‘It’s dark on purpose. So just listen.’
These words, from a poem called The Oracle by Lawrence Raab, tell it like it is in the Winter.
The healing gifts of Winter come with deep listening. From tapping into the depths when it’s dark. When we’re weary. When we’re afraid.
Nights are long. Days are short. The cold we step into outside requires layers of protection. Else it makes us cringe. Or makes us sick. And wears us out.
Our minds and bodies really do move more slowly this time of year. No, this is not just your imagination! And not a ‘disorder’ in the view of Asian healing arts. We are all affected by the seasons. Winter we experience deeply. In our bones. And sometimes in otherwise hidden corners of our psyche. This can be empowering – if we’re prepared for it.
Winter challenges us, for sure. It’s gifts are more hidden than those of other seasons. We often resist them, much as we need them. We find ourselves ill equipped to cope, much less appreciate, what comes with Winter.
To really get the gifts of Winter, we have to be prepared to go where Winter takes us. It calls us to our depths. To the wisdom that lives in our bones. In Asian healing arts we call this ‘Ancestral Qi’. Our legacy from all the ancestors that came together to produce the unique life form that is each of us. This is the place our intuition comes from. Also our courage. And our power.
Not always easy to access, yes? That’s on purpose. We only want to pull out all our stops for what really matters. If we exhaust ourselves doing things we don’t care about, we won’t have what it takes when it’s time to make our move. Much less our mark.
Patience, waiting, quietly trusting our time will come. Getting ready. Knowing when to step up. And when not to.
For many of us this is not our most practiced skill set. The less practice we have with this, the more challenging Winter will be. The good news is that with even a little practice, our experience of Winter gets a whole lot better.
It’s tempting to do the opposite. We often go to great lengths and take pains (literally!) to avoid being still with the darkness and depth of Winter. The bright lights, speediness and social whirl around us distract and entertain us. Ultimately, they can’t satisfy the longings we feel in our bones. They can’t even mask them for very long.
Exploring the depths is risky. Being in the dark is scary. We feel profoundly unsettled when we don’t know where we’re going. Fear gets a bad name in some circles but it’s unavoidable – and important. Without it, we can’t navigate the risky waves of life wisely. We can’t evaluate what risks are worth taking. How we deal with our fears determines whether we create our life from the core of our being or get caught up in unfulfilling shortcuts.
Energetically, fear takes our energy down and in. Body level, that’s where our Kidneys live. Mental level, this not where our brain sit’s! Wisdom doesn’t come from thinking and thinking about things. It comes when we listen deeply. To ourselves and each other. To respected elders and ancestors. To primal stories and ancient texts. And to the hard lessons of our life.
A little bit of deep listening this time of year pays off big time. We have better access now to our still small voice. What we truly know – in the presence of all that we can never know.
This is the wisdom part of the Serenity Prayer. The power that only comes with knowing our limits. Accepting what we can’t do (and be) is the only way to know what we can do (and be) — and must to satisfy our souls’ longing. Our unique potential. What we’re here for. Some might say our destiny.
Think of how seeds and bulbs do Winter. Underground and hidden from view. Cold, still. And very much alive! Their time in the dark is essential for them to show up and blossom in their unique way just a few months from now.
Winter is a seed stage for us. A time to get to know our roots and extend their network. Renewing connections with valued friends and family members. This may also require some practice in sitting still and biding our time. All we can do in the presence of forces beyond our control.
I used to love poring over seed catalogues in the Winter. I’d imagine ‘What if?’ with every image of a plant covered with blossoms or fruit’s. So many possibilities. I’d try them all on for size in my imagination, even when we lived in a row house with a garden the size of a postage stamp. Just a few of those images would persist long enough for me to order them. And shape my garden the next year.
That’s what we get to do in the Winter. We can imagine all kinds of possibilities. With less daylight energy, we start to notice that there truly are ‘not enough hours in the day’ to do all we’d like to. We can’t help but notice the limit’s of resources like time, money, and energy. Life shows up finite and a little fragile this time of year. We can try to avoid noticing this with a non-stop flurry of activity. ‘I can’t die, I’ve got too long a list of things to do.’ Eventually, we exhaust ourselves and the truth begins to dawn on us.
This may not sound like a gift but it really is. Recognizing the container of our life helps us know what we really want to with it. How we fit into a bigger picture that links our ancestors and generations to come. Seeds we plant that will grow beyond our imagination. People we love who will be touched by us long after we’re gone. Whatever changes we might make in the world. Some gifts really do keep on giving.
We can’t fully know what these will be. Destiny only shows up in retrospect, after all is said and done. But we can catch glimpses of it in the dark quiet of Winter. If we can bear to sit still for it. Just a little bit. Sometimes we call this intuition. Or wisdom. Power and courage come with it. Bone level solid. With depth like the deep blue sea.
Cultivating Winter’s Gifts
In Asian healing arts we associate Winter with our bones. Also with our kidney, bladder, adrenal and reproductive functions. All involve how we distill our essence, manage our most fundamental resources and access our potential. Wise pacing and judicious use of our reserves in the Winter is their responsibility. So is how we manage fear. When to pull out the stops and when to sit still. For many of us, these systems are all getting more of a work out this Winter.
There’s a Korean folk tale I love about an ambitious farmer. He goes out every night to give a little tug to his rice plants. His rice becomes famous, the tallest in the valley. His arrogance grows. Until one night he pulls the plants just a little too much. Next morning, they’re wilted and lifeless, separated from their roots.
Cultivating our roots requires patience and knowing our limit’s. Healthy ambition is reaching to fulfill them. Arrogance can trip us up. Don’t be a rice puller, they say in Korea.
The challenges of Winter can feel overwhelming. And that’s where it’s gifts begin.
Here are some practical tips to make the most of Winter:
• Stay hydrated. Offer yourself a teacup sized drink of water between meals, especially mid-afternoon. If it goes down quickly, have another within the hour.
• If you forget to drink water, fill a beautiful pitcher or fun cup and put it where you’ll see it often.
• If water seems to run right thru, add a slice of lemon or lime or a bit of fruit juice or herbal tea. Any of these will help water penetrate cell walls instead of passing them by.
• Avoid ice cold water. Room temperature or warm drinks save you the energy of heating them.
• Nourish your ‘Yin’ Winter energy with nuts, seeds and dense vegetables that grow in or near the ground. Pumpkins, winter squashes, root vegetables. Slow-cooked, soups and stews.
• Pay attention to pacing. Stop to catch your breath before the extra push instead of waiting til you’re exhausted.
• Schedule a bit of downtime in the late afternoon. It’s powerful time of day for reflection, listening to your own thoughts.
• Go to bed a little earlier whenever you can. Extra sleep before midnight is especially replenishing this time of year – I say it counts double!
• Try belly breathing. Lie or sit with your back comfortably straight. Lay the palm of your hand on your abdomen below your navel. Invite (don’t force) your breath deep into your lungs so that your hands moves. As you exhale, imagine your big airy breath is becoming more concentrated and tiny til it is the size of a sesame seed deep inside your belly. Then relax your belly, take a few regular breaths and notice how much deeper they are.
• If you don’t have a meditative practice, start one. This is a great time of year to learn and you’re likely to notice benefit’s the very first day – even if it’s just a little and it feels awkward.
• If you have a meditative practice, take it deeper. Try a different visualization or posture. Standing meditation, with your back straight and knees slightly bent is especially beneficial this time of year. Savor the depths.
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