By Vicky Lee
The assignment was to relate our nascent understanding of Yin/Yang principles to the following passage of the I Ching:
In winter the life energy, symbolized by thunder, the Arousing, is still underground. Movement is just at its beginning; therefore it must be strengthened by rest so that it will not be dissipated by being used prematurely. This principle, i.e., of allowing energy that is renewing itself to be reinforced by rest, applies to all similar situations. The return of health after illness, the return of understanding after an estrangement: everything must be treated tenderly and with care at the beginning, so that the return may lead to a flowering.
“Today I spent 4 hours chipping ice off the roof. Took a long walk with Blue in the woods where we found coyote scat.
It’s February – time to order seeds.”
My friend Sam’s Facebook entry offered a perfect platform for this exercise. Frankly, I was not
really feeling the assigned passage until I read Sam’s post and realized that only eight months
removed from Colorado, I had already become disengaged from nature and its cycles. Being in the
urban environment and being in school doesn’t allow a period of dormancy, rest or renewal.
However, my friend Sam, who lives in the Western Catskills, spent the weekend being a part of the
natural cycle. I will imagine myself there with him.
It is February, winter and yin. The garden is buried beneath snow piles, hiding the dormant yang of
growth to come. February can be the cruelest month – because we’re getting restless (a sign that
yang is stirring within though the cold still inhibits us). Nearing the end of a long, shady, cold yin
season, it’s not so much that we see definitive signs of spring arriving, but little indications that
winter is doing its laundry, so to speak, before packing up to move on. So the temperatures are still
cold, but more temperate. Precipitation is getting wetter and softer. Patches of ground are
beginning to reveal in flat open fields. There is no life yet in the grass, but the lengthening days of
sun will soon remedy that. The solstice having passed, the days are growing longer, so yang politely
adds minutes of light each day as yin just as politely yields.
We can be ungenerous about yin. We can begrudge the cold and the dark and enforced retreat, but
we know that it is only playing its part in the dance of interdependence. Yang cannot arise without
having rested. It is always moving until yin puts it to bed for a needed nap. If winter never came,
plants and soil would become sickly from overgrowth and nutritional depletion. They would lose
their ability to know when to reproduce and when to conserve themselves. Animals would also
overproduce and soon outnumber available resources.
Despite the time of enforced rest, there are still things that must be counterbalanced. Although ice
(a yin expression) is expected in winter, it can overwhelm when there is too much in one place. On
the roof, it can crack gutters and send daggers down to cause damage. Elsewhere, it can cause pipes
to burst. The weight of snow on the roof can also cause it to collapse and must be pushed off. So, as
homeowners, we must raise up a little yang and with our own hands, help to counterbalance the
yin, which might grow too replete and overwhelming. Should the pipes burst, or the roof collapse,
it will be as if yin intertransforms into yang and we must contain the damage of it bursting out or
collapsing in. So we chip at the ice, we shovel the snow; we run warm water or insulate the pipes.
We take walks in the woods. Studies have shown that light exercise in winter like walking outdoors
even for as little as 10 minutes a day can boost the immune system. So it is not okay to allow
oneself to go completely dormant. If so, we lose the ability to ward off external evils. We should
not overexert ourselves and tax our systems, but we exercise a little activity in the external world
to keep our bodies warm and moving and defended (yang functions). In the woods we see coyote
scat but no coyote. Evidence that life is still happening. Predators and scavengers still hunt and
scavenge, but they spend more time out of sight and resting. They are probably dreaming of
summer, when rabbits will be abundant and picnic areas littered with food.
After our walk, we warm ourselves by the fire, fortifying ourselves with soup. Our favorite nonactive
activity is ordering seeds, so that we will be ready for spring when yang will burst out of its
long winter’s sleep, and “the return may lead to a flowering.”