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2024: Year of the Wood Dragon

2/9/24 - 1/29/25 (new moon/lunar new year dates, based on PST)

a laughing green dragon

Did you see some completions through to true finality in the influence of 2023's yin water rabbit? Did you reconnect or connect more deeply with your tribe/s? Did you make time to dream? Did you tumble down some rabbit holes? Did you stumble upon surprising and deeply important discoveries in those nether regions? Did you rest? Did you heal? Did you resolve?

And now...

Are you ready to awaken? stretch out? try something new? rise? grow? fly?

...and above all, to welcome in the winds of surprise and change?

Welcome to the Yang Wood Dragon of 2024.

Yang Wood

"Yang Wood" describes the climate our 2024 dragon will be in, and this is essential to our understanding of how to best dance this year's dragon dance. We would all dance very differently in a bitter morning blizzard than we would in the light of a fresh, dewy, verdant and fragrant spring morning. So how does one dance in the climate of yang wood?

Wood generally

Wood is the climate of springtime in a seasonal sense, and of morning until noon in a daily sense. These are times when things rise and grow towards light. After the sleepy yin water rabbit year, we are all in need of stretching and toning our muscles and opening our fascia - literally and figuratively - at the start of this year before testing our dragon wings in flight.

Wood in the context of the five phases

Let's rewind a moment. Spring is preceded by winter, when everything is in a condensed state. While condensed, energy is stored and conserved, but it might still be doing important things like breaking down in order to transform into something new. And before winter, there was autumn, when the inessential fell away so that only the most intrinsic elements were stored. And before autumn, there was a harvest season. And before the harvest, there was a glorious, happy, and shiny summer. And before summer, there was the growth of spring. So with that in mind, we may proceed in 2024 (and 2025's yin wood snake year) to grow and build from our essential ingredients with the understanding that there will likely be some flourishing and fruit to be thoroughly but transiently enjoyed before letting go and coming to rest again. We are powerful dragons farming magic beanstalks for but a year. Let us enjoy this time of renewed vigor, and grow the very best beans we can for the good of all.

Since wood is nourished by water, you may benefit from understanding more about the last two water years. 2022's post gives a thorough overview of the element of water from a five-phase perspective, and 2023's post gives a thorough explanation of yin water, from which our 2024 yang wood emerges.

Yang Wood

Spring/wood is when things grow and generally increase, but in a yang wood year, the growth follows a trajectory. Yang growth will help us establish a structure that will support further growth to come. Think of the last few months of last year as a time when your seeds started rooting down into the soil. 2024 is when your seeds push up through the crust of the earth, and sprout stalks that go up and up and up and up and UP.

Rise towards the light in 2024, and send out some main branches. How do you know where the light is? Light is what not only feels good, but also brings peace and a sense of rightness to your heart. This is the recipe for growth that is sustainable for you and for all. If you're overly excited or overly ambitious about your growth, this is a sign of an imbalance - too much yang - which will eventually lead to harming oneself and/or others. If you're not inspired or happy about the ways you're growing, this is a sign of inappropriate growth, which will eventually cause damage - at some point, this branch will need to be cut off. Otherwise, it will eventually fall off, and if it doesn't, it could cause your whole tree to topple.

This is a year to attend to strategic structural growth. It's not a year to meander like a squash plant, spiraling and spreading over the ground. You hopefully laid a foundation/substructure appropriate to your nature and to your circumstances last year so you can raise a strong and prudent superstructure this year. Grow towards the angle of light that brings a sense of inspired contentment as you unfurl into it.

This year, be a helix coiling up towards the sun. Simultaneously root down into a calm acceptance of what is true in yourself and in the world, and ascend towards that which is most vivifying and potentiating. Next year, you will spiral outwards.

Keeping in mind that the nature of trees is generous, symbiotic and benevolent, here's your riddle for this year:

How might you grow in a way that is symbiotic with others and of benefit to all?

Wood in the body

Wood Qi manifests in the body as the liver, gall bladder, sinews and nails, opens into the eyes, emerges from the mouth as shouting, and is activated by the sour flavor. Use the sour flavor wisely in 2024 and 2025. If you feel stagnant or stuck, it's helpful to add sour foods to your diet. However, if you feel agitated, impatient and irritable, please decrease the amount of sour foods in your diet, and increase bitter foods (except for coffee) and mildly pungent foods, such as fennel and cilantro.

Have you taken good care of your liver and gall bladder? Are your muscles tense, and your body tight? Is your jaw tight? Are you able to sleep peacefully through the night, or do you wake often, and/or dream a lot? Are your eyes strained or irritated? These could be signs your liver and gall bladder are in need of some TLC. These organs especially like dark green foods (kale, algae, etc). Since these organs initiate muscular movements, you will also benefit from practices that strengthen and limber up your body. Whether you choose to practice Yoga, Daoyin (included in all of my Qigong classes), or any other form of stretching, please practice mindfully and with an attitude of benevolence towards your body (and in accordance with advice from your health care professionals).

Wood in the mind

"Assessment of circumstances and conception of plans stem from (the liver)...

Determination and decision stem from (the gallbladder)."

- Suwen 8, trans. Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee

Your liver assesses your situation, determines appropriate goals for you to aspire towards, and sets you on a path in the direction of those goals. Your liver's close companion, the gallbladder, makes decisions, troubleshoots, and makes necessary adjustments as unforeseen circumstances arise in the process of carrying out those plans.

Your liver is the architect, and your gallbladder is the foreman, but your heart is the visionary behind all those plans - the part of you that says, "I want a humble but dignified temple built in this spot here at the crest of this hill, and a cozy house built in this spot here, overlooking these green sloping fields." Your plans must be based on a vision that ultimately comes from your heart, and leads you in the direction whatever most truly nourishes your heart. And guess what: Your heart cares about you, and also about everyone and everything else. This brings us to...

Wood Pitfalls: Anger +/or Stunted Growth +/or Aggressive Growth

Each of the five elements/phases is associated with an emotion that emerges when that phase is off kilter. For wood, that emotion is anger. Let's be clear. When your heart (the head honcho of your system) is at peace, there is no anger from the liver, no fear from the kidneys, no grief from the lungs, no perseverating from the spleen-pancreas, and obviously no anxiety from the heart. The presence of any of these emotions is an indicator that we need to change direction, intensity, attitude, or speed.

Since wood is the phase of growth, anger - or other stepping stone emotions that lead to anger, such as impatience and irritation - may arise when a particular desired direction of growth is or seems to be blocked or impeded. Anger is not "bad." Like any emotion, anger serves as a motivational tool. Healthy anger is like a flash of lightning that briefly illuminates. The wise thing to do when you see lightning is find shelter from the storm if you can. When this is not possible and you need to go through the storm, the wise approach is to protect yourself well, stay low, and proceed with cautious efficiency. Anger is closely related to your sense of justice versus injustice, which ultimately boils down to the growth you aspire towards in yourself and in the world.

Stunted Growth vs. Aspiration & Agency

If it's a long storm, however, you might get stuck in the mud. This is depression. Or you might shake your fist at the storm clouds. This is resentment. Depression and resentment are dysfunctional and stagnant expressions of the wood element that indicate an inability to grow (depression), or an inability to see ways in which one does in fact have agency and redirect one's growth into a more nourishing direction. The simple fact is that we don't always get to grow in exactly the ways we want to when we want to because actually we share this spacetime with everyone and everything else. Sometimes we need to negotiate and compromise. And sometimes there is other growth that needs to happen first - like rooting downwards, or growing outwards before ascending upwards.

Please, if you find yourself in a situation in which your growth is stunted, reconnect to the ways/situations in which you have agency, and reorient yourself towards directions that spark some sense of inspiration and aspiration.

  • What areas of life do support your ability to grow?

  • What inspires you?

  • Might you need to reach farther and/or dig deeper in yourself to access "new light"? Perhaps you need further training, or need to relocate to do what you really feel called to do. Perhaps you need to let some other aspects of life go either permanently or temporarily in order to move forwards in a vivifying direction.

  • Are you under-resourced? Where/how might you access more resource to make this inspired stretch possible?

  • Are you in a situation worth continuing and in which you might negotiate, and set boundaries that would support your growth?

  • Are you in a situation not worth continuing that you can back out of, but aren't doing so because of fear or guilt?

  • Are you in a situation you can't get out of, and therefore need to dig deeper into reserves of strength, acceptance and peace you haven't yet accessed? This is growing down into the depths of your soul, and while it is less "glorious" and shiny than the sun-reaching growth most of us long for, it is an important form of growth that will serve you in the future.

Aggressive Growth Vs. Sustainable Growth

Ecosystems evolved over thousands of years to support sustainable symbiotic patterns of growth amongst the flora and fauna in each region. We do see aggressive growth in nature when a species has been introduced to an area it is not native to. On the west coast of North America, the Himalayan blackberry is a great example of this. This plant evolved in the harsh alpine conditions of the Himalayas, so the temperate region of the west coast is a cake walk for this plant. Without harsh climactic conditions to check its growth, it is able to grow fast and spread quickly in a climate where native plants grow more slowly in symbiosis with the rest of the native nature of the region. The effect? Longterm stress on and eventual demise of many native species. As humans, we have a certain amount of free will. If we are well resourced, we can choose to act like an invasive species, or we can choose to live in symbiosis with everyone and everything around us.

With that in mind, please, let us all remember that trees do not point fingers. Trees attend to their own growth, and live in symbiosis with those that grow around them. Let us each take a look at how we ourselves are growing or not growing in harmony with the world.

  • Are you living in balance with your own true nature?

  • Are you pushing yourself, your family members, your work associates, and/or the environment (using too many resources) too hard?

  • Are you growing in ways that are appropriate to your nature, your age, and your circumstances?

  • Are you growing in ways that are harmful to your nature, your family members, your work associates, and/or the environment?

  • Are you avoiding growing in ways that would be of benefit to you and others?

  • Does your growth support the growth of others who are in need?

Learning How to Grow Effectively from TREES

Let's look at how trees - the patron saints of the wood phase - handle growth to get some inspiration for our own conduct. First, let's establish what trees grow towards:

  • Tree roots grow towards sources of water and towards the nutrients available in fresh soil.

  • Tree branches grow towards the nourishment they receive from sunlight, which enables them to digest the nutrients they receive from water and soil.

Now let's explore how trees handle impediments to their growth:

  • When tree roots come upon stones, they turn direction and grow around them.

  • When tree roots get big enough, their pressure can eventually break walls and stones.

  • Tree branches will, like the roots, change direction as they grow, shifting between upwards and outwards growth patterns in order to maximize the amount of light they receive.

  • If something blocks light that had previously been available (another tree or a wall or building), the tree will give less energy to that branch. Eventually, that branch will weaken enough that it will fall off. Meanwhile, the tree will send more growth and energy into branches that have easier access to light.

Let us also consider that trees are inherently nonviolent and nonaggressive. They simply change course, and put their energy into growing in the ways that are available to them. Eventually their strength gets so big that they do sometimes crush the rocks that once held them back, but this is not the goal. The goal is growth.

Wood and Boundaries

Consider the bark of a tree, and then please consider what protective boundaries you employ in your relationships and circumstances. In some cases, anger is an indication that we ourselves have not set or maintained effective boundaries. If effective boundaries have been set but are not being respected, negotiations might help. If discussion doesn't resolve the issue, then it might not be a relationship or circumstance worth continuing.

  • Do your boundaries protect you enough that you are able to grow into your best self?

  • Are your boundaries flexible enough to expand and shift as you grow?

  • Do your boundaries breathe in such a way that what is beneficial to you reaches you easily, and what is no longer beneficial to you has a way out?

In these two years of wood (2024 yang dragon and 2025 yin snake), ask yourself these questions to support healthy growth, and also to find skillful solutions when/if anger arises:

  • What available light (light = happiness and inspiration) might I reach or rise towards that would take me around this obstacle?

  • What available soil (soil = grounding, stabilizing, nourishing sources) might I deepen into?

  • What available water (water = pure source, like the aquifer beneath the soil) might I tap even deeper into?

  • Have I set healthy boundaries?

  • If I have set healthy boundaries, are they being respected?

  • Have I agreed to something I wish I had said no to? How might I respond skillfully and honestly to my mistake in judgment?

A Breath of Fresh Benevolence

While many people are familiar with the emotions related to the five phases, the virtues of the five phases have unfortunately received far less press. Tapping into the virtue of a phase is one way to balance the emotion associated with that phase's imbalance. In the case of wood, we find benevolence.

If the choice to move forwards comes from wisdom, it is inherently benevolent. Remember that wood emerges from water in the five system, and so wood's virtue will emerge from water's virtue, which is wisdom. We can define wisdom as the ability to see into the depths of both oneself and the circumstances one finds oneself in, and to make decisions that take both inner and outer circumstances into account. Decisions that only take oneself into account are not wise. They are self-serving, which is ultimately not a wise way to be. The fact is we are all interconnected, so it ultimately behooves us to grow in symbiosis with others. Decisions that do not take oneself into account are not wise either. Taking such courses of action will eventually lead to stunted growth, which will then build up into a situation of either stagnant or belligerent liver Qi (please see the paragraph on depression and resentment above). The result of unwise growth is harm to oneself and/or harm to others.

Throughout the wood years of 2024-2025, please ask yourself:

What is the most benevolent choice I can make in this instance?

How might I live this day/moment/life in the most benevolent ways possible to all?

Wood - A.K.A. - Wind

The wood element is also referred to as the wind element. Why? Wood and wind both have a quality of stirring to them. The question is, what causes the stirring?

What makes a seed different from a rock? Unlike a rock that will only go through a slow process of erosion as its molecules break down over time, as water (yin) and solar fire (yang) act on a seed, some life force within that seed will stir it into growth, movement and change. Similarly, wind imparts a stirring quality everywhere it goes. And what ultimately stirs the wind? The interplay of warmth (yang) and coolness (yin) on the surface of the Earth.

We are all impelled/stirred by this interplay of yin-yang, warmth-coolness, dark-light, damp-dry, fear-love, desire-loss, anger-grief, etc. This is wind/wood stirring within us. Can we be like seeds, letting both the cold dark and the warm light in equally? Can we be like wind, and let the push-pull of warmth and coolness move us? Or must we always be (or believe we are) in the driver's seat?

Wood element round-up

As you move towards your goals this year, please consider how you might do so in ways that are:

  • gentle - to both yourself and others. Growing is hard work, and growing pains are real. Give yourself good nourishment and rest, and be mindful of ways your growth may be drawing on the support of others (your family, your barista, the people who made and transported your clothes, the earth that ultimately made you and everything you own, etc). If you rest enough, you won't need to over-tax these sources.

  • generous - to both yourself and others. What beneficial support can you sustainably give to others and to yourself?

  • symbiotic - with those you are directly connected to, and also in a broader sense - the larger human community, your local ecosystem, the global environment, etc.

  • patient - with yourself; with your circumstances; with those you are interacting with; with the unfolding of longer processes; with other people misbehaving, making mistakes, or being clueless (because you are that person to others sometimes); and with mistakes you yourself make.

  • innovative - when you grow into new territory, you grow into a new paradigm. This requires first perceiving things differently, which enables you to think differently, which enables you to do things differently. Notice and cultivate that which helps you get into an open-to-the-new mind-space.

  • balanced - this is a profoundly yang year. Dragon Qi is yang, and wood itself is on the yang side of the five phase cycle. The best way to maintain balance under these conditions is to remember the wisdom inherent in the taijitu or Yin-Yang symbol. The white yang swirl contains the black seed of yin within it, and vice versa. When you take action, stay rooted in an inner quiet. When you rest, acknowledge that this pause will enable you to take more effective action when the time is right. This will enable you to shift more easily between yin and yang as circumstances shift within and around you.

  • willing - act in accordance with your conscience, with your nature, and with a sense of your interconnectedness to all things. Play the brief and tiny but essential and unique role you are meant to play in the great infinite opus of the universe. And if you have extra resource, please help others who are suffering or in need, so they too can play their role. Everyone's music counts.

A key to understanding everything written here:

These yin-yang and five-phase philosophies come from another culture - not just a different place and people, but also a different time. These philosophies emerged not within the influence of capitalism, communism, or manifest destiny, but within the influence of a people who lived in harmony and rhythm with, and in close observance of nature - as perceived by their ruler (a metaphor for your heart). There was an inherent understanding in that time/place/culture that none of us - not even the most revered ruler (your heart) - was in the driver's seat. The ruler (your heart) was simply the one who most clearly perceived the patterns emanating down from heaven, and best understood how to work with the ways those patterns would influence and affect the land, weather, and people here on Earth. The ruler (your heart) was receptive, perceptive, and wise, and because of this, the people (your strength, intent, and intelligence) were willing to heed the ruler's (your heart's) decrees. Based on this contextual understanding, a formula for working with yang wood Qi is:

  • 1. Relax so you can be receptive to what is true - what is pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral in your own nature and in the nature of your circumstances - without wanting it to be otherwise. I know. The world is an absolute mess. But the fact is it took a long time for things to get this way, and it will take a long time to resolve things effectively. For just a moment, please let things be as they are - warts, wars, inequity, beauty, kindness, wonder, and all.

  • 2. Perceive the path where light is shining - even if it's just a dim glimmer for now, or the light is in the distance. This is the direction where opportunities seem to be manifesting and doors seem to be opening. If you're not seeing this, then you may need to root down further to find inner resources and truths you have not yet acknowledged or accessed that will be necessary for your journey. There's no good in starting out on a path that requires a specific tool you left behind at the start of the trek.

  • 3. Once you have determined the appropriate and vivifying direction, start walking.

  • 4. If you hit obstacles along the road, work around them, but maintain your sense of direction. Continue to remember and honor where you came from, where you are going, and what/who is supporting you along the way.

  • 5. Step lightly, enjoy the scenery when you can, and share the road.

And now finally... The Dragon

Dragon Qi - yang Earth

Each of the twelve animals has a native element/phase. Dragon's native phase is yang earth... but the dragon flies! So in a way, dragon is the Qi of earth rather than earth itself. Earth Qi rises up towards the sun.

But in 2024, Dragon is manifesting in the climate of wood. In the five phase system, wood controls and limits earth. Think of tree roots breaking up soil, but also think of the way root systems prevent erosion. A constructive use of this combination is to consider how this year's plans and growth might provide supportive structure to both maintain and build on what you already have. And in the world, it would look like building structures to support the humblest people on the planet, and also stressed species and ecosystems.

But also, please be wary of ways this wood-earth combination could lead to problems.

  • In the body, this manifests as digestive distress, especially in the upper gastric region. Your body will thank you if you eat more cooked vegetables, and minimize sweet and greasy food, and also dairy products.

  • In the mind, anger could be buried into resentment and irritable rumination. Please cultivate honesty with yourself about how you are feeling, and move in the direction of benevolent and effective agency.

  • In the world, this could look like growth that benefits some, but further impoverishes already stressed people (due to low income, racial and gender inequities, displacement, etc) and ecosystems. Let us all use the incredible power and creativity of the wood dragon to aim towards generosity in 2024.

Wait. What exactly is a Dragon?!

There is no mistaking or disputing the other eleven animals of this zodiac. Okay, maybe there's some argument about whether the rabbit is a cat, and a few other quibbles along those lines, but for the most part, we all know and agree about what sheep, snakes and monkeys are. But what is a dragon? And even more fundamentally, do they even exist?

My answer is yes. Dragons exist. Let me prove it to you.

Read this word:


What popped into your mind?

I guarantee one thing popped into your mind before anything else, and it wasn't the phrase, "there's no such thing as..." An image popped into your mind, and you know what? That image is as real as anything else in your mind. Now let me ask you this: How real are the things in your mind?

We've now squared away that dragons exist in your mind, and are as real as anything else in your mind (i.e. not very real at all). Meanwhile, you probably give a lot of importance and credence to most other thoughts billowing about in your noggin, so why not give the dragon its due?

The Dragon as Channeled Potential

Now let's explore what the dragon is within this eastern context. This dragon is nothing like a western dragon that ravages a countryside or hoards treasure until it is slain by some brave hero. The dragon of the east is a force of nature. It moves like water or wind, flowing consistently along its chosen course. When the dragon channels and directs its potential, it is not bound by earthly laws the way the other animals are - but it is still bound by the laws of nature.

And what are the laws of nature? Yin-Yang; action and rest/reflection; do and pause to learn from what unfolded through your doing. A dragon that knows where it's going and why, and that follows the pulsing rhythm of nature is practically unstoppable.

The Dragon's Shadows - Diffusion & Destruction

Conversely, a dragon without direction and purpose is as powerful as any figment of the imagination - it might control the person having the thought, but it will have no effect in the world. And a dragon that does not flow in rhythmic balance of action-rest/give-receive/create-observe will either go nowhere or eventually crash and burn.

We are mere humans, and it's not easy for us to channel the amount of power a dragon has access to. So please, put your hand on your heart, take a breath, and remember your tender, fallible, lovable humanness.

A dragon with too much yin or not enough yang manifests as power that is not channeled into effective and consistent action. The dragon is a yang animal, and so it needs to move in the way healthy yang moves - following a direction. This is exemplified by the dragon's long and exquisitely supple spine. If a person cannot connect with a sense of purpose and inner integrity (the virtue of the dragon's native earth phase), they may instead mush around in a state of perseverating and dreaming about how they will someday - when conditions are just right, and thereby overlooking the fact that reality is inherently flawed - harness and utilize their power. One remedy for this dragon is to eliminate distractions and drama as much as possible, and then commit to an outer structure of education, training, or other progress that will establish a useful architecture for this amorphous dragon to build off of.

Too much yang manifests as power that dominates others rather than collaborating with them, leading to burned bridges. This overly yang dragon will use their inner resources to dominate their own heart/conscience. Applying dragon power without enough yin overtaxes both inner and outer resources, leading to burnout and/or going into debt. This dragon might attain their goals and desires, but at great cost to others, to the environment, and/or to their own wellbeing. Sadly, this occurs most often in dragons who are not in touch with their true path. One remedy for this dragon is to enforce periods of rest and reflection, and to choose circumstances that slow this dragon down. Take naps. Lay in the grass and watch the clouds drift and morph. Get off the freeway, and take the meandering scenic route instead.

Wood Dragon Resources

To be the most vital and gracious wood dragon you can be this year:

  • Establish healthy structures that enable sustainable and beneficial growth.

  • Clarify and/or commit to a "spine" - a centralizing stance from which all of your movements emanate from.

  • Balance flowing action with rest, reflection, and rooting down into what nourishes and supports the wise and benevolent growth available to you this year.

  • Develop a skillful relationship with the emotion of anger, whether you experience it in yourself or in others.

  • Cultivate and continually affirm an attitude of generosity, patience, and kindness.

  • At each decision or turning point, ask yourself, "How might I choose in a way that is gentle towards myself, to others, and to the Earth, even as I make progress towards my goals?"

Wood Dragon in Context

This year of the Yang wood dragon 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.

2024's wood dragon is one part of many layers of evolutionary processes. Wood's evolutionary role in the five phase system is a rebirth from the death-storage-fermentation phase of water in preparation for the luster and blossoming of the fire phase. On the level of dragon-ness, 2024's wood dragon is an evolution from the water dragon of 2012. What potentials were in storage or in processes of transformation and behind the scenes development for you in 2012? This year, you might experience reemergence and growth in some of those circumstances, projects, relationships, communities, and themes.

And then there's the year-to-year cycle. The yin water rabbit Qi of 2023 was a period of rain and rivulets sinking deep into aquifers. If you rested thoroughly, connected with nourishing community and relationships, and took a good look at what you're really made of (your true gifts, and also some areas with room for improvement) last year, then 2024's yang wood dragon will be a time when you can let your creative power rise as stout sky-reaching trunks and strong sun-catching branches. You will be ready for the year's emergent surprises - some of which will be pleasant, and some of which will be neutral or unpleasant. That's just how life is.

But the thunderous arousal and freedom of the wood dragon will be followed in 2025 by the cryptic weaving of the yin wood snake, when we will then turn our attention to the quieter growth at the tips of our roots and branches, letting the tiny threads of subtle development spread curiously through the great mystery of the unknown. The stronger and the more strategic and benevolent the structures you build within the influence of 2024's yang wood dragon, the more beautiful and nourishing the lace of your roots and branches will be under the influence of 2025's yin wood snake.

Wishing you an inspired, innovative, vibrant, and kind year! 

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