I talk (and write) a lot about living with the seasons, and how learning to live with natural rhythms can increase health and vitality. This is easy and fun to talk about in the spring and summer months, when everything is growing, blooming, and flourishing. Spring is about growth, summer is about blossoming and nourishing ourselves through the harvest.
But in the life cycle of the seasons fall is about aging and death, two things that are pathologically ignored and feared in American culture. In Chinese Medicine, these aspects of life are associated with autumn and the metal element, and are just as important, vital, and rich as each other phase.
In general, when we lose something, whether it is a home, a relationship, a pet or a family member, societal messages tell us to buck up, push through, get over it, move on. Because it’s so hard, we have developed into a culture that by and large lacks the emotional tools to handle the complexity of loss.
For me, the only way to deal with grief has been to really feel it, and to sink into the range of difficult emotions that it can bring up. When I’ve tried to ignore it through repression, distraction, or any number of other methods that humans develop to protect ourselves, not only is it still there, but it overshadows the rest of my life, making everything more difficult.
What I have learned though, is that grief is fundamentally about loving what has been lost. Once we can acknowledge the difficulty, we are also able to notice that what’s really causing our pain is love, and love is something to be grateful for, even when it hurts. This is not a linear process, and those who have experienced grief know that it is something to be worked with regularly, and often for a long time.
In addition to death and loss, the metal element is also associated with value, appreciation, and a sense of connection with a higher form of spirit. In nature, the value of precious metals comes from their scarcity. In the fall, more than any other time of year, it’s easy to see how temporary everything is. As we walk through the changing leaves, we notice their unique beauty, even as they die and fall off the trees—constantly reminding us that winter is on its way.
What does any of this have to do with acupuncture? Bringing the body’s energy back into a state of balance involves living in a way that is open and available to shift with all of the cycles of life. Understanding the importance of the metal element as a phase in this cycle can be particularly useful in getting and staying healthy this time of year.
The winter holidays are notoriously difficult for people who have lost loved ones, and it’s natural and in many ways healthy to miss those who have died. However, if we are able to acknowledge and appreciate what made them precious to us while also accepting that their role in our lives has changed, we will be healthier, happier, and relationships with those who are still living will be more rewarding and full. As we appreciate the value in what we have lost, we are better able to cherish the precious, ephemeral nature of all that we have.