If you have things in your life that have run their course you don't want to miss this episode.
Since we are on the cusp of Autumn, it is the perfect time of year to connect to the themes of the Metal Element from Chinese Medicine.
In this episode I take you on an indepth exploration of how to let go gracefully as we discuss the philosophy of the Metal element.
Hint: if you are a yogi you are probably already practicing this art to some degree but this show will help you go further.
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Transcription: Episode 19
Welcome to the Elemental Yin Yang podcast. A fresh perspective on yoga and life. You are listening Episode 19, the Art of Letting Go.
Hello! My name is Erin Aquin and welcome to another episode.
We are just on the cusp of fall. While I am recording this episode for you.
The Autumn Equinox is tomorrow in fact, and I was driving with my daughter this morning and just noticing how the leaves are starting to change. And that crisp cool morning air is definitely present. So, I thought what a perfect time to do a podcast all about metal element. And specifically, its relationship to helping us human beings let go in a graceful and powerful way.
Now, personally, as much as I love the warmth, I love the summer, I am a huge fan of fall. Some of the best things in my life have happened in fall. So, I have a lot of that nostalgia for the season. I got married almost three years, almost three years ago to the day in September to my amazing husband. Our daughter was born in October. My birthday is in November and the baby on the way is going to be a November baby as well I believe as long as everything goes according to plan. So, a lot of really amazing things have happened in the fall.
And as you guys know I love to bring in the Five Elements. So, the Elemental Yin Yang System, the Five Elements of Chinese medicine that we work with so often, I love to bring that in not only because the theory is so beautiful.
It is a beautiful philosophy, but I think that there are so many practical lessons that nature has to teach us. The Element for Autumn, for Fall, is one that you may be less familiar with if you haven’t studied this system. And that element is Metal. This is not one of the traditional Five Elements that you probably have heard about if you have studied other systems, but Metal is very important in the Chinese medicine system.
It doesn’t have some of the same clear symbols in nature the way that the other elements do. And that can make it difficult for people to relate to, but if you think about the rocks, the minerals found in the earth or bones of our bodies, the minerals within us then you know Metal.
In our physical body Metal is also the armour, so it’s our skin. It’s that protective layer of the body deciding what to take in and what to keep out. It is literally our armour and in Chinese medicine Metal is represented in the organ system by the Lungs and the Large Intestine. If you think about that, it’s all about taking in and letting go. So, we let go of what’s no longer needed and that’s going to be our big theme today -- is the art of letting go.
Now in Autumn, we can see the act of nature letting go, and it’s so beautiful. The final harvest of the year happens in Autumn. All of those really hearty fruits and vegetables that are going to be nourishing and sustaining us through the winter. That’s when that bounty arrives and Autumn is the transition time between summer and winter -it’s the preparation time.
So, we get our energy and resources in order so that we have enough to last for the whole winter. Trees know exactly how to let go in the most beautiful and graceful way. You see the color of the leaves turn as those leaves dry out die off and then they fall to the ground. And it’s beautiful because you know that the trees are literally preparing and conserving their energy for the winter. If they had to send that energy out into their branches and keep all of those little leaves alive, it would be much more difficult for a tree to really stand tall through the cold brutal winter months. So, trees make the sacrifice of their own leaves because of that inherent or natural wisdom to know that the core energy needs to be protected.
And I think this is a really beautiful metaphor for all of us in working with metal energy. Because one of the most important things a yogi or spiritual seeker can do in this life is to understand and value what is truly important. In my book Elemental Yin Yang Yoga, I like to use the example of a diamond because diamonds are among the hardest materials on earth.
The name escapes me but I know there is another material that they have discovered that is harder than a diamond. But diamonds themselves are very, very hard, they are tough. They are an armour unto themselves and at the same time, once they are polished and cut in a certain way they have attached to them a very high price tag. It makes one assume that diamonds are very rare.
We as a culture have assigned great worth to diamonds. You know the convention of the diamond engagement ring is one that our culture has really adopted. But surprisingly diamonds are actually quite common and I think they are a great metaphor for things that we have culturally stamped as valuable. As a collective we’ve decided they are beautiful, they’re valuable, they are worth a high price tag but we don’t question whether diamonds deserve that special esteem. And the reason I think this is so important is because culturally we value a lot of things out of habit, out of convention. Perhaps more so than really examine what our personal values are. What we personally find to be important.
And this is important to having healthy Metal energy because we need to be able to see clearly what is worthy of your time, your energy and your resources. This goes back to the Water element. If you haven’t listened to my podcast on water energy, I think it was the second podcast I did, I talked all about Water and Winter.
Definitely give that a listen, because that is all about inner resources. And Metal is so important to that, Metal energy, because if your Metal is tarnished, if your Metal is not helping you to clearly ascribe value to the objects and the relationships that are worthy of your energy, then you are probably going to spend that time and energy on things that are frivolous.
And we know a lot of people do this. Smart phones are a great example. It’s an overplayed example, but you can see people sitting on their smart phones checking Facebook or social media or their emails at restaurants while their beloved sits across from them, that’s an example that we can probably just see anywhere.
You are putting your energy into what is happening on a screen versus the real life that is happening in front of you. That can show some Metal pathology, can show that your values, your attention isn’t in a place that’s worthy of it.
And that sort of brings me to another important Metal theme; Self-worth.
Metal is so deeply connected to self-worth because if you value your life, you know you value the fact that our days on this planet in this body are numbered, no matter how much health or wealth that you have.
If you really keep the context of your life in mind then you probably will tend to value your mind, your body, your spiritual health, and that will be expressed in how you show up in the world. But inevitably if there is an inherent lack of self-worth then there is probably a large degree of hiding behind the armour.
So, we all do this in countless ways when we feel insecure. That person driving that $700,000 car may really love the car, they might really value the finer things in life and really love it. They may just as easily be using it as a status symbol to try to distract the world from their personally perceived flaws.
And a lot of us do this in ways that seem very benign. We may come off as vapid or superficial and keep our relationships very surface because we lack this self-worth to divulge our true thoughts and feelings because instead it’s easier. And it’s true it’s easier to stay up near the surface, not rock the boat, and project a happy healthy mask out into the world.
Now, those with Metal constitutions – I have talked about constitution in the past – but the constitution very briefly is your element of primary influence. So, each one of us has an element that tends to be just a little stronger than the others. Within our personality, within maybe even our health and emotional issues. But people who have a Metal constitution tend to operate more from the surface.
And if you are friends with a Metal person, the you probably know that it takes a long time to really get under their layers of armour. Once you are in there you get to know who the person really is, but it may take you a little bit of time to really dig in deep. Some types of Metal people will also, will wear that mask very overtly and project a lot of confidence.
They may be perfectly dressed. They may have the perfect accessories. Their nails match their handbag, but their own sense of self-worth is very fragile. So, they may depend more on external validation because they don’t have that grounded sense of center. That is one possibility for Metal constitutions. Now, metal people who have really harmonized that energy, who are really grounded and rooted in their metal – often know exactly what they value, have a healthy sense of self-worth in a way that doesn’t come across as arrogant but actually helps to reflect the light of others. They can be really inspirational.
I think a reason for that sort of grace, those metal people know what they value and they know that everything that they have in their life they will have to let go of. So, just as the leaves fall from the trees in Autumn, each one of us has to release parts and pieces of our lives that no longer fit who we are.
Now, ultimately at the end of the life we are going to have to let go of it all. That is not lost on that healthy Metal energy. Whether it’s metal constitution or just someone who’s metal is very intact.
But the art of letting go is one that so many of us have yet to master. Letting go is making room, or making space for the new. So, we take in our air, and food and our water. We don’t hoard that in the body. It goes through a process and we let go of each of those things when the body is ready. When it has utilized that resource, and turned it into waste, we let it go so that we have the room to receive the next meal, receive the next breath, receive the fresh water. A healthy body does this really well. But beyond the body things get more complicated.
I have written so many articles about decluttering. There is a whole industry on how to be more productive, on how to let go, how to bring your email box to zero. All of that kind of thing is a product of us holding on to things for fear that we might need them later or holding on to things because it is too hard to let go. We are not in the emotional space to let go. I think more people struggle with letting go of physical, mental and emotional clutter than will truly admit it.
So, it can be an art form in and of itself to just get your physical and mental space back. And once you begin to do that you might feel inspired to go deeper and start to rethink old habits- rethink emotions that are stagnating within you.
Now, I mentioned in the last episode on self-care that a few years ago I got really sick, and something I took away from that time was that my energy and how I used my time was much more precious than what I was actually spending it on.
I am not going to claim that I am perfect. I will get lost on social media far longer than I care to. I am definitely not living some kind of zen life where my house is filled with things that I could probably let go of. But one thing I have gotten better and better at doing over time as I age as my family starts to grow is I stopped spending time and energy on relationships where I didn’t feel valued or just seemed to lack reciprocity.
So, we all have those friends who only call us when they need something or call us to complain or want to get together when they have some project that they want our help or insight on. And I found myself getting resentful in those relationships. I would become very negative after spending time with people like that, and I only have myself to blame, because of course I was the one agreeing to give my energy and my time. And I had an unspoken expectation that the relationship would be one of reciprocity, which it never was.
So, I just simply started to take myself out of those relationships. And maybe seems very harsh. It may seem harsh that I just essentially, in Metal fashion, cut away or let the leaves of those relationships that were taking too much. Let those go. But I truly wanted to become more available to the people whose energy I did love to be in and this is really what I want to offer in our time together today.
As you come into the Fall, as you watch the leaves change color and drop off the trees, my challenge for you is to really take stock and find out what in your life has perhaps run its course- for you it may not be relationships. So, I definitely don’t want to suggest that we suddenly start feeling victimized by the relationships that we have built with other people.
I know that is probably a place I was coming from a few years ago. I probably felt very victimized. I probably felt,
“Oh, these people are taking up all of my time and energy, and then it makes me negative.”
No, I was making myself negative. I was the one having the negative thoughts. I was the one engaging in relationships with people, and I was the one that decided that the terms of those relationships needed to change.
So, letting go isn’t about blaming. It’s never about blaming. It’s a process that’s much more profound. And I think of it as an artform, even as a spiritual practice because it stems from the fact that life is impermanent by its very nature.
Now we tend to operate in our lives, in our day to day lives as though things will always be the way that they are. Our minds kind of have to operate in this way. We operate in the status quo. You assume that the job that you have on Tuesday is the same job that you are going to go to on Wednesday. That when you drop your child off at school in the morning you are going to pick him up at the end of the day. That the person that you married last year will be the person that you are still married to this year.
It would take so much and waste so much energy if you let in the fact that any one of those things could change at any moment. And whether through good fortune or bad, disaster or total blessing, any of those factors could change. I could not make it home at the end of the day. Aliens could come down from outer space and take me away. I could also win the lottery tomorrow. I could inherit a huge fortune, and that could turn my life upside down.
So, it would create turmoil and a lot unnecessary mental energy and clutter if you had to worry about those fundamental pillars in your life at every moment in every day. However, so many of us ignore the undeniable reality that at some point we are each going to have to deal with loss, whether it is unexpected and sudden or whether it’s something that you know is in the works for a long period of time.
And this shock for many people can lead to very deep long-term issues, which is why in yoga, for instance we actually practice letting go, graceful letting go, at the end of every single yoga practice that’s Savasana.
So, if you are my yoga student, this is the reason why I make you do Savasana at the end of your class. I ask that everyone lays on the floor and just doesn’t try to sneak any more postures in. Doesn’t try to take the time to sit and meditate, but instead lays down in this very relaxed receptive posture, and just let go of all of the trappings, everything on the to do list goes. All of the ways we define ourselves, categorize ourselves, it all just goes away for a few minutes, and you can in that time experience a glimpse of freedom. A dose of impermanence.
By experiencing that dose of impermanence personally, it makes me much more grateful and it helps me not take for granted the beauty in my life. If someone told me I was going to live for the next 500 years, and not only was I going to live for the next 500 years but my life was going to be about the same for the next 500 years, that expanse of time would probably put me mentally in a mode of not feeling that much gratitude.
Even though my life is great. I love my life. But because I know that I probably have, that if I am lucky I have maybe 60 or 70 more years, and I know that a lot of things are going to change in that time, it is much easier to wake up and feel grateful. In fact, impermanence invites you to stay present with the beauty of life more often and appreciate what’s in front of you because it’s going to be gone at some point. It’s going to change.
When our toddler is just having a difficult moment or she is being particularly rowdy and both my husband and I are particularly exhausted in contrast to that, we sort of joke at some point we are going to look back and smile about these moments. There’s a sweetness when she doesn’t want one of us to leave for the day and she cries when one of us leaves. You know I think there is going to probably be a time in her life where she is not going to want me to hug or kiss her goodbye. So, rather than be frustrated and flustered, which of course I am sometimes, but in general rather than feel negatively about her current state of being, it’s so much easier to just cherish that this time is not going to last forever.
So, what I think we are really coming to here is the art of letting go is a discipline that we can practice on the practical level when it comes to our physical clutter, and our emotional clutter. It’s being able to part with things in our lives that we don’t really need or don’t, as Marie Condo, the Japanese tidying-up master says, “things that no longer bring you joy.”
You can do that in your physical space. You can and should do that also with your thinking. You know thoughts that maybe helped you 20 years ago, it’s probably time to re-examine those and wonder if they are helping you now. And inevitably along the way there are going to be moments where we have to let go and say goodbye of things that we weren’t ready to. But rather than spend your life bracing, waiting, feeling dread about those times that definitely will come, the art of letting go to me is cherishing the impermanence -staying present with with the beauty of life so that you can fully appreciate the wonderful moments in front of you. The wonderful moments before you.
While at the same time in more difficult times giving yourself the freedom to grieve in a healthy way. Grief is the emotion of Metal. Not surprising, but grief is not something that needs to be a void that eats you up or that hardens that armour- hardens that shell against the world. But instead grief is a product of caring about something or someone very deeply. It’s acknowledging that something special and beautiful took place and to me the definition of letting go in a graceful healthy way is when that grief can bring people together. Community together.
So, I hope that this gives you something to think about as you are going on your beautiful Fall walks and watching how expertly the natural world lets go. I would love to hear your thoughts. So, please do share them with me over at www.aquinyoga.com/podcast and this is episode #19.