Dr. Steve Rissman, ND
What goes up, must come down. Isaac Newton said it first. The 70’s rock group, Blood, Sweat and Tears, had a hit about it and it’s my mantra at this time of year- must come down.Given the level of overstimulation of our daily lives, I think it’s a good one to reflect on.
If you are lucky enough to be out in nature, you’ve observed the autumnal return of leaves, herbaceous plants, perhaps even animals, back down to the earth, to break down, decompose (lose composure- how’s that for a metaphor?!) and become like the common soil of the earth, losing individual character and becoming compost. That which feeds the next cycle is compost. I believe our bodies, our lives need that same level of decomposition.
It seems that in our American society, we primarily live in “up”, yang or hyper-stimulation mode, at least until we collapse under the weight of fatigue and illness. As men, we are socialized to affirm our precarious status of manhood by way of accomplishment and achievement. We are, therefore, always on. To simply keep up with the pace of life today, we rely on stimulation, all too often. Coffee companies and makers of energy drinks thrive on our need to succeed. Our sympathetic nervous system (think fight or flight) predominates, our bodies pump out cortisol, and things get way heated up (talk about global warming!). Eventually we start getting tired, the body can’t keep up and that’s the advent of cold and flu season.
What goes up, must come down…
Men especially need the winter, the inward journey to the slowed, creative source of mystery. The other half of that “spinning wheel” of the autonomic nervous system, is the parasympathetic nervous system, in which feed, breed, rest and relaxation predominate. This season of Winter Solstice is a great time to bring our parasympathetic activities into the forefront. There is call to be like the fallen seed and sink back into the ground, rest… and wait, in the silent night. Sleep may be what we need-who doesn’t appreciate a “long winter’s nap”, but I like to suggest conscious serenity. My favorite way to drive parasympathetic activity at this time of year is turn on my Christmas tree, with no other light in the house, and just sit, reflect, and surrender.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the false yang of bright lights, holiday television, shopping, and partying-I enjoy them too, but I really encourage a letting go process.
What might you need to surrender at this time of your life?
Here are five ways to practice, beyond sitting quietly near the yule bush:
- Pet your dog- or cat, or horse. Oh, I don’t mean in passing. I mean sit there and just make non-human contact. Let yourself be touched. It’s a great way to parasympathetic relaxation.
- Stand in silence under the stars. It’s cold out, and you may live in a city, but go out in the quiet of the night, and mimic the surrender of the night.
- Plant a seed in a pot and spend a few moments every day, meditating on that seed’s wait.
- Recall in your mind, the influential people in your life. Thank them in your mind and let the image of them fade away.
- Jog through your mind, all the roles you have played or jobs you’ve had. Say one thing you most gained from that, and let it go, as if shedding a skin that is no longer needed.
- Make friends with boredom. Seriously, get curious when you are bored, and acquiesce.
The seeds from last year’s fruit fell to the earth, and now sit in the ground and wait, surrounded by decomposed life. Let yourself do the same. Abandon ambitions and goals, leave behind ideals of self and others. Then, when the conditions are right- sunshine, warmth and snowmelt, then we’ll talk. For now, just wait.
Dr. Steve Rissman is a full-time associate professor in the Department of Health Professions at Metropolitan State University of Denver, teaching in the Integrative Health Care program. He teaches Clinical Pathophysiology, Men’s Health, Men Across Cultures, Men and Anger, and several other classes. Dr. Rissman has studied, taught and worked in the field of men’s health for over twenty years and has lead the way in lighting the path for young men embarking on the journey to better know themselves. In a new facet of his professional life, Dr. Rissman is the primary investigator in a research project looking at qualities of great men- men who know their purpose in life and hold a larger vision for what is possible.
In his practice on his farm, north of Denver, Dr Rissman works with men/boys confounded by behaviors related to anger/rage, anxiety, and depression in their lives.
Having grown up on a farm and spending a great deal of time in the outdoors, Dr. Rissman has a deeply rooted curiosity for the laws of nature, particularly the science of disease process. Consequently, he has an extraordinary ability to illicit the story of one’s unique dis-ease process and to perceive what needs to be cured in each individual man/boy, using psychotherapy, botanical medicines, therapeutic nutrition, homeopathic medicines, and other insightful methods intended to help lead men through the abyss of dis-ease toward a rich, purposeful life.