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Precious Metals: Autumnal Awe

Following the Late Summer season, when we were focused on integrating lessons and crafting intentions, in Autumn we now have a clear sense of what we value. This distillation process, while at times uncomfortable, is necessary. In nature, the leaves dry out and reveal various colors, they fall and decompose into the soil, enriching the earth with minerals to nourish the next cycle of growth. What has become stale and rotten is let go to clear the slate for the deep reflection and quiet gestation of Winter, the bright possibilities and new visions of Spring, and so forth.

Because the yin energy at this time of year is building, peaking at the Winter Solstice, it is a time of turning inward. To live in harmony with the season at this time it is vital to carve out time for physical and spiritual alignment as well as solitude and repose.

The energy of Fall resonates with the element of Metal, the color white, the sound of weeping, the odor of rotten and the emotion of grief. The metal element refers to minerals, precious metals, crystals and gemstones. Respectively, consider their defining characteristics: richness, malleability, structure, and multi-faceted. Minerals enrich the soil, which enriches our food, which enriches our blood. Metals can be melted down and cast or hammered into different shapes such as weapons, dishes, jewelry, tools, circuit boards, computer processors, and so on. Crystals are used to store information, keep time (Quartz timepieces ring a bell?) and amplify sound vibrations. Gemstones with multiple pristine surfaces sparkle as they interact with light, and represent the refinement and wealth associated with the Metal element.

The organs associated with this season are Lung and Large Intestine, and this pair perfectly represents the balance between what is pure and what is toxic. The Lung, which opens to the nose, promotes both respiration and inspiration in the name of freshness, while the Large Intestine releases what has reached its expiration. However, before elimination, the Large Intestine also extracts that which may still be useful to the body, reabsorbing nutrients (minerals) from the stool. Ultimately, a person with a healthy Metal element is neither hoarding nor wasteful.

Both organs bridge the barrier between the internal and external of the body, and for this reason, the skin is recognized as a “third Lung” in Chinese Medicine. The skin acts as a two way street, almost a metaphor for the functions of both Lung and Large Intestine; it filters and “breathes” our environment, and it releases toxins or pathogenic factors from inside the body to the exterior via sweat, acne, etc.

If we use this season appropriately, we have the opportunity for release, which may come in a variety of forms. Physically, we can let go of toxins and waste from the body, and we can engage in an emotional or spiritual parallel by identifying the attitudes, habits, and relationships that no longer serve us, and through practicing forgiveness of ourselves and others. Embodiment of the metal element requires our understanding of what is essential—and what is frivolous, weighing us down, or spoiling our fruits. Emotionally, we may find great healing in revisiting unresolved grief during this phase of the year.

Below is an excerpt from the Su Wen about the Fall season, translated by Paul U. Unschuld and Hermann Tessenow, in collaboration with Zheng Jinsheng:

“The three months of autumn,

they denote taking in and balance.

The qi of heaven becomes tense.

The qi of the earth becomes bright.

Go to rest early and rise early,

get up together with the chicken.

Let the mind be peaceful and tranquil, so as

to temper the punishment carried out in autumn.

Collect the spirit qi and

cause the autumn qi to be balanced.

Do not direct your mind to the outside and

causethe lung qi to be clear.

This is correspondence with the qi of autumn and

it is the Way to nourish gathering.

Opposing it harms the lung.

In winter this causes outflow of [undigested] food and

there is little to support storage.” (p. 47-49)

The spirit associated with metal is the po, which is also known as the corporeal spirit. It could be equated to animal instinct, physical awareness, and gracefulness. The same practices listed above can be employed to develop the po and cultivate one’s physical awareness. Rhythm and ritual are associated with the metal element, the fall season and the corresponding organs. Indeed, the simplest rhythms we embody are the dance of inhale and exhale, and the natural body function of elimination.

Practices such as meditation, prayer, breathwork, yoga, qigong, and tai chi focus on the regulation of these rhythms as a means to achieve a balanced and peaceful state, while stretching the body into myriad shapes, thereby cultivating the po. Exploring the full range of physical forms the human body is capable of is a beautiful way to honor its divine design. When a body does not routinely take these shapes, it becomes stiff or weak, unable to shape-shift as fluently. “Use it or lose it” conveys one aspect of the metal energetic, as it essentially means “actively practice with gratitude or else grieve what has been lost.”

In the other elemental blogs I have not discussed the theory of the control cycle which plays a role in the Five Element dynamics; however, I will introduce it here to provide insight into the qualities of the metal element: Metal cuts Wood, and Fire warms Metal. These two statements demonstrate that a person who is expressing the metal element may be perceived as cold, cutting or dismissive; however, under the right circumstances, with a warm interpersonal connection or lively group the person may soften, as metal does in heat, and “warm up to” the social interaction. In contrast to the interpersonal connections of the Fire element, the Metal type of connection exists in the ethers—described variably as divine, spiritual or as collective consciousness.

Indeed, the Metal element resonates with reverence, tradition, acknowledgement, and respect for what is sacred, including the generations that came before us and all that will follow. The sobering fact that all living things will someday die reminds us not to take a single moment for granted. So at this time of year, Nature invites us to honor our ancestors, take stock, balance the scales, let go and give thanks.

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