The main framework I use in this article, is the 5 Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM).
What are the Five Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Each of the 5 Elements describes and illustrates a different phase of Qi / ch'i / ki (or energy), and its different behaviours and characteristics. Each element relates to a different season.
Yes, there are 5 seasons in TCM, not the usual 5. Late Summer (Earth) is, however, considered as a season by some, whilst other people consider the transitions between each of the seasons as sharing the characteristics of Earth, instead.
The Five Elements, their Seasons and patterns of movement
Metal: Autumn (or Fall) [contracting movement]
Water: Winter [descending]
Wood: Spring [rising]
Fire: Summer [expanding]
Earth: Late Summer/First Harvest [stillness - forming the central axis around which movement takes place.]
How Do These Elements Affect You?
In simple terms, the elements affect everything - since they describe the phases and behaviours of Qi, which is the building-block for everything in existence.
So the Elements are a way of describing the tendencies and characteristics of you, those around you, the world around you and nature, the weather, the course of a human life, and even the menstrual cycle.
The Five Elements run through everything, and help us to understand the ebbs and flows of the world around us as well as within us - which may not always be congruent. They can help give perspective on inter-relationships between people and outside influences; the nature of interactions and actions, as well as helping give us insight and useful perspective around skilful ways to achieve balance and harmony through these differences.
A hypothetical example: a clash between Fire and Metal energetics
For example, one person may have a strongly Fire element temperament (we'll call them Aurora), and be very enthusiastic, social, ambitious and achievement-driven, as well as very emotionally open.
In this hypothetical situation, one of Aurora's family members had a Metal imbalance (we'll call him Ferris), which was manifesting by them feeling they needed to assert and strengthen their personal boundaries, and also having issues around low self-worth, and unable to let go of a misunderstanding between himself and Aurora.
Aurora might want to sweep in, open her heart and "fix" the issue through sharing and expression of her emotions. But this approach is likely to be counter-productive for Ferris, because of his need to have his own space to feel safe. He might feel like Aurora is being overbearing or callous, and certainly not respecting his needs for personal boundaries. Ferris wants to talk about why he was in the right about the misunderstanding, and make her see, but she doesn't see things that way, and wants to minimise and move past the misunderstanding. Maybe his dwelling on that misunderstanding and his need to be "right" is upsetting Aurora, and she just wants to make things right.
Under circumstances like this, how might an understanding of the Five Elements model help Ferris and Aurora to reconcile or at least to get along better?
Well firstly, Aurora might find it easier to understand the elemental dynamics between them, as looking through the lens of an archetype often feels more distanced, and a less raw and "personal" a way to look and and think about current situations.
The fact is that Ferris's Metal imbalance is not Aurora's doing, but her strong Fire energy is triggering tricky feelings present in Ferris, caused by his Metal imbalance (fire has a powerful effect on metal - it can melt it). One way to move past the current deadlock between them might be if Aurora realised that this was not about her, but about Ferris, and stepped back to give him the space to regroup and rebalance.
A complex example perhaps, but hey, isn't life and relationship dynamics usually complicated? Five Elements Theory can be a helpful lens through which to see our immediate situations, more clearly.
Introducing the Metal Element as Autumn's seasonal influence
So, we've already covered the fact that the Metal Element is associated with the season of Autumn; and on the chart above, we saw that its direction or pattern of movement is contracting or moving inwards. This is easy to remember, if you think about trees bringing their energy back within - taking back that energy it had been giving to its leaves for photosynthesis, which then turn to their beautiful fire-y colours, before falling.
Contracting is also what metal does in the cold - shrinking back. Becoming denser and tighter. Almost like cold muscles tensing and shivering, if you like.
So autumn, as the Metal season of the year, marks the start of the energetic contraction phase of the year. After being dispersed and open in Summertime, Energy contracts and gathers back together. This might be likened to turning within for a period of reflection and introspection, or establishing healthy boundaries with those around us. It can also be seen in the way that trees bring their life force and energy back within their trunks, and down into their roots, meaning they release their leaves, as there's not enough energetic resource to sustain them, as well as the tree itself. You could say it's a little like down-sizing or rationalising ones's resources, in a business context, or one's belongings, before moving home.
Metal has associations with the colour white, and with the sound of crying. Both of these come from the fact that Metal is associated with grief. White, in some parts of the East is the colour of mourning - as black is, in the UK and other countries.
Metal's taste is pungent - think onions or garlic, or a spiced dish (not necessarily hot, but more fragrant and rich). So if you make sure to include some pungent ingredients or dishes in your diet over autumn, you'll be nourishing and supporting your Metal element within, as well as aligning with the season in the world around you.
The Metal element also relates to the organ of the skin, and to protection and maintaining balance/staying safe and healthy in the outside world's environment. This is easy to remember, if you think of the fact that our skin can need more moisturising and care, during the colder months of the year. Our skin is also a barrier or a boundary, which is semi-permeable: that's to say that it protects our organs, bones, veins and the interior landscape of our bodies, from what we don't need, letting in things we do need, such as moisture, information (through touch and temperature sensing) and vitamin D from the sunshine. Conversely, it releases toxins and substances we do not need (such as excess water) through the pores in the skin, sending them out into the wider world, out of our bodies and away from us, as well. Our skin plays a big part in the body's maintenance of balance and healthy, safe conditions, also known as homeostasis.
What might a strongly Metal Element-influenced person be like?
They might like wearing pale colours, and perhaps have pale or fair skin, tending towards dryness. They would likely be strongly opinionated, in a matter-of-fact (rather than personal) way. Metal-influenced people are often very precise and particular - liking things a certain way. This can be a strength if they work in certain fields where precision and/or logic is needed, or where planning, organisation and orderliness is important.. Technical specialists or scientists would certainly benefit from some degree of Metal influence in their temperament. Their voice might sound a little like they're crying - it may have a wobble or a shake, and sound sad. Metal people are likely to end sentences with a descending pitch.
How might a Metal imbalance manifest?
This would (in basic terms) mean someone had too much or too little Metal energy, or the energy was not flowing healthily or balanced compared with the other 4 elements.
They might have digestive issues (constipation), and may tend towards dogmatism (emotional or conceptual constipation). They might not be able to express or properly process emotions, particularly sadness or grief. They might tend to wear all white or all pale colours, and decorate their homes in pastels and muted pale colours, with no use of strong or varied colour at all. They might complain of feeling like something is stuck in their throat, or feel as though their chest is heavy, all of the time. They may have nasal congestion, or sinus issues or respiratory problems. They might eat too much highly spicy food, or only ever eat bland foods. They could have a lot of emotional baggage, but not be able, or willing, to face it or do anything about it.
How serious is it if someone has an energetic imbalance or a block?
Having an imbalance or energetic block is not a cause for concern in itself. Balance and wellbeing are dynamic, and never absolute - because they're always moving, it's a case of adjusting one's approach to support wellbeing, as a regular part of life, rather than a "well/ill" binary of absolutes. Left unchecked, and with no remedial action or circumstances to alleviate or redress an imbalance, it would likely become more and more serious, causing other imbalances, blocks and problems. So this is why taking a holistic, mindful approach towards our own wellbeing, is (I would suggest) the most effective, sustainable, practical and empowering way to stay "near the centre" (balanced and moderate, therefore as healthy, happy and thriving as a person can be).
How can a person support their Holistic Wellbeing with the Metal Element, in their everyday life?
Here are a few ideas, which most of us could make space for in everyday life, to nourish and promote a healthy and balanced Metal Element:
Moisturise and exfoliate your skin;
Let yourself cry from time to time (watching a weepy film can be a good way to do this)
Let yourself experience and then release emotions. Being present and mindfully letting go is important - for example, through journaling, art, expressive writing or music, or speech - whatever feels right and meaningful/resonant to you.
Use essential oils or other fragrances such as incense, to help soothe your respiratory system, especially during cold season. Putting your head over a bowl of hot water with a few drops of eucalyptus and clary sage oil, and a towel making a tent over your head and the bowl, is a good way to do this, if you don't have a vapouriser.
Eat Onion Soup, or spicy foods (especially during autumn!).
Reviewing the year so far, in autumn - learning from what's gone well and what's not gone so well. Making adjustments to perspective or approach, for the next part of the year.
Reinforcing, tweaking, or setting personal/emotional/relationship boundaries in our lives. These might change, and that is as it should be. It's about taking in what's good for us, whilst protecting ourselves from what's too much or not good for us.
Autumn (like spring, but more mindful and soulful) cleaning for the soul - let go of what no longer aligns. Make a fire (if safe to do so and if safe to burn the items in question), donate or put in the bin, those things that you don't love, aren't useful and/or have icky emotions or connotations attached to them.
Connecting with memories of those who have passed, and tuning into any residual grief which we may still be carrying with us, so that we can let go of another layer. Grief and loss of loved ones (or even those we had difficult relationships with) is non-linear - like an onion, there can be more layers than we'd anticipated, to work through. No rush - this is normal and natural. You could work through these emotions using guided meditation, or during a Reiki treatment.
Connect with your innate preciousness! This is a good one for a journalling exercise - and do try to acknowledge and release any tendency or automatic inner narrative, which might not be giving permission easily for you to do this seriously. But how weird would it feel to connect with and express your feelings and thoughts around a friend or loved one's preciousness and awesome qualities? If it helps, try to do this exercise about yourself, in the 3rd person (ie I might write "Ema's compassion and empathy is valued by her friends, clients and loved ones."). The more you do this one, the easier it will become - and your Metal element will thank you for it, as well!