The Spring Season and the Wood Phase

Daniel Schulman

/ 4 min read


Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Spring is unfolding. Chinese Medicine, through its Taoist roots, has much to say about the movements of the seasons and how, as we stand positioned between Heaven and Earth, they are reflected in us. One legacy of Taoist cosmology is the Five Phase framework, a model for understanding changes both in nature and in our bodies. In the Five Phase model, the Spring Season corresponds with the Wood Phase.

Let’s think about what is taking place here in Atlantic Canada during this season.   Nature is emerging from a very long period of sleep, hibernation and latency. Through the long, cold winter, reserves have been sequestered and deep, nothing but potential. Now, with warmth, water and sunlight, the impulse to grow is explosive. The surging forth of growth, expansion, procreation – it’s almost audible. Nothing can get in its way. Early spring flowers break through pockets of remaining snow. Seedlings push through layers of dirt, pierce through dead leaves, caste aside detritus and lift stone. It seems there is no obstacle too great to hinder the directional determination of this impulse to spring forth. This impulse and its unfolding is, however, clearly not random or chaotic. There is a plan and Spring is the pure unbridled surge to manifest that plan in the real world. This is the central imperative of the Wood dynamic.

And so in us, the themes of the Wood phase pertain to matters of directional growth. To grow during our lives, we must have a clear vision, a plan and a well organised means for enacting that plan. The leading edge of our growth is, by its very nature, always going to encounter resistance in one form or another. The friction generated is, in fact, an opportunity to deepen the experience and lessons learned. Our ego often chooses to interpret this resistance as injustice, manifesting the experience as some combination of righteous indignation, belligerence and arrogance. Such positions typically yield interpretations of injustice through black and white, ‘good‘ and ‘bad’, ‘right‘ or ‘wrong‘ lenses with symptomatic manifestations that are often one-sided (migraines, sciatica).

When we encounter the inevitable obstacles in our path, we must have the flexibility and strength to move around them and onward. The Wood dynamic grants us the full power and clarity of perception to avoid becoming mired, sidetracked and lost in details while on our path (to always ‘see the forest for the trees’ as the saying goes).

A central theme in Chinese Medicine (particularly the part that comes from Taoist perspectives) is that of correspondence – that everything in the universe and in nature has correspondence within us; physically, emotionally and spiritually. In this system, our bodily correspondences with the Wood Phase are the Liver (Yin) and Gall Bladder (Yang) systems. Anatomically, these organs reside at the mid-level of our torso, between the earth on which our feet stand and the inspiration of heaven towards which our heads and outstretched hands reach. As such, the Wood dynamic stands as either the conduit for or roadblock to full communication between the will residing in our Kidneys and the pure potential of spirit residing in our Heart.

Out of balance, the Wood system can manifest emotionally as either over or under expressions of anger; both overbearing rage and the brooding silence of passive aggression. In modern times, this most commonly manifests as frustration. What is frustration but the pent up energy of the repressed urge to express the creative impulse in all of us?   Like seeds, we all come into existence pre-packed with an essentially limitless impulse to create. The Liver enables us to visualise our internal plan. The Gall Bladder offers us the capacity to implement that plan in the world. To the degree we recognise and manifest that impulse, the Wood system is fulfilling its role. To the degree we deny or block that impulse, either by having no clear vision of the path or by being unable to move along that path and around, over and through any presenting obstacles, the Wood system is not fulfilling its role. The preponderance of upper body tension, tight shoulders, and migraine headaches (all along the Gall Bladder meridian pathway) in modern society is a reflection of this frustrated impulse.

Good decision-making results from a balance of reason, insight (the Heart) and wisdom (the Kidney). This balance requires perspective, enabled by the Gall Bladder. In dysfunction, the Gall Bladder can manifest as either decision-making mired in details (all reason and no insight) or lost in loftiness (all insight and no reason). This can appear emotionally or physically as either rigidity or lack of focus and constant direction-changing.

In nature, the wind brings rapid changes. In our lives, when external events change rapidly, the Liver and Gall Bladder must remain resolute so as to make critical decisions, implement plans and remain oriented to the larger path. Prolonged inability to remain aligned in the face of change will ultimately yield an internalisation of wind in the form of twitches, tics, tremors, rapidly moving pains, sudden upsurges of anger and dizziness.

Ultimately, when a tree grows to its full height and breadth, it symbolises the potential to see clearly in all directions. Rising above all else, it also stands ready to face everything that comes its way. On the spiritual path, the Wood phase is liberated to the degree we are able to face everything and avoid nothing. Avoiding everything and facing nothing or facing everything and avoiding nothing is purely a matter of choice.