The Work of Autumn: Cleaning Out Old Negativity
In autumn we learn more about ourselves, perhaps, than in any other season. Having provided the harvest, Nature now makes everything bare. In this season Nature lets go of its abundant creation of the past year in a grand final display. Autumn marks the end of the growing season – a turning inward, a falling away of outer-directed energy. Leaves turn color and drop. The old leaves go back to the earth, enriching it to promote the coming of new leaves, a new harvest.
Nature instructs us about our own cycles of creating and letting go: Trees in autumn don’t stubbornly hold onto their leaves because they might need them next year. Yet how many of us defy the cycle and hold onto what we’ve produced or collected – those decayed leaves, that old negativity? How can we hope for a harvest next year unless we let go of the old and start afresh?
The energy of this season, more than any other, supports our letting go of the waste, the old and stale in our lives, leaving us receptive to the pure and new, granting us a vision of who we are in our essence. Autumn returns us to our essence, moves us to eliminate what we no longer need, reveals again what is most precious in our lives.
In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of the element Metal (or air). Grief is the emotion of the Metal element. We all experience loss, separation, and “letting go,” and we appropriately feel grief at those times. Grief cleanses us of what is no longer needed in our lives. When the energy of Metal is blocked or imbalanced within us, our expression of grief likewise becomes imbalanced and inappropriate. It may be excessive and ongoing. Or, in the other extreme, it may be absent, as in those who cannot express their grief.
The Colon and Letting Go
The Colon, one of the two organs in the Metal element, has the function of eliminating what is unnecessary or toxic from our bodies. But we are more than just physical bodies. Think of the daily onslaught of “garbage” directed at our minds and our spirit. We need to eliminate mental and spiritual rubbish, lest our minds become toxic and constipated, unable to experience the pure and the beautiful that also surround us. The Colon function on the mental and spirit level enables us to let go of all this waste.
The Lungs and Inspiration
There is more to this season than “letting go” – it is also a time to take in the pure. The air in autumn takes on a new crispness. Think of waking up on a brisk fall day and filling your lungs with that clean, cool autumn air. The Lung, the other organ contained within the Metal element, enables us to take in the pure, the new. It grants us the inspiration of a breath of fresh air. In classical Chinese medicine, the Lung is described as “the receiver of the pure Chi from the Heavens.”
The Lung and Colon work together as a team, one taking in the pure, the other eliminating waste. If these organs failed to do their jobs, imagine what might result – certainly we might experience physical ailments of the Lung and Colon such as bronchitis, shortness of breath, cough, allergies, nasal congestion, emphysema, colds, sore throat, constipation, diarrhea, spastic colon, and abdominal pain. But what happens to our mind and spirit if waste keeps building up and we are unable to take in purity? How are we apt to feel? Instead of tranquillity and inspiration, spontaneity and freshness, we feel depression, stubbornness (inability to “let go”), isolation, negativity. We see the dark side in everything, all the things that could go wrong. Of course, we would not choose to act and feel that way any more than we would choose to have constipation – but in this condition of imbalance, that is how we must be.
Further, if we view our body as a community of different organs and functions, it is easy to see how any organ could break down if its waste was not carried away and allowed to fester. In this view, we can see how foolish it is to simply treat a symptom. We must find the cause. If the cause is an imbalance in Metal – if the Lung is unable to take in the pure, or the Colon unable to eliminate waste – we must first restore that function. Then the resulting symptoms will improve, regardless of how they manifest.
Just as metals give value to the earth (gold and silver, minerals and trace elements), the Metal element within us gives our sense of self-worth. Each of us is a miracle of creation, more valuable and special than anything we could ever pursue; each of us has a unique and priceless contribution to make. Yet when our Metal energy is imbalanced, we cannot sense our value; so we compensate by seeking what we think will add to our worth: status, money, power, conquest – none of them bad or wrong of themselves, although our pursuit of them can be a symptom. Once we have acquired these things, however, we remain strangely unfulfilled. Persons with a Metal imbalance seek respect, quality, and recognition from the outside because they feel the lack of worth within. These are people who have difficulty “letting go” because they identify their own worth with “things” – achievements, attachments, collections, possessions, attitudes stored in the cluttered attic of the mind.
Restoring our Metal
In the season of autumn, the Metal element is at its peak and particularly amenable to treatment. Fortunately, using the system of Chinese medicine, we can resurrect and rebuild the Metal within us – in its physical expression as well as in mind and spirit. Acupuncturists help restore our Metal using needles and their knowledge of energy. We also can help ourselves by learning about the nature of the season and then acting in harmony with its spirit.
As Nature moves into a period of rest, we too must be cautious not to overexert. The time for “putting it all out there” – the summer – has passed. Now is the time to contain ourselves, acting and speaking only when necessary, behaving with economy, exerting our will quietly and calmly. Those of us in the “autumn of our lives” must protect ourselves from the extremes of hot and cold within this season.
Acupuncturists often use the following four points located on the Lung and Colon meridians (energy pathways) when treating the energy of the Metal element. Each of these points has a spirit and purpose, as do all of the more than 300 acupuncture points on the body. When used at the right time, a point’s effect is profound.
Lung 1: Middle Palace.
This point can take patients to the very core of quality within themselves. Its name evokes the image of the emperor’s palace. The Chinese considered their emperor to be divinely inspired, an enlightened representative of Heaven on earth. He dwelled in a palace of unsurpassed beauty, richness, and quality. The Middle Palace is the innermost core of that breathtaking richness. We all have such a place within ourselves. At the right moment in the treatment process, this point can take patients to that deep place. In some circumstances, the experience can literally transform a life.
Lung 9: Very Great Abyss.
In the course of our lives, we may become polluted-bodily, mentally, and spiritually. Many of us, for example, have been told from childhood that we were “bad,” that we were failures, disappointments, losers, not good enough. Such negativity may come in faster than we can eliminate it, and everything new we take in becomes tainted by the poison within us. We may feel we’re in a rut, with garbage piled everywhere. We can’t find a way out, nor barely see for the darkness that surrounds us. For an acupuncturist to take us into the “Middle Palace” at this stage would be foolish, overwhelming. First, we must be taken out of this toxic pit-this very great abyss.
Colon 18: Support and Rush Out.
For a patient who has been unable to “let go” for a long time, it feels almost normal to collect more and more garbage. To let go is a frightening prospect-what will be left? But when the trees let go of the past year’s leaves, nature has something new in store. The end of one cycle gives rise to the next. As we let go of what we thought was ourself-physical waste, old habits, beliefs, assumptions, and identifications-we are supported by a new vision of who we are without all that old “stuff.” Sometimes we can’t let go little by little. We may be too stuck. We may need to let it rush out, supported by a new and clearer vision of our true selves, the inner treasure. At the right time, then, this acupuncture point, “Support and Rush Out,” and no other, may be the one to turn the course of disease.
Colon 20: Welcome Fragrance.
The Colon meridian ends just to the side of the nose with this point. Having let go of the old and stale, our first breath of pure new inspiration will be a welcome fragrance. When our Lungs and Colon function as nature ordained they should in our body/mind/spirit, then simply living our lives through the highs and lows, through sunshine and dark clouds-every moment, every new experience-can in its own way be a treasure, a Welcome Fragrance.
Suggestions for living in harmony with the autumn season:
- Go through your closet, desk, garage, medicine cabinet – any cluttered storage area-and discard what you no longer need. Then donate, sell, or otherwise circulate what might be of value to others.
- Do a mental inventory: Examine attitudes (prejudices, envies, hatreds, jealousies, resentments) stored within your psyche. When possible, contact those with whom you harbor old “stuff.” Attempt to resolve the hurtful old issues, and then let them go.
- For issues you cannot resolve directly with others, or for old issues with yourself, write them on paper, being as specific as possible. Then burn the paper, symbolically releasing the content.
- Take time each day to breathe slowly and deeply. As you inhale the clean autumn air, feel yourself energized and purified. Feel the old negativity, impurity, and pain leave your body and psyche. Then contemplate briefly who you are without these identifications.
Professor Neil R. Gumenick is one of the foremost practitioners and teachers of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture. He has maintained a private practice in Santa Monica, CA since 1981, and is Founder and Director of The Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture Inc., which offers training to physicians, students of OM, and licensed acupuncturists in this unique tradition. He holds three degrees and an advanced teaching credential from The College of Traditional Acupuncture (UK). Neil is an internationally known speaker and a faculty member of several colleges of Oriental medicine in the U.S and Canada.