Spring is such an easy time to resolve to live in harmony with the seasons.
Spring is a time for new growth, a time when the world turns more yang and we do well to turn more yang with it, becoming more active, taking more walks, starting new projects.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, spring is also the season of the liver. In a wonderful article in Qi Journal on seasonal harmonization, Dr. Henry McCann writes that we should eat to support liver function with foods that have an acrid or mildly spicy flavor, including herbs like onions, garlic, cilantro, ginger, basil, fennel and dill. We should eat young greens, new potatoes, asparagus, eggs, wheat and sprouted grains.
I can do this. I am happy to do this. Spring comes, and the daffodils bloom, and sometimes it stops raining and the sun comes out long enough for me to work in my garden. I want to take walks, and suddenly endeavors I was plodding through seem far easier and even fun.
And I love cilantro—I just planted a little pot of cilantro from my aunt’s memorial service—as well as ginger, basil and fennel. And young greens…. Well, I could eat baby spinach leaves sauteed in a bit of butter every day of my life. The wheat is problematic, as I’m still doing my bigu (“no grain”) fast, but if I’m not eating it, it’s not because I don’t love it.
So spring is easy. I can go with the seasonal flow in spring. Summer is pretty easy, too, as it’s still a time of activity.
But autumn and winter are a challenge, especially winter. In winter, as Mother Nature is resting, we’re supposed to rest, too. We’re supposed to sleep more; I’m good with that, although I don’t seem to make it happen as much as I might. We’re supposed to eat heavier, salty food; I’m good with that, too. And we’re supposed to keep warm.
When winter sets in, my taiji teacher Joe Pau, of the Taoist Studies Institute in Seattle, admonishes us to get plenty of rest and keep our bodies warm so that we’re restored and ready to go when spring comes. I have best heeded his advice by keeping warm when I sleep, with the result that I have looked pretty much like a bedtime bag lady all winter long, wearing an old velour jacket missing one snap over my pajamas and wool socks on my feet.
But becoming less active… that is difficult. People’s expectations of us and our expectations of ourselves don’t diminish just because winter has come. I never worked anywhere where less was expected during the winter months, and I don’t expect less of myself now that I am retired, fearful as I am of slipping into sloth.
Indeed, I began this blog during winter months. When I told a qigong friend that I realized I was bucking seasonality by beginning a blog in January, she suggested I do a reframe and consider that I was doing groundwork for a venture that would come to life in the spring. It was a kindly suggestion, but in truth I was working pretty darned hard all winter long.
But now it is spring, and soon it will be summer and then fall, and before I know it, winter again. I will keep having chances to try to live in harmony with all of the seasons, including winter—which I really would like to do.
However, I have a tendency to become depressed in winter—it’s called “seasonal affective disorder”—and I cannot think that the ancient Daoists wanted people to embrace depression along with the dark. Depression isn’t about resting up for expansion and growth; it’s about hopelessness and doubt that spring will come again.
How does one slow down and relax into greater quiet and self-nourishment without risking becoming depressed? Should I quit taking extra vitamin D and using my light box every morning—both clearly antithetical to embracing winter’s gloom. Should I burrow in at home instead of pushing myself to remain connected to the world?
I don’t know—although perhaps these aren’t really either-or choices. I do think my qigong practice has lessened my winter depression, and perhaps I am beginning to understand that self-nurturance isn’t the same as sloth.
Ultimately, harmonizing my winter life with winter is just another frontier to be explored on my qigong journey.
For now, however, it is spring, and I rejoice.