Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Autumn: Protecting One's Harvest

Although most Americans are aware that Autumn is the season of falling leaves and agricultural harvest, a deeper understanding of the effect of seasonal change upon the human body and psyche is largely absent. By November in Northern California, the days are noticeably shorter and cooler and some rain has already fallen. In scientific terms, cool air is known to be hospitable to upper respiratory viruses, and the first round of colds and sore throats has begun. In addition to climatic changes, some people also notice the effect that diminishing daylight has on their energy and mood.

According to the ancient scholars of Traditional Eastern Medicine, Autumn is associated not only with the end of the agricultural growing season but brings with it a corresponding downward shift in human activity, a physiological and psychological harvest. Autumn is a time of letting go of the joys and occupations of summer and preparing for the stillness and darkness of winter. The authors of the traditional medical texts noted that grief and melancholy are the dominant emotions of Autumn, and that the "Lung" (which includes the entire respiratory system) the organ they associated with Autumn, is most vulnerable to imbalance and disease at this time.

The "Huangdi Nei Jing", The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic, is the most important book of Chinese Medical Theory; it is thought to be about 2000 years old. Much of the text is devoted to detailed instructions on how to live in harmony "between Heaven and Earth" in order to maintain good health throughout the seasons of the year. Here is commentary on Autumn from the Huangdi Nei Jing:

"The three months of Autumn are called the period of tranquility of one's conduct. The atmosphere of Heaven is quick and the atmosphere of the Earth is clear. People should retire early at night and rise early in the morning with the crowing of the rooster. They should have their minds at peace in order to lessen the punishment of Autumn. Soul and spirit should be gathered together in order to make the breath of Autumn tranquil, and to keep their lungs pure they should not give vent to their desires. All this is in harmony with the atmosphere of Autumn and all this is the method for the protecting of one's harvest."