Before learning about Chinese Medicine, I hated winter. I hate (present tense) the cold and probably have a variant of seasonal affective disorder. I used to just grit my teeth and wait out warmer days. The paradoxically good thing about the season is that the shortest day comes at the start of the season. So at least we can look forward to increased light for most of the cold months.
In five element Chinese medicine, winter is associated with the water element. In the cycle of the five elements, the fall metal season gives way to the watery winter season just as droplets of condensate gather on cold metal. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we find a focus on water in winter. This is the time we can see its power most, shifting from snow and ice back to liquid again. Or coming off our breath in the chilling outdoor air as vapor. It phase shifts and transmogrifies, by far the most mystical element.
Here we are a few weeks into meteorologic winter and I realize I’ve been off the grid from a blogging perspective since the election. This isn’t meant to be a political blog per se, but I believe there’s no point in talking about grandiose concepts of wellness without acknowledging that it starts with a foundational need for safety and security, and neither of those feel very in reach in this moment.
It’s worth reflecting on how the usual season of hibernation seems amplified when one is just holding on tight hoping the catastrophic events of our world (pandemic, income inequality, extremism, racism, authoritarianism) let up, even as they seem to worsen daily. Here in the DC area, we huddle in our homes, a deadly disease and deadly armed militants lurking just past our door. We wait, we draw on our inner reserves. We hold our breath and wait for the worst of it to pass.
The tradition of looking forward to light is more than literal (the return of the sun), there is a spirit of hope in the season. Which seems all the more apt this year. Hoping for quick vaccine distribution, hoping for a return to “normal,” whatever that is. Hoping for changes in our country (and world) which guarantee bodily safety and security for all, and not just those with racial/economic privilege. Hoping for true reform of our institutions to make that possible.
The conceptual archetype person for water is a philosopher. The visual I have in my own mind’s eye here is someone who stays indoors cozying up with their tea and books, just thinking. And what a perfect time for this. We have much work to do to fix our world. But perhaps the time for action is in the spring, the season of wood and growth. Perhaps now is the time to think deeply about where we are and where we need to go. To make plans, but to wait until it is safe again to venture out. This is the time to ask ourselves- what do we need to do, and how will we do it, when the time comes, to improve our lives?
Water asks us to find ways to move around immovable objects. It asks us to transform ourselves if a particular way (rigidity for instance) isn’t serving us. Water is the most powerful force; capable of putting out fire, changing landscapes through erosion or landslides, providing us the basis of life itself. What can it do for us to help us find better in the months to come?
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