A Time for Letting Go
It’s autumn. The leaves are changing into a plethora of beautiful colours before their dramatic fall from the trees that held them as burgeons just a few months earlier. In Chinese Medicine, the element associated with this time of the year is Metal and the emotion connected to Metal is Grief. As nature is letting go of its lively greeneries and flowers, preparing to lay dormant over winter, let us explore our human experience of grief.
Nothing is forever!
Long ago, I was chatting with a lady who turned out to be a passerby in my life. I don’t remember her name. In fact, I even have a hazy memory of the way she looked. But, I will never forget her reaction… I was in my very early twenties. While I was talking about my dreams and fear of getting stuck in a life I didn’t want, she suddenly laughed: “Nothing is forever!”
This simple sentence lingered in my mind for years. I hadn’t yet fully grasped the notion of the ever changing nature of life… I had experienced loss as a child. As a result, I knew how life could take unexpected twists and turns. However, I hadn’t truly understood that everyone’s life is essentially unpredictable and that no-one can ever settle into certainty.
What is death?
Most of us experience many deaths in a lifetime: the loss of the old allowing the birth of the new… There are different kinds of losses. Of course, there is the passing of a loved one. But there are also other endings such as that of a romantic relationship, of a friendship, of a stage in our existence, of a dream, of a limb, etc… In each instance, we might feel a very deep sorrow and an easily overlooked need to grieve.
There are endings that are difficult to bear, so difficult we refuse to see the prospect of a new beginning. That moment when a transition sets into motion, it can feel as if the universe has pulled the rug from under our feet.
By the time we manage to pull ourselves together, the scenery of our existence has become unrecognisable. Our mind can hardly catch up with the abruptness of life. Our memories are fresh and familiar whereas our new situation seems foreign, like a mistake that must corrected… But that correction never happens… Most of us heal with time. We reach a place of acceptance and the transition eventually ends. Others choose to resist (sometimes understandably so…) even though no-one can stop the progression of life. The world keeps turning, taking us from one revolution to the next… Resisting change only results in a transition that is harder and far more heartbreaking.
The heartbreak symptoms
A heartbreak is meant to be a metaphor. Yet, it can be relentlessly felt on the physical level: the discomfort in the chest area, the restricted breathing, the change in appetite and the mind that has difficulty focusing, etc… Can these symptoms be explained in Chinese Medicine?
As mentioned above, Grief is an emotion associated with the Metal element. This element is connected to two organs: the Lungs and the Large Intestine. While the Lungs helps us breathe in air (or breathe in life), the main function of the Large Intestine is to help our body remove waste products (let go of toxins in order to maintain our health and livelihood…).
When we are terribly sad, it may energetically weaken our Metal element. Some of the symptoms are a compromised immune system, skin issues, digestive problems, etc… But also what I personally call ‘the heartbreak symptoms:’ shallow breathing, discomfort in the chest area and lack of focus.
The energetics of a broken heart
The first thing to notice with this set of symptoms is the shallow breathing. It is as if we are breathing enough air to keep our body alive but unconsciously refusing to breathe in deeper. After all, each breath is allowing new life into our body and we may not be ready to step into the new conditions surrounding us.
In Chinese Medicine, one of the energetic function of the Lungs is to keep Qi moving in a circular motion in the upper part of the body. When we experience a heartbreak, our extreme sadness may weaken the Qi of our Lungs. Consequently, it may impair the Qi circulation in the torso. This could explain the discomfort in the centre of our chest that feels like our heart is truly broken.
Finally, The Metal element is also linked to an aspect of the Spirit called Po. It represents the part of our mind that has the ability to focus. If the Metal element weakens, so does the Po… For this reason, we may find it difficult to concentrate when we are experiencing loss.
The 3 L’s: Lose, Learn, Love!
As autumn is just a season of the year, grieving is also meant to be temporary. All these symptoms should gradually disappear as we allow ourselves to let go and move on…
On a personal level, I know that the most challenging losses I’ve experienced have had a huge impact on the person I’ve become. I have learnt to live in the present in acceptance of life’s temporal nature. The knowledge that death is an omnipresent part of life infuses all my decisions. I surround myself with people I love – knowing that one day, I may have to let them go… And I can firmly state that, like many of you, my heart has grown into a beautiful mosaic of love, compassion and wisdom because I mended it whenever it broke. It is full of light because it saw the dark notes of life, and then saw far beyond them. In the eye of the storm, there is nothing more and nothing less than a spark of hope, and hope is truly the beginning of healing.