The Sooner Summer
by David Derdiger, L.Ac.
With the recent frigid rains and overcast skies, “summer’s coming soon!” might not be the first thought on your mind. Today, May 5th, marks 立夏 - lìxià, or “Establishing Summer” in the Chinese calendrical system known as the Twenty-Four Solar Terms (節氣 - jiéqì).
In fact, all of the seasons in this system begin six weeks prior to their Western counterparts. By the time the Summer Solstice comes around, it is already halfway through summer in the Twenty-Four Solar Terms, and is known as 夏至 - xiàzhì, meaning “Summer’s Utmost.”
So, what we in the West habitually think of as the start of each season, is rather interpreted to be its peak, the time that each season’s 氣 - qì becomes so obvious you’d have to be comatose not to notice it.
Beginning six weeks ahead, this puts the start of spring in early February, the start of summer in early May, autumn in early August, and winter early November. While it may seem strange to mark the beginning of spring in what is arguably the coldest and most brutal part of Chicago winter, seeds do not give rise to sprouts that break ground in a single day.
This concept of phenomena having subtle beginnings draws parallels with thought processes in Chinese medicine. In classical Chinese medicine, by the time typical symptoms of disease or disharmony have reached the level of average conscious perception, the underlying processes that give rise to these imbalances have already long been at work. Just as early Chinese farmers would notice subtle changes in the qi of the environment that heralded changes of season, so too were doctors noticing subtle changes in the qi of their patients that signified the beginnings of disharmony.
The practice of Chinese medicine is quite capable at addressing acute and chronic conditions, though it’s true strength lies in the cultivation of health and longevity, thereby preventing the development of disharmony and disease. This is achieved through proper diet, sleep, exercise, and emotional balancing. When all these pillars are in place and disharmony still leads to disease, then the acupuncturist is called upon to restore the body’s natural self-healing capacity.
If we can learn to perceive our disharmonies from their subtlest beginnings then we can weather any storm, survive the harshest colds, and reap the greatest harvests. Learn to detect subtlety by taking up a contemplative activity like meditation, taiji quan, prayer, or yoga; it can even be something as simple as taking five minutes out of your day to stand and observe the movements of a lake or river. Learning to perceive the subtle messages our body-minds can tell us will go a long way to keep them from needing to scream in pain to get our attention.
David Derdiger, L.Ac.
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