This article is part of a series that looks at some seasonal themes in classical Chinese medicine. In particular, we are looking at the season's associations with the five phase elements and how those can help us understand and take care of our bodies. You can read about spring, summer, late summer and winter. Read below to learn about AUTUMN!
The wheel of the year continues to turn, and the seasons are shifting as well. Fall is here, and this is the season of Metal 金 in the five element or five phase system. If you're interested, you can read my last article about the late summer season and the Earth phase element.
Dying back and preserving what is valuable
The phrase above captures the essence of the Metal element. Fall is a time when the abundant sun and energy of the summer starts decreasing and plants die back. Deciduous trees’ leaves turn color, and then the trees let go of those leaves. Everything that can be released, is, so that plants and animals can conserve energy and have resources to survive the winter.
It is a time of deciding what is valuable and must be kept, and what can be released. What nature lets go is valuable too. Leaves, vegetation, and everything that dies becomes compost, rich soil that will feed new life and new growth when Spring and Summer come back around again.
At the end of September and beginning of October I passed a big milestone!
I wrapped up my practice in Vancouver, Washington so that I could live and work full-time here in Astoria. I am so happy to be here full time. But those last two trips back to Vancouver in September were hard and sad. I had been practicing in Vancouver for over a dozen years. The people who were coming in for visits that last month were regulars, people who had been coming in to see me often through those years, and the patient-practitioner relationship was deep.
I had known them through health and illness, through divorces and new relationships, through births and deaths of loved ones.
We had laughed and cried together, and I was very sad to be leaving them, as they were sad to see me go. Yet it was time. My life had brought me here, to Astoria, to the astounding beauty of this place and a wonderful relationship, good work, and wonderful new patients and coworkers. The time had come to let my old practice go so that I could fully step into the next phase of my life. I will always cherish the memory of my time there in Vancouver, but the time had come to move on.
Sadness and grief
The emotion associated with the Metal element is sadness and grief, and I’ve noticed that I and my patients often feel this more in the fall. Because this time is sad, and it is a loss. Dying and death, letting go and moving on are essential parts of life for all beings, including us humans.
The Lung and Large Intestine
We each have two meridians/organ networks that belong to the Metal element, the Lung and the Large Intestine.
The Large Intestine
The Large Intestine has the role of clearing out all the garbage, the waste material left after the body has extracted what it needs from food. This is so important, as the waste material that a person doesn’t need can often be toxic. Chronic constipation, if it gets to a certain point, can make a person very, very sick. That waste matter needs to be released so that it can become compost, where once again it has a use and can help nourish life.
Similarly sometimes a person has to let go emotionally. Life changes and all of us have to go through a process of grieving and eventually letting go of big things and little, keeping valuable, precious memories.
The Lung network is responsible for breathing, taking in oxygen and energy (qi) from the air and helping it to move through the entire body. It’s not just the physical Lungs but all the upper airway passages as well and the skin and hair. All of these define boundaries between the person and the outside world.
Both of these apply to the Lung network, the physical aspect of taking in new air, and the mental/emotional/spiritual of new ideas and creativity and spirituality.
When the Lung is functioning well, it’s easy to breathe, the skin is healthy people are full of vitality and creativity. When the Lung network is not doing well there can be various physical diseases of the lungs and skin such as asthma, allergies, eczema and so on. There can also be a lack of creativity and inspiration, a sort of lifelessness and dullness, rigidity, and a feeling of grief and loss from being cut off from something bigger.
A healthy Lung organ helps us to have a connection to heaven, as a healthy Spleen and Stomach helps us have a connection to Earth.
Ways to take care of your Metal element
#1 – GRIEF – Allow yourself to be sad if it comes up for you.
A lot of hard things have happened in the past few years and most of us have experienced loss of some type (loved ones, work, normalcy). This is a time of year that that grief will naturally come up. Let yourself experience it and be present with it, it will move in its own time, but it’s important to feel it. It might be tiring, it might be hard, possibly the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. This is okay.
#2 – INSPIRATION – Embrace what inspires you.
Books? Music? Walks on the beach or in the woods? Religious services? Time with friends or family? Take some time for whatever helps you feel creative and in tune with something higher.
#3 – BREATHE – That's it, just breathe.
Fully and mindfully. A good deep breath moves your belly and your chest. Take ten deep breaths and feel the new oxygen and energy coming in, and the old carbon dioxide going out.
#4 – RELEASE – Have regular daily bowel movements.
Make sure that you are letting go of your waste. Eating fiber and vegetables, walking or other movement can help.