By Matthew Brewer
The Dao of Sprouting
The three months of spring are called
putting forth and displaying.
and Earth all sprout.
The ten thousand things become lush
At night to bed, early to rise.
walk around the courtyard.
Let your hair down and relax the body in
order to make that which is of the
Sprout but do not kill. Give but do not
Reward but do not punish.
This is the Spring compliance of qi
the cultivation of the Dao of sprouting.
To oppose these principles injures the liver.
Summer will bring cold changes,
there will be little to offer one’s growth.
(Neijing Chapter 2)
Spring is the time of
sprouting. The Chinese character that I
translate here as ‘sprouting’ is sheng 生,
which depicts a plant growing out of the earth.
It means ‘to begin to open’, ‘to begin to blossom’ and more generally
‘to come into existence’, ‘to give birth’, ‘to live’.
The months of Spring are called
‘putting forth fa,發
and displaying chen, 陳.’ Fa means ‘to send out’, ‘to emit’, ‘to
release’ like an arrow from a bow. It is
the same word that we use in Taiji in the phrase fa jin 發勁,
the ability to release a great deal of power with little effort. Chen means ‘to spread out’, ‘to
arrange’, ‘to display’. Spring then is
the time of opening when everything in the world begins to grow, sending out
shoots and buds. The yin of winter is
followed by the yang of spring.
This is the time to return to
activity, ‘briskly walking around’ after having hibernated over winter. The energy that we have been storing can now
be used and enjoyed. Still, we are
reminded to let our hair down and to relax the body. Interestingly, the character for the word
most commonly used for relaxation in the internal arts, song, 鬆 depicts long hair髟 hanging
Being more energetic does not
mean that we have to be tense, either physically or mentally. Relaxation allows the zhi 志,
that which is of the heart/mind to sprout.
The zhi was spoken of in our passafe from the Neijing on Winter,
which told us to keep it ‘as though hidden, as though concealed’. often
translated as ‘will’, shi is the faculty which identifies and works
towards goals and things that we want. the character shows a plant growing out of the heart/mind and on the most
basic level means ‘that towards which the heart is growing’ and more generally
‘goal’, ‘purpose’, ‘wish’. Remember that
for the Daoists the heart/mind is our true self, not our ego junk. ‘That
towards which the heart is growing,’ is about becoming genuinely ourselves.
Now is the time to activate the
zhi through relaxed activity. It
is a generous time of giving and nurturing life. It is a good time to reflect on the direction
in which we are headed and the way we are proceeding.
Zhi is of the kidneys, now is the time when the energy that we stored in the
kidneys comes to the surface to be used, just as fish return to the surface of
the pond having spent all winter resting at the bottom.
In terms of the five elements,
springtime is dominated by the element of
Wood, mu 木. Wood is strong and flexible. It is what the poet Dylan
Thomas called, ‘the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.’ Its organs are the liver and gall
bladder. Physically the liver has to do
with the putting forth and spreading out (fa chen) of qi and blood. It affects our flexibility and vision on all
levels. In nourishing the tendons it
keeps us physically flexible and it makes the eyes bright and clear. It also
has a strong effect on one’s mood and clarity of mind. It enables us to look and plan towards goals,
mundane and spiritual, while giving us the mental flexibility to adapt to
The functioning of the gall bladder is closely tied to that the of
the liver. Physically it aids the digestion of fats and
oils. Mentally and spiritually it is the decision
maker. It is what allows us to make
split-second decisions and gives us the courage to take action.
This is why it is important to
take special care of the liver in spring. When healthy, the liver and gall
bladder enable you to move toward that which you have set your heart on. When
unhealthy it makes us short tempered and angry. Anger arises when we are
prevented from doing what we want to do.
A healthy liver can help us to respond more calmly to obstacles in our
path; to smoothly adapt and change rather than getting stuck.
Spring is the beginning of the
yang cycle of the seasons. Like all
beginnings it starts slowly and gently.
Doing the same will keep us healthy.
It is tempting to rush out on the first warm, sunny day in Spring and go
for a very long walk or cycle ride. This
is too much too soon. It is always best
to follow the season. When the green
tips of plants are just emerging, we can do the same in our activity, starting
gently and slowly. Later as the earth
warms up and the plants grow more vigorously we can follow suit.
Heaven and Earth is the neigong set that is particularly suited tp
Spring, as it directly activates the wood element in the body. It clears
and tonifies the liver. It helps all of the body’s tissues lenthen and
grow, making it strong and flexible. It cirulates blood and qi. Most
importantly it strengthens and harmonises all of the opening and closing
actions of the body, the natural pulsations of life.
Eating what is in season is always a very good way to comply with the qi of the time. So in spring eat plenty of green leafy
vegetables and sprouts, mung beans, broccoli, etc.. When it is cool cooking your food is better,
but as it warms up you can eat more salads.
Read the next in the series:
© Matthew Brewer, 2010.