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Navigating the Unknown in the Yin Season: Seasonal Tea Club Winter 2023-24

Navigating the Unknown in the Yin Season: Seasonal Tea Club Winter 2023-24

Autumn drifts into Winter. We enjoy the last consistent warm days of October amidst frequent afternoon rain. November and December are typically the driest months as the northern hemisphere becomes cold and contracted. The last of the Autumn leaves fall from the trees and the barrenness across the landscape portends chilly days and long cold nights. During the transition, the Metal and Water elements whirl around each other as the sun sets earlier in the gradual descent to the winter solstice. We bring out our boxes of scarves, hats, sweaters, jackets and most importantly, jars of dark, aged sheng Puerh, earthy meditative shou Puerh, heavily roasted Oolongs, Black teas for boiled tea sessions, and rich malty Dian Hong red teas. For a lot of folks, this transition to the yin time of the year is depressing as social events become less frequent and less time is spent outside. However, following nature’s lead means taking this time to rest, rejuvenate, introspect, meditate and store one’s vital energy. We give ourselves permission to simplify our schedules, stock up on books, puzzles, knitting, quiet projects, longer tea sessions with loved ones, and meditation. This is the time of year to cultivate our deep wisdom and to connect with our interior lives. We emulate the trees, dropping anything extraneous and descending into ourselves. For folks particularly prone to depression during the “dark” part of the year, you might consider increasing these activities to keep your mind, body and spirit in a positive space: meditation twice daily, morning tea and journaling, brief cold exposure at the end of showers, the Philips GoLite Lamp for your desk, removing caffeine after 3 pm to ensure deep sleep, gentler exercises like yoga, qi gong, kettle bell, and long walks. We include some journal prompts below, but also stay tuned to our Instagram page as we’ll be going deeper into winter themes and appropriate teas throughout November, December and January. 


The classics of Chinese medicine say that the essence of the water element is wisdom and that wisdom emerges when we honestly face our deep fears. The darkness of winter, and the tendency of water to find its way to the deepest places, speaks to our relationship to the unknown. Usually, we are more afraid of what we don’t know than what we do. What we do know feels more manageable because we know what we’re working with. Most of our fears arise from our relationship to the unknown, to being lost, to not being able to see clearly. Yet, as Carl Jung notes, “when we stay in the darkness long enough, we begin to see.” During this introspective time of the year, we can develop the understanding that fear is transformed by accepting and embracing the unknown. Most of us expend much of our life energy trying to control our lives and everything around us, making everything known, and depleting our will-power. This fear-based approach to life blocks the innate wisdom that arises out of the unknown. In fact, all knowing is grounded in not knowing. True knowing or direct knowing is not an activity of the mind. It’s not about factual information, reasoning, deducing, forming conclusions or intellectualizing. Direct understanding is closer to a gut feeling, an intuitive understanding as distinct from sense perception, the truth that arises moment by moment and appropriate to that particular moment. When we are perpetually “lost in thought” or addicted to thought, this often reflects a fear of accepting the unknown and practicing presence. Through meditation and quiet tea practice, we develop a more readily available comfort with putting down incessant thinking. We stop placing a filter on reality, labelling everything we see and experience, and in doing so we connect more deeply with deeper wisdom and direct understanding. At Living Tea, we often suggest that people drink three or more bowls of tea in silence each morning without any distractions. We encourage people to observe their thoughts and feelings while enjoying the nuances of the tea. This practice helps to ground your days in an observant, receptive, open and aware state. Through practice, our relationship to the unknown changes and our innate wisdom has space to emerge. 


The water element represents the yin qualities of cold, wet, dark, quiet, still and deep. Quiet lakes, underground pools, forest ponds, all exemplify this deep yin nature. Our modern culture and economy, especially with the rapid development of technology, encourages constant action, productivity, growth and consumption. Without a balance of stillness and reflection, we become depressed, burnt-out, anxious and disconnected from the meaning of all our activity. Stillness and quietude are essential for human happiness, yet we fill every spare moment with screens, notifications, soundbites, stimulation and thoughts. Beyond the outer pressure to be constantly active, we feel the inner pressure of the ego to create more, do more, be more. Just as we need vacations from our busy lives, we also need vacations from our egoic activities of thinking, planning, obsessing, assessing, worrying, comparing and scheming. We need space just to be. The winter is a profound opportunity to prioritize some time each day for stillness, especially through meditation and tea. Make a list of ways that you could be more still. What gets in the way of your inner stillness? What happens when you set aside a couple minutes for meditation? What kind of excuses arise? Stillness is the doorway to equanimity, which is a potent source of contentment, peace and presence. 


The extraordinary power of Water is seen in the carving of the Grand Canyon, a falling waterfall, a relentless flood, the release of an avalanche, the immensity of the ocean, the tides, the currents. The mutable nature of water as ice, liquid and vapor speaks to its tendency to take whatever form is appropriate. It moves through any medium, transforming and flowing relentlessly.  Power can be harnessed from the gravitational force of water through hydroelectric power generation. In the human body, the ancient Chinese understood that the power of water is held in the kidneys, the source of our energy for all of life’s changes as we grow and develop. We generate power for health into old age not through the actions that we take in life, but through our ability to store and nurture this source energy throughout our lives. By using our energy wisely, we protect this important reservoir of power. Thus, we take time to rest, restore and accumulate source energy throughout the yin time of the year. True power is stored energy that is used wisely for necessary and intelligent action. The “watercourse way” is following the path of least resistance, the path that yields to our aligned will instead of our forced egoic drives. Consider spending time connecting with the feeling of real power. Recall a time that you felt powerful in life. Where did you feel it in the body? Was it felt as potential, stored energy or as excessive expenditure of activity? During the winter, we can replenish these deep reservoirs, ensuring that we have plenty of energy for the more active times of the year. 

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