Do you remember the first ways in which you assigned meaning to the passage of time?…to the changing of seasons? I grew up in a middle class family in rural central Illinois, attending a small Catholic school until the 9th grade. Years were neatly divided into two parts back then: the school year and the summertime, with a smattering of notable Christian events and other popularized national holidays throughout the year. Remember that? Remember the simplicity of childhood calculations? Marking our experiences by the number of days left to swim at the local pool, weeks until departure for family vacation or number of tests left before winter break begins. Ahh, yes…sounds lovely…and comfortably short-sighted. Of course, it serves me not to forget that even when notions of time were most simple, life’s cycles were no less challenging or demanding of our attention than they appear to be now. Just think about that last week of summer before school started…the ways in which it felt impossible to accomplish everything fun before the first day of school arrived and your freedom slipped away. Oh, the resistance! Teachers undoubtedly had their work cut out for them trying to harness all those energies of summer, probably for the entire first half of the fall! And let’s not forget just how hard it was to get out of bed on a cold winter morning, or to trudge out to the bus stop in stiff winter layers when there was hardly even daylight yet. Yes, I think it is safe to say that all beings, regardless of age or location, are shaped and molded by the changing of the seasons. Always have been. Though as adults, we become responsible for how we react to and deal with these changes, and may choose to work with these influences to our own benefit and well-being. After all, if we are going to assign meaning to the passages of time, we may as well use our observations to fuel insight and grow wisdom, right?
I once received meditation teachings that created a lasting image in my mind. In this image, I am an energetic being (less so physical) and I have all of these octopus-like tendrils spanning out from my being to the aspects of my life, each of them serving as a container, a line of energy passing between me and whatever lie at the other end of the tendril. These are two-way lines where I give and receive through my relationship with the other. I believe these lines, in essence, do exist and that they are created and destroyed infinitely throughout our lifetime. When I invest my awareness and my effort in a relationship (to person, place, thing or idea etc.), the line is formed and if it is nourished/fed, it only grows with time. However, some relationships become irrelevant or misplaced, and are no longer fed, to the point of vanishing. There is a very familiar life and death quality to this metaphoric image of energy lines for me – it is easy to make sense of how these are always changing and how we actively participate in their formation and transformation each day. The lines of energy extending from us rise and pass away, not unlike the cycles of each season. At times, we are asked to muster up the energy for new relationships, new dynamics and to respond to a need in our environment or in ourselves, just as life must boldly spring forth from a seedling into the unknown. Alternatively, there are moments when we simply need to retract energy from where it is extended, for personal rejuvenation or for the purpose of healthy re-investment, just as the same little plant does when it goes to seed in the fall and surrenders to its own termination . These too, are seemingly natural and rhythmic cycles, once we are paying attention.
I like to think that I first came to recognize nature’s cycles of life/death from my experiences working in our family garden, having childhood pets to care for, or by observing the flora and fauna in the wooded ravine behind my childhood home. Though I cannot actually be certain when and how these insights have developed, I certainly remember thinking for most of my life that death must certainly be the hardest part of the cycle…of any cycle. After all, death is the greatest unknown for many humans, especially children. Can you think of any greater mystery? So, once I understood the ways in which these cycles naturally appear and repeat in our annual rhythms, I certainly expected autumn, a time of expected passing and necessary death, to challenge me more than any other time of the year. You can imagine my surprise, when year after year, the transition into spring proves to be more difficult to me than autumn or any other season. I have been contemplating this experience for some time now, and my only theory about why this would be the case is that ultimately, my being is much more inclined to the folding inward/passing away that fall welcomes than it is to the blossoming outward/rising again that characterizes spring. Hmmm…very interesting. Perhaps it is easier for me to cut the aforementioned energetic tendrils than it is for me to create new ones. That may be true for many of us. Food for thought.
So it’s February, almost March. The earth is still frozen beneath us, but there is most certainly a shift taking place. Outside temperatures are beginning to warm and the quality of the air we breathe is beginning to soften, to thaw. Snowfalls continue, but now with a wetter and stickier feel than before. Moisture returns to the air as winter blankets begin to melt around us. As I mentioned last month, we are transitioning Ayurvedically-speaking from the season of Vata – dry, bitter and cold to that of Kapha energies – watery, heavy and cool. The ancient wisdom of Ayurveda begs us to notice the ways in which the shifting landscape around is constantly mirrored internally. Perhaps you are beginning to notice your own internal temperatures beginning to rise, as your inner landscape begins to thaw. As we begin to warm, the fats (and their accompanying toxins) that our bodies so intuitively stored last fall, are beginning to ‘melt’ and circulate in the body. Body wisdom suggests that it is safe to move from storage and deep nourishment into movement and lightening. It is time to begin release. Take notice, depending on where you live, of when you feel your own sap begin to run. This is a shift that you are most welcome to encourage and support, and may be quite conducive to shifts in lifestyle – a time to begin a new diet, daily routine or to shed excess weight for example. (And once again, I question the idea that the calendar New Year is the most conducive time for such changes – have you already put your resolution to rest? Don’t give up, Mother Nature is on your side now).
The great thaw, as wonderful as it may sound, may also present many physical challenges. As the body cleanses and prepares itself for warmer days, stored toxins may circulate in the body, creating symptoms of fatigue or nausea that feel just as heavy and cumbersome as the wet freshly fallen compacted on your boots. This too, may lead to a decrease in appetite, as we contend with flu-like symptoms and general lethargy. Oh yes, and let us not forget the deep psychological impacts of the cleansing thaw. I personally experience a great deal of resistance this time of year…I mean, sleeping in late and staying cozy inside seemed so acceptable in recent months! Why change a good thing? The short answer is, well, too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing anymore. We simply cannot make the most of the warm winter months if we continue to carry around our winter ‘baggage’, if you will. As the body begins to detoxify and shed congestion, built up from a long winter of storage, you may also be affected by the processing of emotions connected to these systems. In Eastern medicine, the liver is often associated with anger and/or bitterness. As the liver begins to detoxify in the spring, after a hard winter of metabolizing extra fats and rich foods, we can prepare to deal with these stored emotional experiences. Arm yourself with genuine efforts of self-love and a wish to be freed from all that is no longer of service to you this February. Prepare yourself to release and flow into newness. Know that resistance accompanies most change, and the more of it we wade through, the lighter we end up feeling on the other side. Keep going.
A body in balance will crave what keeps it in balance. A body out of balance will crave what takes it further out of balance. Like increases like. An age-old Ayurvedic principle.
If you are still feeling sleepy and sluggish wherever you are in the world, it’s possible that you are experiencing an excess of Kapha, the same earth/water energy that steadily grows around us as spring approaches. And while I may have recommended surrendering to this weight in the previous months of introspective winter, it is possible you may need to offset this energy a bit this time of year. Use the growing daylight to your advantage. Get up and get moving, as if to embrace the excitement and potential of coming days and notice the ways in which Vata (movement) and Pitta (transformation) energies may serve you. Begin planning spring projects, clean out the spaces that are feeling cluttered and imagine this year’s gardens from seed to fruit – let yourself stir as your creative and energetic sap begins to flow once again. Strap on your snowshoes, head to the gym, or get psyched up for a good sweat on the yoga mat – activities that have proven to help you lighten up and feel a little more clear in the past. It’s time. If your digestion feels stuck during this transition, lighten up. Allow yourself a gentle fast, or a switch to meals with Kapha-balancing qualities: light, warm, dry and with a little pep! Spice up your food, spice up your life! Just remember this sweet simplicity: Meet inevitable feelings of heaviness and dullness with that which feels lighter and more clear. Keep that Kapha in check.
Before we know it, it will be time to dive into the deep cleansing processes of springtime. We will throw open the windows, get the mop buckets out and prepare ourselves, both physically and energetically, to move forward into new beginnings and new ways of being in 2018. It seems that spring affects us so profoundly, across species and cultures. Next month, we will consider ways to purge and detoxify, to plant our spring seeds in the most fertile and promising of landscapes. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the transition. The transformations in late February and early March can be much more subtle, so be patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to keep your awareness turned inward in the spirit of preparation. Notice as your body awakens and stirs this month and let yourself respond with kindness and love. Attune yourself to the voice of cravings, both toward and away from balance, and use these final quiet moments of late winter to sharpen your tools of intuition and self-awareness. Consider this your time to “clean house” internally, before turning so much of your energy and efforts to the external, as we tend to in the warmer months of the year.
Out with the old, in with the new…just remember, it all needs somewhere to flow. Make space and breathe deep. Enjoy.
Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rivers Press, 1998.
Doulliard, John. The 3-Season Diet. Three Rivers Press, 2000.
Verbal teachings of Sri Shambhavananda Yogi