On the eve of Summer, it is pouring with rain in Cambridge – again. The English weather has been so hesitant in recent weeks, repeatedly stepping forward into fleeting moments of glorious sun before losing heart and retreating back into dampness. For it is truly an arduous transition from Spring into Summer, one which in the UK is sometimes missed entirely so that we slide into Autumn without ever really witnessing the full, naked, joyful, unapologetic glory of nature under a hot bright sun.
Us human beings can also easily miss our own Summers, with dampening self-doubt holding us back forever in a springtime of good ideas, training and planning. I, for one, am well aware of how this damp energy can smother the spark of courage and resolve so vital to stepping through our deepest fears to emerge from the shadows and reveal our true selves. So we make do with the drizzly ante-chamber of shining, instead of experiencing the joy of expressing ourselves fully with our own voice and bestowing our own beautiful gifts on the world.
Nature’s cyclical preparation for brilliance
The truth is that, in all of nature, it takes a great amount of preparation and of energy to break through from Spring into Summer – or from Wood to Fire in Chinese Five Phase (Element) terms.
Summer’s brilliance is the culmination of a process that began back in the previous Autumn, when the natural world (after the Summer) turned in on itself, with plants shedding what they no longer needed in their falling leaves and drawing their essence down into their roots. Then that essence was stored and nourished through the long Winter of deep (Yin) contraction, stillness and reunion before vigorously reemerging in Spring’s phase of vibrant growth.
Only the full development of each of these seasons provides the solid foundation and the plentiful reserves needed for nature’s expansive (Yang) energy to make it to its peak in the splendour of a bright, hot Summer.
For us too, it is the foundations laid in such cyclical preparation that are key to surely and safely moving in our lives out of the Wood energy of Spring and into the Fire energy of Summer – of open-Hearted love, joy, passion, generosity, courage and the magnificent expression of our true selves.
Don’t Just Do It
We tend to be urged to open ours Heart to be well. And our Heart is the organ of Fire (according to Chinese Five Phase theory, in which these cycling energies are each associated with different organs), so its opening indeed represents our blossoming. But this good advice has in the past sometimes left me feeling confused, vulnerable and inadequate, as, while it sounded like a lovely idea, I did not know how to do so in a safe or sustained way.
I was right to feel so. We put our defences and ceilings in place to protect our tenderest parts. It is neither advisable nor easy to smash through them and to try to move fully into the energy of Fire – to open one’s Heart and to step out into the limelight – without first being sure to have cultivated the necessary strong roots and resources. It is not a good idea to Just Do It.
Instead we should trust in the example of nature, where the interdependence of the Five Phase cycle underlies all being and the climactic glory of Summer is built on foundations that are carefully laid in the previous seasons.
So whether or not we are ready to open our Heart – the Emperor and the governor of our emotional and spiritual well-being – depends on the health of the other four key organs: our Kidneys (Water, Winter), Liver (Wood, Spring), Lungs (Metal, Autumn) and our Spleen (Earth, holding the centre).
Our emotions can give us some insight into this health status, for each organ has associated negative emotions that both reflect and feed energetic imbalance in that particular organ. The Five Element organ relationships are intricate, but let me try to paint a possible picture of how disharmony in their cycle can prevent us from opening our Heart and from accessing our true power.
If we constantly worry about things, this is a sign of damp Spleen energy, which will feed doubt in our Heart. If our Lung energy is out of balance, we will be filled with sadness, lack resolve and have no real sense of our own essence or truth, so opening into the Heart-felt expression of our destiny will be all-but impossible.
When our Kidney energy is weak, we become fearful and lack the drive to truly open up, achieving only moments of agitated and ungrounded just-do-it brilliance that leave us exhausted and depleted.
And if our Liver energy is lacking or stagnant, we have too little wood on our fire to feed a brilliant blaze and become frustrated and angry as we find ourselves blocked in our lives. We no longer believe that we have what it takes and lack the courage to take the risks that would actually nourish our Heart. So we repeatedly lose heart, giving up on even the best of projects and, instead of blossoming into the ecstatic freedom a fulfilled and open Heart, we find our Heart closing into meanness of spirit.
Turning the cycle round
In Daoism, our body is the home of our spiritual life. Qigong practice offers us the tools, by reconnecting with our physical selves, to harmonise the energy of each of our key organs and to thereby recycle their negative emotions into positive energy.
So, with committed practice, what was a negative cycle becomes a virtuous one. Each organ – like the seasons – provides us with the foundational qualities that move our energetic cycle forward towards Fire, allowing us to naturally feel ready to open our Hearts and become the person we were born to be.
So our Spleen provides us with grounded serenity and focus, our Lungs with self-confident discernment and resolve as we access our inner treasures, our Kidneys with the wisdom of gentle self-acceptance and the will to fulfil our destiny, and our Liver with self-esteem, self-clemency, clear vision and faith.
With these qualities in place, our Heart’s own Fire is fed and we build the energy and courage we need to move into our power. For, if we are to access Fire’s true energy, we have to face our deepest fears as we step out of our comfort zone and into unknown territory, with no clue of the outcome.
As we take that risk of moving from the familiar promise of Spring into the uncharted beauty of Summer, only fierce, single-minded and decisive action will carry us through the reluctance and self-doubt that, even with the best of preparation, will surely raise its head.
Nature finds itself at this terrifying pass right now. It remains to be seen whether it will make it through into full-blown Summer this time round.