Tomorrow is the winter solstice, so I'd like to share a bit about what is happening energetically in winter and on the solstice. In the ancient philosophy of Chinese Medicine, we look at nature and the cycle of the seasons as our guidepost towards greater balance and wholeness. Using this lens, we see the cycle of the seasons as a continual dance between the energies of yin and yang.
Yin is the energetic movement of contraction, of pulling inward and downward; it is the cool, dark energy of stillness and just being. Yin is the energy of stored potential. Yang is the movement of expansion, of moving upward and outward; it is the warm, bright energy of activity and doing. Whereas yin is stored potential, yang is active manifestation. When we understand how yin and yang dance together through the cycle of the seasons, we can better understand how we can align ourselves, and come into balance, with this seasonal energy.
In the spring we see that expansive yang energy begin to burst out from its hiding, as the sap rises up in the trees and all around us little green plants are bursting out from the soil and start growing, growing up towards the sun (the sun being the quintessential symbol of this expansive, warm yang energy). Spring is the season of the Wood element, a time of growth and determination, a time of aspiring towards the light. With growth and determination inevitably come obstacles too. The energy of springtime and the wood element has a lot to do with how we use our flexibility and creativity to move around obstacles, much like how a plant will burst through concrete, or how a tree will bend to better reach the light. .
As we move from spring to summer, the days continue to increase in their length as the yang energy of the sun steadily increases. This continues until we reach the summer solstice, the peak of the yang energy, when the days are the longest. Summer is the season of the fire element, the element of warmth and connection. Now the plants are in full blossom and opening up towards the sun and all of the pollinating insects. Summer and the fire element has a lot to do with our connections, relationships, and intimacy. The yang energy of outward expansion is at its peak on the summer solstice.
After the peak of the summer solstice the yang energy slowly but steadily begins to decline, as the days begin to get shorter. As we move through late summer we pass through the season of the earth element. This is the time where we harvest and are nourished by the fruits of the earth. Likewise, it is a time we can reflect on our relationship to nourishment. Late summer and the earth element has us reflecting upon how we nurture ourselves, how we nurture others, and how we find the balance.
After all the plants have blossomed and the fruit has been harvested in late summer, we see the plants begin to die back down towards the earth in autumn. On the autumn equinox the energies of yin and yang are equal, the days and the nights are of equal length, but the energetic movement is one of increasing yin and decreasing yang. Everything that is no longer is needed from the plant is now released down to the earth to enrich the soil. The leaves fall back down towards the earth, and the energetic quality is one of going downward and inward. Autumn is the season for letting go of what is no longer of value, and it's a time for getting clear about what we hold precious, the gold dust in our lives; this is why autumn is the time of the metal element.
From the autumn equinox onward the days continue to shorten as the yang decreases and energy of yin becomes more and more prevalent. When we come to winter, we come to the time of the water element, water being the quintessential symbol of yin. Whereas summer solstice was the highest peak of the yang energy, Winter Solstice is the deepest depth of the yin energy. In winter, all of the energy in nature is now stored underground, in the roots of the plants and in the seeds that lie buried and sleeping within the earth. Like the plants, we too go inward in winter, holding and preserving our energy deep in our roots. This is the season for storing and tending to the seeds within us, the seeds of potential that lie resting, awaiting the sun's return to germinate.
The winter solstice marks this rebirth of the sun, as after the solstice each day gets a little bit longer, and the light and warmth of the sun returns. Throughout history and across many ancient cultures, the winter solstice has been celebrated and honored as a time when the light, that yang energy, is reborn out of the the darkness. It was so important to our ancestors to know when the sun would be returning that they even built monuments, places like stonehenge, to track and honor when this returning of the light would occur. So the winter solstice, being this time of ultimate yin, is a time for us to go into our own depth, the place of stillness and quiet within us. It is a time to embody this yin quality of resting and preserving our energy, while at the same time honoring the rebirth of the light, and all the illumination and hope that comes with the renewal of the sun.
I am a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Heart-centered practice in the Santa Cruz mountains. See my About page for more about me and the work I do.