Category Archives: Equinox

Endings

The autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere finds us deep into Autumn and the Metal Element. Their falling energies teach us about how to be true to ourselves in the face of endings.

This blog marks the completion of a cycle of 8 articles over the past year as I’ve marked the passing of two solstices, two equinoxes and the four cross-quarter days that lie between. It seems fitting that we end this series in the depth of the Metal Element which resonates with endings, with letting go, and with dying.

Many people find these subtle autumnal reminders troubling. Western cultures tend not to dwell upon the ends of things, particularly the end of life, preferring instead to focus on the yang, rising side of the cycle, on the explosive upward movement of Wood and the wide, expansive, proliferating energy of Fire.

And yet there can be an exquisite savouring of the Metal phase, with its clear, spacious nature. When all that is superfluous has dropped away, we are left with that which is essential, the distilled essence of things. Like appreciating and valuing a small measure of a fine old liqueur.

I am not far away from becoming a septuagenarian and like most others in my age group I can’t believe that number on the board. Still, the evidence is reflected in the mirror, and in the subtle ways the body is slowing down. I can no longer pretend otherwise: I am fast approaching, if not already in the Metal phase of my life.

Each life stage has its age appropriate activities, and we can map these through the Five Element model. Water is the period of life before conception (wherever it is that we come from), our 9 months in the womb, and infancy. This is a time of potential and patient waiting. Wood is the phase of rapid upward growth that occurs in childhood and adolescence, when we explore possibilities and push edges. Fire is the time of our adult maturity, our blossoming and flourishing. It is usually a busy time of career orientation and/or creating family. Earth is the phase of late maturity when we reap the fruits of our life, and transition into retirement to savour the harvest of our life’s work. The Metal phase is when we naturally reflect on what meaning we have distilled from our lives, on what it is to die, to end, to pass on from the world. We anticipate the next cycle and the movement back to the Water phase, the great unknown that beckons after we take our last breath.

Some, possibly many, find these reflections on death to be uncomfortable, morbid, not a topic for polite conversation. Certainly it is a consideration commonly postponed, pushed off into the long future, when we imagine we will have plenty of time at the nursing home to contemplate our demise; or maybe hope for a quick end so we won’t have to think about it at all.

And yet, in many traditions, contemplation of death is a regular part of spiritual practice. Buddhists in particular meditate throughout life on this inevitable event. Indeed, death is the most important thing about life. Death provides meaning and context to life.

I vividly remember these words of my teacher Hameed, his opening words of the Death and Dying Retreat:

“To die is to live. And to live is to die.’ (He proceeded to elaborate for 10 days!)

This profound thought really communicates the depth of Metal’s spiritual lesson: only by letting go of all that we hold on to, can we truly live the depth of a human life. We are given countless opportunities throughout life to let go of our attachments:  the loss of some prized object, the job we really wanted but didn’t get, a big financial loss, the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the loss of body function. Each loss is a little death, each a preparation, a training for the big death that will come, when we are called upon let go of it all.

Letting go does not mean abandoning our possessions or relationships. We don’t need to become wandering ascetics. Giving away all we own will not address our attachment to things. Abandoning our relationships does not change our inner relationship to others. Rather, letting go means allowing, surrendering, making space for everything that life brings us. It means living in the present moment, neither hanging on to a past that cannot be changed, nor holding on to ideas about what we imagine the future will be. It means dying to the past. Dying to the future. And living in the only place we have, the now.

September Equinox

Today is the September Equinox. Here in the southern hemisphere it is the Spring Equinox, the middle of our journey through the Wood Element; while in the northern hemisphere it is the Autumn Equinox within the Metal Element. For everyone all over the world, the nights and days are of equal length. The difference is that in the southern part of the globe, our days are getting longer and temperatures warmer, while for those of you in the top bit, your days are growing shorter and colder. But for one brief day, we meet in the middle. It makes me think of children on a see saw where one goes up as the other goes down, but they meet in the middle as the positions change. Today is literally a pivotal day in our passage between the Great Yin and Great Yang of the winter and summer solstices.

Lord of the Rings fans will be well aware that this is the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, though they never grow older than their 111 and 33 when they first entered the mind of JRR Tolkein. Happy Birthday Bagginses!

In something of a departure from the usual, in this blog I am republishing my review of Lorie Dechar’s new book Kigo which had it’s publication date of September 21st. It’s a wonderful addition to the library of Five Elements books and I’m delighted to recommend it. This review was first published in Pointers, Journal of the Shiatsu Therapists Association of Australia, Spring 2020 edition.

KIGO
Exploring the Spiritual Essence of Acupuncture Points Through the Changing Seasons
LORIE DECHAR ILLUSTRATED BY LORELEI CHANG

In Kigo, Lorie Dechar gifts us her poetic vision of the spirit of Chinese medicine. Nature and spirit are ravelled through this beautiful work and Lorie is our perceptive guide through the seasons. She unfolds the Chinese characters to pluck wisdom from their embedded symbols, inspiring practitioners to draw on their own inner resources to match the majesty of the points.

The Japanese word kigo means “season word”, very appropriate to the spirit of Five Element Acupuncture. Japanese haiku poets use such words to evoke the “Ah!-ness” of things. Dechar calls on the power of the kigo to remind us of the Ah!-ness of the healing encounter and to re-enliven our spiritual connection to the points.

As Dechar points out, “This book is not meant to be a how-to manual but something more like a letter of introduction to some of my most beloved friends, a series of meditations on time and place and the mysterious healing of the soul.” This perspective sets her book apart from many others which are oriented towards the treatment of conditions. Hers is first and foremost a work of the spirit of the points.

While the book is slanted towards acupuncture, an appendix details other ways of treating the points including flower essences and essential oils. Dechar also weaves Taoist, Western Classical and Jungian archetypes into the work, and incorporates the mythology of the Taoist spirit animals.

The names of her 52 beloved friends are paramount: “In order to grasp the spirit-level meaning of the point names, I find that it is important to meditate not only their poetry but also on the wisdom contained in the graphic design and energetics of the original Chinese characters.” To this end the characters are displayed as clear graphics within the text, a riddle to be deciphered, a message in a bottle that has been waiting thousands of years to be opened.

Dechar unpacks the subtle meanings of the characters, not only of the points, but also those of the elements, organs, colours, spirits, directions and other resonances, making for an easy way into Classical Chinese for the newcomer. Standing firmly in the Five Element Acupuncture tradition, Dechar chooses points that are particular to spirit. The selections often surprise, as she includes points that might be overlooked in a more mechanical approach to treatment.

Her personal relationship to the points is evidenced by prefacing them with her own haiku, each an homage to the spirit of the point.  In fact, prose poetry is woven through the text which makes the book such a delight to read.

Dechar’s  52 “friends” are divided among the five elements. While it is impossible to find just one to reflect the richness of her tapestry, I’ve chosen an example that is appropriate to our southern spring.

Gall Bladder 24 – Sun and Moon – Ri Yue

日月

Spring equinox. Twilight.
The sun dips down behind my back
as I greet the rising moon.

The haiku provides a prologue to an exploration of the balance of yin and yang, inner and outer as they manifest both at the equinox and within ourselves. Then follows an unpicking of the characters of Ri Yue which illuminates the philosophical and spiritual implications of the Gall Bladder’s capacity for wise judgement, standing one’s ground, and the balance between extroversion and introversion, action and receptivity, speech and silence. Dechar then explores a clinical case of a woman whose hip surgery (which cut through Gall Bladder 30) leads to insights about her anxiety at the uncertainty of her plans. She takes us through the conversation of honouring both inner and outer, as if placing her hand on the door before inserting the needle that will open it.

The treatment of the points, however, is not formulaic and the structure of each varies. She offers needle techniques, treatment strategies, the use of words, touch, oils and flower essences to “open others and ourselves to these transcendent realms.”

Acupuncturists will find much to engage with in terms of needle technique and the incorporation of the whole practitioner into clinical practice. But equally practitioners of other modalities as well as patients and the interested layperson will find Kigo a fascinating tour of the seasons, the elements, and the points that are the vehicles for transforming body, psyche and spirit.

Kigo publication date 21 September 2020, Singing Dragon Press