Autumn is about the out breath of our lives, a turning inward and a time for the vital reflection that comes with slowing down.
The equinoxes and solstices—our 4 pivot points—rectify the annual qi. We are now at the beginning of Autumn- half way between summer solstice and autumn equinox. Often, in the West, we think of the Autumn equinox as the start of fall. However, in Taoist tradition, it is the height of it. (All four of our pivot points are shifted in this way.) The reason it's important to recognize Autumn beginning now, rather than in 6 weeks, is that if we are latent in turning our energy inward, we can easily become out of balance with our environment and create dis-ease in our lives and on the planet.
The beginning of Autumn is the most important time to pay attention to the changing of the seasons, and, conversely, the most difficult time to do so. This is because of the very nature of yang’s dominant energy. Yang moves upward and outward. It is about doing and going. If we are very busy with summer's yang activities we may fail to notice the changing of the light, the increased wind, and the garden ready to harvest. All of these signal a time to shift our conduct and begin our journey inward.
“The three months of autumn are called the period of maturation and harvest. The growth of the summer has completed all shapes - what has ripened is gathered in. People, like all phenomena, should follow the seasonal qi to preserve vitality. The wind pervades autumn and clears away all dullness. One should retire early avoiding the night winds and rise early in the morning to enjoy the crisp autumn air. We should keep the shen calm, the breath regular (Lung) and practice neidan. The energy should be turned inward and one should avoid anxiety and impulsiveness. In this way no harm comes to the Lungs (metal)."
– Neijing (475-221 BC)
If progress has been successful since spring, one can get so eager it’s easy to forget there is a need to calm down, stop and rest. It’s wonderful to have this reminder actually. This time of the year is about remembering to release the river of ambition and harvest some of the fruits of our Spring ideas and Summer labor. It is important to avoid anxiety and impulsiveness.
With the mindfulness that comes with slowing down there is a potentiality of regret embedded in this yin sensibility. We have the opportunity to notice how we may have lost openness and innocence and we are inspired to re-cultivate an undefended heart in order to temper the ambitions of pernicious yang.
“The true conduct of autumn is gathering in - repair, review, and conserve. It is less vigorous than summer, but done correctly and precisely, prepares us well for the awesome stillness of winter. Think work completed, mind closed, floating in and downward.”
– Liu Ming
The investigation of yin in taoist alchemy is profound. There is an understanding that yang is really here to keep yin moving rather than to balance it or dominate it. We only need just enough warmth, or yang, so that things don’t become overly cold. If yang is concentrated or strong then we need more yin. So even though yin is only beginning at this time of year, we can deeply rest in sensing and feeling the approach of winter. No matter how the entire planet has misconducted itself all year long, the yin will descend.
How the autumn progresses for us depends on how we have behaved over the last 6 months. It can be difficult to slow down a chronically speeding train, but failure to do so is how the illnesses arise. The pernicious yang can manifest as worsening conflicts with family members, overusing the earths resources, lung ailments in the late autumn, or febrile diseases in the winter.
The dis-eases that can set in from misconduct are not punishment by a distant god, the process is simply resultant. How we behave impacts our health. There is a constant cyclical reciprocity in the natural world which is the mechanism of being that makes us human.
Cleanse and Purge
This is the time to get rid of everything excess. The quality of the yin energy is that of clarity and resolve. Go through your kitchen cupboards and throw out old random bottles and speciality cooking gear you never use. Simplify your life, possessions, and schedule. Autumn is the time for gathering, harvesting, and editing. When we are harvesting from the garden we need to avoid bringing in bugs, weeds, and rotten fruit with the ripe fruits. Similarly, it’s time to sort through and discard that which is no longer helpful as we preserve our resources for the winter months. We use the discernment of the metal element (lungs) in order to decide what to keep and what to release. A healthy metal element is mature, confident, and sharp in deciding what is really beneficial to us and should stay inside of our boundaries. Begin to edit down to essentials and then store what has been accomplished. This is the time in ancient China when prisoners where executed. Let it go in order to allow for the spaciousness of winter to pervade. Prepare for a calm, uncluttered and quiet winter now.
“Autumn should not inspire harshness or renunciation, just a quiet redirecting the qi from outward to inward.”
– Liu ming
Harvest and Complete Projects
What we harvest is cut off from the tree or vine and no longer has the resources to grow or expand. Instead, it is going to go inside our bodies to nourish us. Similarly, this is not the time to start new projects, plant new seeds, or push the river of ambition. Finnish any projects you have begun and begin to simplify your life in preparation for the winter stillness ahead. Repair relationships, tools, and squeaky hinges. Storing resources can also include “freezing” financial abundance in a retirement account for the autumn (later) years of our life.
Wether it be qi kung, yoga, dance, or king fu. The Qi is best at 3pm
It is ok to stop and start your practices throughout the day. Face south west and do not over exert yourself or sweat. It is wise to use the qi to move the blood and transform nutrients rather than overexertion in exercise. Dress lightly, but well-covered from the sun. Stroll about in the morning to avoid the damp.
During the day eat two meals and chew the food properly. Rest after lunch. Snacks of fruit (especially pears, which guide to the lungs) are helpful on hot days. Drink green tea and chrysanthemum tea. Vegetarian, light, savory soups are appropriate for evening meals.
Go to sleep not long after dark. It is a great time to rest and relax. Failure to have adequate rest in the autumn and winter manifests as a kind of insomnia, neurosis, and low level anxiety which becomes a little bit more severe and slightly harder to treat every year the yin is not cultivated
Ritual and your Altar
Clear off your altars completely and look at what really wants to still be a part of your space. It is easy to accumulate altar items as much as random house objects. Lighten up and release that which is not a part of your current prayer. Keep it simple, and allow in the empty space. Give a superfluous piece of your altar away to someone who it would be helpful for. Let the cleaning up of your house, home and life be a ritual. A ritual of letting go and allowing in space for quiet reflection.
If we are to take care of each other we need to hand down as much data as possible to the coming generations. Seasonal wisdom is almost non existent in the west with the onset of machinery, artificial lights, and industrial agriculture.
Cultivating yin in the autumn and winter brings an unparalleled opportunity for nourishment, rest, and deep reflection. Living in accordance with these cycles is what allows us the time to reflect on our lives and bring about the nourishment of our destiny as we behave as a human being.
“Yin takes charge through inner power. It is the power of withdrawal and undermining. At first it does not seem to stop yang’s malignant quality, but working within and under, it causes yang to finally collapse” – Liu Ming