2023: Year of the Water Rabbit
1/21/23 - 2/9/24 (new moon/lunar new year dates, based on PST)
Did last year's yang water tiger inspire you to crouch and pounce? Did you confront fears and challenges, and take decisive actions? Did you maybe feel a little uncertain or ambivalent about it all, even though your outer actions appeared confident (the tiger's stripes indicate ambivalence)? Did you blow any oppressive systems in your life out of the water? Did you feel the chaos? Did you tumble your way through some crash landings? That was the powerful, rebellious Yang water tiger.
Are you ready to pause? ...to take a look at all the rubble, and feel into what it might form into? ...to feel into what you're made of at this point, now that so much has changed around you? Does it feel like it's about time to see what's different in the deeper, murkier realms? Welcome to the Yin water rabbit year of 2023.
Last year's post gives a thorough overview of the element of water from a five-phase perspective (please note the "elements" or phases of this system are quite different from the western alchemical view of the water element). So let's dive into the specifics of "Yin water."
Yin water in the body relates to the kidneys, which manage and maintain all manner of equilibrium in your physical system. In Chinese medicine, the kidneys also relate to the ears. The ears, too, help us to maintain balance in standing and moving about. And of course we hear with our ears, which are the one sense organ that are wholly receptive. Eyes, shine, flash, and shed tears as well as look. Noses inhale scents, but also snort and exhale. Mouths take in food, and expel words and spittle. And the tangible sense through the nerves receives impulses, but also actively reaches out to touch things. Ears receive sound in stillness.
And that right there is the essence of Yin: to be receptive. So this year, consider:
How might you empty yourself, and be a vessel open to receiving?
How might you shape yourself into a vessel that naturally receives something that feels nourishing to you?
And if you receive something that is not so tasty - one of those inevitable bitter broths of life - what might help you receive that with grace, and let it nourish you, even though it is not so pleasant?
Back to the kidneys. In Chinese medicine, they're more than just physical organs with physical jobs. They also house a foundational substance - jing - that is essentially what you are cable of being and doing, somewhat like genetics but with an element of destiny to it; and an aspect of spirit - xih - which is essentially your will.
Yin water has to do with what your inner resources are (jing), while Yang water has to do with how you utilize and direct those resources (xih).
What are you made of? What are your inherent talents, skills, and virtues? What comes naturally to you?
How do you feel about what you're made of?
Could any of these inherent aspects of yourself use some further cultivation?
Do you push yourself too hard? Do you not try hard enough? Do you cultivate a balance of appropriate effort and rejuvenating rest?
Trauma & the Riddle of YIN
Yin does not come naturally for everyone, especially in the hectic go-getter mentality of modern society. How do you stop? How do you let go? How do you not do? What if it's too boring? These are valid questions.
Yin is something that happens naturally as a result of the inherent flux of the universe - Yang (moving outwards) and Yin (moving inwards) in constant interplay. You can't make yourself be Yin. Yin is receptivity. You cannot receive if you are full. So there must first be an emptying, a letting go. But letting go can be scary, especially if you've experienced trauma. If this is striking a chord with you, then please work with this question throughout 2023:
How can you support yourself, so you can let go?
Water & Prosperity
The water phase, being about resources, also relates to the resource of money. So if last year (2022) was a Yang water year, then money (and other resources) was in a Yang phase - i.e. moving outwards. Maybe you had some expenditures. Maybe you made some investments. Maybe you put in some work (time + energy = resources) for future results.
In 2023 - a Yin water year - it's possible that money and other resources might be received and move inwards more. This is not something that will happen automatically, though. There are two considerations to take into account here.
Were you Yang enough, and in alignment with your destiny, in your actions during the Yang water tiger year? Did you take courageous and wise actions? Yin emerges from extreme Yang, and vice versa. A western way of saying this is, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." So if you sent Qi out skillfully in 2022, it's likely that you'll receive beneficial Qi back in 2023, and most likely with interest. That all depends, however, on the next caveat in this Yang-to-Yin equation:
R E L A X. If you are still behaving in a Yang way, then there's no room for Yin (or prosperity) to come in. Out of all the elements/phases, water has the capacity to find the deepest, most profound state of Yin. The more you rest and let go - in alignment with your destiny - the more you will receive this year (provided you engaged in enough appropriate Yang actions last year).
"A pot is made by shaping and firing clay,
But openness gives the vessel its usefulness...
What is relies on what is not.
Being is completed by non-being."
- the Dao De Jing, trans. by Liu Ming
Yang will lead to Yin and Yin will lead to Yang no matter what. That's just how they operate. But actions (Yang) taken in alignment with your destiny will ensure you will receive (Yin) what you need to further fulfill your destiny. Destiny might not be a word all Westerners like, so if that's you, you can substitute "destiny" with "purpose," "inspired intent," or "moving in the direction of that which feels meaningful to you".
Fear... or... Wisdom + Gentleness
Each of the five elements/phases is associated with an emotion that emerges when that phase is out of balance. For water, there are two similar emotions - fear and fright. Fright is what happens when you are actually threatened. It is often, but not always, a surprise. Fright is a response to something in the present, but fear is about something that has not yet occurred. Fear is what you feel about the big bad unknown, or about the possibility of future pain or loss. Under the influence of either fright or fear, responses range from freezing like a deer in headlights - being unable to make any kind of move; fleeing - running away or otherwise avoiding; or moving forwards despite the fear. If this last response arises from pure willfulness, it is a foolish waste of resources. But if the choice to move forwards comes from the wisdom of the heart, it is courage.
What is lesser known are the virtues of the five phases. In the case of water, we again have two: wisdom and gentleness.
Because water sinks into the depths where the turbulence of the world cannot reach, it comes to know the deepest truths. These deeper truths require a personal embodiment, and therefore are not accessible in books, which are only capable of transferring knowledge. To access wisdom, deep stillness must be experienced. Once you are still, only then can you see the circumstances in question clearly. With that clear seeing, a deep knowing emerges without effort. We don't study or think our way into wisdom. We let go into wisdom.
Water can be hard like ice, and forceful like a powerful wave or a violent rain storm. Or water can be gentle, like the musical lapping of small waves against a dock, or a light rain that gradually moistens and refreshes the land. Given the choice, I'll take that gradual moistening and musical lapping over the hard, cold ice, forceful waves, and violent rain storms. The same goes for the kinds of people I'm drawn to. Maybe you like drama, though? To each their own. But 2023 being a Yin water year, consider how you, your relationships and circumstances might benefit from a gentle approach.
Rabbit Qi - yin Wood
Each of the twelve animals has a native element/phase. Rabbit's native phase is wood. What does wood do? It grows. Stick a seed in some soil, give it some... water... and it will grow into a strong, healthy plant. Because rabbit is wood by nature, and this is a water year, there is incredible nourishment available for growth. But before you start planning all the things you're going to do and build this year, please remember this is a Yin year.
In 2023, if you focus on inner growth, the appropriate outer growth will happen naturally. We see this pattern at work throughout nature. Before a seed can burst open into a sprout, change necessarily occurs internally. It is that internal growth that enables, catalyzes, and empowers the outer growth that follows. If the internal growth does not occur, or does not fully mature, the outer growth will be far more challenging - if it is able to happen at all. Not all seeds emerge into the radiance and warmth of the sun as sprouts.
Water Rabbit + fear
Rabbits have a reputation for being nervous and fearful. Who can blame them? They're small, tasty, and without many tools to defend themselves. So rabbit Qi can have a nervous quality to it. When we add water's tendency towards fear to that nervousness, we have quite a twitchy cocktail.
What's water got to do with fear? Water is connected to the wisdom that resources are finite. Youth is fun, but then it's over, and life goes on in a mind-body that requires way more maintenance and rest. Life is beautiful, but we only get to live so long. Love is stupendous, but one way or another, we will be separated from all that we love. These are scary things to think about, but they are absolutely true. Water is the part of us that knows these things, and either fears those inevitable losses... or embraces them, and therefore lives life with wisdom and gentleness.
Considering all this, giving extra support to your nervous system is a good idea in 2023:
Nerve-nourishing foods include oats, lettuces, raw cacao, bananas, avocados, raspberries.
Nerve-nourishing herbs include lemon balm, oat straw, oat buds, chamomile, skullcap, California poppy, hops.
Nerve-nourishing practices include meditation, Qigong, Pranayama & other breathing practices, Yin Yoga, & Restorative Yoga.
Nerve-nourishing life habits include - first and foremost - getting enough sleep, a healthy diet, and a good balance of social time and solitude.
Water Rabbit Resources
Let's gather up the water rabbit's resources.
Rabbits listen carefully. They are profoundly receptive and perceptive - yin. The "big ear Qi" of rabbit gives you the powers of both listening and intuiting. Trust your intuition this year!
Rabbits understand their vulnerability and limitations. This year, take clear stock of your limits and vulnerabilities. Look at these things as useful information that, if considered with care and wisdom, will help you make appropriate choices in terms of how best to direct your resources, and also what to say no to.
Rabbits have strong rear legs that propel them with great speed and agility. Like their native element - wood - rabbits zig zag around obstacles (consider tree roots growing around stones). The power and thrust of wood is available to rabbits as a means of protection of what is precious. In Chinese medicine, what is precious are the three jewels of jing, Qi, and shen (see jing above & "the three treasures below).
In the west, rabbits are rabbits. But in the Chinese system, rabbits are from and of the moon. This gives them a sacred quality. The moon is Earth's great light in the darkness - sometimes. It is here, and then it is gone. It is ever changing and ungraspable, like the Dao itself. This year, connect with what feels sacred to you. If you don't know what that is, start to notice what/who/where feels resonant to you. Then surrender to that resonance, and see what happens. Cherish, but without grasping because even what is sacred is temporary and changing.
Rabbits are communal, and keep comfy homes. Spend time with your peeps, and cozy up in your digs. These two strategies will give you a sense of safety and support that will help you embrace the Yin of the year.
A Brief Digression about "the Three Treasures"
The three treasures in Chinese medicine are jing, Qi, & shen. Jing is discussed above. Qi is often translated as energy, but it's more than that. It's a manifestation of the Dao, which means it has an intelligence you can learn from if you are receptive to it. You have your own (yuan) Qi, and there is also Qi around you that you can gather from healthy food, clean air, being in nature, and Qigong practice. Shen is something akin to your spirit - a part of you that is connected to your destiny, and that illuminates alignment with destiny through feelings of peace, contentment, and delight. These emotions are signs that you are "on path."
Water Rabbit in Context
This year of the Yin water rabbit is a moment in time. Time, like all things in nature, is rhythmic. Rising is followed by descending, which in turn is followed by rising. The 2022 Yang water tiger year rose like tidal waves and geysers. 2023's Yin water rabbit will be rain and rivulets sinking deep into aquifers. This will enable the Yang wood dragon of 2024 to rise into its full creative power. Not only do you need rest from the tiger year, but you also need to replenish before the dragon year. The deeper you can let yourself go into the wisdom of stillness, and the more courageously you can face the truth of your circumstances and of who you are (including the glittering jewels, the middling bric-a-brac, and the skeletons in the closet), the more vital, radiant, strong, benevolent, sustainable, and purposeful your 2024 dragon will be.
Wishing you a gentle, illuminating, and nourishing year!