Seasonal Tips

Living with awareness and sensitivity to the qualities of the different seasons is a time-honored approach to wellness and self-knowledge. In the west, perhaps mostly because of technology, we have become somewhat desensitized to the different gifts and challenges of each season. We can control the climate in our homes and workplaces and automobiles, so we barely notice the temperature, air quality, insect and animal behaviors, etc., as our ancestors once did. Nonetheless, the seasons have offerings that can serve us powerfully if we are attentive to them.


Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) divides the year into five seasons - fall, winter, spring, summer and late summer. Summer and late summer offers a special time of abundance. The natural growth of green and growing things surrounds everything; fresh foods are readily available nearly everywhere.


Spring bursts forth with its light, color and possibilities. It suggests a time for new growth, expansiveness, artistry and assertiveness. Coming out of the dark and cold of winter, we now turn towards our vision of how we hope to manifest our unique gifts in the world.

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Each season has representative organs. Spring relies on the health of the Liver and Gallbladder. Each performs work related to our clarity, vision, creativity, assertiveness, organizational ability and flexibility.  These qualities are enhanced through the clear use of resources, such as food, money, time and energy, in service to the quality of life we want to create for ourselves.  Where do we put our energy? What makes us happy? What expands and stretches us? What obstructs, frustrates, limits us, and what will we do about it?

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Summer is the energy of warmth, joy, relationship and maturity. It is the fire described in 5 element cosmology. What we planted in the early spring is now fully manifest, soon to be harvested. What we build is now serving us and others. Summer is a time of celebrations, weddings, the building of friendships and communities. If introverts are more comfortable with winter, extroverts exude the energy of summer.

The organs that are most reflective of the energy of summer deal with the circulation of blood and the regulation of fluids and temperature. The heart is at the center of all the organs, described as the sovereign ruler in service to the empire. So we can reflect on what is at the heart of who we are and what feeds our hearts and makes us and others happy. It is our passion, our purpose, our expression and experience of what is central to us in life. We are mostly fulfilled when we can share this, bring it to others and see our warmth reflected in the love of another. So summer is a time to pursue what we love and to show our gifts for others to enjoy. It is a time to be expansive, to make a joyful noise, to play and to love.


Late Summer

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The harvest time is described as a fifth season. It occurs towards the end of summer when the ripeness and heaviness of humidity mix with a hint of the coming fall. It is a time to savor, to store, to give from the generosity abundance suggests. Sympathy is a word ascribed to this season, as we are asked to consider the needs of others when ours are met. We can also be sympathetic to ourselves and take time to savor and recover from the efforts of the previous season. The stomach and spleen are emphasized in this Earth energy. Those organs have to do with transformation and assimilation, as well as containment, clarity of thought and stability. In late summer, we have the last of the fresh summer produce available for one last time before leaving. It is a time of decrease — less intensity of light and heat, but also, turning towards fall and winter. If we store the harvest at this time, we’ll have something to see us through the darker colder months. You can see how this can be both literal and metaphorical. It is a time to slow down and to feel and express gratitude for the daily bread (any kind of nourishment) we have received. 


Fall - A Time of Reflection

As the gifts of summer are enjoyed and then stored literally and in our memories, we begin to turn towards winter, a time our ancestors generally knew as a challenge to health, resources and temperament. The autumn, with its clear air, vivid colors and light, reminds us of the beauty and the gifts the heavens have favored us with, while preparing us to let go of their manifest presence in our lives. The Chinese describe the autumn as a time where grief may predominate, as it is a time of letting go. It was said that “in the autumn, the heavens disappear in a single breath.” The shock and pain of grief can feel like the heavens have abandoned us, seemingly leaving us to bear what we must on our own. Perhaps in the absence of whatever we might describe as “the heavens,” we are called to a faith that they will return, as they always do, appearing in the infinite gifts of the spring. 

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Lungs and Large Intestine

The Chinese model for physiological function suggests that 2 organ systems are particularly relevant to the autumn: the Lungs and the Large Intestine. Both have much to do with what we take in and what we release. The lungs, of course, are often more susceptible to respiratory infection in the autumn, as the more invasive weather can penetrate our immune system. It is suggested that we strengthen ourselves at this time of year with warmer, cooked foods. The metaphor for the Large Intestine is letting go, pruning, eliminating that which no longer has value or nourishment for us. It is a good time for creating more space (breathing room, as it were), leaving only that which is essential and qualitatively valuable to us. In the Jewish tradition, for instance, the autumn brings Yom Kipur, a day of atonement (At-one-ment) where the errors and the losses of the previous year are reflected on and let go of, in order to realign and remind us of our essential selves and our purpose.

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Staying Healthy In Winter

The traditional Chinese wisdom regarding the seasonal affects of winter suggests that it is a time of regeneration, reflection, renewal and the wise apportionment of our resources. Our ancestors weren’t gifted with the benefits of technology most of us currently enjoy and even take for granted. Their winters were likely darker, colder, lonelier and with less access to resources such as grocery stores abundant with fresh fruit from South America, Netflix and cable entertainment or snowplows to clear away the likelihood of cabin fever!

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So winter suggests a time when we must face ourselves and explore the depths of who we are. Think of the foliage of the other seasons now stripped away, revealing basic structure and essence. We say the winter relates to the bones, the skeletal essence of a person. You know how we say we know something in our bones? The ancient Chinese suggested that our ancestral energy, akin to DNA, but more than just physical characteristics, reside in our bones. We come to know ourselves and the gifts and challenges we carry with us from previous generations when we descend into the reflective energies of deep winter.

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Update: 2024

May and June are often my favorite months. Comfortable temperature, lower humidity, greenery, blue skies or nourishing rain, birdsong, frog symphonies and lighter clothing, to name just a few gifts. I learned from Chinese philosophy that after the heavens’ manifest gifts to the earth disappear in the autumn, they return resplendent in the spring and early summer offering gifts for us all to savor and finally harvest, share and store in the late summer.

I write this to encourage us all to keep emerging, just as we see new plants come up and out, no matter their surroundings. These past few years have challenged and limited us, as well as strengthened and expanded us, in ways seen and yet to be seen. We have known fear and isolation, discouragement and courage, hope and disappointment. While we may feel that we’ve moved on, we are likely carrying yet to be fully understood consequences of the pandemic and these politically...

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