Add as bookmark

Daoist Diary: Autumn

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 94 - November 2003

Beginning the Descent

This year a dear family pet died. Our cat, Benny, had been with us for 17 years and was very much loved. His death is hard to accept – we still expect to see his familiar black and white shape curled up on the sofa or padding into the kitchen to see what we are up to. Although I don't grieve for him as I would for a human, I am aware that there is a need for an appropriate time of sorrow. The Chinese philosophy of the Dao has helped me to realize the importance of marking this passage of loss – even a cat needs to be grieved for. Particularly as we come into autumn, my family and I will remember Benny and make sure we give ourselves time, again, to think of him and all that he meant to us.

To followers of the Dao the seasons can be powerful teachers and through them we learn to flow better with the circumstances of our lives. In the autumn, as we see the leaves drift down from the trees and the nights grow longer, we feel sadness for the loss of summer and can be reminded of other, more personal losses. This is a time of letting go, of withdrawal to conserve for the winter. Late summer, season of the Earth element, has already prepared us to some extent for this drawing in towards the cold, dark yin energy of the winter. Now we begin the descent in earnest as we experience, through autumn, a heavier, more contracting energy and so embark on learning the lessons of the Metal element.

Arm Neurons

Body Nerves

Autumn can be a melancholic time as we finally let go of the happy vibrancy of summer and turn inwards towards the darkness of winter. This is a time, as every gardener knows, when we need to begin the autumnal work of cultivating a good compost from decaying vegetation to ensure a yield of strong, healthy growth in the springtime. As the decay creates a rich concentration of minerals to feed the earth we can see this as a metaphor – this is the season when we need to be aware, on an emotional and psychological level, of the denser, darker and more secretive parts of the psyche. This is a time for an inward journey which may be uncomfortable, as it can connect us with sadness and grief but also creates a rich environment for our self-development – as we face and accept our darkness, so we grow stronger.

One of the functions of the model of the Chinese 5 Elements is to show us how energy moves within us in its natural, primal state. This is a harmonious state of being that gives us a sense of wellness. The flow of autumnal/Metal energy teaches us that things come and things go in a natural cycle – it is no surprise to find that, on a physical level, the Metal element is associated with the lungs and colon – through the first we take in air and through the latter we let go of waste. Thus, emotionally, this is the season for accepting the deepest and darkest parts of our being – letting our feelings come up to the surface and then letting them go. Introspection and elimination are the tasks of the autumn and we can assist this process and go with the flow, letting things come and go physically, emotionally and spiritually, in any or all of the following ways.

Exploring Sadness

Energy flows inwards during the autumn and so the energy channels contract around the heart. Emotionally we might feel melancholic and, physically, the chest tends to sink in and the shoulders become more rounded. Interestingly, the Chinese character for sadness reflects this as it is a hand pressing on the heart. Because of this inward flow we need, at autumn time, to go within to explore and accept the reality of our situation and any sadness inherent in our lives. If you have lost a loved one, autumn is the time to make space to remember and grieve for him/her. Our culture does not often give us time to deal with death thoroughly. We either sweep our grief under the carpet and carry on with a stoical air or, in the modern way, we publicly display our loss with wrapped bouquets of flowers left at death scenes – announcing to the world the 'depth' of our grief. Grieving is a very private act – it is a time to withdraw so that we may weep and mourn – fully lose ourselves.

Autumn presents us with the opportunity to face and accept feelings of loss and sorrow that may resurface at this time. Set aside a quiet space, light candles and surround yourself with photos and objects that remind you of your loved one. Absorb and feel deeply all the memories you shared with him/her. Allow yourself time to cry, to grieve again the loss of this dearly beloved being. When you are able to, sit quietly and breathe steadily from the abdomen or practise the breathing meditation described below. Now visualize a light coming down through the top of your head into your heart. Imagine your loved one sitting opposite you and beam this light of love from you to him/her. Now free, filled with light and love, he/she is able to be released. In this way, through fully letting go of our sadness, we come to sense the openness that is the core of our being. As we become more aware of this place of clear, open energy, so we feel more fully accepting and at peace.

Letting the Breath Come and Go

According to the Daoist view, we produce our energy through breathing in chi from the air – if we don't breathe fully our energy will be diminished. When we are stressed with tense shoulders we will be breathing shallowly from the upper chest and at times of severe stress we may even unconsciously hold our breath as a protective mechanism. In this way we can become fatigued easily. Autumn is a particularly good time to remind yourself to breathe deeply – it is the time for letting things come and go. If you create time to inhale and exhale consciously and fully you will find your energy levels increase quite dramatically. During the autumn, cultivate the habit of starting each morning with several deep cleansing breaths and so energize your being.

As we have seen, emotionally autumn is a time to be aware of and release our sadness and grief. Physically, it is a time to explore opening the lungs, the organs associated with the Metal element, and so learn to breathe more fully. In this way we may also assist the process of releasing these emotions and so help to let things come and let things go. Calmly practising the breathing meditation below, coupled with gentle stimulation of the acupuncture points, will help the lungs to open and may connect you with any feelings of sorrow that you may be holding onto. As you release these feelings you will start to feel the chi energy rising within you and so feel re-energized.

Firstly adjust your posture – by sitting in a hunched up position you will weaken the lungs by blocking the energy in the lung meridians. Sit straight, supported in a straight back chair if necessary. Start this exercise by gently rubbing the following Lung points known as 'Narrow Defile' and points on the Colon meridian known as 'Joining the Valleys'. Both of these will help with the process of opening and letting go. Then follow this with the Breath Counting Meditation.

Acupressure Points and Breath Counting Meditation

• Lung 7 'Narrow Defile': from the crease at the inside of the wrist in the depression below the thumb, measure approximately two finger widths above the wrist. Press lightly and rub in an anti-clockwise movement for a couple of minutes each side.

• Colon 4 'Joining the Valleys': in the webbing between the thumb and index finger, find the sensitive spot and press in a downward movement for a couple of minutes. This point is not advised for pregnant women.

As you massage these points you will connect with the energy of the Metal element and can affirm that, during this season, you will focus on letting things come and letting them go. If you feel any sense of sadness, allow it to surface and acknowledge its presence. Now place your hands in your lap and, whilst continuing to sit upright with a straight back, start to focus on the breathing meditation.

Breathe in through your nose and, as you do so, count one silently to yourself. Then exhale counting two. Concentrate on the air going in and out of your nostrils and on your counting. Inhale counting three, then exhale counting four. Inhale counting five and exhale counting six. Keep doing this all the way up to ten. When your attention wanders and you lose track of counting, simply start again at one. When you have counted to ten start again at one. Do this for twenty minutes. You will find as the mind calms down, the breath and heart will become quieter and calmer. Now you will feel more relaxed and at ease with yourself as you let the breath come and go.

Strengthening the Lungs

This exercise strengthens the muscles of the chest and increases lung capacity. It also stimulates the whole length of the Lung meridian. Try to practise this daily throughout the autumn and so give your lungs a gentle and regular workout.

Opening the Bow

Opening the Dao

• Stand straight and then take one step to the left. Bend your knee to assume a 'horse riding position'.
• Cross your arms in front of your chest at the wrists, left arm in front of the right. Clench your fists, now extend the index finger of the left hand.
• As though holding a bow in your left hand and the bow string in your right, push out the left arm until it is straight. At the same time, pull the right hand out to the side as though you are pulling a bow string. Inhale deeply during this movement. Concentrate your attention on the tip of your left index finger whilst following its movement with your eyes.
• Exhale whilst you relax the arms, crossing them in front of your chest again – this time with the right arm in front of the left and the right index finger extended.
• Open the bow again, this time to the right side.
• Repeat twice more.

Autumnal Diet

As the weather becomes more yin so we need to start eating warmer dishes again. Now is the time to eat more meat and less of the yin fruits – cut out melons, grapefruits and oranges, whilst introducing more seasonal fruits such as apples and pears. Build the lung energy by eating cooked food and including lots of onions and garlic. Exclude dairy foods – milk and cheese are possible irritants to the lungs as they produce large amounts of mucus. These factors are not mentioned in traditional Chinese medical texts as Chinese and Japanese diets contain very little dairy food. Use this time of year to build the immune system up in preparation for the winter months ahead. Traditionally now is the time to take herbal tonics, but for this I suggest you see a qualified Chinese Herbalist.

Autumn is a time when the natural flow of energy is towards awareness, receptivity of our deeper feelings. It is a time when we are reminded through nature of the brevity of our lives and so may feel a sense of melancholy, of sorrow. As we acknowledge and align with these feelings we need to accept and allow our grief whether it is related to recent or long past loss. This is a time of letting go and, through the use of breathing and relaxation techniques, acupressure points and Chi Gung exercises, we may find a deep sense of release and thus experience an openness within ourselves in which we may safely rest as we journey towards the winter.


Hill S. Reclaiming the Wisdom of the Body. Constable and Company. 1997.
Ody P. Practical Chinese Medicine. Godsfield Press Ltd. 2000.
Teeguarden I. The Joy of Feeling. Japan Publications Inc. 1984.


  1. No Article Comments available

Post Your Comments:

About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 


  • radical spirituality

    UK publisher of rejected knowledge in areas of esoteric thought and radical streams of spirituality.

top of the page