Everything's getting colder and darker at this time of year. Leaves are falling and trees are starting to look barren, and our tendency, not unlike many of our animal relatives, is to prepare to go "within," to retreat from the outside world a little bit. Sometimes this retreat can be good, as in when it prods us towards quiet time and insightful self reflection. But for a lot of us, as the weather gets grayer, so do our spirits, and we find it harder and harder to lift ourselves out of the winter blues. Seasonal affective disorder is typical at this time of year - a sadness that comes over many people with a lack of exposure to sunlight. Many of us experience at least mild forms of this sadness at some point during the winter.
This season in Chinese Medicine - the late fall and early winter - relates to both the Lung and the Kidney. During the Fall, the time of the Lung, we are encouraged to be reflections of nature in its theme of "letting go" - this is one of the themes of the Lung. We are given the opportunity to reflect on what in our lives is not serving us and to examine what it is we can let go of to move forward. Sometimes the letting go is of grudges, sometimes of self condemnation, sometimes of an attachment to a certain image we have of ourselves. All of this is food for thought during the time of the Fall. And, as we reflect on letting go and do whatever work is needed for that to happen, we also experience a grief, because letting go means emptying ourselves and becoming vulnerable - states we experience when we feel grief, the emotion of the Lung.
As the Fall moves into Winter, we move into the time of the Kidney, the energy system related the strongest to our basic energy and survival - the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. This is when our Qi goes deeper into our bodies, both literally and figuratively: We go "within," and, just like our blood flow slows to the extremities to protect our internal organs, our Qi, too, sinks deeper to protect the internal part of who we are. This is a time when, on healthy internal reflection, we can discover deep-rooted truths about ourselves that can become tools for transformation. But it is also that during this time, if we don't take advantage of the opportunity to tap into the basic energy of our humanness - one of the gifts of winter - we instead have a tendency to experience darkness, sadness, and fear. Depression is common at this time of year, especially among those who do not have the gift of family and friends close by (family is one of the fundamental needs of a human being), and hospitalizations and suicides rise during the winter months.
The celebration of Thanksgiving is a wonderful bridge between these two seasons because giving thanks moves our Qi, and that helps us feel better, healing our mood and our spirits.
Gratitude is one of the best gifts we have in life. Every spiritual tradition in the world teaches the importance of gratitude, because gratitude takes us out of our focus on ourselves and extends our energy outward to God, others, nature, or all of the above. (Giving does a similar thing, so Thanksgiving leads us to Christmas, where, from that place of gratitude, we can then focus on genuinely giving). When we are experiencing sadness, grief, or depression, our focus is on us, on our plight, on what we don't like about our life situation. Our Qi is depressed, quite literally. But when we choose instead to find something to be grateful for, even if we don't feel our mood lifted immediately, at some point, it will be lifted because we are "pushing" our Qi in an outward direction, circulating it. And because like attracts like, sending the positive energy of gratitude outward will foster more gratitude within.
Try it. I have kept a gratitude journal for years. Every morning and/or every evening, I write down at least 20 things I'm grateful for. And at least once a week (often daily), I try to name at least 10 new things I'm grateful for. Sound hard? It's not, I guarantee. No matter how in-the-dumps you are, I guarantee there are some things you can be grateful for.
Try these for starters:Toilets (yes, I'm quite serious! Thank God for toilets!). And toilet paper! On that subject, intestines - where would we be without them? Ask anyone with a colostomy, and you'll be grateful for your intestines. The same goes for every other working part of your body. How about air to breathe, or water, food, the fact that you can think, the fact that you can communicate with others, that you have clothes to wear at all, that you can appreciate the beauty in a sunset, that you have the ability to smile...Notice that none of these things involves other people? While it's wonderful to have loving people in our lives, we don't have to depend on others to be able to access gratitude within ourselves. That's important to know at this time of year.
Life is good, and there is a part in each one of us that resonates with that. Our Qi thrives on that, and as we start to reflect on the goodness in our lives, our Qi starts to move smoother and our mood lifts. This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to start a gratitude journal and see how long you can keep it going. Start with the obvious things, and then move to the less obvious - you'll be surprised at how much in your life you take for granted! And your Qi will be oh, so happy!
Oh - and one more little word on Thanksgiving: There's nothing wrong with enjoying every bit of that Thanksgiving meal! Just try and do it in moderation - give your digestive Qi time to catch up with your gotta-have-it-now Qi, and you'll feel a lot better come Thanksgiving night!