"The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe." —Albert Einstein
Even before I was an acupuncturist, the conceit that certain months of the year yield a dark force cloud of disease heading my way, sent by the vengeful hand of Mother Nature herself, seemed scientifically sketchy. But that fear definitely confirms the existential pit I have developed this year that says I must be on constant high alert for suffering and aggression and I should absolutely be afraid to leave the house.
It's like a big box-office disaster movie: COLD AND FLU SEASON. Don't. Touch. That. Restroom Doorknob.
Though the flu, specifically, does peak between the months of December and March in the United States, I refuse to believe that the universe is hostile to me. And that is hard work for me to remember, especially in 2017. I'm on Facebook: I don't need any more encouragement to fear facing the break of day. But I have to do this work; I have to remind myself that I live in harmony with a peaceful universe because my life depends on my loving it and fostering compassion for those who live in it.
Winter is not an aggressive season. As nature actually intends it, winter is meant to be the season of utmost Yin: utmost darkness, utmost softness, and utmost rest. It is meant to be the period of consolidation and conservation so that new life may burst forth in spring. If you were many other mammals, you would just sleep right through it. But you are a human living in 2017, so instead of resting, you are going to work right through it, oftentimes working even harder so that you can take one week off, which you will cram with hyper-socializing, traveling to environments your body is entirely unacclimated to, eating shit your body has to work twice as hard to digest, and managing the insane pressure of being full of "joy and gratitude" while fending off the expectations of your family and shopping for the perfect gifts for a seven-year-old you've met once and your husband's weird aunt who calls you Raquel even though your name is Rachel.
"Cold and Flu Season" does not mean the environment is pumping norovirus and strep into every subway station and kindergarten playground: it is our cultural resistance to recognizing the necessity of conservation and our inability to adapt to limited sunlight exposure and cold, with an overconsumption of refined sugar and dairy, reduced water intake, unusual stressors, and reduced physical activity.
According to the Huang Di Nei Jing, the fundamental doctrinal source for Chinese medicine, there are ALWAYS pathogens in the air. Our bodies have a natural intuitive defense for these pathogens, an energetic layer of immunity and vitality that sits on the surface of the skin called Wei qi, or "righteous qi." Getting sick from external causes (colds, flu, allergies) is ultimately about the battle between what's in the air ("wind" or "evil qi"; yes, that's what the old books call it) and the strength of our Wei qi. "Wind" hits us first in the neck, which is why we wear scarves and why the two symptoms that precede a cold or flu are stiff neck and sore throat. As the evil qi and the righteous qi collide, heat and stagnation are on the surface of the skin, and that's what we feel those first couple of days of illness: muscle aches, body soreness, alternating chills and fever.
Western medicine really likes to focus on the evil qi, or the germs in the air, but Eastern medicine dictates that it is less important to worry about the pathogens (which are always there and we can't control) and instructs us to focus instead on self-care and cultivating strength. When our bodies are strong, we're resting and eating properly, we're exercising and managing stress, we're taking the best care of ourselves, our immune system functions best and protects us adequately.