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Dialogue - issue #5

The Earth Element of Five Element Taoist Medicine

Words by Lori Hillman
Illustration by Fernando Leal

The earth element governs the spleen and stomach. Its spirit cultivates devotion, integrity, clear thought, and intention.

The heat of summer starts to subside, the evenings begin to close in and there is damp and humidity in the early morning air - ultimate yang turns toward yin. The cooling salad vegetables, with their higher water content, make way for the spleen’s yellow and orange vegetables that will be harvested, and there will be an abundance should there be an Indian summer. The yellow vegetables, sweet corn, the squashes and later the orange pumpkins are gentle on the spleen after the extra work digesting a summer of raw, cold foods, barbecued foods, alcohol and maybe excesses of cold drinks, ice and sugar, which impair and are damp-forming to the spleen.

We wind down from the high of summer to late summer as our mind begins to focus and look ahead to the yin time ofthe year, gradually becoming more reflective. Like our body and emotions, the soil too,needs shade and hydration so thatlife does not burn out. It needs nurturing if there is to be a harvest so that we can start thinking about preparing our immune system for autumn and winter. After harvest ,the soil will also turn more inward, there will be fallen fruits and, as the leaves begin to fall, the process of the rotting leaves begins its transformation. The leaves seep into the deeper layers of the soil, providing nutrients to nourish the essence of new growth for next spring.

The processes of the microbiome of the soil and our human gut are the same. Without the right bacteria and microorganisms, life is weak, body and soil struggle; the spleen cannot extract good nutrients to send to make blood. If the soil is lacking fertility, the plants cannot convert nutrients and oxygen with any life force. The spleen, our earth element, struggles with the demands made upon it.As planet Earth struggles with human demands, our spleen struggles with our own needs and demands. Like Mother Earth, our earth is becoming weakened and intolerant. As much as it wants to keep giving, there comes a time when we have to admit it just isn’t sustainable any longer. If the spleen is the organ of adaptability, then we need to trust and embrace that change will be for the better. When we are centred and grounded in our earth element, our intention will be fulfilled and not slip away from us on our life journey.

Nature’s earth element, if the soil is right, provides abundant harvest, the larder is full and there will be enough to see us through the lean seasons. If the soil is not right, there will be times of plenty, times of deprivation. Fear of going without leads to imbalance, hoarding, worry and overeating. The role of the earth element in Chinese medicine highlights the importance of eating regularly, healthily and of being in a good state when we sit down to a meal. If we change our attitude towards food, we will learn how to serve nature. This right inner state towards food is consciousness, awareness of what is always prepared for us, what nature has done for us. When we eat, we are receiving a very honoured guest, for life is visiting us, giving us life.

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