December 26, 2016
All things are impermanent. It is the nature of life. Nothing lasts forever (not even diamonds). Yet we generally have a hard time when things have reached the end of their lives.
Our minds are linear; they’re stuck with a Newtonian physics model (what is at rest stays at rest, what moves will continue to move in the same way forever unless something acts on it … while an acupuncturist and meditation teacher I also have a science geek side). Our minds expect things to stay as they are, and “has trouble letting go” (to borrow a line from The Matrix).
The Metal element of Chinese medicine is about letting in and letting go, and the two organs associated with the Metal element are the Lungs and Large Intestine. Both organs exemplify this theme.
The Lungs, of course, bring in a breaths of air. They also are a major way we let go of toxins. (Fun fact: when someone is working out at the gym and losing weight, the biological way the fat is let go of is through the breath.)
The Large Intestine is also a letting in and letting go organ. We may think of it as the storehouse of feces before we go to the bathroom, but its job is more complicated. It extracts the last bit of minerals from the waste and decides what we truly don’t need. It’s the body’s last pass at the food we have consumed and asks, what do I let in, what do I let go of?
Yet as Chinese medicine beautifully and seamlessly interweaves physical health with emotional, mental, and spiritual health, the meaning of letting in and letting go takes on deeper meanings.
Another word for inhalation is inspiration. To be INSPIRED is to take on something new with a gusto. A breath of fresh air. Also consider how we use the phrase “Don’t hold your breath!” when referring to waiting for something that is old and stale and will take a while to run its course.
When we have difficulty letting go (and we all do), grief is a natural result. We hold onto the past and this inhibits us from breathing in the new. Grief is a standard human emotion. It is more of a Buddhist ideal not to have the need to grieve the loss of something, and calmly see things as a natural end with no emotional attachment. So, for most of us humans, this isn’t our reality.
However, Chinese medicine associates grief with the Metal element. So to treat grief, we will be treating the Lung and Large Intestine. What do I hold onto, what no longer serves? How do I let go of the old and let in the new?
Other interesting aspects of Metal:
- It is about style versus substance. Someone with an imbalanced Metal element can tend to materialism and perfectionism, making everything look nice and shiny (like metal), and not caring about focusing as much on the substance. My grandmother would uproot weeds off of people’s lawns on her walks around her neighborhood, because everything had to look nice.
Likewise, an imbalanced Metal can also lead to hoarding and a complete lack of care for one’s appearance. Someone who carries the belief that “everything is shit” is often having an issue with their Metal element.
- Metal is also about our connection to Spirit, to something greater than ourselves. The Pope has a very strong Metal element. Metal connects us with the external world, with both the Lung and Large Intestine. In addition, the skin is considered to be governed by the Metal element.
So when we consider grief and letting go, accepting change, accepting the new, we are focusing on the Metal element. So it follows that often when kids get colds, they also have diarrhea. When there is an unexpected death, we can feel like our breath has been taken away. Years ago, a student of mine lost his twin brother in a drowning accident, and a couple days later developed pneumonia. It was neither a virus nor bacteria that got him – that was a physical manifestation of grief.
So how do you take care of your own Metal?
Take long, slow breaths. This calms you down, can reset the nervous system, as we let go of any immediate emotion or perceived threat. Slow, gentle breathing aids the body’s natural process of letting go. Again, meditation shows up as a powerful ally in one’s health.
- Aerobic Exercise
Clearly this also helps with all things lung. There have been more than a few runs where I have stopped mid-run because I need to cry something out. Aerobic exercise opens up our Lungs to get to some of the deeper stuff we’re holding in, both physical and emotional.
- Cultivate a Spiritual Side
Developing a connection to something greater than yourself, no matter the specific names, rituals, or other packaging, helps with grief. When we consider that those who have died still exist, but just not in the physical world, our pain can be eased. They are not lost; they are only not seen.
Crying is healthy. So, very healthy. It is common for me to feel on someone’s pulse an overly tight and ready-to-burst lung channel. I will often ask that person when the last time was that they had a good cry. Just a cry-to-your-face-is-ugly kind of cry. Powerful release.
There is a reason there are comedic moments built into dramas, both on screen and off. It breaks the tension, it helps us let go. It connects us out of the narrow field of vision we’ve adhered ourselves to and into a broader experience that connects both tension and lightness.
Change is natural. So is grief. What makes both these things so difficult to handle is when we fight to hold onto the old, to what’s time has come and gone, and are unable to be here, now, with this breath, with this experience, with this moment.
Breathe. With each breath comes the possibility of some great inspiration.
Happy holidays, and happy new year!