We are now in the tumble downward into Autumn — how perfect that in English, we even call it “Fall.” The radiant expansion of Summer, with all its exuberance, brings to our table the harvest of our year — and then we fall — a rapid descent into loss. Trees give up their gold-red leaves, the wind becomes harsh and chill, and so much created in our world begins to wither and die.
In Chinese Medicine, this is the season of grief. It touches the Lungs and often brings cough and tears and reminders of losses we may have suffered long ago. For those who have fresh reasons to grieve, it is even more critical a time to live on the knife-edge of life’s breath, where a misstep can bring us face-to-face with oblivion.
It is a good time to think of what is precious, what can endure beyond these days of waning light and the loss of what has mattered. Value is a tricky thing, but nonetheless, humans always have a way of attributing it to their experiences: what was “worth it,” what was “a waste,” what can bring meaning to a terrible loss? How do we value what we no longer have? Does memory alone serve? Intangibles seem to rule here… For much of what we die knowing is the quality of how we have lived or loved; and even if it is just a glimpse behind us, we may need to reflect on whether our values were well-placed.
When one is grieving, experiencing the disintegration of a relationship, a home, a community, a context in which one lived and found meaning, memories seem to lie on the ground like fallen leaves, too numerous to gather, and too poignant to ignore. One must stay with the breath — breathe in and out, in and out — a rhythmic chant that companions the feelings of grief, and brings a sense of stability and comfort.
Is it the end? We always want to know. Or will we somehow find a way to have just “a little death”? Might we learn that it is through the lens of loss that we find more of what is meaningful, precious, never-more-to-be-wasted? Or, might we find that the composting of our life is just what was needed… and finally let go.
In Chinese Medicine, this is why we also care for the Large Intestine function in the Autumn. It knows how to carefully sift through Life’s rubbish, and find any bits of useful matter for re-cycling. Sometimes my patients learn that if they carefully review their recent losses, and search for the nuggets of meaning inherent in them, their bowels become peaceful and regular. Imagine, a life review prescribed for irritable bowel syndrome!
But this is who and what we are: part of Nature, with cycles of growth, maturation and disintegration… And so it goes.
Blessings on your Autumn — Keep breathing, and letting go.