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Late Summer... A time to return to our centre

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

~ A late summer garden has a tranquility found no other time of the year ~


Daoist philosophy suggests that everything in the universe is part of an unbroken whole, life arises from the interplay of opposites (yin and yang) and we can have a life of health and prosperity by observing nature and its natural cycles. When our bodies are in harmony with our surrounds, or nature ‘The Dao’, we are healthy and there is an abundant supply of qi, which is our life force that runs through an unseen network of meridians across the body. The flow of qi becomes depleted or blocked due to living outside of this natural state, by losing that connection with the Dao, when that harmony or balance is lost, this is when illness follows.

The energy of the Earth element is at the end of every season, it's the period where we return to our centre for rejuvenation; to regenerate and prepare to transition into the next season. However, its most abundant time and home is in the Late Summer, just before the harvest time of the year when Mother Earth is at her fullest. This harvest period at the end of the Summer is dependent of the preceding seasons, the flourishing of the Summer Fire, which was dependent on the rapid growth of the Springtime Wood, which was founded on the rejuvenation and restoration of Water in the Winter. This period marks the beginning of the shift from the outward expression of Spring and Summer, our Yang seasons, to the inward focus of Autumn and Winter, our Yin seasons. When this bountiful harvest from the Summer arrives, just like the season we should feel abundant and full.

The Earth element doesn’t have a direction of movement like the other elements, Earth is the axis from which all the other elements move, it’s our centre, it is neutral and neither Yin nor Yang. It is the Earth that keeps us grounded, it provides the support and stable ground for our every step, it is our nourishment and stability, and it relates to all the cycles in nature and all the other elements.

Just like the central nature of the Earth element and its relationships with the other elements, the Earth organs the Stomach, Spleen, and Pancreas are centrally located both physiologically and anatomically and their energetic functions also have an impact on the whole body. The Stomach is the receiver of nourishment, taking the energy from food and then the Spleen distributes the energy obtained from the food throughout the entire body; and all the other organs depend on it for life. The qi generated in this process is known as our “post-natal qi” and it sustains us throughout life alongside our “pre-natal qi” or “essence” from our Kidney energy.

These organs and their function is influenced by our diet, mental activity and emotions and we rely on our digestive system for sustenance emotionally and physically. All that we eat, the emotions we experience and the things we see and hear rely on our body’s ability to digest them. Keeping the Earth element energy balanced is the foundation for balance of our mind, body and spirit.

A nourishing diet with small amounts of lean meats or fish; along with eating lots of warm cooked vegetables and good whole grains help the Spleen and Stomach energy. As the Late Summer also brings more thunderstorms we also experience more humid weather, this damp in the air can also enter our bodies, so it is essential to support the Spleen’s digestive function by avoiding raw, cold and processed sugary and fatty foods to avoid the accumulation of damp. Foods that help to clear damp from the body include adzuki beans, lentils, kidney beans, barley, lemon, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, watercress, turnip, radish, caper, celery and drinking green tea, jasmine tea, raspberry leaf tea. Avoiding excessive consumption of foods such as dairy, nuts, wheat and concentrated juices will also help.

Worry is the emotion of the Earth element, which can also be seen as pensiveness or overthinking. Worry goes round and round just like the Earth, this overactive mental activity injures the Spleen and Stomach. Sympathy is also often associated with the Earth element, people of an Earth element constitution tend to be overly sympathetic and often focus on the needs of others at the expense of their own. On the other side of imbalance, they can be unsympathetic to others and become selfish, self-focused and narcissistic.

Chinese Medicine and Daoism have five spirits, these are all aspects of our mind and soul, or our consciousness, each of them is associated with each of the five Yin organs of the body; the Heart, Spleen, Lung, Kidney and Liver. When the five spirits are in balance we vibrate with beauty and peace in line with the Dao and all that surrounds us, coming back to our most natural state.

The spirit associated with the Earth element and the Yin organ Spleen is “Yi” or “intellect”, which guides our concentration and keeps the Shen (mind) focused. Whenever you're reading, studying, learning or meditating, you're using Yi. Post-natal qi and blood, obtained from our food via the digestive system, is the basis for this intellect. A Chines phrase is “If we can digest our food, we can digest our thoughts”. If the Yi and Spleen are strong, we think clearly, have a good memory and the capacity to study and concentrate. If we tend to brood and overthink, the Yi becomes constrained and leads to depression and obsessive thinking further damaging the Yi, we then can't let go of our thoughts and re-run the same ones over and over and lose focus. There is also a tendency to overeat or comfort eat, and patients may obsess about food when imbalanced.

Taste is the sense of the Earth element, our first experience of taste is our mothers’ milk, so at the earliest stages it becomes associated with comfort, support and love and we strongly link this feeling to food as we get older. Cravings or aversion to flavours can be an indication of an imbalance in the corresponding elements, Salty for the Water, Sour for the Wood, Bitter for the Fire, Sweet for the Earth and Pungent for the Metal. A sweet craving after meals is always indicative of the Spleen searching for further energy to aid what it is needing to digest.

If our Earth element is in balance, we are open to receiving as well as giving - we can nurture and be nurtured, understand and be understood. When our Earth is out of balance, we begin to lose our ground and our centre, repeating worn-out patterns that don’t serve us, our thoughts spinning round and round in our heads. Our organs of Stomach, Spleen and Pancreas may also be out of order if we are not providing the best things for our body and mind to digest.

So, as we come toward the Autumn equinox, when the cycle of darkness becomes dominant, and our balance shifts inward, this is an important time for self-nurturing and self-cultivation and offers an opportunity to fully ripen and transform, using the last of Summer’s bountiful energy. Making sure we find the balance between taking care of ourselves and others and that we are taking in all that we need to nurture our body and soul.

Earth Element Infographic
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Di, H. (1995). The Yellow Emperor’s classic of medicine: a new translation of the neijing suwen with commentary. (M. Ni, Trans.)

Kirkwood, J. (2016). The way of the five elements.

Maciocia, G. (2012). The foundations of chinese medicine. 2nd Edition.

Maciocia, G. (2009). The psyche in chinese medicine: treatment of emotional and mental disharmonies with acupuncture and chinese herbs.

Pritchard, P. (2002). Healing with whole foods (3rdedition).

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