The shadows have lengthened, the trees are letting the last of their auburn leaves fall away, and we sense a deepening stillness in the Cotswolds. The air is suffused with a curious mixture of loss and reverence. With the passing of Samhain in the way-back-when, we would store our precious food reserves for winter. Now, we store our inner reserves in ways we barely notice. We stay indoors a little more, we go to bed a little earlier, we move a little slower.
The Cotswolds is thousands of miles and thousands of years from the roots of modern Chinese medicine, where and when Daoist philosophers described how the stillness of winter’s Yin increases while the exuberance of summer’s Yang fades. Yet these principals still govern the way our emotions and bodies respond to the strange inbetweeness of autumn.
In the poetic language of Chinese medicine, precious metal is used as a metaphor for the essence of autumn, the “Metal Element”. The Metal Element describes that aspect of nature that creates cathedrals of bared trees, their lost leaves gold under our feet. It also describes that aspect of our being that enables us to know what is valuable; to see the particles of gold in the dirt. As it enables us to know what is precious, it also enables us to know what it is to lose that preciousness. By extension, the Metal Element gives us our ability to feel both reverence and grief.
In its wonderful way with metaphor, Chinese medicine goes on to associate the Metal Element with our bodies. It observes how both awe and grief take our breath away, and it associates breathing with the Metal Element. It is curious to observe how this time of year brings any vulnerability in our respiratory systems to the fore. The NHS offers flu vaccinations and acupuncturists usher those with respiratory problems in for preventative treatment.
There are also things that we can do for ourselves to find physical and emotional equilibrium at this time of year: Chinese medicine encourages us to follow our instinct to slow down, to withdraw a little, to recognise that our physical and emotional reserves are valuable, and to conserve them. It tells us to protect our precious bodies from the cold with scarves and coats, and by avoiding cold foods. It encourages us to eat foods that ward off respiratory tract infections, like horseradish, garlic, fresh ginger, honey and liquorice. Chinese medicine also tells us to recognise the once-precious things that we have lost and to allow ourselves to grieve at this time of year. It encourages us to seek out still, beautiful places where we can feel the awe and reverence that provides the emotional ballast necessary for the experience of grief.
With the storing of our precious reserves and the passing of grief, we can enter the absolute stillness of winter’s half-sleep; that quiet coalescing of our deepest reserves in preparation for the rocketing birth of spring.