In Western culture, January brings an awareness of newness (“new year, new me”), yet the body is still in the process of powering down for a season of rest and retreat. The body knows what the mind doesn’t. Looking at nature to guide us, we see that trees, animals, the sky, everything looks like it’s layering itself with protection – a layer of hardiness. Other words for “hardy” are “power” and “health”. Much of winter’s work is disguised as simple rest, yet to provide “power” and “health” we need to rest and replenish. Welcome to your winter’s work.
Fill your to-do lists with steady and present chores like taking warm baths, eating nutrient-dense foods cooked on low and slow heat, and reconnecting to pastimes that spark joy. In our hyper-productive culture, it’s common to experience anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and hypertension at this time of year. According to some thoughts in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this is because there is an imbalance of “jīng” or kidney energy. Luckily, whether it’s an imbalance of your jīng or not, there are ways to move with the energy of the seasons to set realistic goals and intentions to live a year of discovery and development.
I’m big on to-do lists – always have been. However, it’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve come to the conclusion (that is actually quite plain to see) that to-do lists drive me crazy. I jot down every thought I’ve ever had and think, very unrealistically, that this week will be different than all the 52 weeks of the previous year, and different than all the weeks ever before in the history of my to-do-list-making life. These to-do lists are everywhere (think Harry Potter receiving his acceptance letters from Hogwarts in The Sorcerer’s Stone). However, over the last few weeks, I’ve begun to be a little more patient with myself. Instead of trying to fit a square peg (me) in a round hole (orderly productivity), I’ve decided to start working with myself rather than against myself. A profound idea, I know. Through research (actually, I listened to 2 podcasts, read 1 book, and perused a few blogs) I’ve found a system that is actually very helpful for me. Now, I continue to write out my to-do lists, but I don’t stop there. I take out my daily calendar and see if I can find spaces to book those “to-dos.” Whether it’s booking time to go to the grocery store or just booking time to write a thank you note, it has to go in the calendar. This simple additional step has not only allowed me to be more productive, but it has also allowed me to see what is for me to do and what is simply not for me. It allows me to take stock of what is serving me and what isn’t.
There’s no way I could set a profound goal for myself in the new year, like run a marathon (that will literally never happen) or even re-do the bathroom, if I don’t first take personal inventory and ask myself, what is serving and what isn’t serving me at all. This is where being productive looks recklessly relaxing but is actually a lot of work. You need to contemplate who you want to be this coming year and how you want to feel about who you are and how you live. So, set aside some time and space to imagine the truest and most beautiful version of yourself and how you want this year to serve you. Then, take inventory of what is on your to-do list that is going to help get you there, and what is, in fact, going to derail your momentum. This is all said with the understanding that the act of choosing what you do and don’t have on your plate is a luxury. So, for that I say, focus on what you can change rather than contemplating on what you can’t. And maybe, you can find a way to change mere aspects of the things you can’t change.
Doing this internal inventory led me to a massive external inventory. Why do I have SO many wooden spoons when I only use three? Why do I have so many dead plants when I’m not really able to care for them? Why do I have 10 binders that I saved from Grad School sitting on my shelf when I haven’t looked at them in over 6 years? Time to purge. These things were no longer serving me and actually, in a way, keeping me from achieving my real goals. When my energy is spent frivolously finding room for extra spoons I don’t use or piling books up around my shelves because there’s no more room on the actual shelves, I can’t spend my energy becoming the version of myself that I set out to become. Instead, with a cleaner slate I can now focus my energy. Additionally, energy is best spent moving with the seasons of the year rather than against them.
Though we’ve been accustomed to making big changes in the newness of the new year, winter is actually energetically the time of year to not make big changes but instead take inventory, as we discussed above. Living with the seasons rather than against them will help keep you motivated and on track to sustainably thriving in the new year.
Earlier, we discussed the ideas of imbalanced energies. This was, of course, from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine. But, you don’t have to subscribe to or even know a thing about the ancient wisdom at all to know that we’re all generally a bit sleepier and a bit hungrier in the winter than we are in the summer. This is why I believe it is so important to live with the seasons to gain traction to move towards change. The following are just a few examples of how to live with the seasons to move harmoniously towards achieving your goals. Some ways to balance out your jing energy in the winter include: trying out a Yin Yoga class, getting acupuncture along the kidney meridian (to help with symptoms of exhaustion, autoimmune flare-ups, very low motivation, excessive fear and anxiety, and skeletal disorders), staying appropriately hydrated, and eating warm foods. Spring is the time of year we emerge from our winter’s rest and shake off the cold and heaviness of the previous season. It is also the best time to try to cleanse the body of toxins and pent-up emotions and energy. For this, we should try to support our liver as it works to rejuvenate our bodies and in turn, our minds. Now is the time of year to shift to smaller portions and lighter fare to help reduce the stress we place on our livers. Summer is all about joyful energy and abundance – abundance of sunshine, abundance of energy, and abundance of heat. We would move best through our days if we start them off with a bang and then rest later in the afternoon when the heat is high. Wake up with the sun, exercise, work, and run errands in the first half of the day, and use the summer’s afternoon heat to remind you to take a break and rest for the latter half of the day. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, autumn is associated with the element of metal. It’s meant to symbolize the refinement process of stripping away that which is not needed or integral to the essence of being. As trees drop their leaves, we’d do best to follow their lead and drop our extra baggage and move more inward. We use this time to focus on ourselves, our families, and our well-being. So take a deep, cleansing breath and let go to boost your immune system and lift your spirits.