Leaves crunch under footsteps. Pumpkins spring up in doorways and along sidewalks. And the smell of woodsmoke lies just under the smells of spice and frost. Oh yes, autumn is here.
Autumn is the season of harvest – the season for us to look back at what we’ve made, keep the things that serve us, and release the things that don’t. The season of soups and chilis. And the season of preparation.
Learning to live seasonally is the ultimate preventative medicine. It’s a lifestyle that follows the rhythms of nature around you to prepare you for the pitfalls of the season ahead.
In the beginning
Once upon a time, there was a massage therapist interested in living seasonally. Because she was in school for acupuncture, she had a basic understanding of living seasonally according to Chinese Medicine.
So on a cold, dark night in 2013 she set up a “Living Seasonally in Autumn” workshop for free. 10 people RSVP’d, so she got some apple cider rolling in a crockpot, set up some chairs and waited.
No one came.
I count my lucky stars that I didn’t give up my passion for living seasonally that night. I drank cider and kept researching until it was time to go home. And then I did more workshops, started writing blog posts and eventually did a presentation bigger presentations.
Autumn is where my passion for living seasonally started and every time I write a blog post or do another workshop, a layer I’ve never seen before is exposed.
But before we get into the details, let’s review:
The Wheel of the Year
As you have seen in the past blog posts on living seasonally, both the Ancient Chinese and Ancient Europeans divided the year up into eight sections:
The heaven has eight weather terms (i.e. the Beginning of Spring, the Spring Equinox, the Beginning of Summer, the Summer Solstice, the Beginning of Autumn, the Autumnal Equinox, the Beginning of Winter and the Winter Solstice), and the earth has the distribution of the five elements to be the guiding principle to breed all things.Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen, Chapter 5
Ancient Europeans, had specific names for these times as well. Using the Gaelic names, they are Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lammas, Mabon, Samhain and Yule respectively.
One of the first things you’ll notice if this is the first time you’re looking at the Wheel of the Year is that the equinoxes and solstices are not the beginning of the season, but rather the middle. This means that September 21st isn’t the beginning of fall, it’s the middle. Lammas, or August 1st is the beginning of fall and fall ends around October 31st, or Samhain.
In fact, Classical Chinese and Ancient European understandings of the seasons match up so well you can get a pretty nifty diagram if you overlay the two systems:
It makes sense though: both cultures, through the observation and analysis of data noticed natural patterns of growth and death that followed the cycle of the sun in the Northern hemisphere. And these observations echo throughout both cultures, governing many of our practices today.
Imagine you lived 2000 years ago. You’ve been studying the world around you for many years and through your observations you’ve come to some conclusions.
In the summer days are longer and warmer. In the winter days are shorter and colder. Twice a year days are as long as nights, once when things begin growing and once at harvest. This happens every year.
But you also notice that the sun stays in the southern sky. You don’t know this is because you live in the Northern hemisphere, so you conclude that South is associated with warmth and heat. The opposite of that is North, and cold. Naturally, heat is associated with summer and cold with winter.
We see the birth of the day in the east, and the birth of the year in the spring. And in the west we see the decline of the day, and in the autumn, the decline of the year.
Over time, these observations blossom. Not only are the cardinal directions associated with the seasons, but eventually with the elements – the building blocks of how your culture sees the world. With those elements come emotions, actions and esoteric beliefs; entire systems are built around what was once just looking up and paying attention.
Living seasonally in autumn
Unfortunately for many modern folks, that echo of our ancestors’ understanding is fading. Now we expose ourselves to blue light screens well after sunset, work unnatural 8 hour shifts all year long under fluorescent lights, and hardly go outside at all.
We can see it in our holidays, our obsession with pumpkin spice and so on but what was once a way of life is now window dressing.
What does it mean to live seasonally in 2018?
A matter of language
It’s important to know what our ancestors were observing because we get caught up in words. And the ancient understanding of autumn is the perfect example of how we use different words to explain the same phenomenon.
In Chinese Medicine, we see autumn as the season of metal. In European traditions it is the season of water (which should not be confused with the Chinese Medicine element of water.) In order to understand how these two very different elements can represent the same season we have to understand how the cultures saw what they did.
Both cultures see these elements as feminine, or yin. Bother are associated with sadness, melancholy and grief. This is a season of deeply experiencing emotion and allowing ourselves to process it so we can move on.
But it’s about managed emotions, not letting your emotions run rampant. We can see this in the tarot with the King of Cups representing mastery of our emotions and we can see it in the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen:
The symbol of “Cautious Punishment” which is the moderate energy of metal is restraining without conflicting, chillness without persecution, so as the activities of the energy of the five elements’ motion may become smooth and clarified…it’s ability of promoting growth and transformation is to cause all things to yield fruit….Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen, Chapter 70
In the fall we manage. We manage our harvests, taking stock of what the year has brought us, expressing gratitude for abundance and letting go of the things we don’t need. We manage our emotions, “restraining the spirit and energy internally and guarding the mind against anxiety.” (Su Wen, Chapter 2) We do this, so that when the time comes we can grow again.
In the three months of autumn, the shapes of all living things on earth become mature naturally and are ready to be harvested.Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen, Chapter 2
In essence, living seasonally in the autumn is about your harvest and preparing for the coming winter. And to do that, you have to live a metal lifestyle.
A Most Metal Lifestyle
Living a metal lifestyle isn’t just for those of us who wear all black and listen to Russian Circles to relax. In fact, living a metal lifestyle is something that everyone can and should do, if the world around you calls for it.
So when the harvest starts to come in, consider adding the following to your life:
1. Food for fall
Eating seasonally can be pretty simple. Look at the food that grows in your area and is naturally available. For instance, in Minnesota I’m seeing a lot of vegetables, squash, root vegetables and of course – apples!
A Chinese Medical perspective is just another layer to the practice. According to Chinese Medicine, autumn is the season to look for more hearty foods and flavors. We should be focused on the preparation of food and since autumn is the season of the lung, we should be enjoying the smells as we cook.
This is a good season for baking and sauteing, but as we get closer to winter it’s time to pull out the crockpot – it’s soup and stew season!
Energetically we want to look at sour foods. In addition to our baked veggies and chilis, we should eat:
- fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and other live foods
- full fat yogurt or kefir, so they are more easily digested
- sourdough bread
- pickles of any kind – pickled beets, pickled eggs, pickled cucumbers, pickled ginger
- vinegar as a seasoning
- bold cheeses
Basically, think comfort food and you’re on the right path.
2. Find a topic to study this winter
The fall and winter are a great time to curl up under a blanket with a mug of something warm and read a book. But the fall into hibernation is also a chance to settle into our minds and thoughts and learn something new. If we take these next few months to learn a new hobby or skill, we can plant the seeds we harvest from what we’ve learned next spring.
Having something to focus on for the winter may help stave off seasonal affective disorder, so find something you want to learn and get those neurons firing.
3. Fall into fall
Resisting change creates tension, and tension creates stress. The wheel of the year has always and will always turn, and resisting the change of the seasons creates unneeded stress in our lives.
Take this time to settle into hibernation. Rest is good, you guys. Taking time to cuddle, eat comfort foods and be with family is good.
Set your boundaries closer inward We need to protect our family time and our personal time. We need to store up fuel so that next spring we can kick ass and take names.
So prepare for winter, unapologetically.
4. Declutter and organize
Forget spring cleaning.
Well, don’t actually, it’s a really nice social ritual. But add another season.
Harvest isn’t just about bringing in abundance, it’s also about letting go of the things that don’t serve us any more. This makes autumn an ideal time to declutter. Since most of us are pulling out our winter clothes anyway, we should definitely let go of some of the chaff and send it off to local charities.
On top of that, metal is the element of precision. Take a look around your newly organized and clean home and see what details are keeping it from being perfect. Now is the time to tweak your home into the cozy nest you’ll be living in all winter.
5. Dealing with grief
Every element has a yin and a yang aspect. The yang aspect of metal is about connection – the action of reaching out to people, animals, communities, ideas – and integrating it with our own being.
The yin aspect of metal is about letting go of those connections and moving on. When we let go of connections, there is mourning. Even if we are leaving a job we hate for a job we love, a part of us has to deal with that lost connection – that grief.
Recognizing autumn as the season of grief is a world wide phenomenon. Ancient Europeans practiced Samhain and saw it as a time when the veil between worlds was thin and we could converse with spirits who have passed.
Modern Christians practice All Saints Day, which honors the spiritual bond between those who are alive and those who have passed.
So take some time this season to consider the connections you would like to honor, and the ones you would like to release.
6. Take a breath
Autumn is the season of the lung and is a great time to focus on building a qi gong practice or breathing focused mindfulness meditations.
Not only does this bring the focus to the lung to help strengthen it, it helps manage stress.
…keep the spirit tranquil and stable to separate oneself from the sough of autumn by means of restraining the spirit and energy internally and guard the mind against anxiety and impetuosity.Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen, Chapter 2
Getting in the habit of meditating and managing emotions in the autumn can help manage Seasonal Affective Disorder later in the year.
7. Go to bed early
According to the Nei Jing:
….one should go to bed early to stay away from the chillness and get up early to appreciate the crisp air of autumn…Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen, Chapter 2
This is a great time of year to pay attention to the early sunsets and follow suit. Get cozy with a cup of tea under a warm comforter and practice your hibernation skills.
Round and round we go
The wheel will keep on spinning and I will keep on saying, if you ever need a hint at what to do to live seasonally you need only look two places:
Weather, sunlight, plants and animals will tell you if you should be cozying up inside with a good book or getting outside and enjoying the sunshine. And your lizard brain knows how to interpret what’s going on around you, you just have to let it know you’re listening.
If you want to get ready for winter or want to know more about living seasonally, click the button below!
Disclaimer: I am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Resources and links
Check out the other seasonal living blog posts:
The Seasonal Food Guide – This link will take you to Minnesota for late October, but just change your location and the time of year to suit your needs!
Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches – Depression Research and Treatment, 2015
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul, MN specializing in women’s health and fertility. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul as well as doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check out the services page for more information!
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