I have been most engaged this past week in the work and challenge of the metal element. I’ve been reflecting on both the physical and spiritual manifestations of metal through the lens of Chinese Medicine and also through the language of Christian narrative which hearkens us to hear about the pearl of great price and other tales of shiny objects and how we value life and living.
The metal season shows his glory best in autumn as the trees clothe themselves in a dazzling show of beauty before letting the leaves fall from the tree in the yellowing light. She shines most brightly in denouements, as things come to a focal point.
The metal personality will see the leaf drift from the tree and appreciate the particularity of that very moment. The metal element opens the nose, allowing us to smell the roses in life.
The work of the metal element discerns what to hold on to, and what to release. The pathway of the metal elements begin in the chest and travel down the radial side of the arm to the nail bed of the thumb and then picks up at the first (pointer) finger and travels back to the shoulder and the head and ends at the nostril.
The two organs in the body we associate with metal are the lungs and the large intestine. From a physiological perspective, the relationship between this and viruses is clear: breathing deeply into our lungs, we receive through our nose (and mouth) all that is in the air around us. Philosophically, we might consider what gives us inspiration? And what are we holding deep within that we might do well to exhale from our lungs? We eject toxins through our colon after our digestive system discerns what is of value to our system and what is not of value.
As anxiety stirs in the winds of change, looking toward an unknown future, there is opportunity to consider what in life is of value? And what in our present life is toxic? What shifts align us with inspiration, and which invite us to our more creaturely natures?
Metal people can struggle with a sense of self worth. They see the preciousness of any given moment, and they can also contract to slow unmanageable expansion. Metal people value rules and obedience. They also know well the emotion of grief, which the metal element manifests.
Metal is clothed with white, the color of shrouds, and spring flowers that bend their heads as if in prayer.
This pandemic has definitely gotten ‘metal up’. I am anxious and disgruntled by those who choose to ‘not follow the rules’ of sheltering in place or allowing a ‘safe distance’. I feel grief washing over me in no specific way, but in a generalized sense of wanting things to ‘go back’ to the organization and predictability of “before Covid 19”. I don’t know how even to package the grief and so it pushes through the edges. As I knead a loaf of bread tears come unbidden. I sit watching clouds lumber through the sky and miss loved ones long gone. Sometimes I find I’ve forgotten to breathe for a bit. Some days I have ‘grabby hands’ wanting to reach out and grab connections, or another treat, or do ‘all the things’. Other days I couldn’t find inspiration to receive something new if it smacked me upside the head.
From a Chinese medical perspective, the metal element bestows the gift of inspiration, and animal instincts represent the metal spirit. Our startle response comes from metal, as does our expression of awe.
Metal time in Chinese medicine is between 3 and 7 in the morning. The inspirational lung moments begin at 3, at time when bread rises best and the quality of air wraps mysteriously as the first light breaks into morning.
If you are joining me in wakefulness as the last dark moments succumb to the break of day, perhaps you, too, will benefit from reflection on what to keep and what to release and from breathing fully into the forgetting of yesterday and the welcome to a new day. Denser matters present themselves beginning about 5 am as our bodies prepare to empty the colon.
The dynamic of metal is exemplified in filling up and emptying out. The trajectory of metal is descending. Grief sends our energy down as we feel the ‘weight of grief’. If this particular moment presents anything to us, surely it is the practice of filling up and of emptying out.
The season of Lent, just completed last weekend in Christian tradition embodies the metal element. The season is a preparation, a time of cleansing and releasing what takes hold of us. We give consideration to what is of value in our lives, and of the value of life itself. The culmination of Lent is the story of the execution of Jesus, a time when it seemed all goodness was snuffed out and the powers of greed and institutional injustice took hold. This was represented in the betrayal of Jesus for 30 shiny metal pieces. And the grief that enveloped the community for days powerfully represents the metal element.
On Easter, the narrative is one of turnabout, when the tomb is empty and victory is declared. What is coming is the time when we are left once again, this time with the company of the Holy Spirit, the name also of breath.
I’ve been sitting with the idea of holy breath since this Coronavirus moment began. This disease sweeping the planet takes our breath away. It fills up the necessary empty spaces and stops our ability to receive breath or to release it. I’m wondering what else I have filling up the empty spaces I need to fully breathe, to receive inspiration. What is there to do with all this grief? Perhaps the “doing” does not manage grief, but rather the recognition of the preciousness of all that is lost. If we can exhale the catalog of losses and bring deeply within the truth of so much suffering we can also make room for awe.
If we slow and inhale the wonder of the delicate flowers surviving storms that topple trees the grief is bearable.
Here are a few medical notes on the Metal Element and ways you can support yours. Metal hates dryness. This is why, when we walk outside as the air turns dry in the fall, we cough. It is why pollen taxes our respiratory system as well. For this reason staying hydrated is extremely important. Drink water all day long. Keep the mucus membranes and system plump and well hydrated.
The metal element is responsible in part for our skin, so scrubbing in the shower with something that can exfoliate our skin a few times a week is very important. This also helps the fluid circulate up to the skin level.
Foods that support the metal element in our bodies are pears, rice, almonds, grains, root vegetables. The spices that challenge our metal are those that are hot and drying. Metal season portrays the active, hot, sunny season folding into the deep, dark, icy season of winter’s rest.
Even though the world around us is surging and growing and expanding and reaching upward, we are collectively in a moment of contraction and quiet. They are not happily compatible movements. Metal cuts wood. Any youngster with innovative boisterous loud plans to initiate and do the next new thing knows the sound of metal whacking the dreams with an elder’s word of caution, the demand to sit still and to quiet down.
The metal element teaches us to hold the tension of opposites together. To receive inspiration while exhaling, to fill up and to empty out, and to grieve the losses while claiming the beauty and perfection in an instant. Metal is the ethereal nature of air and dense matter of bodies, it is the instinctual nature of creature with the propensity to prayer.
In this season of spring and rebirth, of renewal and wonder, I wish you company in the grieving should sorrow present itself. I am grateful for your company in these words.