Winter can feel like we’re just trying to get by. Especially after the holidays, our energy reserves are wiped out. When we try to ‘get things done,’ we find our concentration low and our nerves frayed. We just hang on, waiting for longer days. Warmer temperatures. Brighter skies.
Taoists viewed Winter a little differently. This tradition, the source of Asian healing arts like acupuncture, held Winter as a time of great power. And believed our choices in this season affect our health thru the year. Maybe even our destiny thru our life!
So what did they advise? Exactly what we see happening in the natural world right now:
Taking cover and venturing out as little as possible.
Sitting out storms and saving the pieces to rebuild later.
Less doing and more being, basically. Less talking, more listening. Less yang — as in ‘let’s do it!’ More yin — as in ‘not now’.
All this resonates deeply with my inclinations this time of year! And maybe I’m not the only one who felt a big ‘Ahh’ with that list? Along with an antsy bit of ‘If only!’ or ‘I wish!’ And cultivating our ‘Being’ now to potentize our ‘Doing’ later — this totally resonates for me.
It can be tough, though, to find a ‘Pause’ button when we’re multi-tasking, over-booked and/or tapped into 24/7 networks. It might take a Snow Day to remind us life will go on without our personally nudging it forward every minute. Or it may take an illness. Usually, at some point during the Winter, either we take a break or our circumstances arrange one for us. We grind to a halt, one way or another.
That’s when we bump into ourselves.
That’s what a monk told writer George Prochnik silence is for (check out his book In Pursuit of Silence for a good Winter read!). I say Winter and its breakdowns give us annual opportunities to bump into ourselves.
Have you ever completely yielded to an illness or breakdown? Just given in, let go of whatever might have been if you weren’t sick. If you have, may have noticed how differently you moved thru it. Viral infections, for instance, often play out more quickly, smoothly and completely. Especially in the Winter. Maybe that’s because yielding allows us to ‘bump into’ ourselves and recover bits that went missing. Yielding frees up circulation around shutdown or injured parts so each can fully accomplish its part in our recovery.
I actually think most of what we call symptoms are like an SOS that translates as ‘Where’s the rest of me?’ Like Dorothy’s scarecrow, vital parts of ourselves get lost or injured along our way. Some part of us eventually calls our attention to what’s missing — with pain or dysfunction.
These are the parts of ourselves that we ‘bump into’ this time of year!
When we allow ourselves, however briefly, to experience life without push, we get to experience a little more of the life we are created to live. Whatever it is that all our ancestors on both sides came together to create in us. Which, by the way, is totally unique. Nothing like it before. Nothing like it ever again. Like snowflakes, each of us is a unique variation on a theme. And for a limited time only!
In Asian healing arts we say our bones are the repository of what comes to us from our ancestors. They’re our rock solid infrastructure. And they mostly take the shape laid out in the the blueprint we came with.
Winter is the best time to tap into the intuition, wisdom, power and courage that lives in our bones. These are gifts from our ancestors, along with our bones.
I think that’s why the call to quiet is so powerful this time of year. We need quiet to hear the still small voice from deep in our bones. Other sounds, unless they resonate with ours and amplify it, tend to ring hollow, dissonant and distracting. If we forego external input we’re better able to connect with what we know in our bones.
This is how Winter choices affect longterm health. The clearer we are about our purpose, the less at odds we are with ourselves and with our surroundings. We more easily make choices that genuinely serve our purpose and dismiss what doesn’t. All this contributes to our health and well-being. When we’re divided against ourselves, our vital functions are set at odds with each other less able to function. The more we let ourselves settle into our quiet place of knowing and unknowing in this season, the better we’ll stay connected with this through the coming year.
Poetry, music and story telling can all help us hear the voices in our bones. We listen for what resonates, what rings true and lets our breath flow freely. We may also hear our voice in each other’s truth-telling. This is an especially good time of year to make space to listen deeply to each other’s stories. Hearing others and being heard helps us hear ourselves. And, like any skill, our listening improves with practice.
Long deep sleep is also important this time of year (not just the night before Christmas)! As we age, our bones may actually ache with longing for good rest. And dipping into the dream world is another way into the depths of our life’s mysteries. And into whatever is knowable at this particular juncture of time and space.
Neuroscientists have found that exposure to loud sounds prompts reactions in the same part of the brain that reacts to fear and triggers higher blood pressure and stress hormones. A useful defense mechanism, maybe. But both of these systems wear us out if they’re running all the time. Rest, the absence of sound or harmonious music all reverse these effects.
So here’s to quiet. And rest. And harmonious sounds that resonate in our bones. And space for the still small voice that calls us from our core to be and do whatever we’re here to be and do. It’s a little like poring over seed catalogs, imagining what will thrive in our garden. A great investment in our health in the coming months. And, maybe, in fulfilling our purpose before our time is up.
Image: Nicholas A. Tonelli / 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