ACH Blog

The Spirit of Approaching Winter

Isobel Cosgrove - Sunday, November 01, 2020

Hallow’een has just been celebrated. This is the moment in the year, according to Chinese medical beliefs, when the heavens reach down to touch the earth. Physically, there are mists, so that clouds, which are usually way out of reach, are swirling around us as we walk. This is when we can feel more in touch with “Spirit”, more in touch with our internal world, with our essence.


gourds piled up on board


The harvest has been picked and stored for use in Winter months. As the leaves fall in the Autumn winds and rain, the shapes of the trees emerge from their Spring and Summer foliage. Eventually we can see each unique form, its trunk and branches, the essence of each tree.

And as we find what lies beneath the greenery of the year, we can contact the spirit of each tree, bush and perennial unadorned, laid bare.


leafless trees


So where are we in this process of the year turning? The hour has gone back as British Summertime ends. It is dark by 5 o’clock, the evenings are longer, the days shorter. We have to change how we live without the long sunny days. We need to contain and carefully measure our output to honour the slower pacing of oncoming Winter, and the quieter energy levels which it brings with it. Winter is about stripping back, like the trees, to the bare essentials.

The end of Autumn, and the beginning of Winter, is an ending. It is the death of the reproductive year. Seeding, sprouting, blossoming, ripening and gathering in have all ended. What is next? The energy of the tree descends to its lower trunk and into its roots. It enters a period of rest and recovery from the work of the year’s growth. Northern animals follow a similar path, gathering food for the Winter, and then hunkering down for a period of hibernation or much less activity. Like trees they enter into a different rhythm in the later days of Autumn. Their life is more internal, often underground, darker, quieter, less active and engaged with the outside world.


brown squirrel on green grass during daytime


For us all the wind is blowing, the rain falling, the mists hanging in the valleys and over the green spaces. We need to quieten down, like the natural world, as we prepare for the arrival of Winter at the end of this year. We can find ways to be more in touch with our internal world. We can engage less with outside demands and stimulation. Instead we can connect with the spirit of who we are, our essential natures. We can write, play music, paint, draw, cook, reflect on the last 12 months, and start visioning what we want to bring into our lives in the next year.

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Transition Into Autumn

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, September 01, 2020

As I look out of one window in the sitting room, I can see Late Summer in the trees. All is green and full, with seeds forming. Out of the next window I can see early Autumn. The tree colours range from yellow to pale red to reddish brown, and leaves are beginning to fall.


worm's eye view photography of trees


When I first started writing Blogs, during Lockdown, it was Spring. And since then, every season has been earlier than usual this year. As I look back I can see the impact of the Covid crisis, and also how life has changed throughout Spring, Summer, and late Summer. Now we are approaching Autumnal days, what changes will we be facing in September?


All of the news this week has been about how we are going to manage children going back to school. They have been at home for 5 months since mid March, and going back in September will be a really big transition. They will be pleased to spend more time with their friends. And getting used to working from 9am to 3pm in class will be a big ask. Especially for young children. So not only will they make a transition from Summer to Autumn. They will also make the transition from home study, to long days with a school timetable.

flat lay photography of blue backpack beside book and silver MacBook


 All transitions are a challenge, and it takes time for us to get used to the change they bring.

I feel sure that teachers will be mindful of the demands of this transition, and that parents will give more downtime to young ones who are tired at the end of the school days.


As days shorten, and temperatures drop, at the beginning of Autumn, we all need extra down time, and warmer and more nourishing food. In the animal world they prepare in Autumn for dealing with cold and dark days at the end of the year. And so in the world we live in we need to adjust our food, our rest time at nights, and our daily routines to accommodate these Autumn changes.’


In my first Riverford Boxes in September I have yellow squash, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, onions, which I can use to make some warming stews. I have rhubarb for crumble. And I have been out picking blackberries with my grandsons. We have mixed the berries with apples from the garden and made pies and some jam. The late French and runner beans are still being picked, as are tomatoes and corn. This is the harvest season.


variety of vegetables


There is a sense of the fullness of the year in August and September, following the period of strong growth in Spring, and the flowering in Summer. We have fruit in the hedgerows, on the trees, and vegetables on allotments and in gardens. Let's make the most of this moment, before the early frosts, and the windy days at the Autumn Equinox.


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Harvest Time

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

In Chinese Medicine we move through five seasons in the year. Winter occupies the darkest, coldest months. Plants and animals, farming communities in the old days, rest in Winter by going to bed early and rising later. Bears give birth during this resting time in their caves, and their cubs spend the first weeks of their lives inside, protected from the cold.


green and red trees during daytime


The beginning of Spring can be stormy, as the early days of the season may be blown in during equinoxial gales. From the second half of March, there is a burst in plant growth and animal activity during a period of re-awakening after Winter ends. The energy of Spring, known as the Wood Energy in the 5 Element Tradition in Chinese medicine, allows us to revise our lives, plan for the next year, and make decisions about where we go next. Spring is an important time for us to make plans for how we can grow, flourish and move forward in our lives.


The Summer Solstice in late June gives us a time with the longest days, which can usher in the warmest part of the year.  Summer may start before the solstice, as it did this year. We had very warm days in late May and early June, and because the warmth came early,  plants flowered early, and we have basked in the sun for 2 months already. In late July we find ourselves moving from the expansion and colour of full Summer into what the Chinese Medics call the next season: Late Summer.



green plant


This time from late July, through August and September, up to the late Summer/Autumnal solstice is the time of Harvest, which is such an important moment in the reproductive year. This year the rowan trees already have their bright orange berries appearing (at least they are in London, where I live). Peas were ready early, and apples and pears were filling out and ripening too.


Growing up in the hills of Northumberland, I knew that Late Summer was beginning when the moors turned purple as the heather started blooming. In the North this was later, on the “Glorious Twelfth”, which is when the grouse season starts on August 12th. This is the time in the year of “plenty”, when farmers gather in their crops to sell or store for the Winter. Every culture has celebrated, and given thanks for their harvests over many millennia.


person holding red and orange tomatoes


And how do we celebrate and express gratitude in the 21st century? We have festivals, religious and pagan, campfire meals, barbecues and meals in the garden or by the sea, and picnics in the countryside.


In the 5 Element system of medicine we learn that our digestive systems are at their annual peak during harvest, so enjoy your picnics and late Summer feasts. Bears eat food in late Summer to last them through hibernation.

Let’s all make the very most of this rich and plentiful time of year by taking in the nourishment of late summer warmth and light, as well as the mellow abundance of the food available right now.


Enjoy filling up with the special qualities of the natural world at this unique moment in the year.


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Coming out of Lockdown

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, July 07, 2020

This week, I feel a little like a bear coming out of hibernation, after a long winter of staying inside. Where do I go for food? How do I meet with mates? And where and how is safe to play? 


black bear near trees

There is so much uncertainty within most aspects of our lives. Will there be a second wave? And how do I do social distancing with 1 metre instead of 2 metres apart? There also seem to be so many decisions to be made. When will I go back to working in the clinic? How many people can I see in a morning? How will it be to work wearing masks? These are all questions that I have been asking myself in preparation for the movement from digital treatment and supervision back into face to face contact. 

However, coupled with this is the joy of being able to see family and some close friends; of sitting together in gardens, in the park together, having picnics. It feels so very different being able to connect in person, instead of on screen.


people on green field


At home, I am now eating my courgettes I planted this March, picking peas and broad beans that are ready to eat and add to

dishes. The broccoli and kale are still growing though, as they are harvested later in the year, and we have to watch for bugs and caterpillars, which are getting in first if we don’t keep a close eye on them. 


green and black caterpillar on green leaf


As we move into July, Summer energy is in full swing. Gardens are in bloom, with roses, hydrangeas and lilies opening everywhere. Because of recent warmth we have enjoyed, rowan trees have their orange berries appearing, and there are early signs of blackberries, indicating that late summer is slowly edging into view. There will be more about this transition next time. For the moment, enjoy the long days, beautiful sunsets, and early dawns with birdsong. 


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All health is connected to nature

Isobel Cosgrove - Thursday, June 11, 2020

While doing ‘the sphere’, (one of my Qi Gong exercises) this morning, I had a moment of insight. When holding ‘the sphere’, we connect to nature around us, the wind in the trees, sunlight on leaves, a birdsong. We bring this energy from nature into our energy centre, or sphere. We hold this connection for a few minutes, while taking in the gift of nature. 


Bird, Kingfisher, Twigs, Bean Bird


When I was young, I spent weekends and holidays with my grandparents and relatives who farmed in Northumberland. I helped make hay, with lambing and milking cows. I learnt to love and simply connect with the natural world. During lockdown, many children have had time to connect, through sowing seeds, planting vegetables, and listening to bird songs. Chinese and East Asian medicine, which I have studied and practiced over 40 years, has enabled me to stay connected with nature, even while living in cities. A connection with nature is forged through the plants used in herbal medicine, bringing ancient wisdom into modern life. 


Chinese Medicine, Western Medicine


The 5 element teachings were brought from Taiwan and China to the UK in the 1960’s by J.R. Worsley. Those of us who were able to study with him in the 1970’s and 80’s learnt that our energy, and that of our patients, is closely linked to the energy of the seasons and the natural world. Spring is a time of growth and opportunity for change. Summer warms the heart, gives us the outdoors to play and rest. Late summer is the harvest time, while Autumn mists and shorter days ask us to quieten and re-connect with our inner lives. Winter is the end of the reproductive year. The energy of the trees, flowers and shrubs returns into the Earth, and we need to learn to slow, quieten and settle down in the Winter. 


Sky, Clouds, Landscape, Sunset, Beach

Here are some wonderful writings which can inspire you, and your children to have stronger connections with the natural world. In ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes of indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. 16 year old Dara McAnulty has written the ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’, in which he details a year in his home in Northern Ireland, spending the seasons writing. Finally, Patrick Barkham’s ‘Wild Child’ aims to inspire future generations by showing us how to help reconnect our children with nature.  


"Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

  


"Diary of a Young Naturalist" by Dara McAnulty


"Wild Child" by Patrick Barkham 

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