Welcoming the Wisdom of Winter

Posted January 13, 2013 by Courtney Shelburne

The trees have lost their leaves and most outward signs of life have disappeared. The branches look skeletal and in many places the ground is covered in snow. Without the external ornamentation of leaves, flowers and fruits, the plants are just bare essence. What we don’t see is what is happening on the inside. Nature is building a concentrated internal force that enables a seed to burst forth later in the spring. In the same way, we can store our own energy in in winter in order to have enough for the whole year that lies ahead. Within nature already lies all the answers we seek on our path of health. All we have to do is observe and listen to what the season has in store for us.

Winter is a time to conserve our energy, go to bed early and sleep in late. We can use the guidance of the winter season to more deeply discover the essence of our self. Water, the element that corresponds to winter in Chinese Five Element Theory, points us to that dark, quiet pool within ourselves where our essential self-identity resides.

The wisdom of water is it is able to listen in the deep silence of our mind and heart and know directly where balance and imbalance exist and how to respond appropriately. Water effortlessly takes the shape of its environment. A river flows over every rock yielding to every protrusion and filling every crevice. We can empty ourselves this season by giving ourselves more quiet time and less running around. Once we have created this space inside, the energy of water can fill every hollow within us.

When water is distressed, fear arises from not having enough of what it takes to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Living in a society of continual striving and exertion, we expect instant results and immediate answers. But nature has another idea: everything to its season. Abundant reserves within give us courage and strength of will. However, without taking appropriate steps to gather and store these reserves, our health may take a toll. There are simple steps that we can take in winter to encourage the energy of the season to restore and balance the water element inside us.

1. Let yourself sleep when you are tired. Go to bed earlier and when possible sleep a little later.
2. Be less active. If you don’t need to go somewhere, don’t.
3. Incorporate excercise that brings your focus inward into your excercise routine. eg. yoga, tai chi, hiking, surfing…
4. Spend some time in nature.
5. Address fears that might arise.
6. Meditate/contemplate.
7. Drink plenty of water.

By incorporating these suggestions into our lives as much as we can, we strengthen our deepest selves and build courage, strength, and inner fullfillment. From this place, we can move forward to the next season. As the days become warmer and brighter with the approach of spring, nature opens her eyes from the slumber of winter and looks to the new growth cycle that lies ahead. After taking a winter rest, we emerge into spring ready with restored energy, clear vision, and a sense of purpose.


Discover Your Own Sacred Spring

Posted January 30, 2015 by Courtney Shelburne

The five elements govern our lives and the lives of everything we know.  It is a way of expressing the cycles of nature and the processes of living and dying.  We are not separate from nature.  We are part of it.  By observing the plants and how they live in each season, we can learn to be in both harmony and balance in all the aspects of our lives.

Water is the element that expresses the wisdom and gifts of winter.  The trees have lost their leaves and, although it may look like they are doing nothing, there is a lot happening on the inside.  They are embodying the power of rest!

What is rest?  We may think of sleeping, watching TV, or taking our lunch break.  Maybe we strive to do yoga, meditate, or go for a walk.  Or, perhaps even an event dedicated to rest like getting a massage, going to the spa, or taking a vacation.  These are all great ideas to incorporate rest into our lives.  However, it is not enough to simply perform these activities (or inactivities).  Our intention behind resting and our relationship to rest play a big part in the quality of rest we get. 

Ask yourself: have you ever gotten an amazing massage and at the end felt like you needed another one?  Or gone to bed at a decent hour and woken up feeling like you could sleep all day?  Have you ever gone for a walk and been unable to enjoy it because your mind was running a mile a minute?

Even when we are resting, there are many things that distract us from resting deeply.  And these things stem from fear.  Oftentimes there is an large imbalance between the things that stress us out and those that give us true rest.  "Who these days can claim their life is free from anxiety, nervousness, concern, stress, tension, worry, numbness, or thinking?  How many people engage in escapist strategies such as television, movies, computer games, reading, spectator sports, overeating, drugs, alcohol, dysfunctional love affairs, pornography, overexertion, shopping, and so on?", Eliot Cowan (Plant Spirit Medicine).

We are also very concerned with being productive, encouraged by our peers to keep working and be active.  But to what end?  The very concept of taking a break and doing nothing may bring on anxiety.  Have you ever noticed that it is more difficult to get your to-do list done in the winter than at other times of the year?  This is because winter is beckoning you to rest.  We may think that doing nothing is unproductive.  I am here to tell you that when done right, doing nothing is very productive indeed!

We can look to the water element for the answer.  Picture a still lake.  It can bring a feeling of mental and spiritual calm and tranquility.  A rushing river or stream embodies flow.  Notice how the water is adaptable, twisting and turning around its surroundings.  Even the crashing waves of the ocean can be very peaceful.  It reminds us that although our outer world can seem busy and chaotic, we can still find refuge within.

Turn your attention inside.  There you will find your own sacred spring that is unique to you.  Without any agenda, dwell on that sacred spring.  Notice its color, sound, scent, emotion.  It may be overflowing or depleted.  Do not try to change it, only notice what is there.  Be honest with yourself.  You might feel tapped out.  Or you might feel nervous with too much energy.  It might feel like a combination of both!  Just by having this awareness of your own sacred spring, you are connecting to a very deep part of yourself.  This is where your DNA lives.  Through the power of awareness, your sacred spring balances itself out naturally. 

When our water element is in balance, some advantages we may notice are:

  1. Flexibility, flow
  2. Strong sense of self
  3. Inner calm
  4. Confidence
  5. Freedom
  6. Ability to see what you have
  7. Self trust

We may also get a break from:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Nervousness
  3. Stress

"We have to meet every moment with the right juices... When the pool is full, we flow with the changes like water does.  If the pool runs dry, there is fear, paralysis - no flow" Eliot Cowan (Plant Spirit Medidine).

We can bring this awareness to everything we do (and don't do).  The sacred spring is always within us and we can take the time to rest and build up its energy so that we have more to draw from for the remainder of the year.  Getting a PSM treatment can also be helpful to balance the spirit and set you off on the right foot.  So the next time you find yourself in line at the DMV or caught in traffic, be aware of your sacred spring.  And next time you take time to rest, be clear on your intention to slow down and rest deeply.  You wont be sorry you did!