A Winter’s Rest

In Chinese Five Element medicine the season of Winter healing is represented by the element of water and the emotion of fear. As the cold wind from winter blows, the earth lies quietly resting beneath a thick, protective blanket of snow. On the surface, it appears that, aside from the weather, little is happening in nature. Trees and plants stand dark and bare, their skeletons reflected in the wintry skies. Sap, the life blood of the trees has been drawn back down into its roots. This withdrawal of life force is an act of self protection, for to carry a full load of sap in the winter would cause them to split from the extreme cold and to eventually die as a result of frost damage.

We forget that everything on this planet has it’s season of rest. Every business project, every relationship, every physical body, every life cycle, every activity must rest.

Melody, A Scout, Soul of the Seasons

            As humans we are the only creatures that have a problem with rest. We know that we need sleep, down time, naps, days off and vacations. But, except for our much required nightly sleep, we often ignore the greater need for rest, postponing this precious needed time for rejuvenation until we’ve exhausted ourselves. “Productivity” and “manifestation” are highly regarded and much sought after in our culture. It’s where we’ve been taught to draw our worth. We criticize people who nap, daydream or take extended vacations. We call ourselves “slackers” when we engage in these activities. Resting is unfamiliar to us and often the only permissible season of rest we give ourselves is when we are too sick to get out of bed.

            We fear we will miss out on something if we rest; fun, a new relationship, happiness, a promotion, winning, the secret to life. So, we keep running, running, running, holding our feet tot he fire, endlessly cycling between productivity (Summer Fire) and manifestation (Earth/Harvest). No wonder we get burned out. Occasionally, life tosses a huge monkey wrench into our frenetic lives and we are forced into a season of rest; we get a divorce, a loved one dies, a natural disaster hits, our partner changes their mind, we lose a job or a home or a car or all three and we enter this externally enforced season of rest wholly unprepared.  We scramble to find the new job or house or lover. We feel robbed of our joy (Summer Fire) and value (Fall/Respect). We rage and scream or withdraw and become depressed — or we cycle endlessly between them all, scrambling to find our escape.

            As a culture, and as individuals, we derive much of our worth and esteem from productivity and manifestation. When we lose the job, the girl, the guy, the house. When all our external props are removed, we question our worth. We ask, “Who am I when I’m not doing something?” Shame and guilt wash over us in a suffocating wave; we fear we are nothing.

            As the cold and blustery winter weather surrounds us now, we can observe the connections between the wintry season of rest of the earth and our own need for sustained rest. After the explosive burst of new growth and the creation of a new vision in Spring comes the maturation process of summer. We need the rest we took in our season of Winter to be sustained during stretches of hot summer sun. With the warmth of the summer sun and nurtured by the rains and nutrients of the earth, the fruit has matured and is ready to be picked in the seasons of Harvest. Then comes the season of Fall. Productivity falls away, the days grow shorter, leaves fall from the trees as the sap slowly withdraws down into the earth for storage. The seeds for next years’ crop have fall to the earth, buried beneath a thick layer of leaves and snow.

            If we stop resisting our season of rest we can sense its necessity in our lives. In nature, many seeds require a season of rest and cold; seeds will not sprout, plants will not bloom, trees will not fruit. Or they’ll have a short burst of growth and then fade quickly, lacking the stamina to carry the crop to the harvest. In nature you can also witness this need for rest reflected in fruit bearing trees. If there is a tremendous year of production and harvest in the following year, the tree usually produces little or no fruit at all. The careful gardener knows this and will plan ahead for this season of rest. During summer the attentive gardener will carefully regulate the amount and quality of fruit left on the tree in to eventually mature and harvest. This process called ‘thinning’, actually protects the tree from damage and stress of over-production.

            If we cannot tolerate vulnerability, uncertainty and the mystery we lose our ability to trust in our faith in God. Has your unchecked productivity often referred to as ‘burning the candle at both ends’ resulted in a seemingly enforced season of illness-related rest? Have you succumbed to burnout, the flu, mental and physical exhaustion or worse? How are you responding now to your season of rest? The answers to these questions will provide you with important clues to how you relate to winter’s essential season of rest.