Predating Traditional Chinese Medicine is an ancient system of living in tune with nature known as the Chinese 5-elelment system. It takes years to medically master. But we as lay-people, living in an elemental, seasonal world, can greatly benefit from even a rudimentary understanding of its principles.
For example, what does Winter tell us about our bodies? The first thing we probably think of is sleep! And that couldn’t be more correct. No longer do we live in a society where there is little to do in Winter. But we can still honor this time of year by getting real with our schedules and making some extra time for rest. Usually if we don’t, our bodies force us to - with colds and flus- during these dark, colder months.
Far from simply a “New Year’s Resolution,” this is really the time to face our fears and begin to manifest the next big opening of our lives. The work done here in Winter, though nearly silent and hard to grasp, is actually some of the most powerful work Nature does. Indeed, sometimes we must spend many seasons in a “winter” time of life. If only we could learn to value such quiet, slow growth!
The emotion associated with Winter is Fear (or the lack thereof), and the element is Water (think colds, flus, snow, sleet, and rain!). Winter is recognized in the darkest days of the year, in the blackness of a deep ocean, in the safe, tender cushion of the womb, the vast unknown, arctic silence, the void. Within us, it’s not so different.
We all have our own frosts and snowmelt, our own depths to be plunged and explored. Our own wisdom and fears, and the seeds for our own survival. In fact, survival in its most raw, ancestral sense is associated with water, Winter, and fear.
Think of phrases like “Fear washed over me,” “I’m drowning in …,” “She’s washed up,” “thirsty for more,” “I’m low on reserves,” “the idea is incubating,” “I froze…” and the most famous antidote for any kind of stagnation, “Go with the flow.” Fear and water are primordially connected. Despite modernity, Winter is still the time we tune in with all aspects of our survival- with what is needed next.
I invite you to bundle up and get out there in the cold, preferably near some water. Observe quietly and contemplate the relationship between water, fear, wisdom and Winter.
Here are 20 powerful questions** you might like to take with you or answer afterwards. Our answers help us not to diagnose ourselves one way or another, but simply to explore personal awareness and connection to the present season and its unique teachings.
Remember that all elements and seasons are contained within each other.
May the seas always rise to meet you!
1. Is there rest, relaxation, quiet time?
2. Can we slow down at will? Can we stop "doing" and be still?
3. Can we clean up, clarify and cleanse murky, stagnant, or polluted situations or bodily conditions?
4. Are we able to warm up to others?
5. Are we building up our (mental/emotional/physical) reserves, or are we letting ourselves get depleted?
6. Do we have anything stored up for a metaphorical Noreaster or long winter?
7. Do we know what and where are resources are so we can make sound choices on how much or little we can put out there?
8. Do we feel scattered?
9. Do we feel we have access to our energy, wisdom, and emotions?
10. How deep can we go? With friends, intimacy, our own self-reflection?
11. Is there will, purpose, vitality available to us to make things happen when the time is right?
12. Are we thirsty a lot? Dehydrated? Chapped skin? Feeling “dried out.” Or is our nose running? Are we retaining water in some way?
13. What are our deepest fears? What are we unafraid of?
14. Can we listen deeply and actively?
15. Is there connection to our ancestral energy?
16. If you were a body of water (stream, lake, puddle, etc.), what kind would you be right this moment? Why?
17. Can we flow around obstacles, or do we get stuck a lot?
18. Is there something fishy going on in our lives that needs tending?
19. What is our personal definition of courage?
20. How do we feel near or in water? How often do we spend time near or in water?
**Questions are adapted from those given to me by my original 5-element teacher, Marlow Brooks, many years ago at Naropa University. The class, called Chinese Energetics and Body Psychology, spent a year studying the Chinese 5-element system as well as the near-lost art of Plant Spirit Medicine. The class literally changed/shaped my world view. I have gone on to explore and contemplate this incredible path of understanding the world and ourselves humbly on my own, as well as with respected teacher, elder and traditional Huichol Plant Spirit Healer, Eliot Cowan. If interested in these topics, Eliot’s book Plant Spirit Medicine is a wonderful introduction.
header photo credit: http://vetton.ru/68323/