Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Anecdote for the Beginning of Winter

I sat down to write an essay about the Kidney in Chinese Medicine and its symbolic relationship to winter, and I ended up writing about a set of surprising and delightful experiences I had in my community during the past week.

Because Chinese Medicine is not just about chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, but also poetically invokes the relationship between our bodies and our natural and social environments, I'm happy to share this anecdote with readers before I go on to write more specifically about winter health.


Last week, something special happened in my life that doesn't happen very often. And, it actually happened two times, on two separate occasions with two separate individuals.

Twice, I found myself sitting in a cozy room, chatting over tea and snacks with elders from my neighborhood. As we got to talking, and as I asked more and more curious questions, these wonderful elders ended up telling me their life stories (in abbreviated form, of course).

Both of these individuals had lived fascinating lives. One was an African American man who's family, through railroad jobs, had settled in a small town in the California Sierras in the 1940s. This man described to me his idyllic childhood in this cooperatively-oriented small town, and went on to tell me about his military training in the Jim Crow South, his work on freight ships, and more. His wife assures me, I haven't even heard the beginning.

The other individual shared with me equally interesting stories of a life lived between Germany, small-town California, Pakistan, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Also that week, at a cozy neighborhood cafe, I attended my neighbor's reading of his recently published memoir. This neighbor shared outlandish tales from his childhood in an Italian-American family in Buffalo, New York.

By the end of this week, I marveled to myself. What on earth accounted for this unusual confluence of events-- hearing wondrous tales from three colorful lives of people in my community? Mostly, in our modern urban life, we rush around, share pleasantries, and don't get to know one another too deeply.

My conclusion was that this week symbolized the beginning of winter for me, the beginning of Kidney time. Wintertime in Chinese medicine symbolizes the end of a cycle. It is a time for slowing down, drawing inward, and reflecting on our lives. It's a time for going deep. In wintertime, our yang energy sinks deep into our bodies warming us from within as the external environment becomes cold. The sensory organ associated with winter and the Kidney is the ear, symbolizing that winter is a time for listening deeply and being receptive, instead of active. Winter relates to the end of life, to ancestral spirits.

So, by mysterious coincidence, this past week, my neighbors and I slowed down for a few precious hours together. I had the chance to listen deeply. They had the chance to reflect on their lives. We tuned into the ancestral spirits by evoking old family stories. We shared cozy indoor warmth, despite the cold outdoor weather, and, through our camaraderie, warmed our spirits from within.

What a cozy way to welcome the Yin time of the year!