicine is the official of transport. As such, it takes what the stomach has prepared and moves it on to nourish the cells in the body. A healthy Spleen not only nourishes us at the physical level, but also makes sure the nourishment reaches our minds and spirits. In the following example, we see how an acupuncturist may use one of the twenty-one points on the Spleen meridian to assist in restoring health to body, mind, and spirit.
Spleen 8: "Earth Motivator"
This point gets the official of transport moving. Even if the granaries and storehouses are full, we will starve if the means of transportation fail. "Earth Motivator" invigorates and prepares the earth within us for planting. Imagine scattering seeds on hard, unyielding soil-few, if any, will take root. Like a bulldozer, this point breaks up, moves and turns the soil within us. Then new growth can occur, promising a richer harvest. A new vitality begins to be felt. Hardness and stubbornness, which manifest as selfishness and lack of sympathy, are transformed into greater thoughtfulness and care in relations with others.
We can see that if the Earth element is out of balance, we may be prone to digestive disorders-as well as illness in any other organ or function of the body, for all are dependent on the stomach and spleen for nourishment.
Consider these everyday expressions, heard but often unnoticed, from someone whose Earth element could be in distress: "I just can't stomach it. I can't digest it. Let's get down to earth. The ground was pulled out from under me. Stand on your own two feet. I have to care for everyone else but nobody takes care of me. I'm always hungry. Nothing fills me up."
In summary, every process must invariably pass through its period of harvest, grand or small as it may be. Physically and spiritually, the period of late summer is a time for slowing down and gathering in. It is a time when we recognize and hold the fruits of labor. Imagine the farmer filling the silo after the harvest: Now that the heavy work is over, he can reflect contentedly on all that has brought him to this moment and this season.
It is appropriate for us, too, to acknowledge this stage of our own life cycle. From the harvest of our experience, we develop a natural inclination to share and serve others. Well nourished ourselves, we can recognize where needs exist and how best to fill them. Exercising our compassion, we can become caretakers of the earth.
Suggestions for living in harmony with the late summer season
Enjoy the abundance of fruits and fresh vegetables
Be aware of their special qualities, each succulence different from the next. Carrots are crisp, cucumbers cool, tomatoes luscious, peaches sweet.
Look at the seeds, and reflect on the fact that within each harvest lie the seeds of the next.
Be thoughtful of how you can nourish others.
In this season when nature gives her bounty, we also rejoice in giving, with attention to the special needs of others. You need not wait until you can give a "great gift." A word, a courtesy, a thoughtfulness-given today-is a great gift.
Be conscious of the harvest of your life.
Think about yourself, your relationships, and your work. What parts of your life are bearing fruit? Where is the harvest rich? Where do you find it stunted?
Consider what you need to do to make ready for the letting go of autumn.
Holding your harvest in mind, ask what is overgrown or unneeded. What distracts you from your dearest concerns? What might you wish to simplify in yourself or in your life?
Season of Metal Energy
Autumn returns us to our essence, moves us to eliminate what we no longer need, reveals again what is most precious in our lives.
The work of Autumn: Cleaning out old negativity
In autumn we learn more about ourselves, perhaps, than in any other season. Having provided the harvest, Nature now makes everything bare. In this season Nature lets go of its abundant creation of the past year in a grand final display. Autumn marks the end of the growing season-a turning inward, a falling away of outer-directed energy. Leaves turn color and drop. The old leaves go back to the earth, enriching it to promote the coming of new leaves, a new harvest.
Nature instructs us about our own cycles of creating and letting go: Trees in autumn don't stubbornly hold onto their leaves because they might need them next year. Yet how many of us defy the cycle and hold onto what we've produced or collected-those decayed leaves, that old negativity? How can we hope for a harvest next year unless we let go of the old and start afresh?
The energy of this season, more than any other, supports our letting go of the waste, the old and stale in our lives, leaving us receptive to the pure and new, granting us a vision of who we are in our essence.
In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of the element Metal (or air). Grief is the emotion of the Metal element. We all experience loss, separation, and "letting go," and we appropriately feel grief at those times. Grief cleanses us of what is no longer needed in our lives. When the energy of Metal is blocked or imbalanced within us, our expression of grief likewise becomes imbalanced and inappropriate. It may be excessive and ongoing. Or, in the other extreme, it may be absent, as in those who cannot express their grief.
The Colon and Letting Go
The Colon, one of the two organs in the Metal element, has the function of eliminating what is unnecessary or toxic from our bodies. But we are more than just physical bodies. Think of the daily onslaught of "garbage" directed at our minds and our spirit. We need to eliminate mental and spiritual rubbish, lest our minds become toxic and constipated, unable to experience the pure and the beautiful that also surround us. The Colon function on the mental and spirit level enables us to let go of all this waste.
The Lungs and Inspiration
There is more to this season than "letting go"-it is also a time to take in the pure. The air in autumn takes on a new crispness. Think of waking up on a brisk fall day and filling your lungs with that clean, cool autumn air. The Lung, the other organ contained within the Metal element, enables us to take in the pure, the new. It grants us the inspiration of a breath of fresh air. In classical Chinese medicine, the Lung is described as "the receiver of the pure Chi from the Heavens."
The Lung and Colon work together as a team, one taking in the pure, the other eliminating waste. If these organs failed to do their jobs, imagine what might result-certainly we might experience physical ailments of the Lung and Colon such as bronchitis, shortness of breath, cough, allergies, nasal congestion, emphysema, colds, sore throat, constipation, diarrhea, spastic colon, and abdominal pain. But what happens to our mind and spirit if waste keeps building up and we are unable to take in purity? How are we apt to feel? Instead of tranquillity and inspiration, spontaneity and freshness, we feel depression, stubbornness (inability to "let go"), isolation, negativity. We see the dark side in everything, all the things that could go wrong. Of course, we would not choose to act and feel that way any more than we would choose to have constipation-but in this condition of imbalance, that is how we must be.
Further, if we view our body as a community of different organs and functions, how well will those symptoms arise anywhere. In this view, we can see how foolish it is to simply treat a symptom. We must find the cause. If the cause is an imbalance in Metal-if the Lung is unable to take in the pure, or the Colon unable to eliminate waste-we must first restore that function. Then the resulting symptoms will improve, regardless of how they manifest.
Just as metals give value to the earth (gold and silver, minerals and trace elements), the Metal element within us gives our sense of self-worth. Each of us is a miracle of creation, more valuable and special than anything we could ever pursue; each of us has a unique and priceless contribution to make. Yet when our Metal energy is imbalanced, we cannot sense our value; so we compensate by seeking what we think will add to our worth: status, money, power, conquest-none of them bad or wrong of themselves, although our pursuit of them can be a symptom. Once we have acquired these things, however, we remain strangely unfulfilled. Persons with a Metal imbalance seek respect, quality, and recognition from the outside because they feel the lack of worth within. These are people who have difficulty "letting go" because they identify their own worth with "things"-achievements, attachments, collections, possessions, attitudes stored in the cluttered attic of the mind.
Restoring our Metal
In the season of autumn, the Metal element is at its peak and particularly amenable to treatment. Fortunately, using the system of Chinese medicine, we can resurrect and rebuild the Metal within us-in its physical expression as well as in mind and spirit. Acupuncturists help restore our Metal using needles and their knowledge of energy. We also can help ourselves by learning about the nature of the season and then acting in harmony with its spirit.
As Nature moves into a period of rest, we too must be cautious not to overexert. The time for "putting it all out there"-the summer-has passed. Now is the time to contain ourselves, acting and speaking only when necessary, behaving with economy, exerting our will quietly and calmly. Those of us in the "autumn of our lives" must protect ourselves from the extremes of hot and cold within this season.
Acupuncturists often use the following four points located on the Lung and Colon meridians (energy pathways) when treating the energy of the Metal element. Each of these points has a spirit and purpose, as do all of the more than 300 acupuncture points on the body. When used at the right time, a point's effect is profound.
Lung 1: Middle Palace. This point can take patients to the very core of quality within themselves. Its name evokes the image of the emperor's palace. The Chinese considered their emperor to be divinely inspired, an enlightened representative of Heaven on earth. He dwelled in a palace of unsurpassed beauty, richness, and quality. The Middle Palace is the innermost core of that breathtaking richness. We all have such a place within ourselves. At the right moment in the treatment process, this point can take patients to that deep place. In some circumstances, the experience can literally transform a life.
Lung 9: Very Great Abyss. In the course of our lives, we may become polluted-bodily, mentally, and spiritually. Many of us, for example, have been told from childhood that we were "bad," that we were failures, disappointments, losers, not good enough. Such negativity may come in faster than we can eliminate it, and everything new we take in becomes tainted by the poison within us.
We may feel we're in a rut, with garbage piled everywhere. We can't find a way out, nor barely see for the darkness that surrounds us. For an acupuncturist to take us into the "Middle Palace" at this stage would be foolish, overwhelming. First, we must be taken out of this toxic pit-this very great abyss.
Colon 18: Support and Rush Out. For a patient who has been unable to "let go" for a long time, it feels almost normal to collect more and more garbage. To let go is a frightening prospect-what will be left? But when the trees let go of the past year's leaves, nature has something new in store. The end of one cycle gives rise to the next. As we let go of what we thought was ourselves - physical waste, old habits, beliefs, assumptions, and identifications-we are supported by a new vision of who we are without all that old "stuff." Sometimes we can't let go little by little. We may be too stuck. We may need to let it rush out, supported by a new and clearer vision of our true selves, the inner treasure. At the right time, then, this acupuncture point, "Support and Rush Out," and no other, may be the one to turn the course of disease.
Colon 20: Welcome Fragrance. The Colon meridian ends just to the side of the nose with this point. Having let go of the old and stale, our first breath of pure new inspiration will be a welcome fragrance. When our Lungs and Colon function as nature ordained they should in our body/mind/spirit, then simply living our lives through the highs and lows, through sunshine and dark clouds-every moment, every new experience-can in its own way be a treasure, a Welcome
Suggestions for living in harmony with the autumn season
Go through your closet, desk, garage, medicine cabinet-any cluttered storage area-and discard what you no longer need. Then donate, sell, or otherwise circulate what might be of value to others. Do a mental inventory: Examine attitudes (prejudices, envies, hatreds, jealousies, resentments) stored within your psyche. When possible, contact those with whom you harbor old "stuff." Attempt to resolve the hurtful old issues, and then let them go.
For issues you cannot resolve directly with others, or for old issues with yourself, write them on paper, being as specific as possible. Then burn the paper, symbolically releasing the content.
Take time each day to breathe slowly and deeply. As you inhale the clean autumn air, feel yourself energized and purified. Feel the old negativity, impurity, and pain leave your body and psyche. Then contemplate briefly who you are without these identifications.
The Season of Water
A Time To Fill Our "Spirit Storehouse"
Winter is a time of stillness and quietude, nature's energy having turned in during this most inward-looking of all the seasons. We call it the most yin of the seasons: trees in winter look skeletal, the sap has sunk, outward signs of life have disappeared, and the landscape is covered with snow. There is work going on, but inside. The energy of winter is latent and potent: in this state of resting deep within, energy is collected and held in reserve; winter is cold and dark, qualities that preserve and store. It is the concentrated, internal force of winter that enables a seed to burst forth in spring growth.
The power of winter is the power of emphasis: it emphasizes the essence of life. Without the external ornamentation of leaves, flowers, and fruits of the growing season, the plant is just bare essence: a seed, with its potential deep inside, or a tree stripped to its core of trunk, branches, and roots. For us, winter is a time of self-recollection, when we can go inside to that place where we are unadorned essence. Water, the element that corresponds to winter, points us to that dark, quiet pool within ourselves where our essential self-identity resides. We can use the energy of this season to more deeply discover the essence of our self.
Winter is for us, as it is for all of nature, a time for internal work: meditation, containment, concentration, and the storing of our energy. We use this season for rest and the filling and maintenance of our reserves, gathering strength for the year ahead. We must be less active in this season, conserving our sexual energy, going to bed early, and sleeping late. Like the seed that cannot sprout until it has gathered sufficient strength, our ideas and plans cannot manifest with strength if our energy is dispersed or drained. Have you ever lost interest in a project because you told everyone about it too soon? Ever refused to discuss a project prematurely because you might "jinx" it? This may really have been an intuitive awareness that to "sprout the seed" prematurely would rob it of its momentum-its opportunity to gather the strength to develop and grow. It is no surprise that in many mystical traditions, certain rituals and ceremonies are kept secret in order to contain and concentrate the power of the work.
Abundant reserves within give us courage and strength of will. Lacking these reserves, we manifest the emotion that the Chinese for over 5000 years have associated with the Water element: fear. Fear in appropriate amounts is, of course, essential; due care and caution in recognizing our limitations preserves life: we'd neither run in front of an oncoming bus nor challenge Mike Tyson to a fight! More commonly, the emotion of a distressed Water element is fear of not having enough of what it takes to meet the challenge that lies ahead: fear of being unable to complete what we've envisioned, fear of being inadequately prepared for what we might have to face. It's as if we don't have enough stored away to survive the winter.
The vocal sound associated with water is groaning, the sound we make when we are simply exhausted, with our energy "on the bottom," with no hint of "rising up" or yang inflection. Diagnostically, in Chinese medicine, the emotional expression and the sound of the voice are two key indicators of the cause of disease.
The kidney and urinary bladder are the organs that belong to the Water element within us. Appropriately, there are acupuncture points along their meridians (pathways of energy) that can be used to fill the reserves and awaken that place in us where our real strength, courage, and wisdom lie. One such point is Kidney 25, located on the chest in the second rib space, between the mid-line of the body and the nipple. It is called Spirit Storehouse, and, when used at the right time in treatment, can literally turn the course of disease. Imagine the thousands of people who have exhausted nearly all their energy facing the demands of life and have been left empty and disillusioned. Imagine those who've been wracked by illness and pain, and so discouraged by all manner of doctors that they feel they just don't have the will to face another day. To fill the spirit storehouse in such people is to open to them a place they have long forgotten: a place of inner fulfillment, peace, strength, and wisdom, a place from which the process of healing can begin.
Allowing ourselves to simply be still and quiet, containing our energy within ourselves, is to stand in the energy of the Water element. Living in a society of continual striving and exertion, we expect instant results and immediate answers. But nature has another idea: everything to its season. Within nature are already all the answers, we just have to be quiet enough to listen and be empty enough to be filled. T'ai chi master Patrick Watson called this "listening ability"-being so still and empty that we can feel and know directly where balance and imbalance exist and how to respond appropriately. This is the wisdom of water: the effortless response to its environment by taking the exact shape of whatever contains it, filling every hollow, and yielding to every protrusion.
As the days become warmer and brighter with the approach of spring, nature opens her eyes from the slumber of winter and looks to the new growth cycle that lies ahead.
If we have followed nature's way and taken a winter rest, we emerge into spring "rarin' to go" with restored energy, clear vision, and a sense of purpose.
Suggestions for living in harmony with the winter season
Get more rest.
This is nature's season for rest, repair, and regeneration-a phase important for our next cycle of growth. The Nei Ching, oldest-known document of Chinese medicine, advises: "[In Winter], people should retire early at night and rise late in the morning, and they should wait for the rising of the sun."
Schedule more time for your inner life.
Use the energy of the season to discover more about yourself through reflection, reading literature that "restores the spirit," being more aware of your senses, paying attention to your dreams. The winter season is an especially good time to begin the practice of meditation.
Choose more "warming" foods.
As the weather cools and the body needs to generate more warmth, include more cooked foods and complex carbohydrates in your meals. Try dishes made with whole grains, squashes, beans, peas, and root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and garlic.
"Gather around the hearth" with people who mean the most to you.
Winter evenings are an especially good time to rejuvenate and deepen relationships with those closest to you. Keep gatherings simple and relaxed.
Copyright © 1997 Five Element Knowledge