Philosophizing About Fall

To me, autumn is the most fascinating time of year. Spring has the miracle of new life and new growth; a burst of energy expelled outwards propelling us into renewal and action. Spring is a very external season, a time for shaking off the sleepiness of Winter and reengaging with the world. It makes sense then that Spring is the beginning of the yang cycle in Chinese philosophy. Yang is the active, male principle in nature represented by the sun. It is warmth, energy and light.

Fall, on the other hand, is the beginning of the yin cycle. And yin, of course, is the female principle in nature - represented by the moon. It is passive, cold and dark. Now, putting aside any women’s studies issues that might be raised by referring to the female element as passive (or for that matter cold and dark) let’s focus on the fact that these qualities are not judgments. Yin and yang are complementary elements representing the integrated dualism of all of life. Each is imperative to the other, and neither is good or bad as such because they transcend a dualistic morality. The inactive, internal nature of the yin does not mean that there is no growth. It is a slow, quiet nurturing of internalized growth. Although the season of Fall is not a season of new growth, it is the realization of long, slow, careful nurturing over several seasons. It is also the fruitful culmination of one cycle and the invisible beginning of another.

In nature, Fall is a time of production and die-back. Many fruit-bearing plants reach their full potential, pushing all their energy into a last, and beautiful (and often delicious) effort before they wither or die for the winter months. The bounty of all these plants is then consumed by animals who require the energy for winter survival. The seeds, harvested or fallen, enter a period of dormancy for the Winter. They will not begin a cycle of growth until the conditions are right. This autumn’s seeds are next Spring’s seedlings.

In Oriental medicine the element associated with Fall is Metal, which is representative of order, discipline, and the setting of boundaries. Winter is a very introspective, internal time of year and Fall begins the movement toward that. It is a time to organize your life for the coming Winter, and a time to look inwards… beginning the retrospective hibernation period that will last until the energetic renewal of Spring. Fall is the time of year both to celebrate the bounties in your life, and to reflect on what might be done to improve the harvest next year, whether that harvest be literal or metaphorical. It is a wonderful time to organize yourself, begin new projects, and set personal goals that will keep you happy and healthy over the winter months. The element of Metal in Chinese medicine is also associated with grief. Just as the leaves are let go by the trees, so must we let go of those things which no longer serve us. Fall is a time to allow for the positive, restorative expression of grief: a time to cleanse yourself of negativity, mourn what has been lost, and, ultimately to let go of emotions or experiences that no longer serve you. The lungs and the colon are the internal organs associated with Fall and with the element of Metal. Both clearly relate to the prevalent seasonal themes of letting go, and of cleansing the body and mind. The lungs allow for more than just the exhalation of negativity however, as they are also the organ that allows for an inhalation of the pure, crisp air of autumn. Breathe out the old, the stale, the stagnant... let it go...  and now, breathe in.

And, this is one element of why I find Fall to be so fascinating. It is a time to celebrate the fruits of seeds borne of the past, and a time to reconnect with and reevaluate yourself as you consider the seeds you would like to germinate in the coming seasons.