Intuitively we know that there’s a different seasonal energy in play as the year flows. The length of each day, the temperature, our social calendars and our own motivation have an impact on what we feel like doing and the intensity with which we do it.
And yet, our culture tells us that we can have anything, at any time.
Tropical fruits are flown into supermarkets all year round; strawberries grown in plastic covered polytunnels are available in December; apples shipped round the world in Spring.
That’s not how nature works and I believe it’s not how our natures work either.
Our lives are meant to be savoured moment by moment, enjoying each activity at its right time.
Cultivating patience and gratitude for the season and the moment we’re inhabiting is fundamental to slowing down and beginning to understand that ‘right time’.
As I’ve started to pay more attention to the shifts of the cycle of the year, I’ve found it helpful to think about the seasons in terms of Yin and Yang, concepts from Chinese and Taoist philosophy which describe the endless duality of the universe; the dance between the two forces of life.
Yin and Yang: A quick guide
Yin and Yang describe opposite energies, but not opposing ones – rather, twin forces which are interconnected, interdependent, and essential to the flow of life.
Yin is characterised as passive and feminine, connected to the physical elements of darkness, cold, moon, and water. It is associated with the inward-moving concepts of spontaneity, receptivity, cooperation, the body and the inner world.
Yang is active and masculine in nature, physically manifested in the sun, heat, dryness and light. It is also manifested in the mind, giving, competitiveness, productivity and outward moving energy.
The seasons in yin and yang
When we think of the seasons within this framework, the underlying energies become clear.
Winter is yin within yin: the time of year when we turn inwards, rest most, and explore our inner worlds.
Summer is the opposite: yang within yang, where the active, outward impulse is at its peak.
Spring and Autumn contain elements of both forces; Spring containing yin within its mainly yang nature and Autumn containing yang within its fundamental yin.
Seeing things in this way has helped me to better feel the two extremes and to understand the way my energy, and the energy of the land, shifts within that.
So how do we use that seasonal energy?
Understanding these rhythms is one thing, but how can we use them in our lives? Does this mean we should be racing round like maniacs in summer and lying in a dark room all winter?
No, in a word. It’s important to remember that life is never purely yang or yin. There’s a dance between the two, a sweet balance that’s never 50-50 but that I think of more as a constant and endless flow; a infinite spiral that always flows back towards balance.
So it might feel just as important to cultivate the yin energies of rest and receptivity to balance out summer’s frenzy, as it is to find ways to keep ourselves warm and active in winter with spicy food and hot drinks. The shade of the trees and the cool water of the river are what I crave on hot summer days; they balance out the yang energy of a hot summer afternoon, providing refreshing relief.
(As a feminist, I’ve also found the concept of the passive feminine problematic, so here’s a quick note on that: It’s important to remember that “feminine” in this context is not the same as “woman”. We all have a blend of masculine and feminine qualities; part of the work of feminism is to make space for those qualities to be celebrated and embodied by all genders. Where men are as able to be celebrated for their passive, spontaneous natures as women are for their intellectual, competitive prowess. I think the balance and honouring of yin and yang as equals supports that work.)
Here’s how I’ve found it useful to translate this theory into my day to day life:
Just recognising the specific energy of the season we’re in, and comparing that to how I feel and what’s actually happening outside (we might be having an especially yin summer if there’s lots of cool and rain, or I might be in a very yang stage of my life) is an enlightening exercise.
2. Planning my year
We tend to take time off in Summer and Winter, and that’s no accident. These are the times of year when we’re at the two extremes of these drives, and so it makes sense to give ourselves space to experience them. Save big work projects for the Spring and Autumn; typically the quarters where most business takes place.
3. Preparing for what’s coming
Knowing that nothing stays the same, and that contrasting energy is always coming to moderate the season we’re in, is a vital part of learning to live with the seasons. It gives us the freedom to fully embrace the present moment, whilst reassuring us that it won’t continue forever. Struggling to motivate yourself in a summer slump? Be patient, take naps, and wait for Autumn’s cooler days to bring you back to earth.
Being aware of the energy that’s going on means you can focus only on what matters and let go of pressure to get everything done, all the time. It’s August and I’m preparing for two weeks off to socialise, swim in the river and eat fresh ripe fruit. That’s my focus and it means I’m not stressed about the work I won’t be getting done when the days are long and there’s lots of parties and holidays to enjoy.
Did I miss something?
Have you found it helpful to think about the seasons in terms of yin and yang energy, or is there a different way of thinking about seasonal energy that’s helpful? Leave a comment below – I’d love to know what you think.