Safety Within

Well… here we are.  In NY, it is week 10 of shelter-in-place.

No matter your particular situation:  How are you doing?

How are you feeling: physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually?

Have you been learning new things about yourself, your life, your world?

Discovering challenging things, uncovering pearls of wisdom or inner gifts? 

Do you have things coming up from a long time ago, asking to be released, held, healed?  

Are you experiencing new feelings, or feelings that you would typically work to avoid, ignore or otherwise deny?

Are you working with this time?  Are you fighting this time?  Is this time a boon or a bane? Both a boon and a bane?


I’ve had my share of “ups” and “downs” throughout these past few months.  Today, as I post this, I’m longing for living life differently than I have been, in a place different from where I am because without the things that keep me “here”, I want to be “there”.

I’ve written and re-written this post for several weeks, because this liminal space is… uncharted. It’s, wild. There are no paths to follow. Only the experience of the moment. (And maybe even a cup of tea or two too…)

Here in this moment, I have felt a great sense of stability amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the world, and a sense of blossoming like I’ve not felt before.  It’s as if I’ve been on the open ocean for so long, that I see there’s something on the horizon, I just can’t quite make out what that something is yet. It is exciting, and scary. This is amidst the pain, suffering and grief throughout what is currently happening the world over.

I’ve been tapping into some core feelings that I’ve not been able to make space for – and that in and of itself is a great gift even if opening it seems to leave scratches, like walking through a rose or berry thicket.  

This time feels like a holding, an awareness, of both the blossom and the thorn.

Yet, just like wrapped gifts and roses and berries, there are treasures if we persevere through the uncertain parts; only if we stop, if we take a moment, a breath, and watch what’s happening. If you stop in a blackberry thicket, you cease to get pricked and scratched and seemingly grabbed and held ferociously by the thorns and canes. You can feel a sense of calm within this wildly thorny place. We can possibly safe in this, if we let ourselves.


As a survivor of domestic abuse, the survivor of workplace emotional and psychological abuse, and the spouse of a recovering alcoholic, I can without a doubt say that none of this, and I mean none of this, is fully accessible without a sense of environmental safety. If you are not safe in your home, are living with an abuser or in an otherwise abusive environment, getting yourself safe is your top priority. You deserve to be safe so that you can grow and thrive as who you are meant to be and who you truly are. If you are in an unsafe position, please refer to the resources below.

Here’s how I see it. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can grow or heal without feeling safe, without feeling held and nurtured.  Seeds don’t grow until they’ve found their home in the soil, on a tree limb, in the water, etc.  We all have seen plants growing in the scarcest of conditions, but there the seeds have landed, with conditions that are “good enough” for them to take their chance at thriving during their time on Earth. 


From my years of undergoing therapy for PTSD, the very first order of business was establishing a sense of inner safety where my body did not feel like it was spinning out of control, or on hyper vigilance mode all the time.

I didn’t know what it meant to feel relaxed and safe in my body for more than a short time until this past fall. Making safe havens within ourselves takes time. Much like the formation of earth, sand, trees, patience – or the willingness to keep returning to these practices with the tenacity of a tree growing in a sliver of a sidewalk crack- is required.

My vision of safety is not living in a utopian dreamworld, where everything is our idea of perfection or consistent certainty. This is obviously not the safety such as in greenhouse uber-controlled conditions where the soil, humidity, water, light, and nutrient conditions are closely monitored.


Safety is that which we know within ourselves, that we can look within and feel a sense of inner trust, compassion and a general feeling of “I’ve got this”. It’s courageous stuff, especially as a woman in this society who is told all sorts of things about who I am supposed to be, what I am supposed to want, how I’m supposed to behave, and what relationships I’m supposed to have.

It’s hard to feel “safe” when the world-at-large is telling you that you are not to be trusted: that who you are and what you want is somehow not acceptable or good enough. It is hard to feel safe when you don’t know what you are coming home to after work. It’s hard to feel safe when you work in an abusive work environment.


It starts small: making one promise to myself every day (this started with meditating daily), and has grown from there.***

From these small acts, we cultivate safety that becomes trusting oneself in the wildness that is living life.  This wilderness is the ground upon which we stand in the here and now.  This wilderness is filled with all sorts of interesting things to navigate along the individual’s path – and each path’s terrain is different. This can be the place where we explore in meditation (and other internal practices), in our creative work, in therapy/self-exploration, in our physical world, and in our relationships – but only if we dare to learn the terrain that is our inner world. 

We learn what is predictable, what is unpredictable, what season or cycle we may be in, and where we fit into it.  We can let go of our notion of control: control over our environment, thoughts, finances, relationships, and so on. We can return to ourselves, and learn to trust in who we are and our place in the world.

We learn that big, traumatic, things can happen and we can still feel safely held by ourself, the world, you name it and that we can be true to ourselves and navigate these waters. That even amidst great upheaval, there can be growth, healing, expansion into the deeper self because of this feeling of holding, of inherent safety within our beings. This feeling can be touched upon and returned to repeatedly.


This sensation of being safely held and returning to who we are is connection to the Dao, Universe, Heavens, God, Spirit, Gaia, Great Mystery, etc. I don’t really have a word for it, and I know of some people who call it magic. We feel held within this connection by our Yīn.

Yet, in our society today, we are very Yáng focused. Yáng is described below in detail, but it is outwardly moving, bright, heat, and loud. Yáng has taken over our world, and this is a big reason why we are seeing climate change: the balance between Yīn and Yáng is terribly off. Instead of an ice-age of Yīn, we will have a heat-age of Yáng. We are already in this transition, and if we do not cultivate the balance within ourselves and society (and our treatment of the natural world) through Yīn, our whole world will collapse.


Yīn (陰) is the female principle in the Yīn -Yáng dynamic.

Yīn is defined as the following: shade, shadow, cold-lit, dark(ness), dim(ly), north side of a mountain, south side of a river (especially regarding place names), cold(ness), inactivity, declining strength, seasons of autumn and winter, cool vapors and aura of autumn and winter, cold wind (especially north wind), feminine principle (opposite of a Yáng), associated with the moon, earth, darkness, cold, weakness, softness, hiddenness, latency, stillness, etc.; the broken lines in Yijing hexagrams, symbolic of the number 6 as the most fully Yīn of the nine fundamental numerals, below the surface, secretive, out of sight, retract(ed), suggest(ion), intimation, innuendo, pertaining to the reproductive organs.[1] 

Yīn Organs in Chinese Medicine are those that hold the vital energies and spirits: the Heart and Pericardium hold the Shen (our life spirit), the Liver holds the Hun (creative spirit), the Spleen holds the Yi (our integrity), the Lungs hold the Po (our instinctive-animal spirit), and the Kidneys hold the Zhi (our innate wise spirit).


Neat factoid:

There is also a variation in pinyin spelling (yìn) that utilizes the same character set that means: afford shelter, protect, benefit, cover over, conceal, hide.[2]


Yáng (陽) , on the other hand, embodies brilliance, light, the south side of a mountain, warmth, lively, full of life, the seasons of spring and summer, superficial, surface, the masculine principle that is comprised of the sun, heaven, light, warmth, strength, hardness, height, mastery, potency action.[3] 

Yáng Organs are the organs that move internally and externally: Small Intestine and Triple Warmer move food and the heating-cooling fluids of the body, the Gallbladder moves bile, the Stomach moves food, the Large Intestine moves waste material, and the Bladder moves water.


With our enforced yìn-Yīn time here in the United States (during the shift from the Yīn to the Yáng time of year at that!), we are afforded the opportunity that we no longer get during autumn and winter: a time for stillness, to peer into our inner stillness and shadows. 

This is, of course, terribly poor timing for all we want to do is be out in the world being active and we’re forced to remain within ourselves and our homes (however that may look for you).  It’s no wonder that as these weeks continue on we may be feeling stagnant. This is the time of year that we move all that’s been accumulated during the winter into action.

Yet, I see this yìn time in that we have the opportunity to shine the Yáng light into the Yīn darkness that all too often are unable to do. This is where this time can be a boon – but again, only if we already feel some sense of safety, some kind of holding. And, as I previously stated, for a lot of us, that’s just not the norm and that needs to come first.


This is only possible if we have that safety, that feeling of being held.

The Uncertainty guide offers practices which open you up to your inherent way of being. To help you learn to feel safe in yourself again.

Once you have that…

the Fire that’s in your Heart can shine like the sun into the depths of your being, allowing you to discover your unique treasures and gifts. You can transform through this uncovering what you’ve taken on that is no longer useful. You can courageously move through your fear and create what the Ancients call: wisdom, benevolence, integrity, rightousness, and propriety.

Stay tuned for more on these transformations!


References:

[1] A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese by Paul W. Kroll

[2] In A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese by Paul W. Kroll,

[3] In A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese by Paul W. Kroll,

[4] Lonny Jarrett, Nourishing Destiny, pg 153

[5] Larre and Rochat de la Valle, The Seven Emotions, pg 95

_________

Resources:
***The Holistic Psychologist is a great resource on Instagram, YouTube and her Inner Circle group for clear instructions on how to help you return to yourself. I wish she was around when I started my journey years ago, because everything she discusses is what I’ve explored and her work is just phenomenal. Simple, clear, to the point.

Resources on Domestic Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, and other:

If you are a domestic abuse survivor, FreeFrom seeks to provide opportunities for income generation and independence: http://www.freefrom.org/

CapitalOne Bank offers online accounts without receiving paper mail. This is a great option for you to squirrel money into in case you need it. You can use ATM’s with your debit card to make cash deposits. Here’s the link to the free checking account: https://apply.capitalone.com/index.html#/getting-started?productId=4000&Product=360Bank

ProtonMail is free encrypted email: https://protonmail.com/signup

Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org/help/

Futures without Violence: https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/get-updates-information-covid-19/

If someone in your household is abusing substances and you have no recourse to leave, Al Anon may be of help in helping you get through this time. https://al-anon.org/al-anon-meetings/electronic-meetings/

If Alanon is not for you, there are other 12-step type options.

Speaking with a therapist (which should be free of copays at the moment) may help you during this time as well.

The TCM Five Elements (A Very Brief Overview)

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Ah, the TCM Five Elements.

Where would I be without them?  When I first started learning TCM and the Five Elements, a light bulb went off in my head.  It is time I give you a very brief review of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Five Elements and their paired Organs. This is by no means an exhaustive introduction or list, but it should help you pick up on some patterns within each of these Elements to see what might be going on with yourself, to give you some extra tools to dig deeper.  This is part of a series of posts where I’m exploring the interplay between what we take in from the outside world, and how we choose to assimilate these experiences.

Traditional Chinese Medicine details Five Elements as observed in nature (the macrocosm) and in our selves (the microcosm): Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, and now these Elements interact with each other.  Wood feeds Fire, Fire turns into Earth, Earth creates Metal, Metal melts into Water, and Water feeds Wood, this is known as the creation (or Shen) cycle.  The Ko cycle tells us which Element is controlled or regulated by another Element: Wood controls Earth, Fire controls Metal, Earth controls Water, Metal controls Wood, Water controls Fire.  These cycles are important in understanding how the Elements interact with each other.

Each Element has a Yin (or solid) Organ and a Yang (or hollow) Organ. The Yin Organs store, transform or produce substances (such as Qi or Blood).  The Yang Organs receive and transport substances, such as food, stool or urine, through the digestive and elimination tracks.

The Wood Element entails the smooth movement of the Blood and Qi within the body, and storage of the Blood, are ruled by the Liver and Gall-Bladder systems. Wood ensures the emotions, digestion, sleep, menstruation all run smoothly.  If the Liver is unable to keep the cycles running smoothly, anger, frustration, irritability, PMS, headaches, depression, digestive upset (i.e. having diarrhea one day, then being constipated the next), and even having the inability to make and keep plans all can occur.

The Fire Element has four Organs, encompassing the Heart, Pericardium (the oft-neglected and unsung hero of the Organs of TCM in my beginner’s mind), Small Intestine and Triple Burner Organ systems which are in charge of moving our Blood throughout our body, and of which houses what is known as our Shen or spirit, our life-spark.  When our Heart has been impacted, we can suffer from palpitations, mental restlessness, dream-disturbed sleep, too much talking, memory issues, repressed emotions, manic behavior, and pains in the chest area.  The Pericardium is the sac that surrounds the Heart.  It is the protector of the Heart, much like a moat that surrounds and protects a castle, the Pericardium bears the brunt of trauma and shock protecting the Heart from as much damage as possible. The Pericardium is also known as the circulation sex – hence it helps us relate to others. If the shock to the Pericardium is severe enough, both the Pericardium and Heart are impacted and impeded by various symptoms and patterns of imbalance. (I hope to explore more of this with you at a later date, as I’ve become quite fascinated with the Pericardium.)

The Earth Element holds the Spleen and Stomach systems, which are in charge of digesting and transforming our food and experiences, helping to create the Qi and Blood we need to live our lives to the fullest. When out of balance we can worry or chew on the same issues again and again and again, like an ill-digested meal; have feelings of heaviness, undigested food in the stools, loose stools, lack of sense of taste, appetite/hunger issues (either constant or lack thereof), the inability to fulfill goals, and being needy or having trust issues. Earth Element seems to have the most problem maintaining boundaries, as it nurtures and provides for the rest of the body, mind and soul.

The Metal Element’s Organ systems are the Lungs and Large Intestine. The Metal Element, and Lungs in particular, are that which circulate and distribute Qi (our energy), they are the filter by which we are cleansed of dirty air and help us to grieve and let go of what we no longer need.  If the Spleen helps us digest our experiences, the Lungs help us let them go. If we are unable to expel what we no longer need, we could have difficulty breathing, cough, asthma, sore throat, mucus, spontaneous sweating, elimination problems (constipation, dysentery), frequent colds/flus and/or immune issues, unresolved grief and the inability to give or grieve.

Lastly, at the root of us all for where would we be without it, our Water Element which are the Kidney and Urinary Bladder Organs. The Kidneys store our Essence (Ojas, Jing), they govern birth, growth, development and reproduction. Water circulation and fluid balance in the body are regulated by this Organ, and the Kidneys hold the Qi that is sent down from the Lungs in place. The Kidneys are not just our urination/water regulation system, but also our endocrine system and they house our Ming Men (or Life Gate Fire, where water and fire co-mingle between the two kidneys, much like one of my favorite childhood movies: Sea Prince and Fire Child). The emotion of the Water element is fear, and sudden frights or terror can harm this system (ever be scared and have to pee?)  Some signs that the Water Element is impacted encompass the following: fertility and sexual issues (lack of libido, impotence), urinary issues, low back pain, weak knees, edema/swelling in the lower parts of the body, fear/paranoia, thinning of head hair, premature graying or aging, ear and hearing problems, low pitched tinnitus, and some blood pressure and thyroid issues.

 

Do any of the Elements resonate with you and your typical reactions to things, or continued health problems?  Do you have constellations of symptoms spread between one, two or more of the TCM Five Elements?

 

Note:  To make things a bit clearer, I’ve capitalized the word Organ here to reflect the TCM view of the system of the Organ vs the Western view of an organ.  For example, the Liver in TCM is not just the liver the organ, but a whole system that interacts together that does not only entail what the liver (the organ in our body) does on a functional level.  As such, the Liver Organ is in charge of a greater number of functions and processes than the Western medical view of the liver.

Recommended Reading and References: The Web that Has No Weaver by Kaptchuk; Between Heaven and Earth by Beinfield and Korngold;  Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine Volume 1 by the Tierras

TCM Terminology for All

Why bother using TCM terminology?  Especially when you are not a practitioner, herbalist, or the like?  Because TCM allows one to look at the self, and world as an integrated system.  TCM explains things that cannot be explained within simpler medical terms.  TCM is both very simple and infinitely complex.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terminology can seem overwhelming, but I find that TCM is very intuitive, and the terminology makes a lot of sense with a little bit of effort.  It doesn’t hurt that I have the privilege of running a weekly chat at my superb Alma mater (East West School of Planetary Herbology) that is focused on foundational TCM theory to constantly refresh my mind and keep me on my toes.

Ready to dip your toes into the waters of TCM and TCM Terminology?  Here we go!

 

TCM Terminology Beginner’s Basics:

Yin, Yang, Qi, Blood, Fluids, Essence and Shen

 

1. TCM is not an either/or paradigm, it is either/and, meaning: the world does not exist in a clear-cut manner.

2. The goal of TCM is to bring balance to the body and self.  Balance is the lack of disease, it is also a lack of disease insofar as your genetics and constitution allow.   This means that if you were born with a genetic predisposition to a particular imbalance/disease, TCM’s goal is to help bring you into balance as much as possible.

2. Yin and Yang is the foundation of all TCM – if you become confused, return to the basics: Yin and Yang.

What are Yin and Yang?

  • Yin and Yang are opposite energies that exist on the same spectrum.
  • There is no pure Yin or pure Yang, they exist together.  There is always Yin within Yang and Yang within Yin.
  • An example is the moon: while the moon is Yin, the sun’s light reflects the moon and there can be more Yang (light) within the Yin moon depending on the moon’s cycle.  A full moon would have more Yang within Yin, whereas a new moon would have little Yang within Yin.
  • It is all relative.

Yin is that which is feminine, dark, heavy, wet, cool, passive, receptive, it moves inward and downward, sinks, it is the moon, the dark side of a hill, it is sympathetic. It is still.  Yin is West and North, below, contracting, growing, resting, matter, space, water, earth.

Yang is masculine, light, dry, warm, active, it is upward and outward moving, rises, it is the sun, the sunny side of a hill, it is para-sympathetic.  It moves.  Yang is South and East, above, expanding, generating, activity, energy, fire, time, heaven.

In the body, Yin is the interior, front, below the waist, structure, Blood and fluids.  Yang is the exterior, back, above the waist, function and Qi.  Yin is primarily the body, Yang is primarily the head.

3. Qi is the fundamental energy, the force that activates life.  It is part of Yang, in that it is movement, warmth, activity. Qi transports, transforms, warms, protects, and holds the body, systems and processes.

4. Blood is part of Yin, it is similar to the Western description of blood and it also includes circulation and stagnation.

5. Fluids are also part of Yin, they include: saliva, tears, urine, sweat, lymph and other bodily secretions.

6. Essence is similar to Ojas in Ayurveda.  Essence is in charge of reproduction, development, growth and decay; as such it is the basis for our vitality and strength.  You can never have too much Essence, you can have too little.

7. Shen is not just Spirit, but also the Mind.  Shen resides in the Heart, and both the reflection and representation of the health of the person/animal: spiritual, emotional, mental/psychological, and physical.

I hope that this brief list is enough to whet your appetite, because in the next post, I’ll provide information about what these different imbalances look like using TCM terminology!

Pink Peony - TCM Terminology Quaternity Holistics

Please note: this series is not intended to be used as a system for assessment (oneself, others) but as an informational guide.

 

Sources: