Winter: The Season of Water



Winter is a time of reflection, when we can go inside to that place where we are unadorned essence.


Where we live, in Northwest Montana, alongside the great “Backbone of the World”, we can forget winter is for quieting down, going inward. We rage! All runs of Big Mountain are open! Glacier and Essex call those of us who get out on our classic and skate skis. Back country calls! We nearly get in a frenzy to get it all in! But wait!

Winter is the most Yin of all the seasons! It is a time of stillness and quietude, nature’s energy having turned in during this most inward-looking season. Deciduous trees look skeletal, the sap has sunk, outward signs of life have disappeared, and the landscape is covered with snow. The colors are mute. The stillness, when the wind or Ravens are not speaking to us, is even more profound than usual! The Grizzlies are in their “cave.” There is work going on, but inside.

The energy of winter is latent and potent: in this state of resting deep within, energy is collected and held in reserve; winter is cold and dark, qualities that preserve and store. It is the concentrated, internal force of winter that enables a seed to burst forth in spring growth.

So, how do we do this? How do we do what we love to do and yet honor, respect and use this season? How can we quiet down when there is snow out there to play in?

The advice from Chinese medicine is we must be less active in this season, conserving our sexual energy, going to bed early, and sleeping late. Like the seed that cannot sprout until it has gathered sufficient strength, our ideas and plans cannot manifest with strength if our energy is dispersed or drained. Abundant reserves within give us courage and strength of will. Lacking these reserves, we manifest the emotion that the Chinese for over 5000 years have associated with the Water element: fear.

Fear. It runs rampant in the collective these days. How can we the individual help dissipate our own fears and then the fears of the collective? We need to balance! If we can tend to balance in our lives, we will be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. We will have what it takes! Abundant reserves within will give us courage and strength of will.

The vocal sound associated with water is groaning, the sound we make when we are simply exhausted, with our energy “on the bottom,” with no hint of “rising up” or yang inflection. Diagnostically, in Chinese medicine, the emotional expression and the sound of the voice are two key indicators of the cause of disease.

The kidney and urinary bladder are the organs that belong to the Water element within us. Appropriately, there are acupuncture points along their meridians (pathways of energy) that can be used to fill the reserves and awaken that place in us where our real strength, courage, and wisdom lie. One such point is Kidney 25, located on the chest in the second rib space, between the mid-line of the body and the nipple. It is called Spirit Storehouse, and, when used at the right time in treatment, can literally turn the course of disease.

Allowing ourselves to simply be still and quiet, containing our energy within ourselves, is to stand in the energy of the Water element. Living in a society of continual striving and exertion, we expect instant results and immediate answers. But nature has another idea: everything to its season. Within nature are already all the answers, we just have to be quiet enough to listen and be empty enough to be filled. We must practice our listening ability!

Suggestions for living in harmony with the winter season

  • Get more rest.
    This is nature’s season for rest, repair, and regeneration—a phase important for our next cycle of growth. The Nei Ching, oldest-known document of Chinese medicine, advises: “[In Winter], people should retire early at night and rise late in the morning, and they should wait for the rising of the sun.”
  • Schedule more time for your inner life.
    Use the energy of the season to discover more about yourself through reflection, reading literature that “restores the spirit,” being more aware of your senses, paying attention to your dreams. The winter season is an especially good time to begin the practice of meditation.
  • Choose more “warming” foods.
    As the weather cools and the body needs to generate more warmth, include more cooked foods and complex carbohydrates in your meals. Try dishes made with whole grains, squashes, beans, peas, and root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and garlic.
  • “Gather around the hearth” with people who mean the most to you.
    Winter evenings are an especially good time to rejuvenate and deepen relationships with those closest to you. Keep gatherings simple and relaxed.