Two of my friends have mentioned that they were depressed recently. The first told me that listening to the recent political debate was the cause of her depression. The second didn’t identify a cause so much as to describe the extreme that these feelings had taken her to. It was only well after the fact that it occurred to me that they were being affected by, among other things, the energetic shift from summer to fall. With every change of season the body has to make adjustments. The earth energy, most closely associated with spleen, pancreas and stomach, has a big role in helping the body through transitional times. This refers to the physical organs but also to their associated meridians and to the more abstract functions related to earth, such as grounding oneself to connect more deliberately with the Earth. Earth is our source of yin energy. We need a plentiful supply of yin to feed all the internal organs.
Summer is a fire element season, and by its nature fire element is more energetic and enthusiastic. Fire season is a time of growth, the ripening of fruits and vegetables, and general joie de vivre. Summer starts with the longest day of the year. It has more hours of daylight than any other season (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). In Fall, the diminution of light becomes noticeable. As days grow shorter and darker there is a natural drop in vital energy. Sun is, after all, our ultimate source, powering all functions on the planet. Leaves fall off the trees. The movement of energy is downward. It’s the time that animals that hibernate prepare to withdraw. It is natural for us to feel this shift in a profound way. Yet our culture is not one that reinforces this awareness of our intimate connection with natural cycles.
The very label “depression” implies that something is wrong that needs to be corrected. This label only compounds the feelings that are generated at this season, because it adds a level of resistance to something that can otherwise be considered as natural. There is beauty in this season as well. But its rhythm is profoundly different from the season it follows.
Further, for most of us, the very energy that can aid us in making this transition is excruciatingly challenged in our hurry up disconnected stressed culture. We are in a constant state of alarm, triggered initially perhaps by childhood trauma, and exacerbated by constant news of terrorists, home security measures, tainted foods, plunging economic indicators. This state of alarm activates an energy system designed to protect us. However, it is not designed to be on full time alert. The most immediate cost we face as a result of this perpetual state of alert is a weakening of the Earth element organs: spleen, pancreas, and stomach. The logic, built into the body’s operating system, is that, in an emergency, the energy meridian most involved in protecting us, known as Triple Warmer, is allowed to access as much vital energy as it perceives that it needs. The meridians’ activity varies in two hour increments around what is known as the meridian clock. And it happens that the Triple Warmer meridian is in a relationship of polarity with the Spleen meridian. That makes Spleen the easiest place from which Triple Warmer can “borrow” energy. This would not have a negative impact if the loan were temporary. But in a permanent state of alert, the spleen begins to operate at a deficit, and it doesn’t have enough energetic support to assist in the transition from one season to the next. It is no longer available to help a person integrate their life experiences. Eventually the depletion of Spleen/Pancreas energy affects everything related to its element, Earth.
When Spleen is operating optimally, it is the energy that adds a visionary perspective. It helps us see the big picture. It sponsors imaginative solutions to problems. Spleen energy can help someone notice a change in mood, and, rather than think “something’s wrong with me” observe that they are simply profoundly connected, aligned with properties associated with the change of season. From this perspective it is easier to attribute a mood shift to that natural rhythm. The result is less pain, and an ability to apply greater internal resources to changing one’s pace.
Another characteristic of Triple Warmer energy is that it resists change. Our culture has embedded the notion that we should be productive at the same level and in the same manner in every hour of the day, and every season on the year. But our vital energies do not support this cultural attitude. Until we understand the cycles of nature that we are involuntarily profoundly aligned with, this dissonance creates an internal conflict which is very difficult to resolve. Perhaps it can only be resolved as one comes to understand the nature of the elements and the energetic changes that accompany seasonal changes. But because the overall culture does not appreciate or even acknowledge these qualities, it attributes deviation from some standard level of productivity as deviant. These cultural limitations broadcast constant messages telling us that we are not measuring up to the way we should be.
At first, as the culture imposes standardization through early childhood schooling among other avenues, the majority of children are able to conform to these superficial standards. Yet over time there is a tremendous cost to having done so. However, the cost may not show itself for many years. And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the system begins to break down. The whole body rebels against the unnatural operational rhythm that has been forced upon it.
Joseph Chilton Pierce speaks to this, using the phrase “culture is the enemy of biology”. (Joseph Chilton Pearce: The Biology of Transcendence - Living Dialogues w/ Duncan Campbell on YouTube). Culture, according to Pearce, has a vested interest in keeping the populace operating from the hind brain, stuck in fight, flight, or freeze. Its institutions are directed toward this end. Yet individuals can step outside of that framework, one by one. Pearce is not the first one to recommend detaching from the mundane issues faced within the culture in which we reside. Almost every spiritual tradition has documented methods of stepping outside of the fray, connecting at a deeper level with one’s internal self and with the spiritual energies that support us and guide humanity’s evolution.
The first step occurs when one becomes aware of the ways in which one is bound within a framework that one hasn’t chosen, but rather has been imposed upon us. As cultural diversity increases, it is easier to become aware that we can make choices, that the variety of choices are all valid, that each makes contributions and requires sacrifices. And with this growing awareness there are increasing possibilities to step outside of the restraints of culture altogether.
My favorite way to begin this journey is with a deepening understanding of five element theory from the Taoist tradition. I like the perspective it offers me, the help in unraveling a variety of dilemmas. Yet it is far from the only valid way!