Seasonal Greetings

A few weeks ago, we bottomed out into the heart and soul of the deepest movement of the Seasons, affectionately and mystically known as the Winter Solstice. I don’t like to refer to this as the beginning of Winter, although technically it is, since it seems so incongruous that we still face the most harsh and potentially brutal part of the season and yet, we are moving towards more light, not less. So, from a light perspective, Winter is over and it’s all downhill from here till Spring.

In Chinese medicine, the movements of the Seasons are viewed as a pattern or expression of the movement of Life itself. And, in this cosmology, that Life movement is reflected in the largest of things and the smallest of things- from the movement of the galaxies to the movement within one cell. As Lao Tzu, the father of Daoism, is purported to have asked, “How do I know about the world?” and answered, “By what is within me”. William Blake, in the opening lines of ‘Auguries of Innocence,” poetically acknowledges this same dynamic:

‘To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.”

In more modern philosophical terms we speak of the microcosm within the macrocosm or vice versa.

So let’s take a look at the spirit of this Season of Winter and explore how the awareness of this movement within ourselves might inform and impact our lives. In very broad terms, we can observe that all of the life activity we have seen expressed in the height of the Summer Season has retreated underground. It is as if all of the Summer energy has drained slowly down during the fall and now lies dormant, quietly resting and waiting for the initiating movement of the Spring. What we see above ground is the revelation of the essence of things, the bones, stripped bare, stark and exposed. We see the dark silhouette of the tree branches against the sky and more of the Earth herself as ground vegetation has thinned and withered.

Animal life has retreated and has become subterranean as well, moving deeply into hibernation in many cases. The ability of an animal to slow its life processes way down and to live off of the accumulated energy of the previous seasons beautifully represents the sprit of this transition into the winter.

From these observations of the natural World it is easy to see the pattern of Life’s movement. Winter is a time for deep rest and renewal, where Life’s activities and routines are minimized to the bare essentials and what energy is required is often stored away in the animal’s lair or own body. All of the intense, visible activity of the Summer has retreated and moved underground to be held as potential until the first stirrings of rising energy in the Spring. From this perspective, it becomes clear that this restful, reformative stage is essential for Nature’s balance, and that a diminishment of this cycle has drastic

consequences for Life’s ability to recover. It is not hard to see how subsequent seasons would be affected by this disconnection from deep and adequate resources.

For the human kingdom this season asks us to also move within. How comfortable are we to take this dive to the interior, to touch the deep resources within ourselves?  Our culture does not always honor and respect this slowing down and reflective time. Our esteem is often so dependent on our accomplishments that to enter the spirit of the Winter season within brings fear; fear that we are not enough in our Being and we are only defined by what we produce. How many times have you heard from a friend, “I am not comfortable sitting still” or “I have to have the radio or TV on all of the time”, or perhaps more basically, “I am not comfortable within my own skin”.

From an oriental perspective our ability to be active and productive is directly related to our capacity for stillness. Our activity can be unfocused, frenzied and ungrounded unless it is tempered by this capacity for stillness. It is as if all of our Doing slowly orbits around the center pivot of our Being, the way the North Star is the pivot for the movement of the heavens. The quality of our Doing is tethered and rooted in our Being.

From a practical viewpoint, western culture faces a unique challenge at this time of year; yes, that would be the Christmas season. Shortly before and after the Winter Solstice we face a time of excess and are often depleted on many levels by our participation in this holiday. We often spend our financial and emotional resources at this time, find ourselves consuming more alcohol and sugar and getting less sleep. In general, we put great taxation on our body/mind/spirit and wonder why after the holidays are long gone that we never have really quite recovered. And yet, we still must endure the coldest part of the Winter with our reserves often seriously impaired. Come Spring, when we are called to emerge from our hibernation and break into the world with new plans and enthusiasm and move towards the increasing Light, we can feel tired and listless. This new emerging Spring growth within us has no reserves to draw upon, and therefore struggles to move up and out and into the world. As this cycle is often repeated winter after winter it is easy to see how, over time, our deepest reserves become compromised.

To honor the spirit of this season is not a question of only changing our Winter behavior. It is a much larger question of how we begin to shift our perspective to honor our capacity of Being in the world. Can we acknowledge our own value and that of others unrelated to our production?  Can we become more conscious of our prejudice towards valuing Doing over Being?  As our awareness changes we might discover ways in the rhythms of our days and hours to slow down, to take the time to reflect and look within and really rest within ourselves. Begin to notice how taking this time affects the quality of your work and relationships.

Our lives are able to flourish when we are attentive to and in alignment with these natural movements of Life. With awareness and practice, we can fine tune our Inner thoughts and our Outer action to reflect this Flow through movement, dietary choices and most importantly, our frame of Mind. The Beauty of this perspective is that it does not require diving into a book or attending classes, but simply to observe and let Nature be your teacher.

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