I’m not sure the year, but in the late 1990s I was hiking a trail in Arizona with a friend. We had walked perhaps 2 miles and he wanted to sit while I insisted on going a little further up the trail in the hope of locating some petroglyphs that I had read about. Thinking it might just be a 10-minute walk I ventured forward while my friend settled in one spot to wait for me.
I can remember watching my feet take each step forward and thinking that I needed to rush because of keeping him waiting. I kept going forward. I hadn’t gone more than a half mile when all of the sudden I heard a rattle. It’s an unmistakable sound. Less than 10 feet away, I saw the rattlesnake shaking his rattle, coiled and ready to get me off his property.
I know what you are supposed to do. Stand still. Wait for the rattlesnake to settle down. However, the adrenaline was rushing, and I could already feel my heart pounding outside of my chest. No thinking was involved. The fear was real and immediate. I made a move that I hadn’t even tried before. I went up in the air and went back 5 feet. I think I screamed as I heard my friend running toward me.
I just wanted to see the petroglyphs on the side of the rocks. Instead, I experienced fear and terror. There was no doubt that if that rattle hadn’t started to warn me, that I would have been bitten. The petroglyphs didn’t matter anymore, but the fear did. I felt it throughout my body. This was a very dangerous moment.
Much of fear that we experience now is apprehension. The dangers are real and often not immediate. The virus that we realize now is so contagious is surging. But we can be calm. We can be careful. We can exercise, eat well, do qigong, wear a mask, take our vitamin D and Zinc and take one step at a time through this.
The opportunity in all this, as I repeatedly have said is to examine how we will create life after this is over. What have we learned about our needs? How do we want to create life? What is the balance between work and home? What are you really interested in? Is there a subject that you have taken up that is your passion?
In keeping with this questioning there is a Winter Solstice coming up. We are walking-putting one step in front of the other toward it. It is the day with the least amount of light, yet it is the day that we can receive the most information to go forward. This is a moment for contemplation. There is a point on the Bladder/ Water Meridian called the ‘extremity of yin’. The Yin is all about receiving. This Bladder point is the last point on the meridian by the little toe before the Qi begins to move up again. This is the moment to be still until we are ready to put one foot in front of the other.
According to the Chinese Calendar, on November 7th each year the 3-month season of Winter begins. But last week in Washington, DC it was 75 degrees which makes it a difficult moment to talk about and prepare for the coming season. But today when I went outdoors it was 47 degrees and I was properly clothed for Winter and ready to initiate this conversation.
Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees and I savor the chance to look at the bare bones of branches and trunks. In the casual staring at them I feel my own energy going inward to a quieter place where I don’t want to speak. I find I need a peaceful existence. Why might you ask, do I speak of a more peaceful existence during a pandemic time when we can hardly spend time out or with other people? Aren’t we already as quiet as life allows?
Even during this separateness, we can go to a quieter time with more meditation and stillness. It requires that we sleep more, and gently accept what we can and can’t do as we need to go deep and learn to receive or what we might call ‘yin’ time in Chinese Medicine. Without the proper rest we can’t build up our resources to understand that we always have enough, or we can create enough. I find it as a nesting period through which we can develop the capacity to find faith in whatever comes next.
The element associated with the Winter is the Water Element. Water can fill any container, can be fluid running through mountain streams, can be snow and ice, and then melt to water the land. Water brings renewal and cleansing. The calm lakes reflect the trees and moon and stillness and silence surround the same deep waters.
I invite you to embrace this coming season. See what inspires you during these longer nights. Invite the dreams that you make become real. And when you look at the still water to find your reflection, truly look to your depths. Much joy will follow you in this Winter Wonderland.
On Friday morning I woke very early and went out when it was still really dark. The full moon/ blue moon felt so close down the hill that I thought I could walk into it. It was inspiring and awesome. I gasped at it, even with a mask on, and told the dog to look up at it even though his nose was properly to the ground. I felt the light enter every cell in my body and just wanted to suspend time and enjoy the pause.
This time period is so unique, yet filled with out of balance energies. We have a pandemic that keeps people apart (by necessity). Groups are pitted against each other in every imaginable way. People are boarding up buildings in preparation for violence after the election. The anxiety and apprehension are high. I’m tired of this.
Believe me, I’m no Pollyanna. I have a very strong sense of the dark side that is in each of us. And I think that there is a balance between the dark and the light, the yin and the yang, even between fear and courage. I feel an urge now to stand up for balance in life. I long for a deeper calm and a rekindling of a connection to the healing power of nature.
For the past 37 years, I’ve explored, and experienced the calming of the extremes of life. I needed it when I was in my twenties. I changed my life from being a political activist to living within the possible spiritual reality. I was angry at the outside world due to how I felt inside myself. But I calmed down my nervous system and dealt with what I refer to as my emotional backpack. I did acupuncture, meditation, explored many spiritual traditions, and found Qigong. Balance is an ever-available possibility.
We need the positive guiding us and not fear and hatred. We must care for one another. Do whatever you can to stay in your hearts no matter what happens. As one of my friends reminded me, “We were born for these times”. But let’s go forward caring for one another. All we need is love. Pay attention to your needs. Look to nature for inspiration and healing. That’s all I have to say.
The leaves are now yellow, red and orange. We find them as a blanket on the ground whether in the woods or on the sidewalks. We are in the midst of the letting go so characteristic of the Metal Element and the Autumn. We can let go of things of the past, or wounds we carry from our own past. We always remember, but we don’t have to make the past the present. When we accomplish this, there is a freedom and accompanying receiving.
And as it is every year, I find that I go to bed earlier and I sleep later, eat more and am happy with the quieter times. But in this particular year when most of us are still in the quietest time of our lives, what can we expect? Can we do as we always do and gather and cultivate our Qi? Can we be sure not to scatter our energies and work on our breathing to ensure the process of cultivation? Perhaps, just perhaps, because things are ‘different’ there will be the possibility of balancing and flowing as we journey this time toward the quiet coming this Winter.
I would suggest that if we work on breathing though the lungs that we will build our immune systems, detox and establish a realization of the work of the network inside that allows for a splendid kind of calm and stillness. I promise to focus on this tomorrow during Monday’s meditation at noon. We will breathe into the organs to find calm and stillness within. The calm allows for the building up of inner strength and is in keeping with this Autumn/Metal time. To quote one of the great Chinese Medicine scholars, Elizabeth Rochat, “ Breaths are the yang of life, the dynamism, vitality, and movement of life, and spirits preserve the good direction of life in you. You have to protect he vitality in yourself, and the most important aspects of it are the Spirits and the Breaths.”
Let us live in appreciation of the movement of life through our breath this week! How amazing it all is to be alive.
When we discuss the value of our lives I think first of these words by Leonard Cohen from Anthem. Forget your perfect offering – it’s how the light get in. In this fall season and the Metal element there is the conversation about what is of value in us.
Metal can be about bringing a sense of closure for people because when we truly let go of all the long-held memories and beliefs, then we make room for other possibilities. Tonight, is Yom Kippur and tomorrow in prayer we will mention a long list of all the ‘sins’ or actions that one shouldn’t take and repeatedly ask for forgiveness. Through that letting go the possibilities are there for living a life that is closer to a sacred way. The hope is that by the end of tomorrow after prayer and fasting we will face the meaning and value of living another year.
As with all sitting or prayer there is stillness as we move through the Metal element. Also, with the breath we connect to all that is and nature as a source. The breath takes us to deep spaces within and often connects us with all realms of heaven and earth. Sometimes the search for meaning a person focuses on regret or that thing that she/he thinks is wrong about them. The work is realizing that things are fluid and that transformation comes with each breath and the breath transforms everything.
The emotions that need to flow smoothly for a person through Metal is grief or longing. Often Longing starts from grief. We are looking to empty and to refill again. Can you remember longing? Longing has some desire in it but it’s bigger than that. Longing also relates to that which touches us deeply, the divine. To find the Holy Grail is to know God and have truth but it is also a longing in our everyday life. Longing is a soul leveled desire. Some people long for children and others don’t. It’s not only psychological, it is the soul knowing that which they must have to fulfill their lives purpose. Again, to give their lives meaning.
I invite you to practice breathing in and out of the belly for 5 or 10 minutes in the next few days with no expectations but just to see if you can find the means of your own reset. Experience your lungs at the same time. See what you might discover about yourself.