TCM’s Five Element Theory contains spiritual archetypes that each correspond to a primary organ and season, enriching our understanding of the mysterious forces that influence our lives, with Zhi as the governing force of Winter. The Zhi, or “Will-Power,” corresponds to the element of Water and the organ system of the Kidneys – both of which are associated with this season. Responsible for our capacity to think, make decisions, and carry out plans, strong Zhi manifests as motivation and perseverance, indicating both physical and mental power. On a spiritual level, the Zhi also supports the fulfillment of one’s destiny through the capacity to take aligned action.
It may seem counterintuitive that the most Yin season of the year is governed by Will-Power, but there are deep layers of meaning behind this connection. Firstly, it is the Kidneys that also hold Fear – the emotion associated with Winter. During this dark, seemingly bleak, and traditionally scarce time of year, Fear can run rampant. However, prolonged or excessive Fear weakens the Kidneys and depletes Zhi, which can further compromise one’s susceptibility to experiencing Fear or coping with it. Additionally, Will-Power can be thought of as the antidote to Fear as when it is strong, we are both more capable of maneuvering toward safety and determined to overcome danger. Finally, in our modern world, it ironically often takes a certain amount of Will-Power to rest, which is the task of the season and one of the primary ways to fortify Zhi, along with nourishment.
Zhi can also mean “memory,” with the Kidneys influencing our ability to store data, thus helping to explain why memory can decline as we age. Jing (Essence) is stored primarily in the Kidneys, governing both longevity and vitality; when original Jing runs out, so too does our time on Earth, and when Jing declines, so too can our ability to remember. Interestingly, the type of fear associated with the Kidneys lives deep in our nervous systems and can be intimately connected to ancestral or inherited trauma. Even on the most basic level, the Fear that those who came before us likely felt during this time of year (e.g., freezing to death, starving, that the light would not return) can be activated.
Thankfully, the endless interconnections of TCM also bring consolidated and integrated solutions, as many Zhi-enhancing techniques also support nervous system regulation, vitality, longevity, and seasonal-specific emotional balance. For example, TCM expert Giovanni Maciocia noted that he always found a connection between depression and weakened Zhi, and therefore worked to tonify the Kidneys as part of his depression treatment protocols. Some of our preferred herbal allies for this season are primarily Jing / Kidney tonics and include: Deer Antler Velvet (profoundly regenerative), Pine Pollen (deeply remineralizing), Lion’s Mane (nootropic), Eucommia (structurally reparative), Chaga (nutrient dense and resilience-promoting), and He Shou Wu (abundantly replenishing). One of the most optimal sources of nourishment for this season is seaweed, thanks to its replenishing and mineralizing properties, supporting proper hydration and the optimal flow of our internal waters (also connected to emotions).
The dormancy of nature during this time of year invites us to likewise conserve, focusing on abundant rest, replenishment, reflection, the imaginal realms or dreamwork… all supporting the ability to plant seeds for the more fertile season ahead. We consolidate, store, and move into an energy of receptivity, all while signaling safety and security to our nervous systems. In so doing, we fortify our foundations and our Essence, facilitating our enhanced ability to flow with the waters of life – sometimes frozen, other times moving rapidly, but always carrying the intelligence (and promise) of Life.