Your Metal element gives quality to your life. (This is a page on Chinese medicine so if you arrived here by mistake and were looking for information about what constitutes a metal element, try here!)
In the soil, a lack of trace elements – minerals – impedes growth; soil lacking fertiliser, natural or otherwise, cannot supply what plants need, so the plant looks spindly and under-nourished.
Metal gives vitality, that sense of radiant strength and sparkle that comes from a mature spirit.
Mankind has always valued rare metals like gold and platinum. Their quality is a proxy for what we hope others will see in us!
How does this compare with the other elements?
With healthy Fire you get warmth;
Wood supplies healthy direction and enthusiasm;
Earth gives security, sympathy and support – in other words – comfort;
Water supplies continuity, resolve and reserves.
If we are cut-off from this quality in life, we are cut-off from our essence and our spirit. Without it, it is like living in night or darkness – it becomes hard to maintain good spirits.
Healthy Metal function helps us define our personalities, so we are neither a pushover nor do we need to belittle other people.
And related to that, notice the connection between the air, from the lungs, and life, which starts when the baby leaves the protective and nourishing womb and takes its first breath. Healthy lung function means we absorb more from every breath.
Qi is that little word that encompasses far more than ‘energy’. Metal ‘rules’ Qi.
The Metal Element is one of the Five Elements in Chinese medicine. Each Element describe a phase in life and the qualities and problems of the types of people associated with the Element in question.
When too cold, Metal becomes sharp, brittle and unyielding. People cut themselves off – or they cut off others. They become snippy and too private. Metallic anger is sharp and cutting.
When too hot, Metal loses its elasticity and flexibility, so loses its definition and becomes too yielding. If there is no assertion of boundary, there is a giving up, a losing of personality definition, a self-sacrificing, a death of self.
Metal helps us to receive (lungs) qi from the air, oxygen and nitrogen, When we breathe in we lift ourselves up, and not just in our rib-cages; inspired, we see more clearly. When we swim the air in our bodies helps us afloat. Via bowel movements we eliminate old matter back to the soil, the Earth.
Where there are problems we often get either constipated or diarrhoea, We rid ourselves of emotional toxins through grieving and weeping,
Metal Element Colour – White
White is a spiritual colour in many countries, but a symbol of grief in the East. White ‘contains’ all the other colours of the rainbow.
Natural light comes from the heavens, and religion turns our lives towards a greater pattern, attuning ourselves to it.
When done right, our energy directs purposefully and positively towards a giving up of egotistic desires, a falling away of old habitual patterns that hold us back. We free oor shackles, loosening the bonds of desire for possessions and sensual gratification We freely offer up ourself to the spirit: not a death of self but a self-giving, imparting our essence to future generations.
Metal Element Phase Season – Autumn/Fall moving to Water & Winter
When the cycle of plant growth has passed maturity, in Autumn or Fall the waste and rubbish returned to the earth, the leaves fall and the debris are burnt or collected on compost heaps, manure or dung heaps.
In Winter, Metal gives way to Water. Here an inner transformation takes place, a chemical and enzymatic soil process that concentrates the old readying it for the new life to come. That new life needs those transformed constituents for proper growth; they are not wasted. If the leaves are never returned to the earth, the soil loses its quality.
(By the way, those leaves may break down quite slowly. It could take some years before they are assimilated into the soil and become re-usable by the roots of the tree. Several seasons may elapse before this happens, during which those leaves will remain in their ‘water’ phase.)
In psychological terms, the passions which we suppress return to haunt and compel us in ways we may not recognise. We need to let them go. We need to become aware of how they shaped us, but release them, otherwise they may persist, to haunt the lives of those who come after us.
Meditation, counselling and psychological analysis are different ways to get our thinking straight, to help us manage our minds. Leading to increased maturity and a larger view of life, that becomes an immense resource for our children or students.
Similarly, a religious or spiritual outlook can help order our thinking.
Healthy Metal energy can be very direct, seeing more in you than perhaps you realise!
SPIRITUALLY too much aridity can damage, manifesting as a ‘cut-off’ attitude, unable to receive or share in any good spiritual experiences. Spiritually we becomes constipated.
Physically, the stools harden and refuse to move so that a simple but effective remedy may be just to drink more water. Diarrhoea dehydrates the body (again lots of water needs to be taken up.) Very dry or very damp SKIN (eg glistening sheen on the skin or dead dry skin) may indicate metal imbalance. However, drinking too much water is not always a solution, especially if it over-taxes our Kidney Yang energy.
A healthy Water element depends on healthy Metal, its mother phase. When we are spiritually mature we enter the darkness of winter with confidence.
Highly spiced foods, eg hot curries, on those unused to them, can act as purgatives, and pepper as a decongestant. (Curry seems to be associated with both Fire and Metal; onions and garlic are pungent and perhaps more specifically to do with Metal.)
From the Western viewpoint, getting rid of POISONS is not the main job of the Colon, but that of the Liver and Kidneys. Faeces are poisonous in the sense that they contain bacteria which may cause trouble if they contaminate other parts of the body, but in the Colon most are harmless, and cannot normally be eliminated by purgatives: only antibiotics can destroy them, but the consequences of such actions may be serious.
DRYNESS and METAL
Dampness/humidity can be very damaging to (ferrous) metal/people it eats into it/them and destroys them.
Dryness protects them against corrosion but too much dryness hardens and crackens, inhibiting movement.
Metal Element and GRIEF
Grieving is the way to say goodbye. Something cherished has gone. Grief has a definite life-span, a period of letting-go; but eventually one must let go, otherwise we cannot admit new experiences. Holding on to old grief closes the door to new life.
Not being able to move on often indicates Metal dysfunction.
So too, at the other extreme, is the apparent inability or total unwillingnes to grieve. Someone who never grieves or cries, never lets go (being able to let go suggests a healthy metal element), represses emotions by suppression, and is not likely to remain healthy for long. Click here for a different ‘take’ on Suppression.
Metal element symptoms include
Feeling clogged up or weighed down by the accumulated waste, appearing sluggish and/or lethargic, lacking vital freedom and elegance of movement.
Physically, the underactive colon tends to be too retentive, the skin doesn’t sweat, and lungs can’t breathe deeply.
Mentally/spiritually, the patient hangs on to stuff that would be better thrown out; becomes unable to forget old injustices and grievances; the thoughts become toxic, resentful and unforgiving; will not excuse or pardon.
Emotionally, he becomes tense, uptight, unable to let go, to relax, to let his hair down. He stops himself losing his temper, or crying, raging. So much energy is spent on holding down the emotions that little is left for life, and he becomes sluggish, tired and weary, generally lethargic.
Lets everything go, including the good – so you may get excessive urination, perspiration, coughing and, for women, vaginal discharges. There’s a Chinese saying which, translated, is easy to remember. “When Qi is weak, fluids leak!” Qi holds us together so when it weakens things can go to pieces.
Relaxed tissue disorders may result, such as varicose veins.
Emotionally, we let fly at the smallest provocation, weep too easily, overdo the emotion, are always on the go, never stop talking (verbal diarrhoea), under-value useful experiences etc.
Inertness, looking half-dead; a sense of inertia.
Often unyielding and stubborn: a lack of grief, lack of appreciation, unmoved.
Also a sense of longing, a searching for growth and for quality and essence; a feeling of being cut-off (“If only I could…).
Because of this there is often a greediness yet never getting fat, because we cannot get the quality out of our food and life.
We try to give ourselves this quality in other ways, by wearing jewellery to excess, by searching for inner light by joining spiritual and usually unorthodox cults in profusion; but without healthy Metal function this is an unfulfilling and desperate search.
The spirit seems frozen.
Both sexual and ordinary love are without quality and we become impotent, because we lack the right nourishment in our emotional soil. We have probably accumulated too many dregs and waste matter, blocking up the system. So although it is clogged, it appears dry, or else the rubbish appears in skin conditions. (Lung point 2 Cloudgate may help to clear the system by giving a really good wash out, a good cleansing cry, a torrent of tears which bursts the banks of rigidity.)
The English stiff upper lip’ was often associated with metal imbalance, but it is only imbalanced when there is never any scope for grieving, when there is never any giving in to the emotions, to the choking in the chest. Many English when they went through the stiff upper lip period, were much afflicted by chest problems, particularly tuberculosis and bronchitis.
In the past, often a Metal imbalance occurred because parents withheld love, admiration and praise from a child – perhaps to ‘toughen it up!’
Apart from problems of elimination, menstrual disorders, especially those involving very heavy periods and blood flows, may come under this imbalance.
Relationship with Wood
In the Four phase diagram form of the 5 Elements, the Metal Element and the Wood Element balance one another. Metal, in particular, can temper the enthusiasms and excesses of Wood.
Conversely, Wood can help Metal types see towards the next cycle of life.
Metal Element Organs
The main zangfu organ associated with Metal is the Lungs. They provide your first breath, identifying you as alive. (And your last breath too …)
They govern your skin and lung organs. Your skin separate you from the world and makes you recognisable as an individual. It’s where you meet the world: the junction between you and everything else.
When we breathe out we return waste gas to the air.
When we have a bowel movement, we return waste digestive matter to the soil.
The ancient Chinese saw important parallels between these processes.
Using points on the Large Intestine channel we often treat skin problems and over-sensitivities to allergens (skin and respiratory).
The Large Intestine channel reaches the nose, which is ‘ruled’ by the Lungs which otherwise don’t have a channel point anywhere on head or face.
TREATMENT of Metal Element
Earth is the mother of Metal, and Fire controls Metal via the KO cycle. Sympathy and the right amount of warmth are major constituents of love and these are important ingredients for treating a Metal imbalance.
Treating with this warm love and sympathy, in many cases, it may be the first time anyone has so cared for the patient, even if he has been apparently happily married for many years. Many people have just been taken for granted and they come hungry for love and warmth.
However, Metal patients respond at different rates! One treatment is often not enough and the patient needs to be reassured that the acupuncturist’s warmth and concern is genuine before opening up!
By a Metal ‘type’ I mean someone whose health and way of life are trapped in how they manifest by being stuck in the Metal phase or Metal Element.
In theory, this ‘stuck’ condition may have originated at birth, colouring the whole life. Whether that is so or not, when they receive the appropriate treatment to help them work through and beyond the constraints of their type, in this case Metal, they often become much happier and feel more fulfilled in their relationships and interests.
They also begin to look better, have more energy and in time their complaints improve.
The following is an example of someone who, it turned out, was trapped in his Metal phase. Whether this originated in youth I do not know as I saw him only a very few times.
But his family continued as patients for many years and attributed significant changes in him and his health to the ‘Metal’ treatment he received.
What happened …
My practice was busy and I was seeing many patients daily. A woman returned for a follow-up appointment. With her she brought her father who waited while she was treated. They had come together to meet family friends later that day and she was driving and preferred not to leave him alone in her car when he could wait in the warmth in our premises.
If I noticed him wating in the corridor outside the treatment rooms it was only that he did not move. He did not lean back and relax, or read the magazines, like most people. He just sat still and upright, an eventually tiring position in one so old, I might have thought. I don’t remember if I spoke to him, though I often did say hullo to people.
After her treatment she asked how busy I was. As it happened there was a gap before the next patient arrived so she asked if I would see her father who had a very sore stiff neck, medically diagnosed as due to ankylosing spondylitis.
She was concerned that he didn’t like doing the exercises his physiotherapist recommended, nor the hands-on massage and very gentle manipulation they offered (it wasn’t actually manipulation, just physical stretching), and the next treatment would be drug therapy.
She’d looked up the side-effects and was reluctant about the drugs on offer. Western medicine is a miracle, saving lives and reducing pain, but treatment for chronic conditions is often intentionally palliative and suppressive.
As acupuncture aims to resolve and rebalance yin and yang, drugs which suppress the natural flow of energy may prevent improvement. We have a page on Suppression which I invite you to read.
Because of time constraints and because I often treated sore necks (in retrospect I realise that I was rather conceited) I assured her I could do a treatment that was usually very effective for neck and spine pain however arising. If he felt better then I suggested he come back for more of the same.
So, after a few questions and checking that his doctor had considered more serious conditions like neck fracture and cancer, I offered him my nifty one-size-fits-all neck pain treatment. There were time constraints and for this treatment he didn’t need to disrobe and it could all take place very fast and ‘no bother’. (Oh! The arrogance of youth!) I don’t think I even asked him what he did or had done in life. I assumed he was retired.
During the consultation and subsequent treatment he hardly moved except to loosen his shirt and roll up his sleeves. During the treatment he sat still, uncomplaining, hardly responding to the encouragement of his daughter who sat in with him.
Asked if it had helped, he moved his head around and his daughter congratulated me on an improvement. (He said nothing,)
So, rejoicing in my prowess and amazing powers I continued on with other patients that day.
The Next Day…
She rang the next day to book another appointment for him but to say the treatment had, in retrospect, not really helped. In fact, he was worse and didn’t want to return, but she was insistent.
She also told me more about him: that he was a very private person, seldom talking about himself and his needs. Indeed, she thought he did this because, at least in theory, he believed his God should supply all his inner needs, if not the outer ones. He had spent many years studying philosophy and metaphysics before training to be a priest and then practising as Minister to a parish until he retired.
So back he came some days later.
Somewhat chastened, I did a proper consultation with him, not the five-minute know-it-all job I’d done before.
Getting information from him was difficult. He wasn’t used to talking about himself and didn’t like it. This is fairly typical of Metal element types …
He was a retired church minister. He’d worked in the same church for many years, supporting a congregation largely made up of people who themselves or whose parents had worked in coal mines, sometimes for generations.
(I don’t know about miners in other parts of the world, but in Scotland I would say that miners are tough, self-reliant people, used to working together, with a lot of loyalty to their friends, and quiet pride. Immensely hard-working and often extremely generous, they are not, however, much good at discussing their feelings. It’s not part of the job specification! In fact, outside their families and close friends, the do not opine much.)
Many of his forebears had been miners.
Now, just in passing, to give you an idea of the kind of issues that present themselves during a consultation, I should say that miners work in claustrophobic conditions with poor air supplies – even today – and that traditionally their homes were well protected against cold (Scotland being a cold Northern country) which means air circulation from outside the home is discouraged!
The National Coal Board gave payment partly in ‘kind’, meaning that the homes of coal miners were heated by free coal, delivered several times a year. Their stoves belched black smoke, only some of which ascended the chimney (and when it did, it meant that all neighbours downwind inhaled what we now recognise as toxic fumes, full of soot.)
This was a recipe for respiratory complaints, from ‘simple’ bronchitic conditions to serious illnesses like tuberculosis. Just bear this in mind as you read on.
He’d had his fair share of problems during his life. He’d had lungs problems as a child, been wounded in the second world war, had fallen off a church roof … but he had always recovered, though sometimes only after hospitalisation.
All his brothers and sisters were dead, some dying in the war. His mother had succumbed to a respiratory complaint when he was about 14, but an aunt had looked after him for many years before that. She had helped out only because of his mother’s chronic ill-health and was not, it seemed, a friendly type. Criticism was frequent, praise rare: physical touch, other than for punishment, non-existent.
Complaining had never been an option, even in pain.
So he didn’t complain now. Only because his daughter had noticed he didn’t turn his head had he seen his doctor and got the diagnosis.
A long slow interview
I learned all this only by dragging it out of him. It was a long slow interview. I asked how life had changed when he retired from active work as a minister – and I got nothing.
However, he did laugh at my jokes, such as they were and clearly enjoyed being at the heart of his family. He had plans and hobbies, was not destitute financially. He still did ‘locum’ work for the church.
I think he put up with me in a rather long-suffering way only because his daughter was outside the door.
I noted his colour. A kind of ‘bright’ white. However, you must remember that Scotland is a country not blessed with much sunshine and because of Celtic genes, many Scots burn easily if over-exposed to the sun, so often avoid it. Also, because it is often cold, people stay indoors when they should be out acquiring a ruddy complexion.
So, many Scots do look a bit white. It’s not always easy to distinguish between a pale pallor, anaemia and the kind of bright white he had.
Odour? We used a fair amount of moxa and this overpowered any odour he projected.
Sound of his voice? Well-modulated as one might expect of someone well-educated who had dealt with tricky parishioners for years! But I noticed that he seldom expanded on an answer which, wherever possible, was succinct, even curt. Some, perhaps many of my questions ‘invaded’ his territory.
Eventually we got to his timeline. This is sometimes a vital source of information. His neck had gradually become sore over the last 10 years but no illness or accident had preceded it.
So I asked what had happened 10 years ago.
The Vital Question
Up to this point he had responded to questions fairly quickly, if tersely. But not this time. I should think I waited nearly a minute, indeed I was about to let him off the hook with another question, when he said “My wife died.”
At which point, all the rest of what I’d learned fell into place. The childhood, parted from his mother and lacking much encouragement, forcing self-reliance; the various respiratory conditions which were so common in his community; the inability to talk about feelings; the stiff upper lip even when in considerable pain; the career. Along with this was the deep search for meaning in life, taking him eventually to the priesthood.
He was a strong Metal
When I’d treated him the first time I had used the wrong points! They’d been mostly to do with his spine – well not surprisingly you may think! – not to do with the kind of person he was, searching for an inner connection to God and meaning and putting aside his own pain, emotional and then physical.
As I inserted it he gave a little sigh and visibly relaxed, even slumped. I looked at his face and saw he was crying. Not with great shuddering sighs, but with eyes leaking tears.
Now, I don’t know about ministers from mining communities where you live, but I can say with some certainly that crying is not common in Scotsmen of this type. In fact, it is very uncommon!
I chose a point on a Metal channel because it became apparent that, for all he was a searcher after the truth, his problem arose when he lost his wife and the grief from this had never been properly expressed. The point in question was a major point on a Metal channel with connections to his chest, his respiration and his grief. It seemed as if it just needed to be opened.
I did no further acupuncture points with him that day. Just that single point on one arm allowed the beginnings of change and being basically a healthy individual surrounded by a loving family he needed no additional treatment.
That little sigh after a good point is hugely valuable – usually to do no more. I left the needle in situ for perhaps twenty minutes and on re-entering the room found him asleep, breathing comfortably. His pulses seemed stronger and I thought there was more colour in his cheeks.
Did the treatment stop him being a Metal type?
This all happened nearly forty years ago, and I don’t remember how many times, if any, that he returned to see me, but I do remember that according to his family his neck greatly improved and he seemed to enjoy life more. Certainly, they said, he started turning his head much more easily and even told them if he was feeling ill or in pain – an unprecedented change in his behaviour.
I greatly doubt if one can change a person’s underlying type, but one can make it work better, allowing other phases or elements to manifest better than before.
And should one try to ‘eradicate’ one’s type? I doubt that too. Each type brings strengths to the table. All we can do is aim to keep Qi moving and transforming according to need and circumstances.
Your big question! Did I cure his ankylosing spondylitis?
Well, firstly, please define what you mean by ‘cure’!
Do you mean that, after careful investigation, X-rays and other tests was he pronounced by the medical establishment NOT to have any remaining traces of the condition? Well, since I’m pretty sure they never bothered to get the tests done, I can make no such claim.
However, if you mean could he turn his head, apparently without pain, chat more easily about his feelings and needs, do more and seemingly enjoy life more?
Well, yes, his family would say he got better.
What to learn from all this?
There is an old edict, articulated by a famous homoeopath, now long since dead. She said, treat the patient not the disease.
Looking back, my first treatment was suppressive and, fortunately, seemed to produce no persistent ill-effect. Or, at any rate, he soon returned for what turned out to be the ‘right’ treatment before any ill-effects appeared.
But many treatments, even those given by acupuncturists, can be suppressive if they clear the immediate problem but ignore the greater needs, and especially if they later cause other deeper problems. There is more about this on our page on Suppression, particularly under the heading there of the ‘Law of Cure’.
Do texts list the point I used (Lung 7) as good for neck problems of his type?
Among its actions is that it affects the nape of the neck, so yes, they do list it, but not of course for ankylosing spondilitis which was unknown as such in ancient times. But it’s not among the first points I think of when treating the neck (I’d already tried them!)
I’m pretty sure I didn’t look it up before I used it that day. I used it because it seemed the right point for the patient.