“O wild west Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being…” Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind
“The west Wind arises in Autumn.” Nei Jing*
Here we are close to the Winter Solstice and the winds of Autumn are whipping up a storm across a wide swathe of the country. The leaves have fallen and the sky is brooding and overcast, perhaps adding to our sense of melancholy that we touched on in the last post. Then, there had been many bright and clear days, but the sense of loss had set in with the falling of the leaves.
As mentioned before, the West represents the setting sun and endings, and it is in Autumn that the Breath of the White Tiger, the animal of the Western Quarter, is said to bring storms and strong winds, heralding the change from Late Summer, something we are even now experiencing at this late stage of Autumn.
“The mysterious powers of Autumn… Of the colours they create the white colour…” Nei Jing*
White is the colour associated with the Metal Element and Autumn. White is the colour of mourning in China and throughout much of Asia, and is the colour they wear for funerals, as opposed to our black. Thus the season of mourning, loss and grief is represented by white. Autumn is also the season of heavy white dews and frosts. White is the colour of the light at sunset, just before the day dies into night. It is also the colour of bones within the earth after a certain time, another connection to death.
Here in the West, we associate white with purity – it is worn by brides at their weddings, nurses and doctors wear white uniforms, and holy men are often depicted wearing white robes. Since the Metal Element is often associated with a striving for perfection and a longing for spiritual enlightenment, we in the West also have good reasons for connecting the colour white with the Metal Element.
White can be used to support the energy of Metal within us. However, someone expressing a marked preference for white clothing and surroundings might be expressing an imbalance in the Metal Element. Similarly, someone who can’t stand white could be expressing an imbalance in the same Element.
Metal is the force of refinement given by Heaven
Metal in the Five Element cycle signals both the process of refinement and the pure essence that is its product. Metal, more so than the other elemental forces in Nature, is the symbol of alchemy, ingenuity and refinement. It is not naturally found in Nature ready for use, and first needs to be extracted, refined, forged, moulded, shaped and then sharpened and polished in order to be used to its full potential. Then Metal can become shiny and brilliant and, amongst other things, is used to make weapons and swords, which are instruments of death, but they can also be used to cut through things cleanly, so as to make a clear separation.
The sword and knife are not only weapons: throughout history, they have been worn more as decoration and signs of social status and male pride, rather than actual weapons. The majority of cultures often use a sword or knife in rituals to manifest the integrity of the spirit and the clarity of the soul. It also represents justice as held aloft by the female statue atop the Central Criminal Court in London, the Old Bailey, holding the scales of balance in the other hand.
In terms of our own refinement, cultivating and refining our body, mind and spirit in order to be able to carry a greater and better grade of ch’i energy – literally changing our base metal into gold, so as to carry a higher grade of energy and information without burnout – the Chinese developed inner alchemical practices such as T’ai Chi, Chi Gung and meditation, with the idea of refining our base existence into a better, more humane condition.
Let us look now at the body’s organs, energy and Officials associated with the Metal Element, to see ways to better align ourselves with the gifts of Autumn and its seasonal and daily energies:
“The mysterious powers of Autumn create… and of the viscera they create the lungs.” Nei Jing*
Along with their sister organ the Large Intestine, the Lungs are associated with the Metal Element. Considered the organs that ‘receive the ch’i (energy) from the Heavens’, the Chinese believe there are two ways to replenish the ch’i energy in the body – one is through food from the Earth, and the other is through breathing the air from the Heavens. Thus, through the Lungs the body’s vital ch’i energy is restored on a daily basis. This ability to ‘take in’ or receive operates from the Lungs as organs, down to the level of each individual cell. Without oxygen, the body dies within a few minutes.
It goes beyond just breathing in oxygen – we must be able to receive emotionally and spiritually, so as to be vitalised on those levels as well. Unable to ‘breathe’ emotionally, we can feel cut off, emotionally ‘starved’ or dead inside. If we cannot breathe spiritually, we have no connection to the Heavens and feel uninspired, depressed, and without meaning in our lives.
The Lung as Minister and Chancellor
“The lung has the charge of minister and chancellor. Thus the regulation of the relays of animation is brought about.” Nei Jing*
“… the lungs are the symbol of the interpretation and conduct of the official jurisdiction and regulation…” Nei Jing*
The spiritual resource of the Metal Element identified in the Nei Jing is called po. These spirits have authority over all vital and instinctive behaviour. Breathing is an instinctive bodily function, and controls our most basic existence. Breathing is rhythmic – it puts things in order and keeps them in order. Metal energy helps us to have order in our lives.
The Lungs come second only to the Heart and have functions both like a prime minister and chancellor, who are very close to their ‘sovereign’, in this case the Heart. It is said that this Official conducts a morning audience with the other Officials each day to ensure order and regulation are set for that day. (See times of day for the officials in ‘guidelines’).
“The Lung is like a canopy for the five zang (yin organs/officials) and six fu (yang organs/officials).” Nei Jing*
This image of a canopy implies it has to be very regular and possessing a good rhythm. This kind of canopy has to attract a good influx from on high, and to transmit this good influx to all those below. We can see it also on a macrocosmic level as the Heavens above us providing a canopy over the Earth below, and here we see the Lungs mirroring this in the human body.
The Chinese say that ch’i energy, our life force, instinctively knows how to govern life. It is this life force that we take in by breathing the air around us. By breathing in, we take in a penetration into our internal self of that vital energy. This inspires each breath, providing us with guidance for life – our own internal prime minister and chancellor!
Thus the Lungs and breath are what connect us to the Divine, to the Heavens, and ideally with each breath we receive Divine ‘inspiration’ (from the Greek word ‘inspiros’ which means to breath in). The connection is there whether we are aware of it or not, since with each breath, we draw some of the universe into ourselves. Many cultures have developed practices that focus on the breath and specific breathing exercises as a means of attaining that spiritual connection, and in our own culture there are healing modalities such as re-birthing and breath work, utilising the breath in a way to bring buried emotions to the surface and reconnect us to primal experiences of wholeness and openness.
Connection to our Mother and our Father
Just as the Spleen takes in energy from Earth’s (yin) foods and liquids, and is thus linked with the mother, so the Lungs, which connect us to the Heavens (yang) are linked with the father. This can refer to one’s individual father as well as to Father with a capital ‘F’. Professor Worsley (1) would remind us that we are in a real sense children held between our Earthly Mother and our Heavenly Father.
As children, or older, we look for something special from a father, something we don’t get from our mothers. A mother will love us simply because we are her child; she provides the ground of our being. But a father loves us because of some special quality we have, which he acknowledges, draws out, and helps to guide and shape into manifestation (similar to mining and then working with the metal). He provides inspiration and a code of honour to follow in life. Thus a father provides a more ‘heavenly’ kind of sustenance, while a mother provides on the ‘earthly’ plane, until we ourselves mature enough to provide for ourselves at these two levels, in whatever form that takes, as we develop into adults.
Subsequent relationships with father figures such as teachers, bosses, clergymen, political leaders, policemen etc. are greatly influenced by our relationship to our own father. Any disharmony in these relationships can indicate an imbalance in the Lungs.
Large Intestine – a dynamic cycle with Lungs
“… the lower intestines are like the officials who propagate the Right Way of Living, and they generate evolution and change.. ” Nei Jing*
“These organs are called ‘vessels’, and have the power of transforming the dregs and the sediment…” Nei Jing*
There is a great interdependence of the Officials in Metal and an important and dynamic cycle between Lungs and Large Intestine. In order to receive the new breath of pure and life-giving energy, we must be able to let go of the rubbish that has accumulated, and we need to take in fresh energy before we are willing to let go (of the rubbish). If one does not function the other has to fail. Hence the problems that arise from imbalance more often appear in both Officials.
The Large Intestine is like the rubbish collector for the body, mind and spirit, and if working well, everything not needed is eliminated, leaving room to take in something new. In this way, evolution and change are generated. If it is not doing its part to transform and eliminate the ‘dregs and sediment’, the rubbish piles up and we feel bloated, constipated, toxic, and ‘stuck’.
This ability to ‘let go’ of things is active at all levels, not just the physical. Mentally, we must know when to hold onto a thought or idea and when to let go so that our minds can flow freely with new thoughts. Emotionally, we must be able to release our feelings appropriately, so that we are not ‘uptight’ or ‘all blocked up inside’. Spiritually, the Large Intestine Official helps us eliminate everything that is inessential, so that we are refined down to our purest essence.
Further guidelines for Autumn and the Metal Element
– Colour white; try wearing either all white, or a lot more white than usual if not comfortable totally in white, and notice how you feel.
– Breathe; breathe deeply. Pay attention to your breath, feeling that with each breath you are receiving the ch’i energy of the Heavens. The word ‘feeling’ here is important. It helps to have the spine, and thus torso, straight and/or erect to allow a full breath.
– Loss and mourning; remember your losses, and take time to mourn them. Find the new beginning in every ending. Consciously let go of each day as it ends.
– Rhythm & regularity; create a regular schedule for your days and stick to it for a week. Note what you distill from making this change.
– Good elimination physically; to assist good elimination and to keep the intestines well-toned, eat a diet high in natural foods – fresh fruits, lightly steamed vegetables and whole grains/pulses for example.
– “… metal produces the pungent flavour…” Nei Jing*; for both cleansing and protection, choose foods that specifically affect the Lungs and Large Intestine. Pungent foods help disperse the stuck, mucus-laden energy of these organs. Hot peppers and chilies can be used to protect the Lungs, but a least some white ‘pungents’ should be included because this colour specifically affects the Metal Element. All members of the onion family for example, especially garlic. Also turnip, ginger, horseradish, cabbage, radish and white peppercorn. The best way to consume them is raw. They are still potent, however, when slightly cooked. Dark green and golden-orange vegetables are also protective because of their rich beta-carotene (provitamin A) content. Such foods include carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, broccoli, parsley, turnip, mustard greens and watercress. The green foods in this group are especially important, as their chlorophyll inhibits viruses and also helps the lungs discharge the residues from chemical fumes, cigarette smoke etc. To cleanse the colon, take on more fibre. Fibre is the indigestible portion of foods – the bran of grains, the pulp of fruits, and the cell walls of vegetables. Try a variety of foods from the above groups in your daily diet to bolster immunity and Lung/Large Intestine function in general.
– Loss and quality of life; write to someone with whom you have lost touch. Note how you feel doing this.
– Daily rhythm of Metal’s organs: Lungs peak from 3 to 5am (GMT) and Large Intestine peaks from 5 to 7am (GMT). In monasteries, both in China and here, monks would be up for Lung time (to receive the Heavenly ch’i energy and inspiration). Most of us will be sound asleep, with this often being a time of deeper, more restful sleep after 3am. When the light in the early mornings returns, try rising in Lung time and note your breathing and feelings. Try going to the toilet between 5 and 7am, or close to it, every day for a week, if this is not the time you normally go, and sit there for a while to see if the bowels can work at this time. Feel also that you are eliminating on all levels at the same time. Note what difference this makes to your daily experience. – do you feel lighter, more inspired?
– Inspiration; listen to music that makes you feel inspired or elevated. Note how different you feel afterwards.
– Air; “Listen to the air. You can hear it, feel it, smell it, taste it. Woniya wakan, the holy air, which renews all by its breath. Woniya wakan, spirit, life, breath, renewal, it means all that. We sit together, don’t touch , but something is there, we feel it between us, as a presence.” John Lame Deer
This is an important time of year energetically, as we come to the Winter Solstice, Christmas and the New Year and in whatever way you celebrate it, or not, I hope your life will experience peace and harmony, and some treasured memories. With Winter almost here, a new post will come for that season within the next few weeks. Best wishes to you all until then!
*Nei JIng: The short form of Huang Ti Nei Jing Su Wen or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – the essential text of Chinese Health and Healing.
(1) Professor Worsley: see under ‘Influencial Teachers’ (on this website)