THE SEASON OF WOOD ENERGY
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 quiteright? 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
is located in the seventh rib space in line with the nipple, and 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!
- 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.
Copyright 1997 by Neil Gumenick
THE SEASON OF METAL ENERGY
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. Autumn returns us to our essence, moves us to eliminate what we no longer need, reveals again what is most precious in our lives.
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, it is easy to see how any organ could break down if its waste was not carried away and allowed to fester. 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 ourself-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 Fragrance.
- 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.
CYCLES: LATE SUMMER
THE SEASON OF EARTH
Once summer has reached its height, the year’s cycle begins its inevitable decline into the season of late summer – the season of Earth.
Late summer is 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 cycles 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. The full expansion of summer begins its decline in this season. 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. Late summer is a time for slowing down and gathering in. It is a time to recognize and hold the fruits of our labors.
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 packages 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. A healthy Earth element allows us to feel “at home” anywhere.
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. We need to know that others understand how and when we hurt and what we are going through. When a child is in pain, it calls immediately for its mother, the first source or nourishment, 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 Stomach and Spleen are the organs that receive food and drink and enable us to be nourished by its essence; these organs represent the Earth within us. 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 and healthy body temperature). The period between 7 and 9 am 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 may 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 are examples:
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 transportation and distribution. 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.
- 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?
Copyright 2018 by Neil Gumenick