Clear Blue skies and mid 60 degree temperatures abounded in early March. Feeling the pull of the weather, my wife and I meandered about the outside of our house to look at all of the buds awakening on the shrubs, plants, and trees. The azalea and the hydrangeas revealed some timid green sprouts that reminded me of the words of Lao Tzu:
I thereby observe the return.
then each returns to its root.
Such greenery signals one phase in the turning wheel of the year with its sprouts, growth, harvest, and decay. The signs of decay are still present since the ground is littered with last autumn’s discarded leaves, but the hints of green counter that decay to announce Spring’s imminence.
Within this shift from winter to spring is a fundamental principle of the Tao and the dance of yin and yang. But this pronounced change also highlights an important scientific rule of energy: Energy (E) is equal to Input (I) minus Output (O). Or: E= I-O. The input of sunlight, warmth, moisture, and ground nutrients exceeds the amount that the plant needs to simply survive, and so that extra energy is redirected toward growth.
Spring marks the arc of the year when Energy begins to transcend fundamental levels, and initiates a period of flowering and expansion. Like the natural world (of which we are an integral part!), we too feel an awakening that may manifest as a desire for the new and a shedding of the old. Especially at this time of year with its aches for new beginnings, it is imperative that we look at ourselves, our energy, and the relationship between our inputs and outputs so that we can facilitate our own growth and expansion.
The energy of our life, like that of everything else, is the result of input (food, sleep, our living environment, relationships with family and friends, exercise) minus output (jobs, responsibilities, physical movement, stress). But some of those items that seem to be positives can also drain energy: over-processed food, poor sleep, stressful environments, difficult relationships, poor exercise, for example—all have the potential to deplete our energy. For this reason, we need to make careful choices, which sometimes necessitate cutting things that are detrimental to our well-being and growth. Like a conscientious gardener, sometimes our lives need pruning to insure the energy for long and sustainable growth. With that pruning comes a greater abundance of energy.
That energy can be expanded may run counter to how we might conceptualize the story arc of our daily lives: our day begins with a certain amount of energy that we draw upon until we exhaust it (and ourselves) and need to replenish it through sleep. Yet the purpose of Chi Kung and T’ai Chi is to have more energy at the end of the day than at the beginning. The increase in energy is not only because these practices are excellent forms of exercise (positive input) but because they provide the tools to recognize the essential—that which we need to have in order to flourish as opposed to that which is hindering our actualization of our full potential. Consequently, these practices help to restore our natural balance within ourselves and within our world.
To “return to the root” is to discern the essential and find harmonious balance between what has gone before and what is just now coming into being. It is determining what needs to be pared and what needs to be nurtured. It is correcting our path by restoring our vital energy and allowing it to expand instead of diminishing.
While full blown Spring may still be a few weeks away, we should take to heart the promise of its return. And we should rejoice in the fact that under proper conditions and careful self-maintenance, we too can grow and flourish through the melding of vitality and consciousness.