Yesssssss…..it’s finally gray here today in Colorado! With a little drizzle here and there…so divine this Water element. I can finally relax and settle into knowing Winter is coming.
And we need winter. It doesn’t matter where in the world you may find yourself. This time of year presents with a unique energetic quality that supports us – not in the usual craziness of our lives – but in the stopping all that nonsense, taking a pause, and actually checking in deeply with ourselves.
Wintertime is reflective of the energy of one of the Five-Elements, called the Water element. Now before I go on, let me just mention that the Five-Elements is a language used to describe energy of both the world around us, and US! Each individual human, plant, and animal is said to be made of the Five-Elements and each of us embodies a unique combination of these elements never before seen and never to be seen again. Call it constitution, predisposition, “causative factor” or anything else you like, we are speaking of the same propensity that each living being has for a particular energy!
Ok, now let’s talk a little bit about Water.
Here we are talking simply about Water as you know it; the kind you drink, the kind you swim in, and the kind you see falling from the sky when it rains. Streams, lakes, rivers, oceans, aquifers; it’s every where! Water is so vital to life that while we can go for many weeks without food, we would die in only a few days to a week (max!) without water. Just like the Earth, we humans are also largely made up of water. Sixty percent of our make up (70% of the Earth’s make up) is pure Water. Suffice it to say that we are largely Watery beings!
Water is a transformative substance and when it runs over any other element, it changes it forever.
For some elements like Fire, Water changes it rapidly by tempering it or by completely putting it out! But for other elements like Metal (rocks, sand, etc.), it takes a longer time to change it but changes it nonetheless. In the soil of the Earth, Water can be so available that it becomes muddy or Water can be so minimal that soil is more parched and dry like the soil of the desert.
The season where Water holds the most prominent energy is wintertime. Winter is darker than most seasons because there is physically less sunshine (allowing for more Water) and in many places around the world, also more precipitation during this time of year. The energy of the winter season captures the essence of this element and that is solitude, quietude and reflection. The way life becomes blanketed by snow or animals hibernate, Winter is a time for incubation where all our energy is spent internally and only on the most vital of processes. In many places around the world, winter time brings a quiet so deafening and so utterly still that you can hear a single leaf fall off of a tree branch. As the most yin of all the seasons and the elements, it is a time for relinquishing our relationship to the outside world and instead, turning inward. This is why, when people try to skip winter by traveling to some tropical place and staying in summertime-mode, they return burnt to a crisp, exhausted, and feeling disconnected from everything else around them. We need our Winter, inside and out!
In our bodies the organs that help us process Water both physically and energetically are the bladder and kidneys. On a mundane level, when we drink water, it must pass through our digestive tract and into the kidneys to first be filtered and then whatever waste is found is then carried on to the bladder to be excreted. What water is kept by the kidneys and utilized in the body contains the vital minerals that we extract from it (know where your Water comes from, it’s important!). These minerals are then used to create and infuse our bones and marrow with vital nutrients, the two parts of our body that are governed by the Water element. Of note, the brain in this ancient system of medicine is simply considered to be marrow and is also therefore, governed by the Water element. The hierarchy of organs and systems puts the Heart at the top, not the brain – imagine that (those HeartMath folks might just be onto something!).
The emotion of Water is fear. In many aspects of our lives, fear is a healthy response. A near-miss on the highway or a woman going into labor for the first time. These are natural and healthy fears that actually serve us. Fear is a motivating force that is full of adrenaline and cortisol – both hormones that fuel us with the energy to escape the real or perceived danger. However, fear can sometimes get out of control and become a dominating emotion leading to an unhealthy expression.
When you find yourself or someone you know becoming fearful of anything and everything (phobias galore!), then you know their Water has gone out of balance. Or simply someone who sees the world always first through the lens of fear, even though maybe afterward they pull through and make a decision to move toward the fearful thing anyway.
When Fear is primary, no matter the context, Water needs attention. The same is true for someone who becomes chronically fearless. Many of us dream of the day that we feel fearless in our lives! But fearlessness is not a healthy state either. In a book written by Ken Carey titled, Starseed: The Third Millennium, he writes a beautiful story about the Star People (that’s us!) that were created ever-so-perfectly by the Universe (that’s our world!). These Star people were magnificent beings and they were drawn to the magnificence of their world. They saw beauty in everything until one day they caught a glimpse of the outrageously gorgeous sunset over a cliff. Eager to see the sunset in it’s full beauty, the Star people walked all the way to the top of the cliff, walked right off of it and died. That was when the Universe said, “I suppose we should instill a little bit of a fear of death in these Star people otherwise they are so vulnerable!”
And so, we have fear of death. As with all things in life however, finding your unique balance in this emotion is the key.
The spirit of the Water element, referred to as Zhi, is Will. Will has to do with survival, a core aspect to our being human and living on the planet. Our individual Will (not only to survive but also to thrive!) is much stronger when we have plenty of Water energy to source from. Fear and Will work together to create a water element that is balanced, has good boundaries the way a river has a shoreline. In a person, this looks like someone who is well aware of the risk of engagement with the many aspects of our world and yet neither hides nor pushes forth impulsively.
Our Will is what gives us resilience, grit, and the motivation to keep going despite all odds. It imbues our lives with the desire to live fully and completely.
I also want to share with you a little bit about something called Jing Qi, also called Ancestral Energy. Jing Qi is a particular energy that is inherited from our family lineage, coming with all the good, the bad, and the ugly from our family ties. Jing Qi is said to be stored in our kidneys and acts like a reservoir throughout our lives, one that we can only draw from and not replenish. However, if we received minimal Jing Qi, or Jing Qi from a family lineage that has suffered and struggled immensely, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will suffer and struggle just like our ancestors. It could mean that. But we have so many different kinds of energy-life force available to us to draw from that even the crappiest of Jing Qi can be supplemented with an amazing lifestyle, healing therapies, nourishing, clean foods and water, etc. (Think you may have gotten a troubling dose of Jing Qi? Read more on this and how to compensate for it in a blog post coming soon!).
As we evolve in life, a certain level of deep understanding manifests and becomes a natural part of our being. Especially during winter or during the winter aspect of our lives (elderhood) we will spend much time in contemplation, recognizing the different aspects of our lives and how they all led us right here to this moment. We will acknowledge ourselves and be able to see the “medicine of the story” since we are no longer engaged in the world in such an active way. Things will make sense to us that have never made sense before. We will be deeply appreciative and understanding of the complexity of life and yet our perspective will assist us in developing a certain sense of light-heartedness about life that only time can grant us.
This is the virtue of Wisdom as governed by the Water element.
Old age/elder-hood/crone-hood are all associated with this element, largely because it takes patience to integrate and cultivate wisdom. Occasionally we come into this world with more wisdom than usual. Have you ever met a child who was “wise beyond their years” or, “an old soul”? Both of these comments are referring to the same experience of some deeper process happening in a person that feels ancient, wise, and not as easy to rouse or disturb.
And at some point, wisdom allows us to see clearly as though for the very first time, the entire Universe. It’s as though there has been a magnifying glass suddenly placed over our eyes. When this happens, an inner solitude develops in response and needs caring for. When the Water element is strong in a person, they feel the calling to turn their backs on the world and go inside, either for periods of restoration daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonally. And when they are ready to relinquish their role and participation in society entirely, they may turn their backs forever. When this happens it becomes clear that the need for frivolity, affirmation from social groups, and active participation as a way of life, simply goes away. This is when the Water element has reached full maturity.
Water is always seeking the lowest point of gravity. In any given vessel, it will drop to the bottom without hesitation. And yet a tiny movement from below can change the current and flow of water for miles. The same can be said for people, too! When someone has a lot of Water in their constitution, in the same way that Water seeks gravity, they will always be willing to plunge to the depths, so to speak. Watery people are truth-seekers. They are not built for using up energy frivolously but rather to “get to the bottom of things” so that they can move on. They often take periods of solitude and silence and can return with one epiphany that, just like Water, can change the current of their entire family, their community, and/or their society. This is the power of Water!
The evolution and natural cycle of creation of the Water element lies within the Wood element. The way spring moves into Winter, a seedling that has been incubating underground begins to feel the Water and the sunlight dancing in alchemy and drawing that little sprout out and up to the sun. This is the most natural movement. Only after periods of rest, stillness, and reflection, does authentic action become possible. Authentic action is action that is bound to the truth of a person and deeply interwoven into the fabric of the heart. Authentic action has been contemplated, examined under the magnifying lens so-to-speak, and is stemming from deeply rooted knowing within the person.
When the Water element is healthy, the vision and drive behind authentic action is seen clearly and most obstacles have been assessed and acknowledged. And when a surprise obstacle occurs, the healthy Water element allows for the Wood element to stay flexible and to see all sides of the obstacle before moving forward. If a rock is kicked on top of the sprout for instance, with enough flexibility, patience, and trust (all infused by the Water element), the sprout can easily maneuver around the rock and keep heading toward that brilliant sun!
The challenge of the Water element lies in the cultivation of resources and the manifestation of our heart’s desires. The resources in our bodies refer to nourishing food, proper hydration, stable hormones, proper release of endorphins during times of stress as well as relaxation, etc. Resources in our lives refer to all the ways we know to come back home to ourselves and to remind us of who we really are (i.e. getting outside, spending time with friends or family, breathing exercises, meditation, taking time alone, etc.). Whatever our resources, it is important to be aware of them. And to continue to grow them throughout our lives.
As important as boundaries are to the element of Water (shaping the shores of oceans, rivers, lakes, etc.), boundaries are equally important to protecting our internal resources. A deep level of exhaustion is a common theme when our Water element is not well-bounded. Any extending becomes over-extending. And when we are exhausted at this deep level, action at all becomes impossible.
This leads to the second greatest challenge to the Water element and that is getting stuck in details, mental activity, groundless fears, and over-study. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, “We do not need more monks in the monasteries, renouncing their lives and retreating to the woods, we need them out here with us. We need their beauty and their wisdom to guide us.” As such, we need our healthy Water element out in the world providing the depth, will, and wisdom to all that we do. Take your rest, by golly! But then return to be with us, your fellow Star people!
The antidote to an out-of-balance Water element that is leaving us exhausted, is the element of Earth. This is the element with the energy that will remind us that we have a team of support behind us, our ancestors, our friends, our families, and the entire web of humanity. We are not alone and we need each person to care deeply for themselves before they can care for another. Earth energy is that of the Mother who knows when she needs to sink back into herself before returning to her family and she makes certain that this will happen. Earth energy reminds us to take care of our bodies by nourishing them with delicious and wholesome food, surrounding ourselves with people who are tuned in to themselves and to us, and by settling into the nourishment and healing provided by the whole Universe. After these basic needs are met, then the Water element is enriched and can return to the cycle of life.
When the Water element gets out of balance, we also look to the Fire element, which is controlled by Water. Simply put, when Water gets imbalanced (fearfulness/fearfulness, chronic urinary tract infections, phobias, edema, walking off the cliff and into the beautiful sunset, etc.), we might see that there is also too much or too little Fire present to help regulate and balance the Water element. Even something as simple as getting more or less sunshine is a great way to mitigate too little or too much Water. Seeking a skilled practitioner will help you better understand how to work with these elements and they will be able to recognize the deficiency or excess of the elements.)
When there is an imbalance in Water, we also look to the Mother element (the element that precedes Water in the cycle – Fall turns into Winter) which in this case is the Metal element. When Metal is strong, our sense of self-righteousness will also be strong! Of course, this too can become unbalanced. The job of the Metal element is to help us take in, inspire, enrich, and let go of waste and that which no longer serves us. If we find that Water is chronically low/deficient, we must look to the Mother element to see that there is nourishment actually coming in. Sometimes with an element chronically struggling, the Mother element might have to become stronger, louder, bigger in order to make up for the deficient “child”. You might see more signs and symptoms of an imbalance in the Mother element FIRST, before you see the signs and symptoms of the child element.
Now that you know a little bit about the incredible Water element, how do we care for this aspect within us, whether or not it is our primary constitution?
- Drink plenty of good quality water (not always RO water, not always distilled water, find water that is local, has good mineral content but is filtered from the chemicals the cities usually put into it. And that’s HALF your body weight in ounces. For instance, if you weigh 150 lbs, you need to be drinking a minimum of 75 ounces of water minimum per day.
- Rest. Balance your day by balancing the energy of activity (Yang energy) and the energy of slowness or even downright stillness (Yin energy). This does not necessarily mean you should be sleeping a lot, though sleep is vital (8-10 hours a night, baby!). But I’m actually talking about downtime, book-reading, writing, time for quiet reflection while looking out a window, taking a slow walk, etc. This helps to calm the nervous system which calms everything!
- When it’s Wintertime, get more sleep! Wake later and go to bed earlier.
- Sip herbal tea at any chance you can get. Lavender, chamomile, nettles, ashwaganda, adaptogens oh my!
- Cover your kidneys with a Japanese haramaki! These are made to protect and warm the kidneys all winter long. They wrap ever-so-perfectly around the abdomen in the front and kidneys in the back.
- Go see your acupuncturist! They will help to keep you balanced. Whether or not you can identify with the Water element, you naturally have this quality of energy within you. Your acupuncturist can work with this to keep you congruent (seasons should be experienced on the inside as well as the outside) and as healthy as possible all season long!. As a healthcare practitioner myself, I believe that the reason this season has become known as “flu season” is because often we try to keep the same pace up in the Winter as we would in the summer and it’s just not natural! Instead of building up and retaining our energy, we burn through it more rapidly and our immune system therefore becomes compromised.