Illustration by Laurel Long
Happy May Day, Beltane, and the first day of summer. A day often celebrated as a day of freedom and labor rights. May this be a time we cultivate our sovereignty in body, mind, and spirit. This is the time of abundant growth, the zenith of yang energy, and it is ideal for activity, ripening, and completion.
“The heraldic animal of summer is the Red Phoenix - an enormous, magical bird whose radiance is the sun. It is the ascendance of Yang rising out of the devastation of winter and it pulls all dormancy into action.”
– Liu Ming
May 1st, or Beltane, marks the first day of Summer in pagan traditions. According to the Tong Shu, the ancient Chinese almanac, May 5th of 2020 is the first day of Summer. In the west, Summer Solstice is often heralded as the beginning of summer, but this is when the days start to get shorter again -when yin grows. Summer Solstice marks the height of summer when yang qi is at its zenith - it is the longest day of the year. So we are now between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice - the beginning of summer. All the seasonal pivot points are shifted in this way according to the Taoist tradition. The vast majority of this teaching comes from Liu Ming.
Rather than qi being only loosely defined as energy, we can actually understand it when we think of qi as about time. It holds the changing of the seasons, the moon, and other cycles as governing our conduct. When we are in accordance with the seasonal qi we prosper, when we disobey these qi cycles, it brings decline. It is important to make a clear distinction between Spring and Summer. Where the yang qi was immature in early Spring, now it is reaching its maturation and there is completion all around us. Summer’s qi has more force fullness in it than Springtime qi.
Now we have about 6 weeks before yang begins to decline and yin begins its’ growth towards the winter solstice. This is the time to fully dive into whatever it is that you are devoting this year to and be fully active in participating in your growth. Go full steam ahead with projects, ideas, resolutions, and plans. The Nei Jing says the ‘three months of summer are a time of “splendor and growth” when “all things fruit”. Anything is possible when we align ourselves with the qi available for us now. In the botanical world, we can observe everything becoming itself. That which was dormant and not visible in the winter is now in it's state of splendor.
Everything can flourish in the summer. There is enough sunshine that communication between the sky and the earth is fully activated. Moisture is being drawn up from deep in the earth into the plants reach for the sun using the fire of heaven to draw up the yin - the moisture of the ground. This is happening all around us. The Hot Qi of summer is what can bring about the completion of the plans and ideas of the Spring.
On the other side, when we don’t act in accordance with summer’s qi we stumble.
“Disobey the mandates of summer and it will bring harm to the Heart and produce fever (trapped Heat) in the autumn."
- Nei Jing
Inappropriate behavior in summer creates deficiency at autumn harvest. We are part of the seasonal change. When we follow this dance of life we preserve our vitality. Even though there is so much abundance available to us, it is possible to squander this abundance with excessive ambition, rigidity, power-seeking, and aggression, all of which damage the heart-mind, or Shen, which in turn leads to a premature aging.
We are a part of nature, and when we conduct ourselves in this way it brings longevity and a deep embodiment of what it means to actually be a human being. There is a timing to everything and when we conduct ourselves with this fundamental idea of doing things at the right time it brings about the nourishment of our destiny. Believing we are magically outside of this cycle of nature is a kind of arrogance that is expensive to our personal and planetary health.
Spring is the time when new ideas are generated, and summer is the time for them to get legs and manifest. As we age, the differentiation between Spring and Summer becomes even more vital. Having the freshness of sprouting new ideas in the spring is what keeps us young. Spring is the time to let go and allow innovation in. This does not necessarily need to be productive, it could be restorative, but it does contain fresh new ideas.
When fresh yang comes it starts to solidify and press new ideas to replace old ones. If this process fails to take place summer manifests as heat damage. Clinically, we see this in premature aging syndrome. If we are conducting ourselves the same through all the seasons, perhaps at a 40 hour a week job 12 months out of the year what is generated is successful, perhaps, in the summer, but in the winter it creates emptiness and deficiency. A small fire warms the hearth, and a large fire burns the house down. Fire is often strong in youth, but we must be cautious about it as we mature to not let it blaze and deplete our kidney qi.
Summer’s pattern of ascending yang is that of acquiring and growing. If we cultivated yang properly in the spring with education the yang now arises in a productive manner rather than being out of control fire blazing. Healthy yang manifests as a kind of dominance that is generous and mild rather than shapeless, aggressive, and unproductive.
“The three months of summer are called the time of splendor and growth. At summer solstice tang qi reaches an apex and yin qi emerges; yin and yang commingle and all living beings/things prosper. Yang qi energizes all phenomena and yin gives them shape. Because of this yin/yang commingling, all things flower and fruit. People, like all phenomena, are included. They should follow the seasonal qi to preserve vitality.”
Just like in the spring, go to sleep when it is dark and early rise at dawn. Wear loose clothing and untied hair and do your practice at sunrise to grasp the yang qi available to us. This is the time to go further in your exercise and, perhaps, train harder than other times of the year. Sweating helps move any internal stagnation. Rub sweat into the body briskly to help polish the protective or ‘wei’ qi.
It is important this time of year to stay calm and avoid anger. As Liu Ming would say, pushing the body a little bit in exercise is ok, but not the emotions. If we are quick to anger we inflame the pernicious side of yang - which manifests as aggressiveness and violence.
The flowers that we see all around us this time of year are a celebration of the communication between heaven and earth. Small flowers bloom and die quickly as they do not have enough qi to last all the way to the autumn. Things that take the whole summer to grow are more complex, nourishing, and stable. In the Autumn we have pumpkins and squash which have so much qi they can be stored all winter. The flowers we cannot store as easily. It is important to drink water regularly throughout the day and eat many greens to replenish the fluids which are vulnerable to drying up in the summer months. It is simple to know what to eat with a visit to the farmer's market.
Often we can too quickly force maturity on children. This is not only personally with our own conduct with kids, but through too much exposure to media, movies, news, and magazines sprouting weird content. Children should be irresponsible. This experience of innocence and incompleteness of children is what generates new ideas. If we push for kids growing up too fast we get dominant yang that becomes the energy running our society. It is a cultivation of malignant yang if we push responsibility on children too early. It is an honor to take on the responsibility of caring for children so they are not forced into maturing too quickly.
Hot/Fire/Summer qi is associated not only with the ordinary sense of personal joy but also the pleasure that comes in our contact with others. Passion is welcomed in the summer. In pagan traditions, Beltane was the time when people would light fires and make love all night as a blessing for the autumn harvest. One can also see this as a celebration and calibration with the hot qi of summer. The council of the Zhangjishan Yinshu is to “Enter the palace from evening to midnight, otherwise, it injures the qi.” Entering the palace refers to sexual intercourse which is most beneficial during the growing Yin time of day.
Excess modesty during summer is seen as the manifestation of a malevolent yin leftover from winter. There is no need for being overly modest in the summertime. Save the modesty for conserving your qi in winter.
Natural fire brings a kind of unity through the collective demonstration of joy. We can unite differences - living and dead, ancestors and children, young and old, woman and man through this loving, warm, and happy conduct. It is the season to be freer in expressing your feelings, thoughts, and preferences with clarity (not aggression which is a kind of malevolent yang). This is the time for generosity, abundance, and strengthening bonds with our community.
The Zhangjishan Yinshu councils us to wash the hair frequently during the summer but to bathe rarely. Languishing in the tub is not in accordance with the faster pace of the summer qi.
“Summer days. Wash the hair frequently; bathe rarely. Do not rise late. Eat many greens. After waking in the morning, urinate, wash your hands, rinse the mouth, and brush your teeth. With unfastened hair, stroll to the lower end of the hall and after a while drink one cup of water. Enter the palace from evening to midnight, otherwise, it injures the qi.”
- Zhangjishan Yinshu
For a more detailed description of how to harmonize with summer listen to my podcast.