Spring is the time to cultivate change in ourselves. In Chinese medicine, wood is the element associated with spring.
Imagine an ever-changing stream of becoming, constantly fed by perceptions, and never a static entity. This is what the Buddha posited, instead of a solid, inherent self. Spring is the time to cultivate change in ourselves. The ideas of spring organize around the theme of action in contrast to the stillness of winter. They include movement, the flow of energy (Qi), change, growth, becoming, and moving past blocks in a way that fulfills us and others with creativity and compassion.
Often growth encounters resistance, a block in the way. One can react in anger or be discouraged, and not push through. Or we may look to wood, the element for spring, for another way. When the branch of a tree encounters a block, it will go around; this is the creative force in wood as the Qi finds its direction flexibly and naturally. Even the energy of anger can be useful, if channeled creatively and productively.
The wood element makes sure that life always proceeds in an evolutionary spiral and not a circle. It regulates the smooth flow of Qi between the fire element, that governs the Shen, heart-mind, and the water element, that governs the Jing, the deep wisdom of the kidney/adrenals.
Wood includes roots in the earth, as well as a strong trunk, limbs, branches, leaves, blossoms, and fruit. Imagine a tree like bamboo, with its fast growth and flexibility, its hollowness in the center, so too, as we let go of the constructed self that clogs our sacred, inner vessel, we are enabled to bend with the winds of change. There’s constant movement in growth – developing, transforming, and evolving – much like the rings that grow on a shoot of bamboo. We do not want to stay frozen in time or attached to the objectified self that renders us passive.
Spring is ruled by the liver and gallbladder, the yin and yang organs for the wood element. They control blood, movement of life force energy or Qi, planning, decision-making, sense of self-esteem, perspective. The muscles, ligaments and tendons are associated with them. They process end products of the body’s nutrients and toxic metabolites so they can be excreted and eliminated from the body. The virtue for the wood element is benevolence; anger and belligerence are the problematic emotions associated with wood.
Anger is natural response when a boundary has been inappropriately violated, or if there has been failure to meet/touch the boundary of who we are when it is needed. Anger directed constructively is a source of tremendous power, and when we are focused on justice and fairness, anger can accomplish important things for us and for society.
Additionally, the liver’s virtue of benevolence allows the Jing, deepest aspect of self, and the Shen, outermost radiation of the branches of the self, to relate in a connected way. The problematic emotion in wood, belligerence, often arises from arrogance and can lead to anger and impatience. In contrast, timidity from lack of self-esteem interferes with self-assertiveness. Both lead away from a balanced sense of benevolence. When benevolence is balanced, it leads to wholeness and resolution of conflict. Benevolence is the virtue that resonates with the eternal self.
The liver in Chinese medicine controls the visual sense. This is an opportunity to see differently, to transform, to create, and to imagine in our inner world and to perceive in our outer world: beauty; it is a means of raising vibrations in the heart, which affects the brain directly.
The liver allows us to see the inner landscape and holds our inner plan for the world, whereas the gallbladder allows us to be decisive in making choices that impact the external world. And through the balance of the two organs of the wood element, we achieve clarity.
We don’t want the decision function of the gallbladder to be overly judgmental and always right, or impulsive every time there is a block behaving in a reactionary manner. Power or the impulse for growth generated by the liver may be likened to the potential energy, the gas sitting in a car’s gas tank, decision to the kinetic energy, the car in motion.
Spring is about making room for new growth and allowing that to happen.
Spring is a time of cleansing; purging, detoxifying, and creating sacred space, both externally and internally, at a physiologic, psychologic and spiritual level. It is about clearing clutter, making room for new growth and allowing that to happen.
Spring is a time for planting seeds, both in the ground, in our heart, and in our psyche, for making new plans and decisions, and engaging in new projects. We don’t want to be pulled by the past or lean too forward into the future but to ride the wave of change upright, like a skillful surfer. Being in Spring is being in the now, in the present moment, the place where happiness is to be found.
Through meditation, as we open our hearts and minds to direct uninterpreted raw experience of reality, we free ourselves of constructed thoughts about the past – especially hurts, injustices, anger and resentments – as well as from preoccupation with plans and decisions about the future. Meditation gives us space in time, i.e. meditation dilates time, to simply flow and experience a sense of authenticity, and experience a greater and more pleasurable contact with reality.
Meditation is attuned to the changing energy, the constant changing movement of Qi, thereby helping us in moving mindfully and continually through daily life, content with each moment. We are comfortably, lovingly, and acceptingly engaged in the brilliant, vividness of the here and now, connected to others and the natural world.
The rhythm of wood is the constant pulse, the drone in Indian music that supports the improvisational melody of the singer or other instruments and the complex rhythms of the tabla drums. It is like the Schumann resonance about 8 cycles per second of the earth’s atmosphere that supports all the natural rhythms of life on earth.
In the poem Eternity by William Blake, we are reminded how to experience, opening to beauty in the eternal present:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
– Notebook, 1793
So Hum is a mantra meditation from the Vedic Upanishads.
Its purpose is to clear the mind. To try it, just allow yourself to hear an internal sound, the Sanskrit word SO on the in-breath, and HUM on the out-breath. It means I am He, the ground of our being, the universe, the ultimate reality. In both Hindu psychology and Jungian psychologies the higher self is transcendent, unknowable in the everyday sense, but alive in the unconscious mind.
This process of clearing has an internal, psychological and physical counterpart which amounts to making space inside ourselves so the life force energies can flow freely, without interruption, a smooth flow of Qi. If we are too constricted, things get bottled up, and we feel a sense of frustration, anger, or belligerence. If we are too loose, ungrounded, unnourished, we may sense anxiety and uncertainty and feel timid. So the challenge is to be open but also contained by just the right measure.
This container is a set of ego skills: regulation and control of our instincts, raw feelings, and impulses, a keen sense of reality, and an ability to make sense of diverse information sets and make wise judgments about how to behave. A healthy ego can be a flexible, strong container that can bend with the wind of change and be detached enough from our inner thought content that it gives room for energy to flow within us and be in relationship to it.
Additionally, this container is a body skill. The asana poses in yoga strengthen the body, focus our mind, and when done with pranyama, positive breathing practices, are very beneficial to our health. Two asanas for daily practice, plank and cobra, build our core erector spinae muscles that surround the spine; this is where the chakras reside. This is one way we can build a container in the physical body to support the flow of energy up and down our spine which brings blood flow and energy to the autonomic nervous system, the involuntary part that regulates all bodily function.
We need to complement these meditation and breathing practices with the asanas, that make the physical body grow strong to hold the higher vibration energy field so that we are not physiologically, emotionally or cognitively dysregulated. Then the mind focuses in the present moment, the stormy waves calm, and the wind of the chattering mind quiets as we descend into the stillness of our original nature and resonate with cosmic energy of our internal world and the external world, timeless and vast.
In eastern medicine, the direction of spring is East, so we use the metaphor of the rising sun: a new day.
Each of the 5 elements in Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and Tibetan medicine are associated with a direction. For spring the direction is east, so we use a metaphor of the rising sun: a new day. The invitation for spring in particular is a rebirth, a new beginning, an opportunity for further growth. On a psychological level it is an opportunity to forgive past hurts and injustices. We can still the mind to open to the highest frequency vibrations of positive mental states, to open our hearts to the loving eternal presence within ourselves and to be that love and then experience a deep peace, the same peace that quiets the winds of Samsara: the suffering we experience in our bodies, hearts, minds, soul and spirit, and then to be that peace. In this way we not only open to our own personal healing but through the quantum time-space field, contribute to global peace.
Compassion-based meditation practice is useful here, such as The Four Immeasurables: loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. It brings happiness into our lives, opens our heart, connects our heart and mind, develops our higher consciousness, and strengthens our bond to ourselves and others.
What do you see: a bird or the sky? We are so used to focusing our gaze on the figure(s) in the foreground, we normally don’t attend to the background, the negative or empty space. Meditation of awareness trains the mind to look beyond the figure.
Ten Actions to Develop Our Healing Potential
- Movement: allow Qi to flow(practice Swimming Dragon Qigong with Dashi Chu Kocica in resources below)
- Meditation: clear the path(listen to So Hum meditation,Joe Goldstein and Pema Chodron meditations in resources)
- Laugh: promotes perspective and sense of well-being
- Cleanse and detoxify: get rid of what is no longer useful
- Strengthen the body: daily exercise and yoga(practice plank and cobra daily)
- Plant the seeds that germinated in winter not just in our physical garden but also in our heart-mind.
- Establish healthy habits and routines that promote growth
- Develop and strengthen compassion for oneself and others (listen to Pema Chodron and Khenpo Judson Dorje and read pdf by Anne Klein on Four Immeasurables in resources)
- Start creative projects and follow through to completion
- Enjoy the dance of being with, communicating with,and relating to others
Swimming Dragon Qigong
OM SO HUM Mantra Meditation
Guided Meditation Instructions with Joseph Goldstein
Making Friends With Your Self Through Loving-Kindness & Compassionate Attention ♡ Pema Chödrön
Khenpo Dudjom Dorjee teaches on the Four Immeasurables
The Four Immeasurables by Anne C. Klein