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The Water Element and the Power of Surrender: An Interview With Sarah Clark, LAc

Interview with Sarah Clark, LAc, by Lindsay Wilkinson, ND, LAc 

Lindsay: Winter can be a tough season for a lot of people. Can you speak to that from a Five Element perspective?

Sarah: Winter is the most yin time of the year. We’ve gone through the deathing season of fall, and now everything is in a state of dormancy—literally underground. Everything is potential. There is a starkness and a quietude. If we’re not comfortable with our own underground, with what’s in our own basement—let’s say—it can be hard for us.

From a Five Element perspective, winter can bring up fear, because on some primitive level we don’t know if we have enough resources to make it through to spring. The Earth is not producing: we have to rely on our inner resources. Alternatively, there may be aspects of ourselves that are frozen, like traumatic experience, emotions we’re not willing to feel, or aspects of our personalities that somewhere along the line we decided were unacceptable. In winter, when that frozen state is mirrored to us by the natural world, we become more aware of what’s frozen within. Even if we have only a very subtle awareness of where we’re frozen, or walled off, it can be very painful.

Lindsay: And you’ve spent a lot of time studying the Shan Ren Dao. What about from that perspective?

Sarah: Yes, I’ve studied the Shan Ren Dao with Dr. Tamara Staudt since 2011. Shan Ren Dao means “The Path of the Real Person”. It’s a system of healing created by a 19th century peasant saint from Northern China named Wang Fengyi. It’s based on the idea that physical disease emerges from emotional disharmony.

According to Wang Fengyi, the pathological emotions of water are arrogance and disdain. These are colder emotions. One can understand them as a natural result of a person being frozen up or split off from their wholeness. When we’re split off from ourselves, we naturally hold arrogance and disdain for whatever or whomever reminds us of the split off aspects of ourselves. Arrogance and disdain are powerful feeling and thinking states that create great distance between ourselves and others—that perpetuate that experience of being split off.

Lindsay: And what kinds of physical problems might emerge from harboring arrogance and disdain?

Sarah: Diseases that afflict the kidney and bladder, and issues that are associated with those water organ systems: low back pain, for instance, hip pain, weak or painful knees, diseases of the bones.

Lindsay: Wang Fengyi’s teachings are focused on cultivating virtue. Can you speak to the virtue of water?

Sarah: According to Wang Fengyi, the virtues of water are humility and wisdom. Water always flows to the lowest place. Wisdom comes from surrendering our tendency to want to always be right, to always know. It comes from surrendering to not knowing, surrendering to our limited existence as human beings, surrendering to that which is more powerful than we are—whether that be god, or spirit, or the natural world. From this place, there is no room for arrogance or disdain. From this place, we can begin to witness and allow for the thawing of the sublimated aspects of ourselves. We can take ourselves less seriously. All those aspects of ourselves that we’re ashamed of start to seem less heavy, less important—maybe even less singular to us alone. We start allowing ourselves to be, to flow, to feel our connection to those around us and to that which is greater than us.

Lindsay: Can you say more about this idea of surrendering—especially as it applies to your work with patients?

Sarah: Well, the primary way that it applies to my practice is that I’m always surrendered to whatever is in the highest good for my patient. And the patient, even in just deciding to receive acupuncture, has already surrendered to the wisdom of their higher self. Five Element acupuncture aims to remove whatever blocks the patient from being in harmony with nature, from being in a state of flow. When we’re in a state of flow, we’re surrendered. There’s nothing to fear, nothing to protect ourselves from.

Lindsay: Can you speak to how the InnerDialogue work you do with patients involves surrender?

Sarah: InnerDialogue work was created by Solihin Thom, who recognized mudras as expressions of inner states in the human being. He saw that certain mudras could reveal states of disharmony and simultaneously evoke the repair of that disharmony. Like the Shan Ren Dao work, the InnerDialogue work is about manifesting our human-ness in its fullest capacity, fully integrating all aspects of our nature.

Surrender is most important in this work in that it requires that both I and my patient have made a conscious choice to surrender to a higher power, to surrender to the possibility of receiving from that higher power (whatever higher power means for the patient) what is important for her or him to receive in that session.

Lindsay: Can you offer something simple for people who struggle with the winter season?

Sarah: First, it’s to not push the struggle away, to not further wall oneself off from the more painful emotions that can come up in winter. To allow the difficult feelings. If we can allow ourselves to feel them, to become acquainted with them, then we can begin to release them. And, most importantly, we can stop operating from them unconsciously. As we do that, we can also draw close to those we love. Reach for support. Be kind to ourselves.