Spring and the Wood Element Part 2


” Whoever wishes  to investigate medicine should proceed thus: In the first place, consider the seasons of the year and the effect each of them produces.”    Hippocrates                                                       

Spring Delayed – Bladder energy required to adapt for extended duty…!

A delay in writing this, the second of my Spring posts, has come about largely in recognition that Winter returned in earnest and took over the dance I referred to in the first Spring post. Only now are we feeling like Spring is truly with us and Winter behind us.

I don’t know about you, but the freezing conditions and strong easterly winds had an effect, and meant calling on reserves held by the Bladder energy, there to help us through the Winter, for weeks – into a time when it would be natural to expect less demand on them. Hence a feeling of perhaps slight overwhelm for all of us as this prolonged Winter played itself out.

So the timing of Spring continues as an issue this year, even though since I last wrote we have come through the Spring Equinox, one of the natural quarter days of the year. This is the normal time for a surge of spring energies to arrive, so as to move life forward from the potential held in winter to the explosive growth, new life and the creativity of this season. Like me, you may not have felt these qualities coming through so easily these last few weeks – in fact a feeling of hibernation may have been more likely!

Wood Elements ‘officials’: 1. The Liver/Planning Official or Free and Easy Wanderer!

Last time we touched upon the two officials of Wood: Liver as the Planning official and Gall Bladder as the upright official of Decisions and Judgement. Pretty important functions, I think you’ll agree, and never more so than in the Spring. Let us go into more depth with the Liver in this post.

As we saw before, the seed is carefully stored in winter so as to be ready for when springtime urges it and the fertilised egg to develop from seed/egg to adult plant, bird or animal. This is not just unchecked vitality, but a blueprint. All the plants, trees, birds and animals in their development to adulthood are following a pre-determined plan thus seeing the fulfillment of an inner purpose.

However a blueprint is not fixed or static – there would be no hope of success if it was that rigid. The plan is the end of the journey, not the journey itself – a good plan will always allow us flexibility in meeting its goals. For instance, where a seed falls, growth may be difficult and it must adapt to its surroundings, just as we may find ourselves in less than the perfect growing conditions. Nevertheless, each will try to become what its purpose dictates, following this distant aim unswervingly. There is nothing random or unchecked about this – it is purposeful and structured.

For us as human beings, we hopefully begin to feel this urge to develop ourselves, as life around is changing so rapidly. It is essential then that the Liver functions well at this time because the plans we make now in Spring determine what happens the rest of the year. We want those plans to be in harmony too with the design of Heaven, according to the Tao (see the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu)(1) – to be in harmony with Nature and our own nature, from an understanding of our own role and purpose. Such harmony provides a kind of serenity and peacefulness, which is the virtue of a smoothly functioning Liver.

The first chapter of the other founding classic of Taoism, Chuang Tzu(2), is called Wandering Boundless and Free, or Carefree Wandering and represents Liver’s need to be a Free and Easy Wanderer itself, where our energy moves throughout our body, mind and spirit unhindered, just as in Nature energy is seen to be bursting forth everywhere with huge vitality during Spring. This contrasts, but is not in contradiction with, the Liver being seen to function as ‘a military leader who excels in his strategic planning’. Going back to the concept of the tree for the Wood Element, we want to be well rooted in the earth, but also flexible and relaxed, so if plans change we have made arrangements for the unforeseen.

Two points on the Liver meridian come to mind here: Chapter Gate and Gate of Hope. We can be flexible and turn over a new leaf if plans no longer match our sense of vision for ourselves, and of a future ahead of us. When we once again sense inside ourselves the possibility of growth and development that Spring highlights for us, a new vision can arise – a picture of what this will bring us and where we will be. Hopefully this will be arising in us now during this Springtime, to make the necessary changes that will bring new fruit or a fine harvest later on. From this vision grows the hope that it will be realised, and this sense of hope we have in Spring is one of the Wood Element’s greatest gifts to us, and the heart of its very essence. Let hope rise up in your heart despite seeming obstacles.

Liver out of balance – smooth flow obstructed

If our Liver energy is not flowing smoothly and is blocked or hindered, this could be from insufficient physical movement – see Spring-like movement in the first Spring post and Wood’s correspondence with muscular forces, tendons and ligaments (” Great ideas originate in the muscles” Thomas Edison), from emotionally stagnant situations we seem unable to free up, or from perhaps a mental inability to formulate life-enhancing plans and ideas, or even from a lack of spiritual vision to see a positive direction for our lives. Then our Liver energies could erupt in anger – the key emotion associated with Wood. We may feel frustration, resentment, irritation or hostility, or conversely experience depression as we are unable to express this energy inside of us.

(1) The most influential book of Taoist tradition, presenting a complete view of how the sage lives in accordance with the spontaneous ways of the natural world.

(2) A collection of tales, poems and parables, Chuang Tzu offers surreal humour, dealing with timeless issues of human concern, but also the quest for happiness through the individual’s integration with nature.

Guidelines for mid-Spring:

It is helpful here to cover some of the correspondences with Wood and Liver to give some guidelines I hope you will find useful:

Vision: “… and the liver governs the eyes” & “The eyes see the darkness and the mystery of Heaven and they discover the Tao, the True Way, among mankind.” Nei Jing*. Use this Springtime to look at your life and see how it matches up to your ‘blueprint’ and what really speaks to you at this point in your life. Remember Spring is associated with childhood in our life cycle – can any memories from that time be of help ?- a time perhaps when you were a free and easy wanderer!

Eyes: In recent times we have become used to looking at screens of varying sizes for large parts of our working and leisure times. This has meant a fixed focus of a limited distance and requires ‘hard eyes’ (yang/active) differentiating objects in the foreground and being less aware of the background and periphery. Try to work with ‘soft eyes’ (yin/receptive) for part of your day where focus is less intense and foreground and background meld together more, enjoying greater peripheral awareness, and thus relaxing the eyes – especially suitable for a walk out in Nature. To be your own Visionary, you need soft eyes to see the whole field.

Tears: “… in regard to the Liver the secretions become tears…” Nei Jing*. Tears functions are twofold: to lubricate the eyes, and to pour out in response to an emotional or physically irritating stimulus. They are a sign that we have been ‘moved’ in some way, or are experiencing an intense emotion. They are often experienced as a release of built-up emotional tension. If our Liver feels these tensions, some tears shed will be an appropriate expression of our emotions, and our sight may clear, so plans and decisions will flow more easily as the Liver and Gall-Bladder energies flow more smoothly.

Sound: “… and they give to the human voice the ability to form a shouting sound”. Nei Jing*. If the Liver is constrained in its expression and smooth flow of energy, you might feel the constraint in your throat, the solar plexus, the back of the neck, upper shoulder area, the jaw or hips. Use some breathing and relaxation exercises, and also by expressing any anger we are holding in. We will probably feel much better if we can turn what may have become a whine into a roar – perhaps in a private space or a car with music turned up loud to accompany you! A pillow can come in useful too…

Flavour: “…of the flavours they create the sour taste…” Nei Jing*. The taste associated with the Wood Element is sour, and a certain amount supports and stimulates the Liver and Gall-Bladder. A small glass of grapefruit juice, for instance, can promote better digestion and encourage bile production in the Liver. Check out other sour tasting foods/drinks but too much is given as “injurious” in the classics and will affect our muscles.

I hope you enjoyed this new post and please leave comments if moved to do so. More to follow before long.

* Nei Jing – short form of Huang Ti Nei Jing Su Wen or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – the essential text of Chinese Health and Healing

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