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It's mid-winter. Look outside. What do you see? The trees are bare and the frenzied autumn scurrying of the squirrels has quieted down. The sky is heavy with a blanket of thick, gray clouds, hinting at the potential of ice or snow. 

Now look at your date book. What do you see? Chances are your days are full to overflowing with holiday commitments for yourself and your family, along with numerous “to-do” and “to-buy” lists scribbled on yellow sticky notes.

What do you notice when you stop for a moment and look outside? What do you notice when you turn your attention back to your calendar? Do you notice a difference in your breathing, your posture, or your sense of stress? 

A fundamental concept of Chinese thought is the need to balance yin and yang. Literally translated as “shady side of the mountain” and “sunny side of the mountain,” Yin and Yang are relative terms that remind us to maintain a balance between quiet reflection and more boisterous activity. While both are necessary for a life of harmony, there are times when we are called to be relatively more yin than yang, and times when life is better served by embodying more yang than yin. 

If, like the ancient Chinese, we use nature as a guide to help us maintain a healthy balance between yin and yang, we can understand why it’s easy to feel alternatively stressed and depressed during the winter holidays. 

During this time of the Winter Solstice, nature is embodying the essence of yin for us. Life has basically gone underground. Animals are hibernating. Flower bulbs are resting beneath the earth’s surface. The nights are long and cold, inviting us to rest as well. The wisdom of nature creates this opportunity for deep peace and quiet, allowing for the renewal of her resources. Without this time for replenishment, spring and summer will not bloom as brightly.

How interesting, then, that during this time we tend to be busier than at any other time of the year! Decorating and baking for the holidays can be rewarding, but can seem like chores if there is no time to reflect on the deeper meaning of the season. Spending time with loved ones can certainly be restorative, but if it is not balanced with enough rest and solitude, it can become very draining. Eating and drinking outside of our usual habits can be a great indulgence, but if not balanced by some “recovery” time can make us feel sick instead of pampered.

You are encouraged to think about these ideas during the 2005 holiday season. Enjoy yourself…and be mindful of nature’s example to pull back a little, rest enough, and view the holidays as a chance to restore, instead of depleting, your energy.

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