You can feel it in the air, even in Southern California: a cool breeze that deepens in the late afternoon…cooler mornings, highlighted by a new brightness to the sunshine…dusk falling abruptly, earlier, surprising the evening commuters…the maple trees turning colors…the angle of the sun has changed, and autumn is here.
Autumn brings with it so many other changes that we can feel if we pay attention. And if we follow the seasons, with our minds and our bodies, we can stay healthy.
The ancient sages who shaped Chinese Medicine knew a lot about autumn. Autumn is the season belonging to the metal element. Metal is all about the Lung and the Large Intestine, and as such, embodies the consciousness of inspiration, letting go, surrender, and acceptance.
In Autumn, we feel the transition from warm to cool, as reflected in the weather. So the best thing to do is to pause, take stock, figure out what we need to keep and what we should let go of. This goes for possessions, emotions, memories, and habits. Holding on to too much will overburden our systems in the winter.
A friend of mine told me a story a few years ago: he spent the autumn months going through his storage after feeling an inner pull to get rid of old stuff that he didn’t need anymore. That winter, he said, he was the healthiest he’d ever been, and many new opportunities presented themselves to him. Since he wasn’t weighed down with a lot of unnecessary possessions, he could accept the opportunities he was offered.
It’s a good contemplation: what can I let go of? What feeling does the idea of “letting go” bring up for me? Is it enthusiasm or fear and resistance? The answer is critical, because if we resist letting go, we get stuck. And this stuckness is where we get sick. On the physical level, resistance can create constipation and lower digestive problems and sore throats. When we resist, we tend to breathe shallowly, restricting movement in our diaphragm, which shuts down the whole digestive process and creates stagnation in the liver. Yuck.
On the other hand, if we can let go of things we do not need, especially in this shift between warm and cool, if we can transition gracefully, we will continue to find inspiration in our lives. And this inspiration is critical to staying connected with ourselves, our work, and the people we love.
It’s also a good time to let go of some dietary habits you may have picked up in the summer. Like ice cream, which creates phlegm (which will be stored in the lungs), or too much cheese, or too many salads. Instead, you may want to begin incorporating more warming foods: soups, steamed vegetables, roasted vegetables, stews. These will speed digestion time because your body doesn’t have to warm them up first before digesting them.
The emotion associated with Metal is grief.
Have you let go of grief? Or is there some grief you are holding on to? Stuck grief, quite obviously, creates stagnation and disease in the lungs. As Americans, we often don’t give ourselves the time and space to grieve completely, if at all. Instead, we wad it up into a little ball and shove it in our lungs, where it festers, creating stagnation and disease.
Here’s an exercise to do in Autumn to release emotions and memories that are stuck in the body:
On a cool crisp windy Autumn day, climb to the top of a hill. Take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Bring a memory to mind that you might not have processed completely, especially one that has a deep emotional component of grief, loss, disappointment, sadness, or sorrow. Take a deep breath, and focus on the feeling of the wind blowing against your body. Imagine the wind actually blowing THROUGH you, picking up this memory and emotions and pulling them out of your body, especially out of your lungs and large intestine. Instead of resisting, relax every muscle in your body. Think of the word “surrender.” Take another deep breath, and consciously let go. You can think about each individual thing and say to yourself, “I surrender this memory. I surrender my grief. I surrender my sadness/rage/resentment/sorrow. I surrender my pain…”
Letting go is huge. When we do it consciously, we allow our whole body to move on. Getting stuck in the past is a death sentence; it’s what ages us. Our past stressful traumatic memories act as filters that color our perception of reality, taking us out of the present moment and limiting our choices. That’s why we need to let go. Letting go of the past and accepting “what is” will allow us to enter the present moment. Then we can take a deep breath, feel inspired in our life, and connect with ourselves and our world.