Springtime= Woodtime!

While I realize that much of the country is currently buried under mounds of snow and ice and freezing weather, here in Southern California we are enjoying the first salvos of spring. I’ve been putting off writing a post about healthy spring, but with the sun and the wind and all the lovely green everywhere right now, it really seems time.

In the system of Chinese medicine, nature is central to health. It is ineperable. We are a part of nature, not apart from it, and natural forces are constantly acting on us whether we are aware of it or not. One of the ways we talk about this inward/outward nature is though the Five Elements. I know many of you will say, ‘but wait! I thought there were only four element!’ In this tradition, there are five: Earth, Water, Fire, Metal, and Wood. Think of each element as being not a concrete building block of life, like our periodic table of elements, but more a universal quality of energy. Thus Winter is associated with Water and the direction of north (and many other associations) because it shares the same Qi. Some of the elements are a bit harder to understand, like Wood and Metal. Metal is associated with Autumn and the energy is of letting go, descending into winter and letting go of all that is unneccessary or impure to reach the core of what is truly precious. It is not just metals that Metal shares Qi with, but anything that we place value in; gems, minerals, money, Spirit, and breath. Each element has a season and a pair of Organs associated with it (except Fire, which has 4). I will use capital letters when describing organs, elements or other associations with the Chinese system to differentiate it from western organs. The Heart is different from the heart, even though it may share some functions or characteristics.

Wood is the element associated with Spring. It is the element and season of birth and unfettered growth.  Spring is what the ancients called the Birth of Yang, the time when things are bursting forth in all green glory. There is a huge rush of energy as we move out of Water’s depth and the winds of Wood shake and spin us around. In many parts of the world, Spring is not only the greening time, but also a time of great movement when winds rush through and cause a little chaos. This energy of stirring things up, rustling leaves and feathers, is part of the energy of Wood.

Wood is all about growth and change, movement and regulation, planning and decision making, hope and vision. It is the impetus of a sprout warmed by the sun, pushing determindly through the earth to spring free at last and fulfill the destiny described in its DNA. It follows its plan without doubt or hesitation, growing and changing, adapting to its environment and always pushes forward. Spring is the official time of shaking things up that have been still and quiet all winter.

This element has two Officials or Organs (I hesitate to use the term Organ, because they are less a physical viscera and more a collection of functions and related energy of the body/mind/spirit), which are the General or Planner (Liver) and the Decision-maker (Gallbladder). The function of the Liver is to make plans, the function of the Gallbladder is to carry out those plans by making right decisions. Because it is the Planner, the Liver regulates the even and smooth flow of Qi throughout the entire body. I think of it as the architect drawing up blueprints for a building, figuring out where the plumbing and electrical lines will go so that the construction will be easy and smooth. The Gallbladder is more like the general contractor; the one who decides and executes the details of the architect’s vision. And vision of the eyes and of the spirit are the purvue of the Liver.

This is a time of birth and renewal, of growth and seeking. Think of the sprout that has just broken free of its seed, pushing its way towards the sun. Nothing turns it from its path, it knows its direction and the plan for its birth, life, reproduction and death are encoded in its DNA. Likewise, we each have our own unique Plan, our own destiny. It is the job of the Liver to look inward and outward simultaneously to determine what our Plan is, how we see our future unfolding. It is vital to have a vision for ourselves and our place in the world, and is just as important that we not become locked into one idea of what our life can be. Wood needs to bend in order to not break, and just as trees must sway and flex in a strong wind, we too must learn flexibility in our thoughts, plans and opinions. The tree that cannot bend will break when it meets resistance.

Now is the perfect time to examine our lives, to turn the Liver’s vision inward and take an objective look at ourselves and our patterns of behavior. Are we living the life we envision? What is standing in the way? Is it time to rewrite the plan we had for our lives? What are the ways we have become inflexible? Where are the places that are stuck? What is something new and fresh that we can birth in our lives? And in order to make room for a new vision or plan for our future, we must clean out the old clutter that musties the corners of our spirits. Psychological dust bunnies must be swept away.

Now is the time to take steps towards changing. Now is the time to envision yourself and your life however you would like it. Don’t place limits on your vision, because limits are blockages. Boundaries are healthy, but let your imagination go. And then put it into action, take the first step. Give birth to your life as you always wanted it to be.


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