Wood Energy and Depression

April 2009

Do you feel depressed because you feel stuck, not knowing your direction in life? Do you feel frustrated easily and often get off the track of your goals? Or do you find yourself get into many confrontational situations that you would rather avoid? Your wood energy is out of balance. And springtime is the best season to get it balanced so that you will have a more fruitful year ahead.

I have seen and helped many patients with depression. What I have noticed is no matter what their specific circumstances are and no matter what other imbalances there are, the Wood energy imbalance is the major component. Let me explain to you how is Wood energy associated with depression. The Wood energy moves upward and outward. In a plant, this means that it manifests the essence in the seeds and brings about the upward physical growth. It’s same on the physical level for human beings. The Wood energy is like a “growth hormone” that’s associated with the growth and maturity of the physical body. On a spiritual level, the wood energy is the directional force that brings out and manifests the inner potentials. It’s the expression of creativity in a way that’s unique to each individual. Suppose a child likes drawing. Drawing is the way to express her creativity. If another child likes to cook, then cooking is his way of expression. The Wood energy is in charge of this outward flow of expression, the outward expression of life potentiality. The Wood energy also provides an upward, vertical evolution. It offers an elevated perspective, which allows us to see beyond what our circumstances allow. In a difficult situation, the Wood energy will provide the hope that enables us to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel, and to persevere until we reach our goal. The balanced Wood energy is represented by bamboo. It is deeply rooted and empty in the center. It is straight and flexible. Its deep rootedness symbolizes a deep connection with its essence and potential. Its hollowness represents humility, non-attachment to what should be but rather accepting what is at the moment. When the strong wind comes, it doesn’t resist to what is, but simply bends, following the wind without forgetting its ultimate goal. After the wind subsides, it springs back to its upright position and continues with its growth.

When the Wood energy is imbalanced it manifests in two ways. The first is a deficient way. Thinking about a seedling meets the blockage of a rock, it tries to push through, and it tries to look for a crack. After several trials, it loses it energy and it gives up. For people who have deficiency of Wood energy, as they encounter difficult situation in life, they often give up and have a sense of resignation and futility. “Why bother? I just can’t make it.” They are toppled over by the momentary obstacle and have lost the big picture of self-expression. When a seedling doesn’t push through the rock on top of it, it eventually dies. The potential in the seed doesn’t get chance to manifest itself. When people adopt a resigned attitude about life, they are dying slowly as well, in the sense that they are not manifesting their life energy. This is when they get depressed. Depression is a sign telling you that you are not connected with your own essence and expressing your life energy fully.

On the other end of spectrum of imbalance is an excess of wood energy. Some people learned early in life that they have to keep fighting in order not to be crushed. They are like a tree that is so tough and stiff that always tries its best to resist when the wind comes. The tree devotes a lot of energy to develop a thicker bark, stronger trunk in order to resist the wind. At the same time, it also loses sight of its own goal. In following the habitual reactive pattern, the life energy that is supposed to be used to unfold our potential and unique expression is wasted as being belligerent, rebelling against perceived authorities and obstacles. And eventually, when we are no longer able to sustain this kind of endeavor, the resignation comes in and we feel depressed and hopeless. In either case, whether fighting or giving in, our perspective becomes limited by our habitual reactive pattern. Life becomes a struggle between right and wrong rather than a spontaneous flow of expression of the inner potential.

When you feel that you are stuck, you are not really “stuck”, but rather your feeling is showing you that the Wood energy is not flowing smoothly. Perceived “rocks” block the spontaneous flow of the expression of your life energy. The rocks can take many forms. But they all share the commonality, which is suppressing, crushing and knocking down growth. I remembered a conversation that I had with an artist friend recently. He’s been feeling very depressed during the whole winter time because he’s been struggling with certain “balance” that his artist friends believed that he should attain. His frustration is about getting off the track of his vision of his art and getting entangled in the “selling and getting famous” ego trap. If he doesn’t go back to his track, his creativity will be crushed.

Restoring the free flow of energy, balancing the Wood’s spreading and uprising energy direction is the first important treatment principle for depression. Depending on deficiency or excess, we choose either to tonify or to sedate the Wood energy. In assessing your Wood energy, I also take into consideration of other energy systems because they are all intricately intertwined with the Wood energy.

When your Wood energy is imbalanced, depending on the involvement of other elemental forces, the manifestation can be different. If your Wood energy quality is like a piece of dry brittle wood, the analogy is someone who doesn’t grow because he is so cut off from the nourishing source, we need to introduce some Water energy to nourish the wood; on the other hand, if your Wood energy is like a soggy log that can only smoke but not burn (someone who is not capable of any passion because of fear), we need to introduce more fire quality. If someone is like a tree growing branches but not reaching upward (someone who gets distracted whenever there’s a perceived difficulty on the road ahead), we then need to use the sharp Metal energy to cut off some branches… By restoring the harmony of all energy systems, the life energy can again reassert itself and flow more freely.

Springtime is a good time to treat depression because the energy in nature supports the Wood energy; therefore it is easier to restore the balance. For people with formal conditions related with specific Wood imbalance, spring is the important time to do maintenance treatment to prevent any reoccurrence of the symptoms.