Nourishing Yin to Balance Yang

by Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

        A few weeks after the fires, I journeyed to the beach on a mission to settle my rattled nervous system, and to gain perspective on how to adapt to yet another challenge of 2020. I went to a favorite spot that I can count on to deliver a sense of refuge from the world and from my own mental unrest. As I hiked down to the beach, internally I could sense an urgency to find a spot where I could digest the evacuation, my personal trauma, the community trauma, and the sense of feeling not “at home” in myself.  In my eagerness to arrive, I took a focused pace toward a large piece of drift wood.   In my haste I could have easily missed the creek that I needed to cross.  At the creeks edge, my weight teetered on the sandy bank as it collapsed gently down into the water. This got my attention. I began noticing the mosaic of solid and collapsed sand surrounding this watershed. I could see channels of water with the ground barely concealing them, as well as places that appeared solid. This struck me as a perfect metaphor of how water, or YIN, is always flowing just below the surface, even when we cannot see it.

YIN can simply be explained as the shady side of the mountain…think of a cool, moist,  fern filled watershed.  YIN is receptive, quiet, soft, nourishing, and interconnected. Water is a perfect example of yin, humbly flowing downward toward the deepest place it can reach. 

        Upon considering 2020’s events we see a year dominated by YANG. The quick changes and unknown anxieties of the pandemic, racial tension, divisive political drama, and environmental disaster can be likened to a fire burning out of control. What’s needed now is the coolness and soothing qualities of YIN  to quell the fire. The cultural symptoms of too much Yang are easy to observe in our society, just as we can notice the personal signs of too much yang.  The personal signs of too much yang includeL: anxiety, anger, hyper-vigilance, insomnia, irritability, and overwhelm. Think TOO MUCH!! And yet once the fire is a blaze within, it can be very challenging to stay away from the things that keep us running hot, such as: caffeine, sugar, busy-ness and over stimulation with news and social media. Due to the relational/mirroring nature of our nervous systems, most of us  find ourselves craving things that keep us buzzing at the hyper stimulated pace of the external environment. 

        Amidst the paradox of a Yang dominated time and the need for more YIN, how can you find balance?  How can you call upon the part of you that is cool, soft, moist, relaxed, and not  overwhelmed? The first step is acknowledging that this part of you is already present. By setting  the intention to be more connected to your YIN,  this will naturally shift your experience. Autumn’s  cooler days and longer nights  are also more conducive for YIN cultivation . Most of us know our tendencies and  the ways that we tend to aggravate the YANG in our lives.   Most of us know the remedies for feeling too YANG….doing less and letting  go.

        This is the invitation/challenge for you to take extra time to nourish yourself and to resist getting swept up in the uncertainty, division and over-stimulation.  Can you give yourself and those around you permission to spend more time “just being” vs “just doing.”  We each have our work to do in the world; when we can show up to do our work from a balanced place, we are more effective and kind. You do have a choice in how you show up in the world.  Be the example you want others to be. 

 

“To be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love”

Looking for the Rainbow

by Ann Zimmerman, L.Ac.
 
For many years, I have kept a strict agreement that I will stop what I am doing if the weather conditions are nearing for a rainbow. The brilliant combination of the rain and the sun bursting through the clouds creates the perfect lighting. Stopping to notice this beauty feels critical to my soul.

The luxurious rain storms in June on multiple occasions hurried me from the kitchen cutting board and into the garden. My exit from the kitchen could be abrupt and even surprise my 6-year-old daughter who is often in the clouds herself. I usually yell “rainbow weather!” and then
run out our screen door into the garden to gaze at the mountainsides,
carefully studying the dark part of the sky.

The rainbow’s majestic colors and density fluctuations always draw
me in completely. Upon spotting a rainbow, I will let out a long pleased
exhale and then search for anyone nearby to come and witness this
miracle. I can feel every cell in my body smiling with the reminder of life’s divine nature. It’s almost like being in front of the ocean, where you can actually feel a direct experience of healing happening. However, rainbows are much more elusive than the ocean. No roads can be taken to rainbows and you can’t live close to them–we never know when they will show themselves.

And of course rainbows serve as amazing metaphors for life’s journey: in our personal storms of life (sickness, relationship fallout, financial woes, global pandemic, etc), is there not also a rainbow? A place where the weather pattern breaks, a moment when it’s not JUST storming and all falling apart.

Stopping and taking delight in the shift of weather patterns is how we begin to integrate, heal, and gain insight on what actually happened during the storm. To take notice of your life’s shifting patterns puts you in direct contact with the universal truth that everything is always changing.

To directly experience this moment you have to be willing to let go of believing you are the chatter in your mind. Our personal insights are born from being in the present moment. Simply put, being mindful is the attentive witnessing of your life from moment to moment. It turns down the loudest voice in the room, your chatty mind. The
practice gives you a choice about how you respond to change. It gives you the superpower of being adaptable.

It’s as if you left Talent, and went to the top of Wagner Butte, looking down you see how you move about in the course of an ordinary day. You see your route to work, how you go shopping, the main streets, your daily routine, and you’re seeing it all from the top of the mountain. Then you return to Talent. But now when you are moving
around town, there’s a part of you that always recalls the perspective from above. As you go through a day, you’re still watching it all from the mountaintop–a broader awareness while still being in the moment. Living during these rapidly changing times offers the perfect conditions to either adapt or suffer. You get to choose. Do you find new ways to respond to the shifting weather of a pandemic? Can you take moments throughout your day to be mindful of shifting patterns within yourself, to be in awe of nature or another person’s kindness? Can you also be aware of the good while also holding the suffering personally and globally? Mindfulness will not take away the storms of life, but it will help you notice your resistance to them and help you to notice your incredible resiliency.

We each have the capacity to hold the paradox of life.

Mindfulness helps us to not get lost in one story–to not get polarized by prejudice, upbringing, and personal agenda. The space between the thoughts–the quiet between the noise–allows us to experience the magic. It allows us to see and feel the rainbow between the shifting weather patterns of our days.

Cheers to being adaptive, resilient, and mindful!
Check out our mindfulness meditation classes at middlewaymedicine.com

The Taste of Honey

 

My daughter didn’t get her first taste of sweets until she was almost a year old.  My wife and I knew that once she tasted sweet it would change her relationship to food, so we figured that our daughter couldn’t crave what she didn’t know about.  When the day came, we decided that to start her out with a small spoonful of honey.  She had seen us put a little honey into our tea before, but until this day it didn’t register in her awareness what she was missing. When the spoon touched her mouth, her eyes widened as if she had discovered some great secret:  This is the magic of experience.  Someone can tell you about something; you can read and study about an idea, but you don’t really understand something until you personally experience it.

I’ve heard it said that if someone writes the word “honey” on a piece of paper and you try to eat the word, you will not get to enjoy the sweetness.  This is true of everything that we study with our minds.  We can read the words, we can try to understand them as a concept, but until we find ourselves in the middle of something, we really have no idea what it feels like.  It is like someone who has never been next to the ocean going to the beach for the first time.  Maybe they have read about the ocean, or seen it on television, but nothing can truly teach them the essence of the ocean except direct experience.  They won’t know the ocean until they hear the crash of the waves, smell the distinct blend of salt and seaweed, or get moved around by the waves..  They won’t understand until they feel the sand and salt stick to their skin. 

So often we think that we know something because we have studied it, or someone has explained it to us.  But how can we know unless we have been immersed in it ourselves.  One of the greatest gifts of this time of uncertainty is the opportunity to slow down enough to notice things, to experience things.  When we are in “normal” times, most of us are moving so quickly from one thing to another that we give ourselves little opportunity to truly taste the sweetness of our lives.  We don’t give ourselves permission to stop and smell the roses, or to notice the sharpness of the thorns.  As this period of social isolation has dragged on, I have been amazed to notice how often I think that I should be doing more, learning more, accomplishing more.  Though I can write lists and cross things off of them one by one, I am also being encouraged to taste each moment, even the ones that aren’t on a list. Having more time and space offers us greater opportunity to learn to be more present in each moment.  I still have my list of things to do, but without the same urgency in my schedule, I get to notice how often my agenda is simply serving as a distraction.  I get uncomfortable if I slow down enough to hear the chatter in my mind.  I am constantly looking for a way out of the suffering that is born from trying to always be in control of my life.  If I am on mission to check things off my list, I often miss the swirl in the clouds or the hummingbird that says hello through my window.  The only way to truly and authentically “taste” something is to be with it in the moment completely.  It requires that we give the moment our full attention. 

Before the pandemic we all had so many reasons why we had to hurry off to be somewhere else that we didn’t notice the mysterious magic of being right where we are.  Though many of use are still very busy worrying about what is next, caring for our families,  or trying to stay afloat financially, in many ways we can find more time to be curious about what is right with us here in the moment.  Never in my life have I been forced in this way to sit in each moment.  There is nowhere else to go, less to get done.  So I can sit and watch with all of my awareness how life is unfolding in the here and now.  This is same place that life is always unfolding, the only place that life is truly alive.  The future that we are usually positioning for, or the past that we are often trying to untangle or integrate are both just concepts in our mind.  They are not alive like the present moment.  You can remember something from yesterday, or imagine it in a tomorrow, but it isn’t that wide eyed discovery of a secret that can only happen in this very moment.  

Like my daughter who didn’t notice the honey that we were putting in our tea until she tasted it herself, we are being encouraged to taste the honey ourselves and to understand its sweetness.  We are being beckoned to put down the word scribbled on a piece of paper and enjoy the spoonful of golden sweetness that is this moment.  

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