Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reflections on the Harvest Season

A central theme in Chinese Medicine is the idea that our health, the ease with which we live, relates to the degree that our lives are harmonious with our environment. In fact, Chinese Medicine developed largely out of thousands of years of detailed observations of seasonal and climatic patterns, as well as animal and human social responses to those patterns.
We are in the midst of harvest season in the Bay Area. I've been doing a bit of gardening this year and am astounded, at this time, by the bounty dripping off the stalk and the vine. That's not to mention what's available at the farmers' markets and on discount at Berkeley Bowl. It's almost ridiculous how many juicy melons, peaches, grapes, squash and tomatoes can make their way into your kitchen at this time of year.
A teacher of mine makes the point that most of this produce is extremely perishable. Think of those peaches and tomatoes. We have two options: enjoy it right now, or preserve it in a form that will last into the winter months.
This points to a fundamental duality of this time of year: Harvest means celebration, but it is also a time to begin preparing for winter.
The Bay Area weather in September always highlights this duality. We revel in the hot late summer days, but we notice that those days are getting shorter and the nights colder.
I invite you to pause & reflect:
Do these themes resonate in your life?
What are you harvesting?
Is there celebration?
What is bountiful in your life?
In what ways can you relax and enjoy that bounty?
Another twist on the theme of celebration and abundance is the idea that more information might be available to us at this time of year.
My (Chinese-Indonesian) martial arts lineage, PGB White Crane Silat, celebrates the harvest moon festival every year during this month by honoring the teachers and students who came before us. One special feature of this ritual is that we may ask our teachers questions that would not be appropriate at any other time of the year. One of my martial arts brothers points out that this moment of generosity has to do, traditionally speaking, with the abundance of the harvest allowing us to relax just a bit more at this time.
Along that line, later in the season we have, in western traditional cultures, celebrations like Samhain and Dia de los Muertos. During these festivals, we say that the veil between the human and spirit worlds thins, allowing us to access more information than is usual during the rest of the year.
So we might reflect:
Is there new knowledge available at this time? New intuition or insights we might access through prayer or meditation?
What about insights gained through the very act of celebrating abundance?
This might not be a time to act on new knowledge, since we're supposed to be resting, celebrating and beginning to think of winter. But we can be aware. Perhaps we relax or seek quiet time that lets us notice new ideas or intuitions. Perhaps we gather with friends or family in celebration and notice how that changes us. These new ideas could become seeds that germinate in those dark winter months...
…. which leads me to address the other side of the harvest dichotomy:
In what ways are you beginning to prepare for winter?
What do you do to prepare for a time of greater cold and darkness? for what might be a time of less energy? More quiet? More inwardness?
I'll conclude with a little health advice :)
Honor the shorter days. Eat more earlier in the day and eat smaller meals in the evening.
Eating a light dinner before 7pm as your final meal of the day with help your digestion and assimilation of nutrients and build your immunity.
If possible, start taking short naps or at least close your eyes and rest for a moment in the early afternoons. This will help you build your energy reserves for winter.
Foodies: by all means, enjoy those tomatoes, melons, peaches & berries while they last!
Those juicy vegetables can help clear the body of heat or inflammation generated from stress or from those hot autumn days.
As the weather cools, we say in Chinese Medicine that our body fluids begin to consolidate. You might experience more phlegm accumulation or allergies. This is normal. Eating moist, juicy vegetables (late summer squash, bok choy, etc.) and broths with a little bit of fresh ginger at this time of year can help keep those fluids circulating in a healthy way. Later in the fall, we can think of increasing our intake of more dense, consolidated nutrients: more beans, rice, drier vegetables, root vegetables. But, for now, think juicy.
Finally, at this time of year, your acupuncturist can help by gently clearing “summer heat” and beginning to support your immune system for those winter months ahead!
Celebrate the harvest!
Thank you to teacher Liu Ming (, PGB White Crane Silat (, and Chris Andersen for your wisdom, traditions, and reflections which provided the content of this article.