Monday, October 31, 2016

The Season of Courage

Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile. ~William Cullen Bryant

I wrote recently about courage and also about surrender. These two concepts come together perfectly in the season of autumn, dancing with each other as the wind dances with falling leaves.

In Chinese medicine and qigong practice, there are certain associations made between the five major organ systems and five elements. These associations are expanded to include associations with emotions, energies, animals, colors, sounds...and seasons.

I thought you might enjoy knowing some of the associations of autumn. Let’s start with two of the things we most often think about when we think about this season. Harvest, a time of gathering the fruits of summer’s labor to store for winter. And leaves, turning color and falling from the trees. Now let’s see how these two aspects are reflected in the Chinese system of associations.


Autumn is associated with the lungs. The lungs are linked in the Chinese system with the large intestine. Together they create a balance of pure energy being drawn into the body through the breath and of waste being released. Autumn is a time of gathering the energy we need to sustain us through the winter, and also invites us to release whatever we no longer need. This could be a literal release, like finally cleaning out that junk drawer (!), or a figurative one, like releasing judgments or resentments. Like the trees dropping their leaves, we don’t need to force anything. We can just let them go.


The element associated with the lungs is metal. I was surprised by this, because I think of lungs as being very “air-y” and light, while metal is heavy and found deep in the earth. Then I thought about how we value metal. Take gold, for example. For a long time, our economy was based on the gold standard, making gold not only a thing of beauty, but a measure of value essential to our financial health, just like the lungs bring in air, our most essential necessity for life.


The emotional associations are often categorized as positive or negative, but don’t think of this as good or bad, but more like a polarity, or a balance. For the lungs, the negative emotions are sadness and grief. The positive ones are surrender and courage.

Sadness and grief are a normal part of life. Sometimes people experience these emotions in the autumn, as the light fades, the rain comes (in the Pacific Northwest at least), and the lush green vibrancy of summer gets swept into piles of brown leaves in the street.

Sadness and grief are not “bad.” On the contrary, they can open our hearts and connect us to others by stripping away our facades. But they can become debilitating and unhealthy if they become stuck. This can happen when we try to deny or avoid emotions that feel painful or uncomfortable. This is the beauty of the positive (again think polarity and balance) emotions of surrender and courage. Courage allows us to surrender to the experience of our sadness or grief, and this allows it to move through us and be released, in its own time like the leaves falling.

There are other associations, but these are the ones that give us the most to think about. Any thoughts on these? What do you think about when you think about autumn? What associations do you have?

Note to my friends in the tropics and in the southern hemisphere: I know autumn is not happening where you are right now. Perhaps you could share some associations you have with your current season.


  1. As always, your posts are spot on! We live in AZ so we do not experience autumn until everyone else is in winter so I will talk about our pre-season fall. It is when our temperatures drop from triple digits to double digits. We can get outside our artifical air conditioned boxes and breathe real air! We can open our doors and windows and let the wind pass through and the bad air out. We can breathe, just breathe!

    1. So interesting, Betty. Your pre-season fall is the time when you can get out and breathe, so it's still connected to lungs. Love your description.

  2. I've always thought of autumn as a bittersweet time of the year - the leaves are falling, but oh, how brilliant their colors are! The days are cooler, making it easier to breathe and to play outdoors, but then they signal the coming of winter.
    Love your descriptions here, Galen. Thanks for enlightening us!

    1. My mother always felt melancholy in the fall. You have captured so perfectly the bitter and the sweet aspects of this season.

      Like Betty, you must live in a climate that is uncomfortably hot in the summer. You both commented that autumn is a time to be outside and breathing in the cooler air.

  3. I have come to a time in my life when I think of rest and even sleep as fall begins. It is the end of something beautiful with the promise of something even better. No grief or sadness. We all know that dieing if a part of nature and I see the patterns that the seasons foretell with acceptance and hope.

    Be well.


    1. I hear you, Barbara! I used to struggle through the dark of winter, and fall was a bleak reminder of what was coming. Now I think of winter as a time to snuggle in and sort of hibernate. Fall is a welcome time after the activity of summer to begin to relax and let go of things as I gather my warm blankets, literally and figuratively, to settle in for a peaceful time of rest and contemplation.


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