Autumn and the Metal Element



“My spirit is tuned to the spring season: At the autumn of the year there is autumn in my heart. Thus imitating cosmic changes, my cottage becomes a universe.”    Li Yun

After the extended period of mild and damp weather that we have experienced until recently, it is safe to say we are now feeling Autumn more fully, with its climate of dryness accompanied by quite some drop in temperatures – bright, crisp invigorating air, making for a fresh feeling after all that humidity. This creates the conditions for us to pay attention to the demands and opportunities of the Autumn season.

We have already enjoyed the beauty of the red, gold and rusty brown leaves falling to earth, and hopefully by similarly letting go ourselves, we can see clearly again and with new vision. Despite it being the death of the growing seasons, we may find something beautiful and precious stored up within us, ready for expression when the conditions are ripe.

We are now between the fullness and ripeness of the Late Summer and our Winter’s rest, and it is wise to follow the guidance given to us by Nature. Autumn’s cool temperatures and shortened daylight hours signal the growing dominance of Yin. Animals and plants become more Yin, turning inward to build up stores of nutrients they will need to get them through the long Winter.

Autumn is a time of the withdrawal of energy from the leaves and branches of trees to collect in the roots. Trees store nutrients as sap and nutrients stored underground in this way retain their potency through the long, cold Winters. At the same time the tree’s vessels channel impurities upward into the leaves, where they will be discarded when the leaves are let go of, once they cease to be functional in the coming darkness of Winter. It is only by releasing their leaves that trees can collect the sap they need in their roots. The leaves, through their decay on the ground, also leave behind a soil that is richer in minerals and nutrients.

Animals store nutrients as fat, converting everything they eat – and how they are eating right now! – into fat, which is the densest form of storage. This fat protects them from the cold, and can be converted into energy when food supplies are scarce.

Dryness – the climate of Autumn: Metal, the Element associated with Autumn, manifests as dryness on a climatic scale and in us.

“The mysterious powers of Autumn create dryness in Heaven and they create metal upon Earth; they create the lung organ and the skin upon the body…”   Nei Jing*

The energy of the year, rising through Spring into Summer and reaching a ‘still point’ in Late Summer, is beginning its descent into Winter. The movement is one of concentration and condensation, like the heavy white frosts of Autumn, which are a condensation of vapours out of the cold air onto the still-warm earth. This creates dryness in the air. At the same time the vegetation begins to dry out, to wither and fall to the ground. The leaves become thin and brittle like paper and our own bodies become drier as well.

Drying in Nature is the logical successor to the dampness of Late Summer. Dryness indicates something has been lost or removed. Too much dryness leads to parching and paucity. In the body, the skin grows stiff and flaky, chapping and cracking, especially on the most exposed parts: the face and hands. Dry coughs are also common, as well as dryness in the sinus passages, dry hair too, as well as constipation resulting from a lack of fluids in the bowels. Dryness indicates an absence of vital fluids – the essence has been removed along with the impurities.

Evironmentally, dryness is spareness, paucity, starkness. Whether it feels like purity or poverty, the absence of anything extra typifies the Metal phase: arid lands, ascetic monks, fasting diets and stark interiors all display Metal’s sharp edge; minimalism is a Metal value.

Conduct – Metal Element: a time for peace and calm, gathering in and storing up.

“…The three months of Autumn are called the period of tranquility of one’s conduct.”  Nei Jing

“One retires early, one rises early… Exerting the will peacefully and calmly, to soften the repressive effect of Autumn. Gathering in the spirits and storing up the qi (energy). Pacifying the qi of Autumn, without letting the vitality be scattered outside.”  Nei Jing*

With these quotes, we can see how Autumn calls for a change in our behaviour, after the expansion we experienced in months past.

It is a time for us to take stock of what we have accomplished, then eliminate the inessential, storing away for the depths of Winter ahead. As was mentioned with regard to the trees shedding their leaves, so we must pare down in preparation for Winter. We too need to turn inward, pause and take stock of how far we have come in this year’s growth. If  the ‘harvest’ has been good, there is a feeling of completion and perfection, a solid sense of our own worth and value. Often we are inspired with new ideas, which will stay in seed form until next Spring.

This is a period of tranquility and distillation, when we need to concentrate our vitality inside – for instance, not sweating as we did in the Summer, as we are then losing vitality to the outside. Equally our emotions need to be concentrated inside, tranquil and at peace and thus in harmony with the energy of Autumn.

Autumn – a time of measurement, value and balance.

“The three months of Autumn are called overflowing and balancing” Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee (see ‘Influential Teachers’)

“Autumn swept the grasses and their colour changed; she met the trees and their boughs were stripped. And because Autumn’s being is compounded or sternness, therefore it was that they withered and perished, fell and decayed.”  Ou-Yang Hsiu

In China, Autumn has traditionally been seen as the time to measure everything exactly, in  order that all trades and exchanges in the country could be done to a true value – hence Autumn’s association with the idea of value. It is the season of strict accounting, of weighing and measuring the value of things, so that everything is balanced. The Chinese Classics say Autumn puts everything back in the balancing scales, for there to be a balance between yin and yang.1

In overflowing we have the effects of Summer, resulting in harvest time (Late Summer/early Autumn). During Summer itself we could get away with some excess, but not in Autumn! There is this sense of a sternness and a strict accounting that must be taken heed of.

“Precious metals and jade come from the regions of the West…”  Nei Jing

“The Metal Element is responsible for bringing quality into our lives…” Professor J.R. Worsley (see ‘Influential Teachers’)

Just as the East is correlated to the Spring, because it is the direction from which the sun rises and thus signals beginnings, so the West is correlated to Autumn, the setting of the sun, and endings. To the ancient Chinese, this direction also meant precious things. Perhaps, because in the Autumn we let go of everything inessential, there is a sense that what we choose to keep must be too valuable to throw away. Thus the issues of quality come up in Autumn and this may be reflected in our behaviour. People who are out of balance in Metal will be particularly concerned with quality in their lives. For instance, if our sense of inner value and worth is weak, we might demand that everything around us be of the highest quality. If we feel unworthy of quality things, we might prefer to wear cheap clothes, or ignore our personal appearance altogether, wearing threadbare clothing or our environment may be left to decay around us. Some recent TV programmes have even shown us extreme examples of homes of such people.

Grief – the emotion associated with Autumn and the Metal Element

“…and they (the mysterious powers of Autumn) give to the human voice the ability to weep and wail.”  Nei Jing*

“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, tears from the depths of some divine despair rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, in looking on the happy Autumn fields, and thinking of the days that are no more.”   Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It is possible that Autumn may bring on the experience of deep melancholy or a pervasive sadness as we watch the leaves fall and the days grow shorter. We may start to think of the past year and all our past years in such a way. Old regrets may surface, old losses become fresh and poignant again. If there is a loss for which you never really grieved, each Autumn presents an opportunity to get in touch with that grief again, to mourn and to let it go. The ability to grieve and mourn a loss appropriately is a healthy aspect of Metal.

The sound of the voice associated with the Metal Element is weeping, which is naturally connected to the emotion of grief and, as with the other voice qualities associated with the Elements, is usually completely unconscious on the part of the person who has it. The key for us then is to pay attention to what our feelings are telling us and act on it.

Guidelines for Autumn and the Metal Element:

– Take a walk and let your mind empty of all your plans and concerns of the day. Aim for tranquility. Walk through the woods and be aware of the smells of Autumn – the dry smell of the fallen leaves, the hint of wood smoke in the air.

– Watch the sunset one evening and appreciate how much earlier it gets dark now and how time seems shorter with fewer daylight hours.

– If strongly affected by the emotion of the season, grief, let yourself cry and release the emotion completely. Thus cleansed, you will become aware of an intense beauty in this emotion, one that might inspire you to write poetry, like Tennyson, or put your thoughts down in a journal. From this crucible of grief, something precious can be created.

– ‘The lungs are connected with the skin.” Nei jing* After your shower or bath, brush your skin with a loofa sponge to remove dead cells and stimulate the clearing of toxins. At the end of your shower/bath, use cold water to close your skin pores and prevent heat loss and vulnerability to colds, as well as stimulate skin circulation.

– Clean out your drawers and cupboards, throwing away what is no longer useful to you. Be aware that you are creating room for something new to come in.

– Think about what you most value in life. Looking back over the year, see where your actions were in accord with your values and where they were not.

– Do you like to wear expensive clothing? Or are you more comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt?

– Do you consider yourself a worthy person? Do you feel you have to ‘make a name’ for yourself, or are you content to be a ‘nobody’?

– How do you measure quality in your life? Make a list of your assets, financial and otherwise.

– What three things do you need to eliminate from your life. What is stopping you from doing that?

The final post on Autumn and the Metal Element will be coming shortly, as we are getting closer to the Winter Solstice, the time I said in the last post that would be used as the end of Autumn. We will look at the two meridians of Metal, the Lungs and Large Intestines and their functions as ‘Officials’ to look deeper into this area of our being.

* 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 see: ‘Traditional Acupuncture 2’


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