Fall is the Season of Letting Go

In Chinese Medicine, fall is associated with the metal element, as well as grief and the lungs. These may seem a strange combination of concepts, but they all relate. Think of the lungs, they take in fresh air to be transformed into something essential and life sustaining, then also expel compounds which would be toxic if left in the body. It’s all about learning to let go. Or, put much better:

“Metal, derived from the earth, is a pure substance, generated by a process of reduction. Derived from the concept in alchemy of turning base metals into gold, this phase represents the transformation of the gross materials of nature into pure essence. Fall is a time for evolution through reduction. Matter returns to its source in preparation for later re-creation– the rotting fruit leaves behind its seeds, and this corroding matter nourishes the kernels that arise in spring. With fall comes a sense of gathering in, stocking up, mingled with a sense of loss as the light begins to fade and the air chills” (Between Heaven and Earth).

I used to hate fall. As a summer girl to the core, fall always signaled the beginning of the end. Darker days, cold weather, back to school/work/etc. The end of fun, basically. But I’ve learned to appreciate fall since understanding its role in the 5-season cycle of the Chinese elements. We can resist it and mourn the end of our warm months, or we can lean in to what it has to teach us.

I went for a run last week and delighted in the crunching of the leaves under my feet and the fireworks on display in nature. As we watch trees giving up their leaves, we can embrace the spirit of the season by looking inside and shedding that which is no longer serving us. What are we still holding on to that we aren’t meant to? Spring cleaning is a familiar concept, but arguably this is just as good (or better a season to do it). We’re all going to have to spend a lot more time indoors, and in our own homes likely during this pandemic winter. Now is a great time to both nest and to clear out junk, so you can make the most of things.

Fall is also associated with grief. Sometimes we can be grieving things that happened earlier in the year, or years ago. But something about the season brings out those feelings. Sometimes loss isn’t as literal as having a loved one die, it can be subtle, or even anticipatory. I was reflecting on grief with a few friends this week and we spoke of mourning changing friendship dynamics, lost pets from childhood, and the weird in between state of having parents who are still alive but demented or otherwise not quite all there in some way. In the latter case, it seems weird to grieve them because they’re here, and flashes of them are still very much present. But there’s also the loss a parent, because they can’t be that for you anymore in the same way. And also the shift to having to parent them. We spoke of the guilt that comes when you’ve lost a parent but are relieved because you were so worried about them so long.

We can grieve many things. The spirit of the season is to actually fully do that. To feel fully, not to put those feelings on ice. In this bonkers year we can grieve many more esoteric things as well. The loss of whatever was normal before COVID. The loss many of us feel about hope for the direction of our country. Loss of control. Loss of health. Loss of jobs, income, routine. Loss of a basic sense of bodily safety. Loss of relationships we held dear because sometimes people need to pull back and isolate just to get through these months.

I love the graphic below. We want grief to be linear, to be something you go through for a time and come out on the other side. But grief is anything but. It ebbs and flows and it stays dormant for decades and then something twinges. Maybe if we can acknowledge that, we won’t feel like failures if we still aren’t over something. We’ll just accept that it’s there, and that the annual cycle of the seasons has set aside a specific time to pay heed to whatever lessons grief and loss have for us this year.

We don’t know what next year holds, but if the idea of this season is to shed whatever we can that we don’t need, we can at least look forward with hope that whatever pure essence we are being reduced to now will blossom into growth and goodness next spring. We can sit with our tangled grief and know that even if we don’t come through it cleanly, we are distilling something which which will be of use later. A lesson. A pattern shift. A strength we didn’t know we had.

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Spring and the Wood Element

Summer and the Fire Element

Late Summer and the Earth Element

The Chinese Organ Clock

Sleep from a Chinese Medicine Perspective

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