Traditional Chinese Medicine and holistic medicine are about harmony and balance - but what does that mean? It means we move in sync with the external rhythms of nature, not fighting against them. What those rhythms are and what being "in sync" means in practice is traditional knowledge: based on observation over thousands of years. Western science itself is starting to grapple with the idea that what we learn is passed down in our DNA to our children and we can 'know' these things without ever being taught them - we might call it our 'intuition,' our 'wisdom' or as my Granny would say, 'the common sense God gave a chicken'.
Here's an outline of the year as it corresponds to the primal polarities of Yin and Yang. We sail through the year, transiting from Yin (darkness, stillness, rest) into Yang (brightness, action, movement) and back again (I recognize this cycle applies most to those living farther from the equator. The traditional medicine of equatorial peoples no doubt contains its own applications of harmonious living). The apex of each energetic moment is also the beginning of the transition into the next. Right now as we approach the Autumnal Equinox (and celebrate the mid-autumn festival), we are travelling into the most Yin time of the year:
When we accept the reality of change. and the forces that are affecting all us earthlings, we don’t use our resources fighting it - we modify our experience harmoniously, softly, gracefully. This is what I think a lot of "New Age" philosophies are trying to get at when they talk about being "supported by the universe" or the "law of attraction" - when we align ourselves in harmony with the earth cycles, with the massive, manifest patterns that are exerting themselves on our being, we FEEL supported, because we are - the wind is at our back, we are planting in planting season, harvesting in harvest season, and we are much more likely to get the outcome we want and expect.
So back to Fall and rest - as you can see from the yin yang, the Summer solstice, the most YANG time of the year, is the moment when the earth begins its energetic transit into yin - into darkness, cold, wetness, quiet, inaction. As the months progress through the autumn equinox, keeping the frantic pace of modern life becomes even harder. Our energy lowers, our sleep is longer, deeper, we feel quieter, more introspective. We suffer more as we face the growing contradiction between the earth’s energies and the requirements of capitalism - start school, take the kids to soccer, 60 hours of work each week, joyless exercise, big salad for lunch, drinks after work, hurtling ourselves through space, as our cells are insisting more loudly that we slow down, put on weight, sleep more, do less.
As a healing practitioner and as a human being, I often have an internal reaction to this type of discussion (people need to rest more! Folks need to do less and slow down, sleep more!) because so many people literally cannot. Cannot access, cannot afford, cannot find the time. And here too there is a yin and yang - the yin of the personal and the yang of the political. The yang of global capitalism requires an infusion of yin from anti-capitalism and holistic political organization. Political issues like universal health care, paid family leave, universal basic income, housing reform, environmental protection etc., are yin in nature - they nourish, they share, they prioritize rest, healing, redistribution, slowing down so everyone can catch up. Right now the earth and human society is suffering on a massive scale from a lack of rest, from a denial and denigration of the yin energies of existence - the quiet, the dark, the still, the cool, the wet, the chaotic, the unknown, the feminine. Is it any wonder our poor mother earth is becoming hotter, drier, suffering from yin deficiency, hot flashes and night sweats?
I hope you are able to join me this fall in bringing more yin into existence - I don’t want to close on a note of despair, so let me share some of my suggestions for bringing more yin energy into your life right now.
- What can you stop doing or simplify? Do you have a bevy of activities? What can you quit for a few months and return to in the spring? (this goes for your kids too!)
- Do you have a meditation or mindfulness practice? This is the perfect time of year to start a stillness practice - even a few moments in the day can be powerful
- Can you go to bed earlier? every hour we’re awake after sunset we’re fighting with our biorhythms. Maybe the next episode of Stranger Things can wait.
- A regular practice of rest: Shabbat or the Jewish sabbath is a profound weekly rest where observant Jews refrain from all kinds of work, including the use of electronics and spending of money. Consider incorporating a weekly habit of rest: screen free time, family dinner, no shop Saturdays. Ritualizing this time can be a supportive way to introduce a regular restful practice:
May you have a restful and restorative Fall!