Reap What You Sow – Chinese medicine lessons in farming

Founders note: This article is one of two parts – to read the second part, click here.  This is also the first of many coming articles by new Chinese Medicine Central contributor, Kimberly Ann Brown.  Enjoy. -e

The symbols behind harvest expand beyond the literal context of gathering fruits from the former half of the year.

Harvest also marks a time of transition, which drastically affects the environment and, in turn, every one of our patients. Much of us are versed in the multitude of ways to create health for our patients with our herbal formulas and acupuncture techniques, yet what I’ve learned as a roaming garden gnome of sorts, is that harvest time gives us an additional, more powerful opportunity to change patient lifestyles and create sustainable avenues for the pursuit of health.

What I’ve gleaned from the word harvest, as a farmer and a poet and disciple of Chinese medicine, is that whatever you broadcast in the spring, be it plant or idea, if placed correctly, this will sustain you through the darkest part of our yearly dance around the sun. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, oftentimes, it is not so simple. Most of us tend to plant a lot more than we can manage, and this leads to unnecessary stress, a lack of personal focus, and, not surprisingly, an opportunity for pathogenic agents to affect our health.

With that being said, it can be hard to know where to start when one seeks to understand the heart of harvest time.

It can be even harder to find the right medium to transmit harvest’s essence to our patients.  Of course, this is critical, as the principles we use to govern ourselves as practitioners should also become teachings for our patients as they look for right relationship with nature and themselves.  In general, I find some of the symbolism from Chinese medicine  is difficult for non-Chinese patients to understand.  This is particularly true in rural parts of the United States and other areas undernourished by social health care systems. As a result, I consult our foundational Chinese medical and philosophical texts and look for classical counterparts in contemporary society to make the symbols more real-to-life for my patients.

The life of a farmer during harvest is a befitting analogy for practitioners of Chinese medicine because, much like a farmer, it behooves our profession to follow the successions of seasonal change.  This is particularly true during harvest time. This closing of an annual cycle comes second nature to a farmer due to the profession’s close ties to the rhythms of the sun, the resulting patterns of life and death, and the inherent and dynamic relationship between the two extremes.

This is not unlike the core principles and practices for Chinese medicine, which are elegantly outlined in the Daode jing, and in particular a verse lifted from Chapter 16:

“Everything flourishes; each returns to its root
Returning to the root is called tranquility
Tranquility is called returning to one’s nature
Returning to one’s nature is called constancy
Knowing constancy is called clarity.”

This is the annual time of year when discipline is at a climax and a farmer must work in accord with the seasons while discerning between that which is weak and that which is strong.

Farmers act in a manner with scythe in hand as they spend autumn’s days harvesting summer’s vegetation, all the while maintaining fledgling crops for the winter season. The goal is to have maximum amounts of viable fruits and vegetables cut, dried and on their respective ways to being eaten or preserved before the first frost. And here’s the kicker: frost is the absolute deadline for getting the act of ‘harvest’ all done, and the date for first frost is never fully known beforehand. In short: the task of harvesting contains a great deal work in a brief span of unpredictable time, so the farmer remains steadfast in his pursuits to gather the year’s yield, knowing that inefficiency will result in unfavorable consequences.

As a result, most farmers I’ve worked alongside tend to become more introspective in their work, letting the physicality of the tasks dictate their day, setting the timetables for eating and sleeping, thereby reserving strength through the farmer’s ever-present motto: Work smarter, not harder.

The Huangdi Neijing’s second chapter offers similar advice for harvest time:

“…The three months of autumn, they are meant to be peaceful and calm, the sky is high and the wind is rushing, the earth is cool and dry, go to bed early and get up early, follow the rooster’s life schedule, in order to keep the conscious stable and safe, and soften the autumn harsh energy, withdraw the emotion and mind to fit into the calmness of the autumn energy….”

Look forward to the rest of this post tomorrow…

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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