Adapting to Autumn: Three Transformational Practices for the Season

Among the ancient healing modalities found in Energy Medicine, the theories and practices of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are front and center. As a psychologist, it is the study of the Five Elements from TCM which I have found most fascinating. While I learned many theories of personality in my psychology training, I have learned more about people through the Five Elements than I have through almost anything else. Each element is associated with a season, direction, time of day, color, organs, sound of voice, emotions (maladapted and adapted), family dynamic, and even taste.  

While each person contains a bit of each element, they also have a primary element by which they can be identified. See the attached pdf to see what primary element you might be. Learning about your primary element can be quite helpful in both understanding yourself as well as making adaptive changes. In addition, as we go through each season, we will all feel the shading of that particular element and can learn from its lessons.

As we are now in the autumn of the year, we are being influenced by the Metal Element. As a brief overview, the metal element’s organs are the lungs and large intestine. The emotion is grief or sadness. In the maladapted state, one might be rigid, sad, moralistic, and lacking inspiration. In the adapted state, one would be respectful, inspired, precise, and dependable. When stressed, people with the primary element of metal might feel a little emotionally distant as they detach and become aloof.

Another characteristic of Metal is they often seek spiritual enlightenment. Their transformation can be seen as moving from perfectionism to appreciation, regret to inspiration, and loss to acceptance.  I’m sure we can all think of times when we have needed to make these exact changes in our lives. Personally, although I am not a primary Metal, I am a recovering perfectionist. Perfectionism ruled my life for many years, and it sucked the joy out of it.

Although there is much more that could be said about the Five Elements and the Metal Element, in particular, here are three practices inspired by the Metal time of year that everyone might benefit from.

Remember to Breathe

The lung is the Yin organ of the Metal Element and brings in fresh energy of breath to the body, mind, and spirit. Simply taking a deep slow breath is a powerful regulatory step in regaining adaptation and the ability to handle stress. Take a deep breath into the bottom of the lungs. Visualize the lungs filling from the bottom up as you breathe through your nose to a count of five. Hold for one count then exhale slowly for a count of seven, releasing air from the entire lung. Do this for at least five minutes a day.

Embrace Imperfection

Self-acceptance and appreciation are the paths out of the trap of perfectionism. Focus on all the good qualities you possess and the accomplishments you’ve made. Accept that you are not perfect; nobody and nothing is. Life is imperfect, and we are part of life. I have learned to celebrate the imperfections in life and in myself. When there is a new scratch or dent in your car, celebrate. When you make a mistake on a paper or PowerPoint, celebrate. When you see your body aging, celebrate. You are celebrating the way life is! Hoorah!

Be aware of your self-talk, either in meditation practice or during your life, and notice when you are being critical and perfectionistic. Stop in that moment and tell yourself “Yes, this is how things are supposed to be.” I am perfect in my imperfections. Invite the part of you that engages in deprecating self-talk to take a seat beside you and offer it kindness and compassion. It was originally developed as a way of protecting you in some way, but its service is no longer needed. I named my critical part Betty and, when she arrives, I invite her to have some cookies and milk. We have made great friends over the years.

Let It Go

I hate to admit it, but I know I hold onto certain things much longer than I need to or that serves me. Can you think of someone or something that you haven’t let go of? I bet you can. So, work on letting go of grudges and hard feelings—they only hurt you, not anybody else. Visualize the energy of these negative feelings releasing with every breath.  Look for ways to learn and grow in response to any challenging experience.

In addition, accept that loss is an inevitable part of life. Impermanence is a major truth of existence. If the trees don’t lose their leaves in autumn, there will be no chance for them to grow stronger the following spring. Flowing with the rhythm of the season, we can learn from nature that letting go only leaves space for something better to arise.

For more information about the Five Elements, I highly recommend The Power of the Five Elements by Charles Moss (2010) and The Five Elements by Dondi Dahlin (2016). Dondi also has a five-element quiz on her website.