Honing And Paring Down

Autumn is a time when the energy of the season supports us to hone, refine, and pare down—and yet like the loss of the leaves on the trees, this honing and paring down becomes an opening. For instance, I may lose a relationship that I cared about, a job opportunity, or an angora hat that my son accidentally ruined by putting it through the laundry. 

In the light of my loss, instead of saying, “Oh well, that’s gone,” I can say, “In light of this loss, I now know that I love and value ______ (fill in the blank).”

What will you say? Perhaps at first, it will appear to be something specific. I now know that I value this person in my life. Or this angora hat. OK, but why? What about this person? What was so great about this hat?

Pare it down to the essence. In light of this loss, what do I now know that I love and value?

Cut it even finer, and even finer. Maybe you began with losing a job, but soon you discover that the reason why it hurt to lose the job is that you value making a positive impact in the world, having a real team of colleagues, and being able to live without a car.

When you know this, you are opened to a valuing beyond the valuing of just this job—you are opened to the value and beauty of all means of making a positive impact in the world, having a real team of colleagues, not having a car, and so on. Well, what do you value about not having a car? About having a team? About making a positive impact on the world? 

It’s like going from having lots of chickens and cows that you drive to the market, to having money in a bag that you can easily carry everywhere. Once I know what my values are—not just examples of what I value, but the actual values themselves—that’s the opening into a bigger space because those values carry me into realms way beyond the specifics of what I lost.

Whatever you lost isn’t here. But the value of it is still here. When “it” goes, what you valued about “it” does not go. Extract the precious, like gold. You can’t keep a beautiful thing that is gone, but you can keep the beauty of it in such a way that it awakens you to the same beauty in other places. That’s the opening.

“In the light of these experiences, I now realize that I love and value ______” 

Tremendous redemption, even of great pain and loss, begins with those words. It starts with this capacity for appreciation, even (or especially) during the hardest times. In light of these experiences, I now realize that I love and value ______ . Name it, after or within every experience, great or small. After a friend calls you. After you read this! You now realize that you love and value… what? 

It doesn’t have to be a loss—it can be any experience at all. When it is a loss, it is most urgent, because we are tempted to cling to the thing we lost—but we can’t, any more than we can cling to the air when it is time to exhale. Instead, we can (and must!) cling to the preciousness within the air. In Chinese medicine, it’s the Yang Qi of Heaven, and to us Westerners, it’s the oxygen. At any rate, we do exhale; we let go of the air, but there is something precious within the air that we keep. We cling to the precious, take it in, and make it part of ourselves… even as we let go of our breath. What we must cling to is what we love and value about the air, the experience, the angora hat—because that is the transferable coin, the true wealth with which we walk away from every breath, every life experience, everything that touches us in this precious way.

Make a list—and name names. Why am I crying? What is it that is beautiful and precious and valued by me? Don’t let it remain about “it.” NAME THE BEAUTY, name the values, name what is precious to you, that is highlighted by this loss. In the light of these experiences, I now realize that I love and value ______ .

Once we have this list, even if it is incomplete, we can also begin gently exploring the next phase of Metal-work: How am I fostering and embodying these values in my life?

Sometimes it is through direct embodiment; sometimes it is through active appreciation of these qualities when they appear in others, or in our world, and often it is through artistic expression. 

How can I present these values—through a poem? A drawing? A collage? Music? It is such deep nourishment for our spirit to make art that reflects our attempt to “capture” something eternal that we consider being vitally important in life. Can you make a small statue of kindness? A dance of beauty? A photo of a deep connection? A collage of integrity? If you were to capture integrity with an image or other representation, what would it be like? Of course, it will not be perfect; all we ask of art is that it evokes something Heavenly, something essential, something forever beyond our ability to embody fully, but always able to inspire us to try.

Sometimes the answer to these questions of deeper value is: I don’t know. Metal takes us down into Water’s depths, to sit in silence for a time, unsure of anything except my own foundations, which are stronger now because I am sitting in the dark about what I value. After a time in the dark comes Wood and springtime, and a movement forward into new life powered by the urge to grow and foster what I know that I love and value. Thus Metal feeds Water and Wood, and beyond to the joy of Fire and Earth’s harvest.

To join the discussion, find us on my Perennial Medicine discussion listserv (all are welcome).

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