Category Archives: seasonal advice

Chinese Medicine offers advice to stay in tune with the natural world by altering your diet, lifestyle and practices according to the seasons.

Spring is the Season of Failure

by Heather McIver, L.Ac

In most cultures above the equator, Spring is the season of new beginnings. Baby animals are born, seeds lying dormant underground begin pushing sprouts upward, trees begin to clothe their limbs in blooms. And with those vulnerable new beginnings come threats of failure. Hawks and snakes love young birds and bunnies; large rocks or burning sun can thwart young sprouts; a late frost can decimate a tree’s attempt at fruition.  And yet the plants and animals keep trying. Somehow, despite these threats to life, the tree doesn’t refuse to bloom and birds keep laying eggs.

If you pay attention, you may notice that for humans, spring brings new ideas, new excitement, outrageous projects. Spring fever is not just about romance…it also exemplifies that ascension of Qi that makes us feel invincible, as if we can accomplish anything. We relish the speed with which we can travel to work, the windows open to feel the warming air, our favorite music blaring, the bright colors of green and pink and white trees against the blue sky…spring awakens the senses and we feel connected to everyone and everything. Until we see the blue lights behind us and realize that in our ecstatic appreciation of the world, we let the speedometer creep to 80.

All of a sudden, all that expansive everything-is-perfect feeling drops with a thud into the pit of the stomach, curse words leap out of our mouths uncontrollably, and now the conversation in our head turns mean. “You idiot,” it says, as it runs through all the consequences this mistake will have.  When we are speeding along toward a goal, excited about new possibilities, there are inevitable failures along the way. Getting where we’re going requires us to become friendly with our failures.

Failure is part of the experience of being alive. It’s what happens the moment you engage with the world. As adults, many of us find ways to avoid failure as much as possible. Some of us choose to never take on anything we might not do perfectly. Instead, we spend our time changing channels on the TV, or we get competent at one thing and never bother to try anything new. Some of us try new things but then work so hard that we sacrifice our time, money, health and relationships to be sure we don’t fail.

Children, however, are very good at failure. They fall down. They get up. They drop the ball, they pick it up. They fail to get your attention, they scream louder. They don’t attach any significance to failure, they just keep pushing on.

I wish I remembered the exact moment at which I made failure mean something. At some point—maybe around age 8 or 10 or 13—missing the mark went from “oops, missed. I’ll try again.” To “OMG, I’m stupid!  I can’t do anything! I’ll mess up everything I ever do and die miserable and alone!”

It’s so easy to take our failures as something definitive of our very personhood. “I can’t dance/ sing/ draw/ act…I’m not any good at that.”  What you really mean is that you tried to dance/sing/draw/act once and you got some feedback that didn’t feel very good, and in your attempt to never feel that particular way again, you resolved to forevermore avoid the catalyst for that feedback.  But what if, like children, we allowed ourselves a good cry and then danced again anyway?

Pema Chodron gave a speech at Naropa Institute in 2014 when her granddaughter was graduating. She borrowed a quote from Samuel Beckett who said, “Fail! Fail Again! Fail Better!”  She said learning how to be with failure was perhaps the most important life lesson to learn. In her usual soft manner, she encourages us to “get curious” about how it feels to fail. She reminds us not to admonish ourselves too much, not to blame others too much, not to drown the bad feelings in food or drugs or alcohol—but to sit with them and observe how they move and sway and come and go. To let them be there. Only in the recognition of something’s presence can you actually let it go.

She describes her first meeting with her Buddhist teacher*. Her second marriage had just ended in divorce. She said, “My life is over. I have hit the bottom. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.”

He said, “Well, it’s a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you down. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth. And you are lying there, and you have a choice. You can either lie there, or you can stand up and start to keep walking out to sea.”

If you are walking into the ocean, you will get knocked down sometimes. It’s nothing personal. It’s not particularly noble. And maybe some wonderful insight will come from having sand in your face…or maybe not. It’s just what the ocean does. Success and failure is what life does.

So when your kid doesn’t make it on the team, or your best friend doesn’t get the promotion she worked so hard for, don’t try to be helpful. Don’t suggest what they could do better next time or feed into malicious gossip about the person who did succeed. Don’t try to problem-solve or to cheer them up. Instead, allow them the freedom to be in pain. You can say, “I’m so sorry, I know you are disappointed.”  Be the space in which they can let the sadness, anger, resentment, self-pity wash over and through them. Given space, these emotions will move out of their own accord.

Just like a tree will send out blooms again, we all have an innate desire to move forward in life – to create – to make a difference. That desire has its own momentum. Once we can get our minds out of the way, it will take over. It will pull us off the ocean floor and point us in the direction of the horizon.

* Chodron, Pema. (2015). Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better.  Sounds True, Inc. pp 77-79. 

 

 

Aligning with the Seasons: Winter to Spring

by Debby Jennings, L.Ac.

As I sit on this rainy and blustery day, I ponder Spring……….the season and the Five Element correspondences.  This past year has been my first at Stillpoint.  It has been a great year, filled with both challenges and rewards I didn’t know were possible.  I began this journey with a ‘wait and see’ attitude.  Over the year I have come to know many of you and am so delighted to be a part of this journey with you.  As with life, the more we ‘practice’ our trade, the more we learn AND the more questions we tend to have.  As I embark on this year, I have closed some doors and wait for a brief time before closing other ones which have outlived their potential to create joy and inspiration for me.  The journey with Chinese medicine continues to inspire me and push me deeper into the study of this ancient form of healing.

This winter has been a challenge for many of us with the bitter cold.  My garden was decimated by this harsh winter and I am forced to visit the grocer for my normal yard food.  By February each year, I can hardly stand one more minute of cold and dark.  I want to push the spring into NOW.  The wind stirs things up, bringing an impatience to be outside, to get my hands in the dirt and to spring into new growth.

Spring is associated with the Wood element in Five Element acupuncture.  It is ‘green’, the taste of ‘sour’, ‘wind’, the sound of ‘shout’, the smell of rancid, the emotion of both benevolence and frustration/anger, the pushy movement of growth upward and forward.

For those who either have their ‘home-base’ in Wood or who have a good deal of ‘wood’ in their temperament we understand frustration and anger.  Anger gets a ‘bad’ rap in our culture.  It seems to be either everywhere or covered over with the ‘genteel teaching of being nice’.  Anger is a moving energy……….taking us out of our stuck-ness and darkness and bringing opportunities for new growth.

If we ignore these opportunities, we fall into depression and desolation.  If we can learn to navigate the difficult feelings of frustration and anger, looking deep within ourselves, we can see the place we need to grow toward.  We are like trees, standing upright and yearning to move toward the light.  If our forest is too heavily populated, we may have ‘leaners’ weighing us down, holding us back.  If we are too solitary, we risk destruction by wind and harsh storms.  Isn’t it true in life also?  We need to find our place of balance and the things/people/places and activities which nourish us and help us to grow into wiser humans.

In these last weeks of winter, take time to ponder the direction of your growth for this coming year.  Do you need to spend more time near the water or in the woods?  Do you need to move more or rest more?  How will you begin to get a handle on your stress and life’s demands?  How can you ask your companions on this ‘yellow brick road’ to help, or to give you time for solitude, or to share the burdens and the joys?  One of my favorite things is a bit of art by Mary Engelbreit entitled “Don’t Look Back”.  It reminds me of Dorothy on her journey to Oz.  The girl in the picture is at a fork in the road.  The sign for one direction says “No longer an option” and in the other direction “Your Life”.  The girl has her bundle over her shoulder, suitcase in one hand and is striding solidly forward down the path to her new life.

Each spring beckons us to push forward to new life and new growth.  Use this Wood energy of spring to help propel you forward.  As the days lengthen and the weather warms, eat dandelion, chickweed and wild violets to clear the Liver from heavy foods (be sure they are coming from a yard not poisoned by chemicals).  Drink kombucha and lemon water.  Move more and sit less.  Go outside to ‘play’ and lie down on the earth to infuse your body with the energy of Spring.  And take whatever steps you need to grow in whatever direction you deem best for yourself.  We are here to support you on the journey.

Perspective: The Gift of Chinese Medicine     

As you can see from testimonials and our post “Why We Do What We Do,” Chinese Medicine can offer relief and hope for people with a wide variety of physical and emotional symptoms. And yet, it has become very clear over the past couple of months is that Chinese Medicine also offers something which can be equally as healing: a new perspective.
With it’s emphasis on taking action at the appropriate times and maintaining balance among opposing forces, CM reminds us that we don’t have to be moving all the time. Mary Saunders’ lovely little book, “Rhythms of Change,” describes how Chinese Medicine can inform and direct different phases of life. Adjusting our outlook, activities and energies to align with the seasons is one of the foundational tenets of Chinese Medicine.  It’s this perspective that I find so life-changing for those of us steeped in the current culture of “never-let-up, work harder, no matter what.”
Too many people have come in lately burdened by impossible expectations set by themselves and others. A stay-at-home mom exhausting herself with volunteer commitments, corporate employees being asked to work 12 hour days even through the holidays, folks pushing themelves to meet expectations of extended family. Winter is exactly the time to politely decline these invitations to over-extend ourselves.  The earth’s energy and ours is moving down and in now. While it’s natural to be more engaged and outgoing in Spring and Summer, doing so now is contrary to your body’s natural inclination. Too much work in the winter prevents the body from restoring itself and can lead to fatigue, illness and what some like to call “adrenal burnout.”
Use this season to re-evaluate how much you push yourself past your mental and physical limits.  In the long run, who is this serving? Take advantage of the cold weather to pull inward, conserve your energy and look deeply to decide what tasks you perform are truly necessary and/or energy-giving and which are simply too draining.
Following the same principle Marie Kondo presents in her bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” ask yourself if the tasks, jobs, people to which you give energy  “Spark Joy?” If not, consider eliminating or down-sizing them. If you’re in a job you don’t enjoy, but feel dependent on it for income, find joy in the money it provides or a co-worker you have fun with. If it’s the house-cleaning that makes you crazy or the numerous social engagements on nights you’d rather stay in with a book…ask yourself which of those are truly necessary and which can be postponed or hired out or ignored altogether.
The bottom line is that rest and relaxation is important. It’s OK to do nothing sometimes. You don’t need to apologize for it. Only by taking a step back can the sculptor see what she’s creating.  Only by pulling nutrients down into the roots and sacrificing a few smaller branches can the tree survive winter to bloom passionately again in spring.

Aligning with Winter

Winter time in Chinese medicine is when yin is plentiful relative to yang. Yin is cool, dark, inward, still, as opposed to yang which is warm, light, outward, and active. Winter is about conserving and storing energy. After the harvest in the fall, perennial plants must rest and replenish over the winter, so that they will not become depleted and will be productive again in the spring.

 

This is also how we should regard our bodies and minds in the winter.  The emphasis is on conserving, storing, and replenishing our energy for the upcoming year ahead. Some things we can do during winter to live according to the seasons are:

  • Rest more. Go to bed earlier and get up later. Sleep deprivation can tax our immune system and lead to illness. In winter we need even more sleep.
  • Focus on quieter activities like reading or meditating. Exercise is great of course, but don’t overdo it in winter.
  • Eat foods that are highly nourishing and in season, such as root vegetables, potatoes, squashes, winter greens, red and black beans, high protein meats, and hearty vegetable soups.
  • Eat more bone broth. Winter in Chinese medicine is the time that corresponds to the kidneys, and the kidneys govern the bones. Bone broth not only makes your bones strong and healthy, but it boosts our immune systems, reduces inflammation, and heals the digestive system. Its one of the most beneficial substances we can consume for health and longevity. You can find it in the soup section of your local health food store.
  • Minimize stimulation. During winter we should talk less, spend less time on the computer or watching TV, and in general conserve our physical, mental and even sexual energy. Doing so will allow us to have more resources available for the exciting growth and productivity that begins in the Spring.

All of these things will help nourish the kidneys–the root of life–and allow you to live a long and healthy life, say the ancients.  Living according to the seasons can help prevent health problems before they arise.

–Jesse Andreas, L.Ac.

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Breathe a Sigh of Relief…it’s the Year of the Sheep

by: Austin Dixon

As we leave the Year of the Horse and move into the Year of the Sheep we can all take a breath of relief that things are about to slow down. Some of you may have felt the grace and beauty of the horse this year as well as its quick pace and fast changes. All aspects are good, but you may need to slow your roll and have a little more time to take it all in. Good thing the Year of Sheep will let you do that.

The Chinese New Year officially begins February 19, 2015 and lasts until February 7, 2016. The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning the calendar’s dates indicate both the moon and the time of the solar year. The Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival as it marks the beginning of Spring. Technically, the Year of the Sheep begins on February 4, 2015 as it the official start of Spring (and to get really technical, that is our February 3, 2015). So if you have a baby February 3, 2015 or after, but before the 19th, it is still a Sheep according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

Ok, so now to what you really want to know. What to expect in the Year of the Sheep. First we have to think about the characteristics of a sheep. Sheep are calm, tranquil animals. They co-exist with other sheep, animals, and people. Given the chance, sheep are quick to learn and always work to maintain peace. They are soft and cozy and we use their fur to protect us from the cold. Sounds pretty good, right? Right.

The Year of the Sheep is going to be about peace, love, and compassion. We are living in crazy world where violence is sometimes chosen as an option to end conflict. The Year of the Sheep will show us that peace is more effective than violence and using mental force is better than brute force. Like the Sheep, when humans are given the chance to think, really think, they will make good decisions. Good decisions rarely, if ever, involve violence. This will not eliminate hate, anger, and ill intentions, but it will calm the storm for the time being.

The Year of the Sheep is a time for reflection, but not a time to get stuck in the past. It is a time to move forward. Slowly. Carefully. Compassionately. Notice what has not worked for you in the past, take the time to learn from it, and proceed forward. It is a time to get back to the basics and trust your intuition. Family and intimacy is of great value this year. Past relationships can heal if approached properly. It is also a great time to tap into your creative side. This will look different for everyone so have fun exploring what creativity looks like for you.

Now. Everyone can breath a little deeper. Proceed a little slower. And relax into the New Year. Let the chaos of the Year of the Horse settle and be grateful for the calm and warmth of the Sheep.

Tips on tapping into your inner Sheep:

  1. Try meditation. This does not mean sitting and not thinking about anything. That is impossible. It means sitting and being mindful of what you are thinking. You can use tricks like focusing on your breath. Or coming up with your own mantra (ie: “peace, calm, love”) and focusing on that. Start off with 3-5 minutes a day. If sitting and “not doing” is too daunting to start with try journaling. Just writing down every thought that passes through your mind for those few minutes a day will help you become more mindful.
  2. Build in moments of calm during your day. Enjoy a cup of tea everyday. Don’t do anything else at that time but enjoy that tea. Or take 5 minutes to read. Or watch a 5 minute Ted Talk on an interesting subject. Do whatever you like, the only requirement is to enjoy it and do it daily.
  3. Get Creative. Take a class. Bake/cook something new. Organize a photo album. Write. Draw. Doodle. Eat dessert before dinner. I don’t care what you do, just do something different. Step out of your routine. Creative does not mean art. Don’t get hung up on that.
  4. Be gentle. Be compassionate. Be mindful. When you are thinking those negative thoughts about yourself, change your dialogue. Those negative thoughts are violent acts to your spirit. You can not expect to treat others with the care and compassion they deserve if you can not do it yourself. It might feel like lying to yourself at first, but go for it. If you think you are a terrible cook, tell yourself you are a great cook and see what shifts. The worst that could happen is that your cooking stays the same, but at least you won’t feel bad about it. When we feel better about ourselves we feel better about others. Everyone will benefit from your self care.
  5. Think one nice thought about your worst enemy everyday. While this may be the least time consuming of all the tips, it is probably the hardest, but the most transformative. Remember we all make mistakes. We all do things daily that could be judged as negative. We all have different life experiences that shape us in different ways. Sending a mental note of compassion can help heal past relationships and strengthen present ones. And remember, some days we are our own worst enemy. Be kind folks. It is already a tough world out there.