Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

The Season of Courage

[I’m reposting this article from last autumn. For those who have enjoyed the series on seasons, this will hopefully be a nice reminder.]

Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile. ~William Cullen Bryant

I wrote recently about courage and also about surrender. These two concepts come together perfectly in the season of autumn, dancing with each other as the wind dances with falling leaves.

In Chinese medicine and qigong practice, there are certain associations made between the five major organ systems and five elements. These associations are expanded to include associations with emotions, energies, animals, colors, sounds…and seasons.

I thought you might enjoy knowing some of the associations of autumn. Let’s start with two of the things we most often think about when we think about this season. Harvest, a time of gathering the fruits of summer’s labor to store for winter. And leaves, turning color and falling from the trees. Now let’s see how these two aspects are reflected in the Chinese system of associations.


Autumn is associated with the lungs. The lungs are linked in the Chinese system with the large intestine. Together they create a balance of pure energy being drawn into the body through the breath and of waste being released. Autumn is a time of gathering the energy we need to sustain us through the winter, and also invites us to release whatever we no longer need. This could be a literal release, like finally cleaning out that junk drawer (!), or a figurative one, like releasing judgments or resentments. Like the trees dropping their leaves, we don’t need to force anything. We can just let them go.


The element associated with the lungs is metal. I was surprised by this, because I think of lungs as being very “air-y” and light, while metal is heavy and found deep in the earth. Then I thought about how we value metal. Think about gold, for example. For a long time, our economy was based on the gold standard, making gold not only a thing of beauty, but a measure of value essential to our financial health, just like the lungs bring in air, our most essential necessity for life.


The emotional associations are often categorized as positive or negative, but don’t think of this as good or bad, but more like a polarity, or a balance. For the lungs, the negative emotions are sadness and grief. The positive ones are surrender and courage.

Sadness and grief are a normal part of life. Sometimes people experience these emotions in the autumn, as the light fades, the rain comes (in the Pacific Northwest at least), and the lush green vibrancy of summer gets swept into piles of brown leaves in the street.

Sadness and grief are not “bad.” On the contrary, they can open our hearts and connect us to others by stripping away our facades. But they can become debilitating and unhealthy if they become stuck. This can happen when we try to deny or avoid emotions that feel painful or uncomfortable. This is the beauty of the positive (again think polarity and balance) emotions of surrender and courage. Courage allows us to surrender to the experience of our sadness or grief, and this allows it to move through us and be released, in its own time like the leaves falling.

There are other associations, but these, I think, are the ones that give us the most to think about. Any thoughts on these? What do you think about when you think about autumn? What associations do you have?

6 thoughts on “The Season of Courage”

  1. Thank you for blessing us with this recap from last year, Galen. It could not have come at a better time as all of us are feeling sadness and grief after the terrible tragedy in Las Vegas. May God grant us the grace and courage to acknowledge those feelings and embrace them as we move on with our lives. Blessings!

  2. I'm a fan of all the seasons I'm aware of. I've just learned of the 5th season – late summer – thanks to you. I'm mindful of endings and beginnings. The colors of fall in NE Alberta are inspiring. I think of the bounty that the earth offers up. It's a time of storing up for the winter which is a time of restoration for me. Snow means slow. I've learned to surrender to the seasons. Say grace.

  3. I know, Mona, that fifth season just sneaks in there. When I lived in the tropics, I was so thrown by the absence of the four seasons I recognized. Instead it was hot season, rainy season, and cool season (like our summer here!). So confusing!

    I love what you said about surrendering to the seasons. Beautiful.

  4. Autumn to me is a month of change. It is really a lovely season in so many ways. I welcome it and it is one of my favorite times of year. I really liked the first quote; awesome! I enjoyed reading your post about courage and surrender.
    I found your thoughts on the associations of Autumn very interesting. From a medical perspective I related to Organ and the explanation of the lung in association with Autumn. Probably the emotions were where I felt the most connection. I was a Hospice Nurse for 7 years and dealt with grief at its rawest. I liked the thought that courage allows us to surrender to the experience of our sadness and grief. I enjoyed very much learning about these associations with Autumn.
    I do love living in an area where we enjoyed all the seasons.
    Have a wonderful weekend! Hugs~

  5. I didn't know that about you, LeAnn. Hospice work I imagine could be very challenging, but also very spiritually deepening. And yes, I like that connection between sadness and courage. I'm off to the cabin for the weekend!

Comments are closed.