The art of being thoughtful.

If you live in the MD/DC/VA Metropolitan area you’ve possibly noticed a bit of a subtle shift in the weather… a bit more heavy feeling with the humidity and cooler evenings. And if you are a friend of the farmer’s markets like we are you may have also noticed an abundance of juicy produce including peaches, tomatoes, plums and so much more. All this signifies a special time of year that in Chinese Medicine we call late summer.

Not all regions may have the same shift in climate to see this season in action, though another way it’s notable year round is in the transitions that occur between the seasons. For example, the time of year when it’s not quite fall or winter. Or, when winter begins to transform into spring.

We here at TSW like to take time each season to pinpoint some of the special things we can learn from nature that inform us about our own well being and today we will give you a dose of what the late summer has to offer! So, why am I talking about peaches and transitions?

The late summer is associated with the earth element in Chinese Medicine. This element is associated with abundance, nourishment and digestion, just to name a few. If we pause and take a moment to think about what the actual earth (the planet we live on) provides to us, it’s clear to see how the planet is incredibly generous in providing what we need to sustain ourselves. Also, as earth rotates each day and travels around the sun it subtly reminds us about change and transition – the shifts between night and day, seasons, annual cycles and more. Additionally, this element’s greatest virtue is in the realm of thought and thoughtfulness.

Us humans can have a ton of breakdowns in the realm of nourishment and transitions. Whether we are talking about pooping, eating, receiving help from others (an often overlooked piece of nourishment), providing too much help to others and depleting ourselves (hmmm, many of us are probably guilty of this one!), or experiencing either excitement or total distress about life changes then we are talking about the realm of the Earth element.

So what, you wonder? Well, I like to think of all of the possibilities that natural medicine has to offer, and something often overlooked in the arena of little things that actually make a huge difference in people’s well being is our human interactions with one another. We know how stress contributes to illness (well, we are at least beginning to get this on a bigger level) though what I don’t think we realize is how brief exchanges between individuals can actually heal and repair the damage.

Without getting into all the specs., one simple thing that’s great medicine for almost everyone I know is being given the gift of thoughtfulness. We all know people who are entirely unsympathetic (boo hiss) or overly sympathetic (nauseating); sympathy is an art in itself and I’d like to take this one off the table for now because I don’t think it’s great medicine. I’d prefer to talk about empathy – the fine art of really taking a moment to consider what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. This is not about getting exactly how someone is feeling or what they are going through, how could we – we are all different and unique. I will never know exactly what it’s like to be in your shoes and visa versa. It’s also not all about making a huge deal out of celebrating people either and making an overly big deal out of them. It’s about, simply, taking some time to sit quietly with myself and consider what it’s like to be this other person. Then taking it a step further and offering something that would make them (not me) feel seen and understood. Here’s what that could look like:

  • A kind and authentic acknowledgement of something that’s happening in their life either good or bad, like:
    • “Hey, I know you’ve been dealing with a ton of stress at work and I  wanted to let you know that I noticed and I think you are being really graceful about it,” or
    • “Hey, I know things have been tough with your mom being ill, I don’t know exactly what it’s like for you though I wanted to let you know I’m sorry to hear about it and wish things were less difficult,” or
    • “Wow, I noticed what you did to help us all meet our project deadline work last week and I really appreciated it.”
  •  A gesture that would make a difference for them (hence not for you) as in, you might like cookies when you need support though someone else would light up if they were given a hug or compliment.
  • In a conversation practice your listening skills and your ability to nod gracefully. Use sounds like “hmmm” or “umhmm”  with the intent of showing the person who is speaking that you really hear them, without judgement, and you aren’t going to jump in with a whole bunch of “me too” and “have you tried this” kind of stuff.
  • Making an offer to do something that would make the other person’s life easier and then actually doing it. This could be something specific like bringing your friend with a new baby a meal or it could be a genuine question to the person, “is there anything I can do for you that would make a difference?” Either way, the key is not to make them crazy trying to figure out how to utilize you, and it’s not being all flaky either. Make a clean offer and follow through.

This is a short list of ways to show empathy and things like this go a long way for people. If you are not awesome at this whole thoughtful-empathy thing, no worries! It takes a bit of practice just like training for a marathon or learning a new skill. If you are overly exceptional at it, don’t forget to check and make sure you aren’t killing people with kindness – pull back a bit for your sake (seriously it can become exhausting and the world needs you to rest so you can keep being awesome) and theirs to find a healthy balance.

No matter what though take advantage of this time of year where the seasonal energy can give you a boost in practicing thoughtfulness. And if you do nothing else, please pause right now to consider someone in your life and take a moment today to let them know that you care and you’re taking notice of them. It will go a long way.


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