Summer becomes Autumn, every single year, without fail. Here in Pennsylvania, this is a big deal. We go from HAZYHOTHUMID to dead tomatoes in approximately 20 minutes, and even people who just hate the winter agree this transition is quite a relief.
As far as seasons go, I think this is the easiest shift we have in the whole calendar. We’ve had a few months of willfully ignoring sleeves, high necks, socks, anything that covers more than necessary so we don’t expire on the sidewalk, but those items have been there in our closets and drawers all along. We’ve been ignoring most warm beverages, and even warm foods, but there sits the stewpot on the shelf, not yet dusty. It takes absolutely no effort to transition back into cooler weather- remember June? It wasn’t that great, and it wasn’t that long ago.
If you take a good look at yourself, you might see some signs that summer was pretty hard on you. We get hot, we get burned, we get dry, we get stagnant- literally and figuratively. So while we easily slip into early Autumn, you can also easily slip into some seasonal self-care courtesy of TCM’s Earth element, and set yourself up well to be strong and resilient as late Autumn becomes early Winter and things start getting serious. Let’s talk about ways to transition this season deliberately and mindfully.
The Earth element is unique because it is two-fold: it’s both the season of late Summer/early Autumn, and the transition between any other elements. We get lots of opportunities to practice transitions throughout the year, and doing it more gracefully and nimbly makes life much easier!
Consider how open we are in Summer. Socially, diet-ly, sleep habits, personal habits- we tend to give ourselves a lot more freedom when it's hot out. Resetting healthy boundaries now can help keep both the energies of Autumn from running over us, as well as other unboundaried people. Placing and maintaining personal boundaries is an ongoing practice for most of us, but it’s an important skill to cultivate.
Excess Earth can be cloying, clinging, or sickly sweet, so if you recognize this in your life- again, literally or figuratively- you might benefit from some cleaning up and throwing away. This is a great time of year to donate unworn Summer clothes and uninspiring Winter clothes, to clear out dying landscape and garden plants, and to empty your fridge for a good cleaning now that it’s not too hot to leave its contents out for a few minutes. Mental or food-related indigestion can be prevalent now too- spending some time simply, in gently fasting or meditation or journaling, for example, gives you space and perspective to move forward clearly again.
Sleep is always important and usually neglected, and we tend to get even less in summer because of the longer days and all the things we try to do in the nice weather. As the days shorten, try going to bed earlier so you can get more rest- who doesn’t need this?! One trick I’ve found is to prepare for bed throughout the evening, so when I’m finally ready I don’t then stay up to brush my teeth, get in my PJ’s, pack my lunch for tomorrow, find my sleep mask, whatever. I can just get in bed, which saves me an hour or more some nights. I heard one teacher say that the time spent asleep before midnight is more important than the total hours you got, and my experience agrees with that.
In her book Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life, Gail Reichstein explains that, “The flavor that corresponds to Earth is sweetness… Grains, in general, are considered sweet foods and are therefore highly tonifying, forming the backbone of Taoist cuisine and of most traditional diets. Rice, corn, wheat, barley, rye, amarant, and quinoa are all staple ingredients, as are potatoes and sweet potatoes.” She also lists meats and plant proteins, tree fruits like apples, cherries, and apricots, root vegetables, mushrooms, and nuts as examples of seasonal-appropriate foods. Sweet foods are nourishing and dense, and they cook well- especially when roasted or made into soups. Refined sweeteners aren’t what we’re talking about here!
As you start incorporating more nutrient dense, cooked foods into your early Autumn menus, you’ll be nourishing your immune system and helping to recover from the dryness that Summer can bring. Think of it like a dry potted plant- the roots contract so any water just runs down the sides and out the bottom. You need to loosen up the soil, your GI tract, before you can accept the water, and nutritious, well cooked food with healthy fats does this for you.
What are some of your transition traditions that you find yourself doing at this time each year? Food wise, I start eating squashes, making soups, and braising vegetables like cabbage or fennel+red beets with vinegar and chicken stock. I also try on my winter sweaters to make sure I still want them before putting away my summer tank tops, and pull out the fuzzy couch blanket for cool nights.
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