"The wound is where the light enters." -Rumi
"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." -Dr. Seuss
We have made it to the 4th emotional element on the Chinese medicine wheel. Remember, we started with Wood/Anger in the spring, moved to Fire/Joy in the summer, and covered Earth/Worry in the late summer. Today we'll discuss Metal/Grief and its connection to autumn and the Chinese organ system called the Lung. Take a deep breath. You'll want it for this one.
As I mentioned above, autumn is the season of grief and embodies the emotion precisely. The growing season has come to an end and the natural world begins it's preparations for winter hibernation or senescence. Leaves lose their color and fall, animals finish their winter dens, and night overtakes daylight in duration. Everything is slowing and consolidating, including humans. More people pass away during the fall and winter months than during the spring and summer ones.
Autumn is for many of us a nostalgic season. We reminisce on the previous months and take time to gather with friends and family. The external energy in the world is diminishing, and we are pressured to spend more time inside and in the company of our own internal landscapes. Depending on those landscapes, this time can be both rewarding and terrifying. We are forced to look a little more closely at what we have gained and what we have lost. Loss is a natural part of life, but that doesn't make it easy. Unprocessed loss becomes grief which can interfere with our health both in the short and long term.
The Lung is esponsible for integrating the air that we breathe into the rest of our body. It is our most external organ and, therefore, our most fragile one. Our lungs are susceptible to a wide range of diseases (just think about how common respiratory illnesses are) and especially susceptible during times of increased stress. Healthy lungs are well exercised, moist, and powerful. Unhealthy ones are underused, dry, and weak. The better we breathe, the stronger our lungs become. It is suggested that we elevate our breathing rate with vigorous activity each day to challenge the system. The lungs are injured when we lie flat or remain still for too long, especially when inside. Outdoor air is usually much cleaner than the air inside of our houses and offices. When at rest it is best to focus on long, steady breaths through the nose. Think about inflating the lungs all the way down to the bottom of the ribcage. Additionally, we damage the lungs when we eat phlegm-producing foods like sugar, dairy, and alcohol.
It is so fitting that grief affects the lungs. Think about what happens when we are overcome by an intense loss. We choke up. Our breathing gets shallow. Eventually, the pressure to breathe becomes so strong that we either sigh, sob, or shout. All three of these help to restore our normal breathing pattern. In dealing with grief it is essential that we honor the emotion and let it complete it's lifecycle with as little encumbrance as possible. Most of you are probably familiar with the Five Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That is the arc that loss usually follows. It is impossible to accept a loss if you haven't first allowed yourself to feel the anger or sadness associated with it. We must integrate these emotions in a stepwise fashion.
On the other side of grief there is meaning, and we are all the authors of our own tale. The loss of a parent or loved one can bring us to our knees, but we need not let it keep us there. Grief is just another way of showing us how capable we were of love. If we allow ourselves to feel that love every time we become sad then we become anchored in our hearts instead of worrying with our heads. The spirit of the Lung is called 'Po' in Chinese, which means corporeal soul. The Po is the soul that we only borrow during our time on Earth, and we must return it to the world when we die. No one makes it out with a perfect body. Every scar and every wound tells a story and holds a lesson. We need only take a deep breath and surrender to the process.