What You Resist, Persists

by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac.

Social awareness of depression is at an all-time high right now. I think the growing willingness of people to openly discuss their own struggles is a huge development in the emotional intelligence of our society.  As an acupuncturist, I look at depression through the lens of Chinese Five-Element philosophy. 

Of the Five-Element personality types, the Water type is the most likely to struggle with depression. Waters are deeply introspective and have an amazing capacity for finding meaning and wisdom in life. Waters like to take their time and go with the flow, prioritizing comfort over efficiency. Waters can talk eloquently for hours about philosophical and other topics of real substance, but might not be too interested in small talk. Many of our most beloved artists have been Water types: Kurt Cobain, Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, Peter Fonda, Robert De Niro, Ernest Hemingway.

While Waters are great at going deep and being introspective, that approach can get them stuck when it comes to painful memories. They can end up hiding and isolating themselves, overwhelmed with despair.  Fear is the emotion associated with the Water element. Waters are great at seeing everything that could possibly go wrong, but that fear of what might go wrong often paralyzes them and prevents them from moving forward. According to the Chinese Five-Element perspective, the Water personality needs to learn to have courage to overcome fear and move forward. That sort of approach is the strength of the Wood element.

The Wood personality is fearless—she picks a path and just goes for it. She’s not afraid of taking a misstep because she knows she can handle whatever arises. Woods can be great friends and coaches for Waters, giving them that inspiration to get out there and a plan of action for success. Many people who’ve lost a ton of weight with radical changes in their diet and exercise habits are Waters who have been coached up by Woods.

But very often there ends up being a difficult event that comes up—the loss of a loved one, a breakup, a stressful situation at work—that brings up those old feelings of fear, shame, and inadequacy. And then the Water spirals back into depression and their old coping mechanisms—food, alcohol, drugs, escapism, whatever.

So what’s the alternative if we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives running or numbing ourselves from our painful emotions? Are we just supposed to dwell on them and wallow in misery? Isn’t that what’s causing the problem?

I don’t think so—at least not anymore. When I first got into meditation and eventually Chinese medicine, I saw my spiritual practice as a way of conquering my emotions and finding peace through discipline. But in that struggle with my emotions, they just seemed to get bigger and bigger and harder to avoid.

I’m pretty stubborn, but it eventually started to dawn on me that maybe the way to true peace is through accepting my emotions rather than trying to push them away. And it turns out many spiritual teachers and psychologists (and my wife) have been saying this for a long time—I just wasn’t ready to hear it. Carl Jung maybe said it best when he said, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”

Water needs the support of Earth in order to find courage—and the biggest strength of the Earth element is compassion. Real transformation happens for Waters when they develop the ability to have compassion, understanding, and forgiveness for themselves. That way they can choose a path forward and not beat up on themselves too much when they take a wrong step.

Seeking help from some sort of therapist or counselor is so important for people suffering from depression. It’s easy for people suffering from depression (especially men) to think they understand their problem and what to do about it—they think just need to have the discipline to do the right things they need to do.

But the main reason why a therapist or counselor is so helpful isn’t because they’re going to tell you what to do—it’s because they’re going to show you compassion. Yes, they’re going to offer you compassion, but they’re also going to show you what compassion looks like. And ideally that compassion becomes infectious—you start to believe that not only are you deserving of compassion from others, you’re deserving of compassion from yourself. I’ve found it’s a lot easier to move forward when you’re not always cutting yourself down.

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Taking Shelter

by Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

Over a decade ago, my husband and I moved from Portland to Talent. We were seeking more nature and a smaller community where we could enjoy a slower pace of life. Living in Talent has provided us with opportunities to be inspired by beauty and to spend less time driving; but what has truly given us the peace we were seeking has been the practice of taking shelter/refuge.

Often when a patient shares with me their feelings of being overwhelmed or burdened by stress, I often ask, “Is there a place where you go to sort yourself out?” Many times there is blank response on faces and many times there is a resounding “YES” as they remember their special refuge. For some people the idea of doing something creative while under stress feels like a burden, they prefer a TV episode, glass a wine and bag of chips. This response feels good in the moment but often leads to the same feeling after the episode is over.

Taking refuge is the practice of getting in touch with your deepest self. The practice helps you calm your mind, so that you can be present in the moment and experience the pulse of life within you and all around you. Your refuge can be a physical location-a favorite tree, meditation corner, backyard, or bathtub. Or it may be taking refuge in a another person: a lover, a mentor, or friend. Some take refuge in repetitive action such as jogging, walking, or chanting. Or it could be playing music, praying, dancing, or playing with children. Each of us needs to know how to take refuge. If you do not have the habit of regularly taking time to clear your mind then you likely will feel as if you are on a treadmill of bills and obligations.  

Dedicating 20 minutes a day seems to be the magic number for gaining the optimal benefits from your shelter time. Less than 20 minutes and you may miss the restful recharge you are looking for. Anything beyond 20 minutes is the cherry on top.

Committing to a regular practice of taking shelter and having a reliable way to unwind and drop into the moment will help you find new clarity, inspiration and stamina for life’s challenges. Regardless, of your specific way of taking shelter, the importance lies in the regularity of taking the time and the intention to remember and reconnect to your essence. Taking shelter is the practice of remembering that you are not your thoughts. It is the letting go into the grace all around you. Choosing to take time daily in refuge makes us all better people.

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Fill Your Own Cup First

by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac.

These days I’ve been seeing a lot of people suffering from burnout.  Often times they’re looking for a quick fix for their fatigue, insomnia, headaches so that they can keep on going like they used to.  But even if I can help relieve someone’s symptoms in a few acupuncture treatments, the symptoms are likely to return unless the patient commits to taking better care of themselves.  Those headaches may have only sprung up in the last couple weeks, but they’re the product of decades of burning the candle at both ends.

Looking through the lens of Chinese medicine and the Five Elements, there are a few general personality-types that tend more to burnout.  First, there are the Wood types.  They know what needs to be done and just go out and do it.  Wood types are strong, but even they can deplete their reserves.  Then there are the Fire types who revel in the enjoyment of the moment and who have a magical, infectious enthusiasm about them.  They usually have trouble slowing down and can neglect to give themselves enough downtime to recover.

Woods and Fires can really wipe themselves out, but I can work with Woods and Fires—they listen to me (usually).  It’s those Earth types that can drive me crazy. 

Earths are the quintessential caretakers and providers in our lives—they take on the role of being midwives to other people’s struggles and transitions.  The pater familias who’ll give you the shirt off his back is an Earth.  The mother who is always there to offer sympathy and a hug is an Earth.  Notable Earths include Pope Francis, Princess Diana, Disney’s Snow White, and Dolly Parton.  Golden retrievers are a very Earth-like breed of dog.  Earths are great at offering compassion and support for others—they’re drawn to those in need and having an amazing capacity for unconditional love. 

Where they struggle, however, is that they’re reluctant to receive help from others—they don’t want to be selfish or a burden to others.  But when you’re giving and giving and giving and others aren’t reciprocating, that’s a recipe for burnout symptoms like chronic fatigue, insomnia, headaches, depression, weight gain, and even autoimmune diseases.

Earths are some of the sweetest, warmest people you’ll meet, but taking care of everyone else for too long without appreciation or reciprocation can breed resentment.  Earths aren’t always aware of this resentment, but I find it’s usually there.  The core problem, however, is that giving expression to that resentment feels likes selfishness to them.

But a little selfishness is just what Earths need.  In-balance Earth types have borrowed some of the assertiveness of Wood so that they’ve learned to stand up and speak up for themselves.  And they’ve also borrowed some of Metal’s ability to set boundaries and detach themselves from unhealthy situations and codependent relationships.

 

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