In autumn we learn more about ourselves, perhaps, than in any other season. In this season, Nature lets go of its abundant creation of the past year in a grand final display: leaves turn color and drop, making everything bare. The old leaves go back to the earth, enriching it to promote the coming of new leaves in the spring and a new harvest. Autumn marks a time of turning inward and a reduction of outward-directed energy.
The energy of this season, more than any other, supports our letting go of the waste, the old and stale in our lives, leaving us receptive to the pure and new, granting us a vision of who we are in our essence. Autumn returns us to our essence, moves us to eliminate what we no longer need, and reveals again what is most precious in our lives.
In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of the element Metal (or air). Grief is the emotion of the Metal element. We all experience loss, separation, and “letting go,” and we appropriately feel grief at those times. Grief cleanses us of what is no longer needed in our lives. When the energy of Metal is blocked or imbalanced within us, our expression of grief also becomes imbalanced and inappropriate. It may be excessive and ongoing. Or, in the other extreme, it may be absent, as in those who cannot express their grief.
The Colon and Letting Go
The Colon, one of the two organs in the Metal element, has the function of eliminating what is unnecessary or toxic from our bodies. But we are more than just physical bodies. Think of the daily onslaught of “garbage” directed at our minds and our spirit. We need to eliminate mental and spiritual rubbish, or else our minds can become toxic and constipated, unable to experience the pure and the beautiful that also surround us. On the mental and spirit level, the Colon function enables us to let go of all this waste.
The Lungs and Inspiration
There is more to this season than “letting go” - it is also a time to take in the pure. The air in autumn takes on a new crispness. Think of waking up on a brisk fall day and filling your lungs with that clean, cool autumn air. The Lung, the other organ contained within the Metal element, enables us to take in the pure and the new. It grants us the inspiration of a breath of fresh air. In classical Chinese medicine, the Lung is described as “the receiver of the pure Chi from the Heavens.”
The Lung and Colon work together as a team: one taking in the pure, the other eliminating waste. If these organs failed to do their jobs, imagine what might result - certainly we might experience physical ailments of the Lung and Colon such as bronchitis, shortness of breath, cough, allergies, nasal congestion, emphysema, colds, sore throat, constipation, diarrhea, spastic colon, and abdominal pain. But what happens to our mind and spirit if waste keeps building up and we are unable to take in purity? How are we apt to feel? Instead of tranquility and inspiration, spontaneity and freshness, we feel depression, stubbornness (inability to “let go”), isolation, and negativity. We see the dark side in everything, all the things that could go wrong. Of course, we would not choose to act and feel that way, just as we would not choose to have constipation - but in a condition of Metal imbalance, that is how it manifests.
Further, if we view our body as a community of different organs and functions, it is easy to see how any organ could break down if its waste was not carried away but allowed to fester. In this view, we can see how foolish it is to simply treat a symptom. We must find the cause. If the cause is an imbalance in Metal – if the Lung is unable to take in the pure, or the Colon unable to eliminate waste – we must first restore that function. Then the resulting symptoms will improve, regardless of how they manifest.
Just as metals give value to the earth (gold and silver, minerals and trace elements), the Metal element within us gives our sense of self-worth. Each of us is a miracle of creation, more valuable and special than anything we could ever pursue; each of us has a unique and priceless contribution to make. Yet when our Metal energy is imbalanced, we cannot sense our value; so we compensate by seeking what we think will add to our worth: status, money, or power – none of them bad or wrong in of themselves, but our pursuit of them can be a symptom. And once we have acquired these things; we can remain strangely unfulfilled. People with a Metal imbalance seek respect, quality, and recognition from the outside because they don’t feel the worth within. These are people who have difficulty “letting go” because they identify their own worth with “things”: achievements, attachments, collections, possessions, and attitudes stored in the cluttered attic of the mind.
Restoring our Metal
In the season of autumn, the Metal element is at its peak and particularly amenable to treatment. Fortunately, using the system of Chinese medicine, we can resurrect and rebuild the Metal within us – in its physical expression as well as in mind and spirit. Acupuncturists help restore our Metal using needles and their knowledge of energy. We also can help ourselves by learning about the nature of the season and then acting in harmony with its spirit.
As Nature moves into a period of rest, we too must be cautious not to overexert. The time for “putting it all out there” - the summer - has passed. Now is the time to contain ourselves, acting and speaking only when necessary, behaving with restraint, exerting our will quietly and calmly. Those of us in the “autumn of our lives” must protect ourselves from the extremes of hot and cold within this season.
Suggestions for living in harmony with the autumn season:
- Clean out Clutter: Go through your closet, desk, garage, medicine cabinet, or any cluttered storage area and discard what you no longer need. Then donate, sell, or otherwise circulate what might be of value to others.
- Write it Down: Make a list: a list is a great tool for getting organized and being productive. When you make daily “to-do” lists don’t expect to cross off every item by the end of the day. Congratulate yourself for finishing a few items on your list. For myself, if I write a list at the end of the day for the next day it propels me to be more productive and “Do it!”
- Practice Letting Go: Autumn is the season to unburden ourselves of old hurts and resentments. A good exercise is to write down the hurts and resentments we feel lingering from the previous year. Write each incident or event on a separate piece of paper. Realize that each of these pieces of paper weighs you down, and that the old resentments prevent the new from coming in. Then, tear up or shred the papers and throw them in the garbage or put them in your fireplace and burn them, watching the smoke dissipate.
- Create Time for Meditation and Relaxation: Sometimes our lives appear to get crazy, and when autumn comes and we get back to our old routines, they often seem to hit us like a fast moving train. There is never enough time in the day to get everything done, so . . . take a few minutes to do NOTHING. Traditional Chinese Medicine says that this is the time of year when spirit is more accessible. If you have learned a meditation technique, use it, possibly in the morning before getting out of bed, or at a time during the day when you can close the door, hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, and for ten or fifteen minutes do your meditation. It makes a difference. If you have never learned to meditate, don’t worry, just put on relaxing music, close your eyes and breathe, trying not to get caught up in your thoughts, but watch them as if you are an outside observer. Try it, you’ll like it.
- Cleanse Your Body: As you move into autumn, do a gentle cleanse by ridding your diet of refined carbohydrates and sugars and eating healthy fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates. This gives the body time to eliminate toxins, and will help your immune system be available for the colds and flus associated with the coming seasons. Refined carbohydrates such as sugars and white flour products clog up the bowels and lead to constipation; so avoid them.
- Drink Plenty of Water: As autumn is associated with dryness, it is very important to hydrate by drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of fresh water daily. Water also bulks the foods in our Large Intestine and promotes healthier bowel movements.
- Breathe and Smell the Scents of Nature: Take time each day to breathe slowly and deeply. As you inhale the clean autumn air, feel yourself energized and purified. Feel the old negativity, impurity, and pain leave your body and psyche. Breathing exercises—which strengthen the Lungs, increase energy, still the mind, and lift the spirits—are particularly appropriate for this time of year. In all breathing exercises, make sure that you focus on exhalation; when you exhale completely, the inhalation phase of breathing will occur naturally and spontaneously.
- Acupuncture and Herbs: An acupuncture treatment can help balance your body, mind and spirit, and support good health in the colder months ahead. Herbs and supplements can also strengthen your organs and immune system to keep you healthy during the winter.
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