Here we are, after January 1st and before Chinese New Year (January 25), which officially marks the turning from the most Yin time of year into the beginning of the Yang time of year.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are still in the depths of winter, ever slowly approaching spring, waiting, hushed, for the light to return. If you are somewhere that gets snow, you may also be covered in a blanket of coldness. Here in Brooklyn, we’ve had very little snow and minimal true-winter cold.
Climate-change weather aside, from a Chinese Medicine perspective, we are in the storage introspective mode of the year, where our energy is drawn deep within the earth, preparing for the explosion of the Yang transformation of our Yin seeds into new growth which will yield fruits from our labors and nourishment come the late summer harvest. Now is the time for you to be looking inward, gathering wisdom from previous seasons lived so that you may bring those lessons and that wisdom to the development and creation of new life in the spring.
This is the stratification period, where we are in the gauntlet of the harshness of winter.
Not every seed that we planted last year will send roots into the earth and sprout towards the sun this year. Like ginseng’s seeds, some will need to be stratified through two seasons before they transform and sprout. Of these seeds that do sprout, they will potentially carry us through many treasured seasons of life – offering their nourishment, wisdom and guidance for a long time if we care to nurture and carry these gifts.
We have the often heavy burden of winter’s weight and the privilege and obligation to take advantage of the stillness that the season affords to look inward at what exactly is being stratified and prepared for spring’s growth. Even amidst the chaos of the world-at-large, we are still in a season that wants us to look at how we put our energy into the world, and ultimately change what we need to change to be in alignment with our world-vision.
In this season’s cold storage, we begin looking at the seeds that have withstood the season known as, “The Holidays”, or in my case “Winter” (which, for me, starts as soon as the clocks change and ends in April!). After several weeks of highly-energized living -between holiday parties and other social gatherings, end-of-year work demands, increased time with family (which, let’s be honest, is stressful for a lot of us!), and changes in diet, exercise and sleep habits, the arrival of the New Year and the midpoint of winter- we can be left feeling fractured, shattered, broken open, raw, exhausted.
Our souls are undergoing their own stratification; we are being prepared for spring’s renewal and growth.
On a personal level, this may show up in what habits in behaviors are recognized as a result of the “The Holidays” or the winter doldrums. You may recognize that the first thing that drops in the face of increased external demands on your time, or sanity, is not eating as healthy as you would like. You may see that your internal dialogue shifts when you are around certain peopleto something that you know is not good for you. You may notice that you rely on alcohol, or other substances (including food!), to help you through the discomfort of certain situations. You may discover that you turn to food for the emotional nourishment that you are not receiving from yourself or others. It can be anything, the point is that after intensely living for a few weeks, we can see that things are not quite the way we had been envisioning and we feel sick from it all.
This is when most people jump to make their infamous New Year’s Resolutions.
Listen, I’m not going to give you a list of what resolutions you can make that have higher success rates, nor will I give you a guide as to how to fulfill those resolutions. I’m not going to tell you what resolutions to make, or how to live your life.
I love resolutions, when they come from the deepest part of our beings and we really, truly, mean them. I also love that humans change, even when I am complaining about the discomfort of those changes and the sacrifices and scars that we collect because of those changes. And I get that being uncomfortable is, well, uncomfortable, and this is why a lot of resolutions don’t “succeed”.
A resolution can be that of a fever subsiding or ending, when notes that are dissonant become consonant (that is, when musical notes have conflicting messages that create tension and energy in a musical harmony morph into a harmonious message), when a state of determination is reached within the core self, when a formal statement of a decision, expression or desired action is made, when a plot is simplified or resolved, and the constituent parts that are the result of the process of reduction. All of these various resolutions exist on the psychological, soul-spirit, scientific, musical, literary/linguistic, and at the societal-judicial levels. Resolutions are simply a part of life’s workings, and they solidify and clarify that which we seek to distill, change and solve.
Resolutions simply cannot happen without a season of turning inward to examine that which needs to be changed! Resolutions are, in my mind, the way our soul communicates that which is undergoing stratification and preparation for the next season.
The catch with all of this is to know what lies underneath the desire for change is: what is it that you really want to change, and are you willing to commit to practicing this resolution on a daily basis?
Our society does not emphasize deep reflection and connection within ourselves enough, although there seems to be a rising tide of this awareness and self-work which is amazing!. In the past, and for a lot of people currently, the way a lot of us get around and avoid the uncomfortable deep reflection is by declaring (mostly) external resolutions as a way to cope with the way we (mostly externally) cope with the world. And, because we don’t have a deep connection with our selves, maintaining it and our resolutions when things get hard and uncomfortable.
The truth, as I see it, is that we already have the answers we seek and that adding more stuff on our to-do lists is not the answer. We need to shift what it on our to-do lists to what is best for our spirits.
The problem is that we don’t remember what it is like to know ourselves deeply and feel the peace within, we don’t have a relationship with ourselves that is loving and compassionate. We berate ourselves for not eating clean enough, or not exercising enough, or for not dealing with our confusing, complex and painful emotions. Yet, we must learn how to treat ourselves with the kindness that allows our inner seeds to sprout: with time and the exact care we individually need to grow.
It’s this daily care, returning day after day, where you build your integrity and sense of purpose, the trust and confidence you have in yourself and your abilities; your body, mind and spirit carve out new ways of being in the world because of this integrity and will. You become something different, all from the daily work that can be joyous, gritty, bright, dirty, heart-warming, lonely, boring, painful, liberating, and frustrating.
Whatever it is that we resolve to change, we must learn what is underneath it all.
Having a relationship with these deeper parts of ourselves, and not giving up on ourselves, is what Winter asks us to do.
You are very much the seed that’s been buried in the earth, frozen then thawed, then scuffed about by the critters in the soil, frozen again. You are being prepared for the next season’s growth.
And what new growth may sprout from the mysterious seeds within?!
What will you allow to stratify for life-long growth, renewal, replenishment and nourishment?
What needs to be allowed to remain fallow for a season, or longer?