I’m sure you are sick of hearing how unprecedented this year has been. And as much as I hate to be a cliche, I have to say: In many ways, I never expected this year to be what it has been, yet it is more than I ever dreamed. It’s more because I have managed to fulfill a couple of goals in unusual ways, it’s forced me to lean into emotional places that I dared not go in years past, and it’s also allowed me to do things that I’ve waited years to do. I’ve gotten my long-desired “work from home wish” accompanied by the double-edged sword bittersweet times. As we all know, it has been a heartbreaking year, and I feel like I will be working through and healing from for a long time to come. There has been so much loss and hardship, yet I don’t think it is cliche to say that we all know what is most important to us now that we have weathered this wild year.
And now we are hunkered down for the winter, at least we are here in the Northern Hemisphere. This, by the way, is my least favorite time of year here in NYC. (I’ll spare you my complaints!) Yet, this is the time for reckoning, for going within, for deep rest and restoration.
Winter in Chinese Medicine brings us into contact with the Kidney and Bladder meridians, the Water element.
Water is a powerful force: given enough time, it can find its way through any obstacle, it takes the shape of whatever container it is in, and it can transform itself based on the temperature/environment it is in. It can freeze, it can evaporate, it can condense into clouds. Water illuminates and hides, and it stores the deepest power within ourselves – touch the very depths of our being and we hit the ming-men, the fire at the center of our being which keeps us in motion.
We’re in the deep dark descent now, and won’t come to the point where we touch upon the Yang that will bring Spring until late February.
As we have so few hours of daylight, I’ve been hunkered in my apartment resting, relaxing, working (or at least trying to), and hanging with the kittos. I feel the stillness of winter within me, and now that we are past the Solstice, I am in full-on hibernation mode. I want to sleep away this long dive into the underworld of my being.
Case in point: I’ve been trying to write this newsletter since the early part of December, and, well, since you are getting this at the very end of December you can see that I don’t have much energy to “do” at the moment. This is my body’s wisdom in response to the time of year we are in.
Maybe you can relate to what I’ve been feeling and doing of late?
- I don’t feel as inclined to do long walks every day, even though I still get out a little bit.
- I feel the need for greater time spent resting and rejuvenating my body through sleep, reading, journaling, watching movies (a beloved past time of mine).
- Sleep – oh beloved sleep in winter.I’ve been waking later to allow myself more time to rejuvenate, and going to bed when I feel tired.
- I’m spending more time with my inner and spiritual lives, and the parts of my being that normally don’t get as much attention: I’m meditating, reading more about my inner world, and taking time to connect to something bigger than myself.
- I’m eating more warming foods than usual, in spite of my unusually high sugar and chocolate cravings that I’m trying to tame with Saccharomyces boulardii.Am focusing on eating soups and broths and further minimizing cooling foods like raw fruit and veg (ie: salads, smoothies, etc.), and avoiding drinking fluids that are cooler than room temperature and so on.I’m eating more squash, peas, root veggies, garlic, and onions – you get the idea.
- I’m also aware that I need more time to connect with friends and family from afar, and have been making more efforts to deepen those connections wherever possible.
My hope, not just for myself, but for you too, is that if you follow these practices you’ll meet spring with healthy energy and have what you need for that time of year: a sense of purpose and clarity of vision.
I’ve been thinking so much about how these practices go against the grain of what American culture says is acceptable.
I don’t know about you, but the messages that I received growing up was that resting or relaxing was equated with laziness. Even now, so many people say, with a sort of pride, that they are too busy to have a “rest day” (or what I call a “no plans” day) and imply that there is more importance of self/person-hood if one cannot somehow take time to do self-care. Because of these messages, it took me a very long time to stop wrestling with the notion that having a day to take a long bath, to read, write, meditate, take a walk, watch a movie or three, and nap, means that I’m not doing enough, or that I’m somehow lazy, not important, or fill in the blank. Me taking time for me, to help restore my inner being and body, is so vital.
To think, I used to apologize for it!
I started breaking this unhealthy, and ultra-masculine/hyper-Yang cycle when I enacted a “me day” for the first weekend day of my period. Talk about radical! In the past, I’d do whatever needed to power through the day as if it were any other day of the month, didn’t matter how I was feeling. And then, I decided that maybe, just maybe, it was a good idea to stay home, one day, of each period: I’d take three Epsom salt baths sometimes, watch movies, nap, pet the kittos, sometimes go out for a short walk, laze in my PJ’s all day, order food for delivery if I wanted, and so on. After nearly a year of doing this, once a month, come-what-may, I no longer feel guilty for taking a day to myself.*
(*Yes, I am privileged to be able to do this: I don’t have kids, I have a standard M-F 9-5pm jobby job in addition to this beautiful holistic work, and I can put my herbal work on hold for the day if I need to. When I was with my husband, he blessedly did a lot to help keep the household going and understood my need to have a day of doing nothing.)
And you know what an amazing side-effect for having a guilt-free “me day” for my period has been? My periods have improved in comfort so tremendously that I cannot understate the impact these days have had. Seriously. And since I’ve made other changes this year (thanks 2020!), my periods continue to improve. (I’ll spare you the details, but if you want to know what’s changed for the better – reply to this email and ask!)
What does this have to do with the beginning of this email you may ask? Well… I’m still struggling a bit with the “be productive, be be productive” chant running through my head like a football field filled with high school cheerleaders though.
All these messages from our culture, from family, from friends, from school, from work that say: you can’t rest and rejuvenate, you have to “do something”, “be someone”, “go somewhere”. They are practically a part of me, and I’ve been releasing those parts of me that are not mine to begin with because they are not my inner truth.
The great sages of ages past knew that this as well…
The concept of Wu Wei in Daosim is that of non-doing, or “doing nothing” – which means to me that this is an action that is not forced. It is living life, but not forcing things go be or go a certain way. When we “relax” and show up as we are, in the present, without anxieties or fear, we can make great strides that feel, effortless or in alignment with the Dao/Universe/God/Spirit/etc.
The first email that I sent to my current violin teacher stated that I wanted to play with more ease and confidence. I have worked so hard, trying to “make up time lost” with the instrument, then, when I suffered a non-playing injury to my left forearm and hand this year I was forced to reckon with this way of approaching the music and instrument. Previous to the injury, I was so willful, forcing, “doing”… in a way, it helped me get to where I am, but I have to wonder, now that I seem to be in more of a Wu Wei-esque state with the instrument if all that straining was worth it? Since I’ve recovered from the injury, I’ve noticed a greater sense of ease with my playing, and all the challenges that I’ve faced this year with the instrument have given me a lot more confidence – all because I went with the flow. No matter how hard I work, I’m not going to be able to play certain repertoire much sooner than when I’m ready to. I have countless other examples, maybe you do as well?
That is what I see as happening here this winter:
We are where we are, no matter how hard we try with all our might and will and strength, we will never be anywhere than where we are right at this moment. As it is winter, we are nestled in the cold of the Earth, hibernating for the season, allowing transformations to occur that we don’t quite recognize yet, preserving our energy for the Spring so that when we emerge… we’ll meet with renewal, vision, clarity, creativity.
The strength that Water holds for us is that Water shows us our value. Water is the reflection pool, the giver of life, the depth of our being showing us, showing you, that you are worth it.
You are worth taking care of yourself to the best of your ability. You are worth slowing down for. You are worth reconnecting with your true self. You are worth it all, guilt, shame and “should” free.
A few weeks ago, I clandestinely stumbled upon a couple of bags of it at a local Polish pharmacy, and have been drinking tea made with it nearly every day for a few weeks.
Hawthorn is slightly cooling to neutral in temperature, it is sour and sweet, and the properties are as follows: digestant, diuretic, astringent, antioxidant, relaxing nervine, cardiac trophorestorative (meaning it regulates and rebuilds the associated system for long-lasting benefits). Hawthorn is a member of the Rose family (Rosacea) and is highly regarded in Celtic traditions for being the home of faeries.
In Western herbalism, Hawthorn has an affinity for the heart and circulatory system, and when taken for several months, can positively impact the vasculature of the body. In Chinese herbalism, Hawthorn is used to help relief food stagnation (or food that is literally stuck in the stomach and cannot descend to the intestines). Today, I’m going to focus on Western herbalism’s usage of this herb.
I’m working away on my Seasonal Wellness book, hoping it will be done before too long! It includes such lovely tidbits as the following…
Jade Screen Decoction for General Immune Support
This formula has been used for centuries to bolster the Wei Qi (for all intents and purposes, the “immune system”) in Chinese Medicine.
Astragalus (Huang Qi) – 10-15g
White Atractylodes (Bai Zhu) – 9-12g
Ledebouriella, Siler (Fang Feng) – 9-12g
Decoct and take one cup daily before the cold/flu season begins.
The combination of these herbs work to support the body’s immune system. As such, it is very effective for those who suffer from low immunity (those who are prone to colds/flus, seem to “catch everything”), aversion to wind and cold temperatures and environments, and spontaneous perspiration.
Note: Do not take this formula if you are already sick, or feel like you are getting sick. It is for prevention only. It is contraindicated in those who tend towards nighttime sweating, and also in those who tend towards edema, water retention or easy-swelling (water weight).
If you are interested in refining your approach to wellness in a way that is not anxiety or fear-based, you can book a short session with me for acute issues, or a long session for long-term/chronic issues.
The acute issues session is ideal if you want to gain some new ideas for how to refine your DIY approach and to learn how to build an apothecary at home (for anything from first-aid to how to deal with colds/flus in the early stages), it is also great if you want to know what to take for short-term issues like a cold/flu, injuries, and so on. The session provides you with “buy these herbs from this store” feedback, and the option to purchase a custom-made formula.
The chronic issues session is best if you’ve been struggling with something for a while. The session includes diet and lifestyle suggestions rooted in holistic approaches, and herbal suggestions – of course. The chronic issues session also provides you with herbs to get you started, a password-protected private page on QH.com that allows you access to your program pdf, instructions from me, videos (where applicable); and support between sessions, including a 30 minute follow up after you receive your included herbal shipment. These sessions are for those who are committed to this approach to wellness.
Wishing you a year filled with Wu Wei and Health!