Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. ~ Albert Camus
Autumnal Equinox: September 22, 2013, 1:44 pm PDT
Officially the Autumnal Equinox occurs when the Sun once again crosses the imaginary celestial equator, heading south for the Winter months of the Northern hemisphere, on September 22, 2013. The moment marks the instance when light and dark, yin and yang, are momentarily in balance. Soon the light will wane allowing the yin forces of contraction to overtake the expansion of yang. Nights grow longer than days until the next tipping point at the Winter Solstice in December.
Thus metal season is characterized by ripening, contraction and slowing down, harvesting, judging, and finally letting go. It is the letting go process that may give rise to the emotions of grief and disappointment which can deplete the body of its reserves. In the oldest acupuncture text, the Neijing Su Wen (The Yellow Emperor's Classic on Chinese Medicine), the wise acupuncturist Qi Bo advises:
In the months of Fall all things in nature reach their full maturity. The grains ripen and harvesting occurs. The Heavenly energy cools, as does the weather. The wind begins to stir. This is the changing or pivoting point when the active phase (yang) turns into its opposite, the passive phase (yin). One should retire with the sunset and arise with the dawn. Just as the weather in Fall turns harsh, so does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful,refraining from excess sadness so that one can make the transition to Winter smoothly. This is the time to gather one’s spirit and energy, be more focused, and not allow desires to run wild. One must keep the Lung energy full, clean, and quiet. This means practicing breathing exercises to enhance Lung qi. Also, one should refrain from grief, the emotion of the Lung. This will prevent Kidney or digestive problems in the Winter. If this natural order is violated, damage will occur to the Lungs, resulting in diarrhea with undigested food in Winter. This compromises the body’s ability to store in Winter.
As this passage indicates, the organs associated with the metal element are the lungs and large intestine. The lungs receive heavenly qi which is transported to the kidneys, the seat of dharma, and thus bring inspiration and divine energy to support our path; and like its co-organ, the skin, protects us from impurities in both the inner and outer world. The large intestine lets go of post-heavenly qi impurities hidden in food, while keeping precious minerals like magnesium which is necessary for its smooth flow, as well as controls the contraction of smooth muscle in the digestive track and blood vessels, also ruled by metal. In Chinese medicine, these organs are related in their ability not just to absorb or release oxygen, but also to absorb or release water through the lungs, and its related outer layer of the skin, and inner organ of the colon. Thus the metal organs are the primary tool to support immunity. Acupuncturists use cupping, guasha (scraping) and expel-the-pathogen points like Lung 7 and Large Intestine 4, to trigger sweating and release unwanted passengers.
|Large Intestine 4|
However, too much sweating can also deplete the system, especially since both yin and yang metal organs are associated with dryness. According to Lonnie Jarrett, "On a psychospirtual level, dryness may embody a sense of loss and feelings of having be "burned" by heaven, which has taken away what one has valued." Thus feeling abandoned or disconnected, or experiencing excess disappointment and grief can also stagnate energy, creating a "deficiency heat" that also dries up the fluids. Even certain activities like sauna and hot yoga should be done in a way that balances sweating by replenishing fluids and electrolytes (minerals).
One of the easiest, and most environmentally sound, ways to stay healthy in any season is to eat fresh local and seasonal foods. The flavor of the metal element is pungent, like ginger, garlic, and onions, all excellent immune boosters. The color white is also associated with metal and many of these pungent vegetables are also white. Pears are a fruit that can restore the yin fluids and benefit both lung and colon.
Two of my favorite patent remedies that can stop an approaching cold in its track are Yin Chiao and Gan Mao Ling.
These herbs and Qi Bo's sound advice to gather one's spirit and energy are quite effective if we wish to stay in alignment with nature's eternal rhythms. Just as the leaves have collected and stored the sunlight deep in a tree's core, we too must consider how to keep our energy strong when the sunlight is weak. Thus the autumnal equinox heralds not only the fall harvest, but also the metal season in which we may assess what we have collected, what is worth keeping, and what needs to be released. As the sap of a tree begins to contract towards it roots, and releases its leaves that become compost for the next year, we too must slow down, turn our focus inward, and let go of what no longer serves us, returning to our core, our roots, our essence.
I leave you with a wonderful example of the metal season: Chet Baker plays Autumn Leaves with such exquisite sensitivity that we feel the metal sensibility of bittersweet -- the understanding that our experience is all too fleeting.