This can be a tough time of year. It's March – we're well past the halfway point of winter, the holidays are long in the rear-view mirror, and we wait for spring. This waiting can be challenging as we are starting to feel the desire to move and grow but the weather, especially for us in New England, is not allowing us to really put anything into action.
Chinese Medicine provides a lens to understand what is happening, and some tips on how to make the most of this time and minimize any frustration that may build up.
Chinese Medicine associates each of its five elements (Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth) with a season (the “fifth” season is that late summer time, when it is particularly hot and humid out). Winter is the season of Water, and Spring the season of Wood.
The archetypal image of the Wood element is a tree. Firmly rooted in earth, it expands upwards towards the sky, growing up, down, and around any obstacle it meets (think of tree roots that bust through concrete, or branches that wrap around other structures).
Wood likes to move and evolve. Upwards and outwards, let's move!
We are now approaching the season of Wood, where things sprout, new buds and branches grow, and hibernating animals experience new freedom and movement. While spring doesn't officially begin until the equinox on the 20th, the energy of it has already started to stir.
The ground is warming and thawing, the crocus are beginning to bud and work their way upwards... even though as I type this it is 18 degrees outside, and there is half a foot of hard, ice-packed snow on top of the soil.
If you imagine the crocus, frozen in earth for months, beginning to open and grow... muscling its way upwards through earth, only to have the temperatures suddenly drop and hit a wall of ice... that is an apt metaphor for our internal process this time of year.
With the depths of winter in the rear-view mirror, we begin to look ahead to the warmer months of the year. Our plans for the year start to come to shape, and our desire to be outside grows along with an urge to shake off the stir-crazy, but the external environment may not be welcoming to us embarking on that trail.
Similarly, we may have plans to move or buy a car or settle a case or complete a project, and we can often get met with roadblocks to that end.
Most often when we are struck by those obstacles, stress, frustration, and even anger are the results. These emotions are likely to be very quick to surface during these next few weeks until spring fully settles in.
So how can you care for our Wood element? What can you do to help take advantage of the season and mitigate its potentially harmful effects?
1. Look for ways to be flexible
Just like the tree branches (or roots) that find their way around concrete or other solid obstacles, we need to embrace flexibility.
Stuck in traffic? Turn up the radio and enjoy singing along. Call an old friend.
Having difficulty completing a project? Accept that this isn't something to be forced through at this time and look for an alternative.
2. Stay hydrated!
Any piece of wood that is dry will warp and become brittle. Trees that are properly watered will be far more able to bend with incoming winds and challenges rather than snapping in two. Drinking plenty of water will help keep your Wood element nourished and healthy.
3. Find movement
Exercise is a great way to dispel pent up frustration. It can be an intense run on a treadmill, or just a simple walk. Any movement is better than no movement, and that will be immeasurably helpful.
If exercise isn't your thing, at least work to move your joints and stretch your muscles. Most of the time where we collect “dust” that gunks up our system is at the places of movement. Rotate your wrists and ankles 10 times in both directions, shake out your elbows, circle your arms, rotate your neck, swivel your hips and knees... any movement that you can take will help your system.
4. Plant seeds wherever you can
The earth beneath us is warming and stirring, even if it doesn't look it from above. Do whatever you can to plant seeds for your future. Remember that the day you plant seeds is not the same day you eat the fruit.
5. Create a vision for how you want things to go
For the visual-minded, a vision board is a great idea. Print out pictures of what you want to create and put that together. Have fun with an art project while designing your future.
If you're not visual, maybe write down your plans, journal, set intentions... anything to help plant the seeds in your own awareness of where you want things to go.
6. Lastly, be patient
Expect delays and frustrations – they are part of the process. Knowing this time of frustration is temporary can help breathe some life into the situation. The season will change, and our movement will be freed. Be kind to yourself and hold compassion for others – we are all experiencing this in some way, however conscious or not.
This time of year can be particularly challenging as we feel the stirrings of spring but are not quite there yet. It will pass, and the more you can do to maintain flexible and promote movement will be of great benefit to help the time pass until you are able to fully spread your wings and fly.