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Dialogue - issue #4

The Metal Element of Autumn

Words by Lori Hillman
Illustration by Fernando Leal

In Taoist Five Element medicine, the metal element governs the lung/colon. It represents the air we breathe. It is non-judgemental, and gives itself freely to all.

The emotion of metal is grief. We may feel that no matter how far we reach out to grasp what we are looking for, it is always just beyond our reach. Inhale, we receive impressions from our environment, exhale, we let go of what has no value for us. In balance, metal gives us our ability to let go, the value being inner freedom. Metal connects the unconditioned to the conditioned world, our spiritual to our material self. Distant, sometimes aloof, metal can be unaware of its own value. Autumn, the transformational season, turns from expansive yang to contracting yin moving toward winter. There is an ethereal quality in the air inspiring us to look upward toward heaven,the light becomes pale, the air crisp.

We value our autumnal walks through fallen leaves of red and gold. This is the season to meditate on the breath, lungs expanding-contracting, inhaling impressions, retaining inspiration, exhaling, exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen with green vegetation. This expansion and contraction reminds us that the air connects us to all living things, both known and unknown. The air is non-judgemental, it gives itself freely to all. Breathing in, we place the quality of our intention into the future, just as the quality of autumn’s work determines the quality of spring’s growth, the quality of how we live determines the quality of our being and therefore the future.

Autumn may look back longingly at the seasons with a feeling of loss; tender, green buds of spring, summer blossoms in their colourful splendour dropping to expose their fruits for harvest in late summer. Letting go, looking back with gratitude, autumn begins the task of clearing the leaves and fallen fruits, nature’s alchemical transformation ensuring renewal next spring. Autumn provides foods to support our lung/ colon and immune system. For everyone, especially those with metal as their guiding element, who may suffer with respiratory problems and difficulty letting go, it is important to treat our food with great respect, giving gratitude for what nature provides for us. Gratitude is important for the spiritual wellbeing of metal because it is a virtue that comes from metal’s controlling element, fire/heart. The quality of how we eat determines the quality of how we digest, physically and mentally (the earth element, spleen and stomach, governs intellect).

The flavour that benefits the lung is pungent. The colour is white. White foods to support the lung are onions, turnip, garlic, almond, quinoa, tofu, oats, coconut, apple peel, pear and white meat, sprouted seeds and fermented vegetables. Metal represents our elderly phase of life. A culmination of life experience and knowledge gives us a choice: hold on to the past, grow old and return our body to soil, or let go with gratitude. As autumn’s task is to ensure new birth next spring, our task is to ensure we raise the quality of our own evolution. Life on earth is in its metal phase between letting go of things past to ensure renewal, because as the new world will be born, the old world that cannot, and will not, let go - is dying.

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