Reap What You Sow – A further meditation on Chinese medicine, harvest and farming

Founder’s note: Here’s part two of new Chinese Medicine Central contributor Kimberly Brown’s article about farming, harvest and Chinese medicine. To read the first part, go here :

Even though farmers may be tired from the growing season, they do their very best to collect what will help them survive the darkest part of the year, shedding and transforming that which is not sustainable.

In this way, the entirety of the garden becomes efficient in its ability to grow more food. This form of seasonal transmutation is akin to that of a Chinese medicine practitioner who observes seasonal change, acts in accord, and thereby demonstrates to patients a balanced way of living. Much like farming practices, preventative medicine underpins the dynamic nature of the external environment and creates synergistic relationships to optimize bodily strength, and at the same time bolsters any bodily weakness.

Another farmer-oriented analogy, which I find to be a great way to relate concepts of classical Chinese medicine, is that of a seed: a rather genuine article and tangible item of sustainability. During autumn’s harvest, seed collection is at its height. A skillful farmer collects the seeds of the most successful plants, each which represents a direct and robust reminder of what has survived, and these capsules have the greatest potential to survive the following year. In essence, the garden is a pastoral canvas that becomes refined and redefined as the seasons dictate.

Harvest offers us all an opportunity to distill down to the essentials of life; to take stock of what resources are available.

It is now that we can consider what we would like to continue to pursue, and what other aspects of life can be better supported so that self-sufficiency and health are at an optimum. It is a time to streamline ideas and personal practices and to remove the excesses of the year, thereby fortifying our personal constitutions.

According to the Jieqi solar node this time of year is about Zhechong pei hu 蟄蟲培戶, a time when “Hibernating Insects Reinforce Their Shelters.” So it makes sense that when autumn draws to a close, as practitioners of Chinese medicine, we offer our patients skills and tools to reduce extraneous variables and to refine health at every potential level. Key concepts for our practices in medicine would include items such as dressing appropriately and eating foods that are nourishing to the body and spirit, which are essential to maintaining vitality for our patients.

A core concept that pertains to maintaining a good garden as well as optimum health is that of discipline.

Here with the context of a farmer’s life and the desire to sustain life through the winter months—a time when resources are naturally scarce in the external environment—motivation is a useful tool to get the job done. In a similar manner, a practitioner of health can assist patients plant ‘seeds of healthy change’, which will help shed and transform that which is not sustainable for our patients. Helping our patients prioritize personal goals ultimately gives our patients a more in-tuned and balanced approach to living. Keeping our patients balanced means keeping them healthy, and more likely to seek out healthier choices on their own.  This not only benefits our patients directly, but those around them as well. This idea is exemplified in Wilhelm’s I Ching, where he delineates the transformative progression of Hexagram 45 (Gathering) as it moves from its first position to the sixth.

As practitioners of Chinese medicine we are taught to remain in tune with the natural ebb and flow of our environment.

For me, the changes of our environment, and in particular the descending energy of autumn, is a form of refinement that goes beyond physical, the intellectual; it even goes beyond the esoteric. Instead it rests upon the ever present tangential, that which has the potential to rub you raw, if not to make you the diamond in the rough that you actually are.

I am not unlike the seeds that I collect from my garden: I am a product of my environment. And every autumn, I pare myself down again, distill my essence to that which is most important and that which somehow managed to make it through yet another year. These seeds represent my personal capsules of sustainability, as they have quite literally stood the test of nature’s hand.

The environment shapes our lives and refines our skills. Much like a farmer, I’ve learned that it is in my best interest to watch and participate in the environment’s patterns and act in accord. Autumn is a time where it is possible to observe what is viable and what is not. I’ve begun to harvest that which is abundant and remains important in my life, and leave behind that which is not.

Through this process, year after year, I gain a deeper perspective and have an opportunity to select what I will broadcast the following spring.

I’ve found this to be a worthy exercise, not only for myself, but for my patients as well. You could say that adopting the role of farmer has changed me in ways for the better. I’ve started to become a keen observer and participant in the game of life; I nurture viable seeds for my patients and myself and help to transform those aspects that cannot withstand the balance of nature’s scales.

To be a successful practitioner takes perspective and the ability to recognize patterns.

Harvest represents an excellent opportunity for us to participate in an annual and revolutionary change, and it is during this time that we can assist our patients through preventative and sustainable techniques. The changing of weather patterns are not unlike a disharmony caused by a diseased state and the conditions of the soil are more akin to a patient’s constitution than one might first imagine. Much like a skillful farmer, it is essential, as practitioners of health, to plant and cultivate beneficial concepts that will continue to grow in the seasons to come.

About Kimberly Brown

Upon returning from my sabbatical, I enrolled into the Classical Chinese Medicine program offered at the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM). I graduated four years later with a Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine—a degree that gives me a solid sense of compassion and a comprehensive understanding of the dynamic nature of health, pathology, and other dualistic patterns of thought. Learn more about Kimberly.

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