“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.“
– Lao Tzu
In July in the Southern Hemisphere we are in the depths of winter – that deep dark Yin place of stillness, hibernation and rest. The mysterious and all-pervasive impetus for growth has stilled. The soil temperatures are cool and flower buds that have birthed from their seeds are still just kernels of potential, waiting.
Winter can be hard for some peeps. It can get you down, especially if life has also thrown in some tough times or big changes. In winter it’s easier to descend into the deeper layers of consciousness (the sub and unconscious) to places where the script is written. There can be great fear and resistance from most to go there and experience it.
From a Chinese Medicine treatment perspective, winter is a very important season for rejuvenation and renewal. Daoist and Buddhist traditions (as well as many styles of psychology) would posit that it is from sitting with yourself, with a non-judgemental attitude and willingness to just see what’s there and be with it, that enables transformation and disintegrates old constructs. What is liberated provides the alchemical building blocks for the new.
If you’re the kind of person who struggles in the cold, each year you may wonder how to cope with winter in a way that is less defeating, more empowering.
Since water is the element of the winter season, I like to look to the wisdom of water for answers.
What Can Water Teach Us About How To Cope With Winter?
Often when we are feeling low or defeated, we put pressure on ourselves to ‘pull ourselves up by the bootstraps’ and DO something about how we are feeling. The lesson that water’s wisdom wants you to learn is …. (drum roll):
(Huh? Say what? No way. That’s silly. I.Feel.Like.Shit. Something’s got to change!)
Water teaches: hold fast in the darkness, get comfortable with the not knowing and stay present to the tension. (You’ll need a touch of faith.) This is the time we use our will to not do, even if every part of us is screaming to take action, to fix the problem, to make everything ok.
At this stage we follow the left-hand path, the path of Yin. We trust, we wait and surrender to the unknown.
‘When one stays in the darkness long enough, one begins to see.’ -C.G. Jung, Alchemical Studies
Think about how water behaves in the face of resistance. When it encounters stones, fallen logs, steep cliffs in its path, it does not attempt to change the obstacle. It yields. It softens. It makes room for the hindrance and continues on its way.
A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive.
“I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me,” he said. “Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”
Now, I hope you think this is not some ‘new age’ woo woo, even if talking about the wisdom of the elements is new or weird at first.
But I’m not making this shiz up. The wisdom of the elements is based on a founding concept of Taoism.
The Principle of WU WEI
In the Tao de Ching, Lao Tzu explains that beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony with the Tao behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way.
The planets effortlessly revolve around the sun without any sort of control, force or attempt to revolve themselves. Instead, they engage in easy, spontaneous movement, as does all nature (generally speaking).
So the goal of spiritual practice for the human being is, according to Lao Tzu, attaining this purely natural way of behaving.
How to Cope with Winter Using Effortless Action
There is another, less commonly referenced interpretation of Wu Wei:
Action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort.
In this instance, Wu means “without” and Wei means “effort”. The concept of “effortless action” is a part of the Taoist internal martial arts such as Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua and Xing Yi.
This effortless action is so counter-intuitive in a modern lifestyle. It’s like the opposite of “efforting”. We are trained to believe that dealing with emotional challenges, physical challenges, sadness and suffering involves considerable effort to bring about change.
But the wisdom of water and Wu Wei are here to bring the opposite lesson: Stop trying to force things through, with the power of your will. Perhaps there is a greater will at play that you can align yours with. Be receptive, be yourself.
Just let go and wait for the growth to begin.
To start, think about an aspect of your life that you can release the vice-like grip of control over.
Consider the notion that whatever it is, it has arrived to make you thrive by adapting to your environment. Just as trees grow stronger due to adverse weather conditions, so do we. Life is a process of unceasing transformations. What doesn’t transform, what can’t adapt, dies. Inside the challenge is precious growth. Can you hold space for this idea?
Change will come. This is certain. The wheel is turning, a new cycle of seasons will inevitably begin, new growth will come. The cycle of life is always turning. This holds true no matter what.
This winter, feel the wisdom of water and Wu Wei so that you can enter spring renewed and rejuvenated. After all, that is precisely what winter is for.
How do you cope with winter? Let us know in the comments below.