September 5, 2009
The Fall Season is upon us. Chinese Medicine, through its Taoist roots, has much to say about the movements of the seasons and how, as we stand positioned between Heaven and Earth, they are reflected in us. One legacy of Taoist cosmology is the Five Phase framework, a model for understanding changes both in nature and in our bodies. In the Five Phase model, the Fall Season corresponds with the Metal Phase.
Lets think about what is taking place here in Atlantic Canada during this season. It is a time of tremendous beauty as the maple, birch, beech, ash and oak leaves all offer up a spectacular palette of oranges, reds and yellows. Its a brilliant display – like nothing else we see all year long – very intense but very short-lived. A matter of weeks and it is all gone. There is always a precise day when the balance of leaves fallen and leaves remaining transforms the quality of light to a distinct whiteness.
And the display is for all the senses, not just the visual. There is no sound like the sound of wind in the Fall as it rustles through the drying up leaves remaining in the trees and those on the ground. The sound is no longer one of the softness of moist green leaves brushing past each other. It has a crunchiness to it, but not as brittle as the sound of wind through trees in January. Walking through piles of recently fallen leaves sounds like the tinkle tinkle of fingers rustling through an assortment of necklaces and bracelets. And there is nothing like the smell of Fall, as the rains and fallen leaves begin the process of decay and soil building.
So, with all this in mind, it is easy to see the Fall is a time of loss and beauty, summed up best by the word, ‘poignancy’. The beauty is breathtaking but very fleeting. One cannot help but feel loss and longing, loss of the safety and security of the summer and a longing for it to return as we inevitably plunge into the challenges of winter, a season where life truly does hang in the balance and the challenges of survival are most evident (we will discuss that more in a few months).
A central theme in Chinese Medicine (particularly the part that comes from Taoist perspectives) is that of correspondence – that everything in the universe and in nature has correspondence within us; physically, emotionally and spiritually. In this system, our bodily correspondences with the Metal Phase are the Lung and Large Intestine systems. These are the systems involved in taking in what is pure (oxygen and nourishment) and discarding what is mundane and not of use (carbon dioxide and feces).
The Metal system can manifest emotionally as either over or under expressions of grief or longing (grief projected into the future), particularly as a person experiences losses and gains in life. The inability to let go of what has lost value may manifest physically as constipation or asthma (with difficulty exhaling). The inability to retain or grasp what is of value in life may manifest physically as diarrhea or asthma (with difficulty inhaling).
A person who attaches too much self-worth to their possessions in a never-ending need to acquire more or a person who is preoccupied with surface appearances is manifesting a Metal imbalance. Skin problems are often the physical embodiment of the relationship between Metal and surfaces in a person with a strong Metal imbalance (the common association of eczema with asthma or psoriasis with inflammatory bowel conditions exemplify this connection).
Nothing we ingest is really inside us (personal) until it is absorbed through the lungs or large intestines. The Metal system thus governs our personalisation of things. Full liberation and spiritual depth is enabled when we no longer take things personally and come to realise we are part of a project far greater in scope than would be suggested by any habitual preoccupation with personal concerns. Such an inspiration moves us to align, not with superficial appearances and possessions, but with the high standard of non-personal righteousness.