Tension. Opposition. Violence, even. It may come as a surprise to some readers that all of these have a place in the life cycle of a healthy organism. At least they do in the paradigm of Asian Healing Arts. It’s not all sweetness and light in here!
Without any tension, we’d collapse like rubber chickens. Without opposition, we’d miss the full spectrum of our life’s possibilities. And without violent muscle contractions, none of us would have left our mothers’ wombs.
And yet. The destructiveness of these forces have been showing up all too clearly.
This year, the Season of Extremes we call Spring has been more extreme than most. We’ve seen the Winds of Change blow chilling snow storms into the middle of sunny days. We’ve all been battered by traumatic events, both natural and man-made. So many we’ve had little recovery time between fires and floods. Racially charged shootings and massacres of children. Revelations of corruption, breakdowns and firings at the highest levels of our government. So much tension, opposition and violence.
Are there healthy roles – or outlets – for these forces? How do we use such potentially destructive forces in life-serving ways? Can we contain their potential risks? Cultivate their productive use?
Asian Healing Arts don’t entirely answer all these questions. But they do offer a framework to explore them. And they offer practices to cultivate productive use of these powerful forces—see video.
Cynthia Zanti Jabs teaches Qi Gong as part of her acupuncture practice.
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Practitioners in this field get pretty nimble working with potentially destructive forces. As do practitioners of virtually every healing tradition. Because such forces are crucial for healing. Healing invariably involves change. Sometimes abrupt changes that move through tension, opposition and, even, violence. Practitioners of Asian Healing Arts have to master skills for working with such energy. We learn to disperse, contain, move and build energy of all sorts. Some of these practices are easy for anyone to learn and Spring is a great time to explore them!
Tension, opposition and violence are all aspects of the energetic movement we associate with Spring. We call it Warrior or Wood energy. It shows up vigorously now as sap rises in the trees and wind stirs their branches. The life force kicks into gear after these last tiring months of Winter. Hatching. Birthing. Buds bursting. Seeds cracking open. Seedlings cracking the earth’s crust. Trees that looked dead springing to life. “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” as that earlier poet Dylan Thomas said.
Those of us with feet rather than roots also feel the vigorous stirrings of Spring. With extra sunlight we feel more lively. So much energy builds up in our tendons and ligaments that they’ll twitch or cramp if we don’t flex them. Got.To.Move. That’s Spring for you! We feel the urge to create – and pro-create! Migratory restlessness shows up for some of us. All of us feel the urge to take steps toward our goals. To go places.
Sometimes our way forward is not clear. We may feel the need to move and not know how – or where to go. Even when our direction is clear we can find ourselves up against obstacles that block our progress. We spin our wheels without moving, like the eddy behind a rock in a stream.
We often need some internal Spring Cleaning to clear our path. In our view, Spring is Prime Time for the Liver, the organ in charge of detoxification. The toxicity of whatever blocks our way becomes drop-dead clear come Spring. Fortunately, so does the oomph to jettison it! No wonder we often pick this time of year to lose bad habits. A spring fast, for instance, can quickly reset our digestive system if we’ve been overdoing sweets. Abrupt change from one way of doing things to another comes easily now. Just like the wind, changing where it blows. Sometimes in one startling second!
Impulsive change can be refreshing, healing and wonderful. It can also take a turn into careless or deliberate destruction.
Earlier this month, a windstorm in this area shut down train service, closed the federal government, felled ancient trees and killed several children in their beds. It was an intense reminder that explosive impulses can lead to disaster. In human hands, explosive behavior can be tragic. Like police officers firing twenty rounds at an unarmed civilian in his grandmother’s backyard. Or someone walking into schools with weapons of mass destruction. Tension, opposition and violence at their worst.
Each of these scenarios involved a build-up of tension, opposition and violence. We’re not built to sustain any of these forces for very long. Too much and something is bound to blow.
The bounding energy of Spring rises up and what goes up, we know, must come down. That’s what our Lungs do. Think, for a second, of how you feel after a good yawn. Got it? Notice how everything felt a little heavier? That’s energy descending. When we do this regularly and completely, it balances our upward bound impulses. It’s actually the only thing that can! And, like most activities, we get better at it with practice.
A thorough exhale clears the air. It releases whatever part of our impulse doesn’t totally connect with the depth of who we are and what we’re here to do at this exact juncture of time and space. It ‘blows off’ all the noise of voices that aren’t ours.
The rhythm of breathing in and out lets us find a balance point between the opposites that are the source of our creative tension. Winds come up when a mass of cold air moving in one direction meets warmer air moving in the opposite direction. East and west, warm and cold – they’re all part of the whole. But at some junctures, their differences clash. This is necessary in the creative process. Only by bringing together both ends of the spectrum can we create a whole. This is true for social/political as well as weather systems!
The challenge is that being in the presence of opposites when they’re crashing into each other is SO uncomfortable. Breathing practices let us take in this discomfort just for a second – and then let it go as we exhale. We can fully feel the tension of it, for just an instant til we breathe much of it out. Without this, the tension of stretching between opposites becomes overwhelming. We’re likely to reach for anything that offers temporary relief – however costly. Numbing opioids come in many forms. Another way to temporarily escape our internal conflict is what psychologists call ‘Projection.’ In our mind, we attach one side of our internal conflict to someone or something else.
This is where creative Spring forces can take a terrible turn. If we see our internal conflict as external, we’ll try our best to isolate or defend ourselves. And when that doesn’t work – it can’t since we take both parts of our internal conflict with us wherever we go – we may try to destroy whatever our mind has attached to one side of our conflict. The tension does yield eventually. Rising energy eventually tops out. But not soon enough sometimes to prevent tragic consequences, especially if we have massively destructive tools handy as we move through this temporary state.
When we breathe fully, we can use the part of our impulsive energy to take decisive action to further our goals and let go that which has no good use. Doing this regularly, prevents a build-up of frustration that spills over into destructive choices. Baltimore and a few other cities have small programs that introduce kids to meditation and other breathing practices. Imagine how different things might be if we taught this to every child coming through our school systems!
Big changes take time, of course. But a change of direction can happen fast. Here’s to Spring!
Photo: Deepti Hari / CC BY 2.0
Cynthia Zanti Jabs, L.Ac., has practiced Acupuncture and Medical Qi Gong for two decades. She can be reached at her Ruscombe Mansion office by calling 443-226-6626.