Part 5: The Metal Element Phase of Transformation

June 21st, 2014






“What the trees can do handsomely-greening and flowering, fading and then the falling of leaves-human beings cannot do with dignity, let alone without pain.”

― Martha Gellhorn





We now enter our autumn years and begin to feel a growing distance from all the rushing around of activity and ambition that our life seems to have been about up until now. What has gone before begins to fade like a dream we once had and we feel the pull of separation from it.


This is also a time of discernment; to sort out reliable truths from attractive illusions; to let go from our lives what no longer serves a useful purpose no matter how vital or important they once were or seemed to be.


It is a cooler, dryer, more distant and dispassionate perspective that must face reality as best it can and make the tough choices. While the Earth element focused upon intake that will become part of us the Metal element focuses upon what needs to be released.


In nature it is the time where material form has reached its pinnacle and now sees its approaching dis-integration from form once again. It is the time of harvest when the ‘grim reaper’ of death lies over the land as the lush bounty and vitality of life prepares to slip below the visible line of observable form once more as winter approaches.


The color and pulse of nature fades into funereal tones as it prepares to be replaced by the white of the snow, the blackness of long nights and the gray of distant daylight. As we have already seen in the Water element this is also an illusion but a necessary one to facilitate change.




The organs of change and separation



In traditional Chinese medicine the organ systems associated with separation and letting go in both physical and emotional processes are the Lungs, Colon – and to some extent, the skin. Every breath we take must be released, every mouthful of food must be recycled back to its source in nature. Even the skin absorbs energy and releases waste.


The Confucian title given to the Colon energy system is The Minister of Change and Evolution. If at first this seems to be a rather grandiose appellation to give such a humble organ we may come to understand that the function of this system contains a valuable lesson about dealing with change. It is this:


What determines the extent to which we can change and evolve lies not in the things we desire and have not yet experienced or possessed but in that which we already possess and have experienced but must now let go.




Change, death and creative emptiness1



These two processes are linked. Every change involves the death and separation from what has gone before. In the tarot deck the card for change is Death. We need to accept the period of emptiness that the death phase of any change process necessarily involves.



© Robin Wood tarot

© Robin Wood tarot


It has another description too: creative emptiness. Those that can stand in the challenge of this emptiness can transform their lives the most. The reason why many of us do not is two-fold:



  1. We cannot accept the discomfort of emptiness and so rush to fill it up with activities and things or find excuses based on things beyond our control that just obstruct and confuse us in achieving our goals.
  2. We focus on the desire for the thing we do not yet possess instead of what we already have and need to let go or sacrifice to create it.



Discernment and instinct



The Minister of Interpretation and discernment is the title given to the lung energy. At the physical level the lungs sort and separate the ‘good air from the bad’ in subjective terms. Part of the process of homeostasis means that what is deemed useful or waste is constantly changing. The same in breath that kept us alive must be released a few seconds later for the same reason.


At the spiritual level traditional Chinese medicine assigns the Po or animal spirit to the lung energy system. The Po governs our animal instincts. This works at a much faster and simpler level than the reasoned arguments of the mind. It is closer to a binary switch (safe/unsafe, wait/move, keep/discard and so on). It helps us make many quick decisions without needing to consult the slower frequency of intellect which needs pause for thought and consideration.


The joy and lust for life we can have from the simple fact of being inside a breathing body is the essence of the animal spirit.





Ironically it is just this enjoyment and attachment to physical prowess and the body that creates the fear and cynicism towards non-physical existence. The Metallic aspect of our personality likes tangible, structural things it can touch and feel and hold onto – and therein lies the challenge: eventually we must let go.


Life before the first breath and after the last one is not something to which our Metallic nature can relate. One reaction is to simply deny or block it out and hold onto life and material distraction as long as it can.


If our Metal nature becomes imbalanced we try to control and manipulate the external world instead of going with the flow. It is the equivalent of a surfer trying to control the wave instead of trusting in their ability to surf.




Emotions and the Skin



Emotions are a form of energy. Energy has to do work. it has to express itself in some form – if not in the form of emotional expression then in some more dysfunctional way. Another form in which energy expresses itself is heat. The skin is an organ that can help regulate heat in the body. Emotional heat can also be regulated through the skin. That is:


Emotional energy that is not consciously expressed can stagnate and express as heat via the skin.


Here are some examples of (non febrile) heat affecting the body.


  • Heat in the form of increased stomach acidity causing pain and gastric reflux.
  • Inflammations from compromised immunity in the form of minor infections or even the extreme heat of inflammatory arthritis or the chronic pain of fibromyalgia
  • Skin rashes from eczema to psoriasis and strong acne.


The skin can be forced into the role of clearing house for internal heat when it cannot escape by other means. A skin specialist in a major Sydney hospital once confided to me that skin conditions were difficult to treat with medicine alone as there is often an emotional component that medicine does not officially recognize or address.





The end of the line



In a similar way the colon at the end of the digestive tract can be forced into clearing heat. The results of this can be anything from allergic reactions and diarrhea to irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.


Physical or emotional issues that are not dealt with elsewhere in the body or mind are dumped via the Metal element through the clearing house of the colon. Obviously this is not a particularly efficient or functional way to deal with our problems for too long and we risk cellular change in the colon as it tries to protect itself from this assault.




Grief, sorrow and acceptance




Grief, sadness and sorrow – the emotions attributed to our Metal element – may be seen as ‘bridging emotions’. That is, they are the bridge that we travel across from a state of things we cannot accept or let go to a place where we can. Where sorrow ends, acceptance begins.


Grief is a common byproduct of change – in particular, the change of death and separation. Some common traumas that may lead us to repressing our ability to release our emotions and force them back into the body are:



  • Physical or emotional abandonment and separation in childhood
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Divorce and separation
  • Enforced separation due to war, famine or disease



We release these emotions through the lungs via crying or weeping. There is a health risk to the lungs if we push down these emotions and stop their natural expression. Breathing disorders like asthma, chronic colds, flu, pneumonia and even lung cancer can be the physical outcome of unexpressed grief and sorrow.




Wisdom and the developed Metal element



The evolved potential of the Metal element is the distillation of wisdom from hard won experience. The character for the Metal element (‘Jing’) can also mean ‘gold’.


With wisdom comes a quiet authority that does not need to express or prove itself at every challenge. It is settled and secure in its knowledge. It gives us the ability to distance ourselves from life’s dramas and observe dispassionately what is really there.


The developed Metal type may be a person of few words but when they do choose to comment it comes from a place that is well formulated and thought through. There is a gravitas to their pronouncements that inspire confidence and trust.


While they may be respected many of those with a Metal nature find themselves isolated socially. Lacking fiery charisma and expression or earthy affability they find it difficult to play the game of social interaction and often prefer to observe at a safe distance. They may hold tightly to social ritual and convention to avoid the discomfort of having to improvise in the moment.


Others may mistake this for aloofness or arrogance but it is more that the metal type feels more comfortable when they feel a degree of control in any situation so their first impulse is to separate and withdraw from the cause of their discomfort.




Ritual and the Metal element



Rituals are a time-honored way of mid-wifing change. Authority structures like the church and state have used rituals to usher in each new stage of life with the support of established traditions. The repetitive dependability of ritual provides a balm against the uncertainty and fear that change can elicit.


In its negative expression the metal can hold on too tightly to structure and ritual. We can become obsessive and unbending in our habits to the point of compulsion. We can create a metal cage of self-imposed limitation that is a fool’s gold of security. Lurking behind this tighlty held facade is the fear of death – that if we do not control the world it will destroy us.


As the metal type does not relate well to the non-physical world and only recognizes physical, structural order it holds ever more tightly to it.




Healthy habits for the Metal element



  • Learn how to breathe. The lungs are not muscular. It is the job of the diaphragm to pull down the passive sacks of the lungs and create the empty vacuum which nature rushes to fill up with life giving air. Practice releasing and relaxing the diaphragm and the stomach muscles so it can descend and create a deep and full inhalation.
  • Swimming (particularly freestyle) is perhaps the best single exercise for weak lungs as it activates the lung meridian through the chest and arms while forcing us to regulate our breathing rhythm. Other aerobic exercise that forces us to breathe more deeply and release sweat through the skin is also helpful in maintaining Metal element vitality.



The Lung meridian

The Lung meridian



  • A simple tip for instantly improved posture to help the lung and colon function: Turn you palms upward. Click here for a short article about it.
  • A healthy colon is helped by a healthy diet of fresh produce. Flour and dairy products however create a pasty, mucous rich environment that slows down digestive motility and absorption. A diet high in animal products irritate the intestinal mucosa through raised acidity and has now been linked to colon cancer.
  • Drink or sip several glasses of room temperature or boiled water on an empty stomach first thing in the morning at least 10 mins before eating.
  • If possible use a squatting position when emptying the bowels. Failing that, elevate the feet on a box or low stool. Focus on relaxing (not tensing!) and using the IN-breath using the descending diaphragm and expanding abdomen to gently massage the intestines.
  • Expose the skin to the sun and air. The early morning and later afternoon are safest for the skin while still enjoying the sun’s ‘light software’. In colder weather, dry brush scrubs and saunas aid the work of releasing waste through this organ.
  • Use ritual to help difficult passages of change, sorrow and separation. Try to adopt the attitude of gratitude for the experience we have gained more than what we have lost.



‘Everything emptying into white’2



Well, we made it together through our journey of transformation and can now breathe out and let it all go. Of course on any wheel of life there are no true endings only changes – some we can easily see and others that are less obvious but no less important.







So, in that spirit, the Monday Conscious Health blog will be descending below the visible line of the world (or at least the world wide web) to return again fresh and renewed once more at the end of the Northern summer break.





Monday is dead! Long live Mondays…




1 For a more detailed study on this subject click on the link here 

2 ‘Into white’. Cat Stevens. 1970. A&M records




© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:


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