In August of most years I venture into the forest of coastal Mendocino for a retreat. The redwoods, the lodge with the ninety or so men from all walks of life, and the stories that are told from the broken and triumphant hearts of these men becomes my refuge to reflect and grow. It is a place of deep renewal for me and for every man that comes to this conference.
A couple years ago I went and returned finding myself writing about my growth through an article called “Emotional Heart Disease.” Many of you heartily responded to it, sharing with me the way that piece moved you. This year I want to write about what I have learned. It turns out this year’s learning is about Cold. Not a head-cold or a cold drink, but rather the nature of Cold itself. By aiming to elucidate its nature, we can know the literal effect Cold has on us. We can also see how Cold can become a description for our psychological conditions and allow it to also serve as a grand metaphor for our social experiences.
Cold is part and parcel of the Yin & Yang of Chinese medicine. There is Heat and there is Cold. Heat is easy to identify, because its nature is confrontational. It reveals itself in redness, inflammation, “heated-words” of anger, fevers, tempers and the like. Identifying the nature of Cold is another study altogether, for it is not confrontational and chills the perceptions around it. In the redwoods of Mendocino, I came to understand Cold experiences in my life and advance my connection to its understanding in my medicine. Coming in from the Cold is a sharing of these “healing insights,” an invitation to you to become more aware of the way Cold may be affecting your life, and an encouragement to find the heat of the right fire to cure the Cold which may have overstayed its welcome.
When it comes to colloquialisms about cold things, folks tend to think of someone who is “cold” as having a cruelty or a malicious intent. For the recipient of a “cold experience” that may feel true, yet for the person at the source of the Cold, cruelty is often not the intent. In the world of relationships, it is more of a byproduct of things being frozen or locked-up then from a malicious mean streak.
Cold can be summed up experientially as a lack of attention, warmth and connection. It is a suspension of the Now in deference to Preservation, only to be utilized at a later time. The snow pack in the Sierras is one natural example. The cold state of that water suspends its distribution through the watershed until another season. As one thinks about it, it is an ingenious system of preservation and timing.
When there is no attention given to a situation, even if there is awareness of the need, it comes across as Cold. The physical function or psychological development needed is not circulated, communicated, addressed, resolved, brought to life and put to use. It is suspended. It is frozen. It is Cold.
Physically, Cold is very useful. We know it suspends the decaying process and preserves. From storing food in the freezer and refrigerators to cryogenics and modern medical procedures where freezing the heart can preserve the tissue enough and slow down the fire of inflammatory damage to allow survival. But even in these cases, ultimately the warmth of life has to return to be viable. The Spring melt needs to arrive and we need to “come in from the cold” to the fire of human connection and warmth.
So when it comes to physical, psychological and social health, Cold is happening all the time. Ignoring a feeling of needing to have a conversation with someone, a swim in a cold river on a hot day, storing left-overs in the freezer for another day, using an ice-pack on our knee after a hard fall; these are all daily examples of us relying on Cold. The presence of Cold alone is not problematic, as much as it is its perseverance. As a tool that can suspend diseases (tissues) or dis-ease (issues) it is very useful for survival. In perpetuity, the nature of Cold can lock-up too much organ function, energy, truth, blood, activity. Gradually it becomes obstructive to survival instead of enhancing it. Eventually, we need to feel the warmth of blood or the warmth of relationships. We need to not be just preserved or suspended, we need to be alive.
About 1800 years ago, one of the earliest understandings in Chinese medicine was written: the Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Injury by Cold). It elaborates on the physiologic dysfunction external Cold can precipitate in human health. Contemporarily, Cold has come to be understood in its internal effects on our body as well. Cold in the uterus effects fertility. Cold in digestion effects digestive function (this is why tea is preferred over ice water in Chinese culture). Cold in the sinews and channels causes rheumatism in the joints. Cold in the Lungs can cause a cough or asthma. Cold in the Kidneys can affect the libido, metabolic rate, energy levels. Cold in heart can effect circulation to the hands and through the chest.
But what happens when Cold occurs in our emotional lives or relationships. Again, Cold is that which we don’t give attention to or suspend from our awareness into storage. It can cause a heated reaction and it can cause a depressive isolation. Either way, being in the presence of a Cold relationship can evoke pain in others.
Cold’s frozen vitality can inhibit recognizing needs. As such, needs may go overlooked in ourselves, because frozen emotions and awareness are “numbing.” Needs are something which require feelings. Frozen feelings, suspended communication, and/or unresponsiveness are all the signs that Cold elements inhabit our psycho-social spheres.
Self-diagnosing this can be tricky, yet still it is worth taking the moment to ask ourselves:
“Where is there Cold in me, my body, my feelings, my life?”
Thawing the Cold requires reclaiming the numb and unresponsive places in our lives. Doing so brings back the sensations of being alive and the habits of being engaged. Sometimes that transition is painful. Other times it is a huge relief. In every case, we end up being grateful for the waters of life freed from their previously pent-up condition.
As always, I am glad to offer my skills and medicines to support you with your own path back to the warmth a full life.
In the next section of this discussion next week, I will discuss the answers to these next questions at greater length.
“How can I give attention, awareness, action, warmth to remedy this Cold?”
“How can I bring Yang energy to this Cold?”