Waiting for the Blossom

by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.
 

My daughter calls herself “the flower girl.”  She loves walking around our garden and picking flowers to share with the fairies or to turn into a stew.  She especially enjoys collecting the petals of roses that are just past their prime and showering them on her mother and me.  The other day she spied a rose bud that was still bunched tightly and began to try to pry it open so she could smell the fragrance and then collect the petals.  I stopped her before she could pull it off, and took the opportunity to explain to her that you can’t force a bud to open or it kills the flower before it can blossom.  She relented and we continued our garden tour.  The experience got me thinking about the value of patience.

We live in a time that is greatly influenced by speed and convenience.  Computers have made most everything available at the touch of a button.  The global economy has made it possible to have fresh, summer fruit in the middle of winter.  While it serves to give us more of what we want when we want it, it comes at a cost: we are quickly losing the ability to wait. Like a muscle that atrophies when it is no longer used, patience is disappearing in the modern age.  Even when we are forced to wait, we rarely watch the clouds, listen to the birds, or introduce ourselves to the person sitting next to us.  Instead we play games on our phones, check social media, or do a little online shopping.  We are constantly finding ways to pull our attention somewhere else to make the waiting feel “less boring.”  Patience doesn’t necessarily mean that we just sit and do nothing.  Sometimes patience means getting ourselves ready to receive whatever it is we are waiting for.  If we are waiting for the right time to plant a seed, we should make sure that the weeds have been pulled and the garden is ready for planting.

The key to everything is patience.  You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”  Arnold H Glasgow    

If we distract ourselves to mask the wait, sometimes we miss an opportunity to discover a new perspective on an old idea.  If we are waiting with something in mind it becomes a period of incubation where new ideas arise; new thoughts are often born of the space that exists between things.  If we are always rushing from one place to another, from one thought to another, there is less of a chance for things to unfold in an organic and living manner.  We cast away the ability to stay present in the living moment, always chasing something that is of another time and place.  It is as Henri Nouwen says: “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” 

After our experience with the rose, my daughter and I continued our garden walk.  We came across some firewood that I had cut to dry earlier in the year–which I started to stack in the back of the woodshed–when my daughter wisely advised me: “Let the wood dry in the sun or it won’t make a good fire.  Just be patient daddy.”  My impulsive, headfirst flower girl again proved herself to be my greatest teacher.

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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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