Flower in the bambooIt seems a little insensitive, if not indecent to talk about the coming spring when each succeeding week in February has brought a new storm-turned-blizzard warning for the majority of the country. But while we’ve had our own share of fluctuating temperatures and disrupted patterns this winter, spring is already in the air down here in Gainesville. You can see it in the angles of the sun and the buds on the trees. Students have been sharing pictures of their gardens greening up with flowers and herbs. I’m waiting for the communal fruit offerings from the fruit trees in the interns’ yards to start appearing in the student lounge.

And you can definitely smell spring in the air. You just have to be careful how deeply you inhale, because with the buds on the live oak trees also comes the pollen from the live oak trees. Oh yes, the green stuff is everywhere now. Even so, it’s a good time of year to come and visit the Academy if you’re thinking of applying to the acupuncture program. The interns are busy in the acupuncture and herb clinics and Class 2016W will be back for Session 2 at the end of March for those interested in sitting in on a class.

This is also a good time to talk about what’s happening in nature through the lens of the Five Element cycle. Hopefully, the Five Element perspective will provide some understanding and reassurance to those of you unhappily (and happily) blanketed in snow . And I’d like to ask our student readers to post some of their pictures here to give the rest of you something to look forward to once that snow finally melts.

In the Five Element cycle, the Water element, associated with winter, brings forth Wood and springtime. All winter long, we’re supposed to rest, to replenish our reservoirs so that the seeds of life underneath the frozen surface have the strength to break through the ice and frozen crust. Water feeds the birth of spring, quietly nourishing natural life even though all looks dead. What looks barren is actually teeming with potential life. But that potential needs to store up its energy before it can begin the process of (re)birth. Pushing too hard against the natural flow of the Water element can leave us tired and out-of-balance for the rest of the year. Lao Tzu describes Water as soft, flexible and yielding, yet able to wear away the rocks in its river bed. Water has power over what is seemingly unbreakable. The message is that it is better to be flexible and soft rather than adamant and rigid.

Growing up in New England, I used to hate snow storms because it brought life to a standstill. You couldn’t go anywhere or do anything but sit with yourself. But that was exactly the point: I needed to sit with myself, to slow down and refill my reserves. Maybe snow storms aren’t such a bad thing if it means we take a moment to stop and look around at nature, at our families and our selves. They’re nature’s way of forcing us to rest. I’ll say it again, you can’t push too hard against the flow of Water without extreme depletion. Better to go with the flow- because there are rejuvenating benefits and ways to enjoy 3 feet of snow in your yard. You just have to be flexible enough to see them.

Which brings me to the promise of springtime: the return of  birds and birdsong, green buds, the smell of the still-damp earth. Spring brings clarity to thought. Life suddenly seems full of possibility and new projects and ideas flood our brains. That’s healthy Wood energy. I’ve always thought that New Year’s should be celebrated in March on the equinox, because it feels like an actual rebirth. You shed the layers of clothing necessary in the dead of winter and experience freer, less encumbered movement. The emerging springtime energy of Wood makes us a little restless to get outside and DO, rather than hunker down and be still.

Think of a strong, upward movement, like the sound of a shout that forces air up and out of the body. That’s the movement of Wood energy. It enables growth, which, for humans, takes the form of planning and execution of ideas. We now possess the clarity to see our vision for the future. We can dream of goals and then take the steps to reach them. Healthy wood energy drives us forward. Exciting, wouldn’t you agree?

Looking at the world from the Five Element perspective provides understanding of the natural cycle, which in turn allows us to follow that cycle rather than fighting against it. For those of you bracing for another storm, I urge you to soften that stance. Your daily life may come to a standstill because the plows haven’t cleared your street. I know it’s hard when you can’t get to work, or fulfill your obligations outside of the home. But, my question to you is, what good does bracing do? Does worry and stress keep the storm from coming? Not usually. I give you the words of Lao Tzu:

Men are born soft and supple; dead they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail. 

So, I encourage you to turn off the news and weather reports and take the time to rest and replenish, rather than further depleting your energy. Let go of the worry about the weather so that you can focus on something you can control. Spring is literally around the corner. The more rested and alert you are, the sooner you’ll see the beginnings of it.