I mentioned in my earlier post “An Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine” that I have created a Reiki healing system based on working with the “Five Elements” of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In a series of articles I have been talking about different aspects of the Five Elements and how they impinge on people’s lives: how imbalances in the five elements can show themselves as physical conditions and particular emotions and states of mind.
I have written about how the elements support and control each other through the nourishment and control cycles, I’ve spoken about the meridians and body organs that relate to each element, and in my recent articles I have been talking in a lot more detail about the emotions of the elements.
Now in some blog posts I am talking about particular states of mind that derive from each element and which relate to a particular body organ. Today we talk about…
The Mental states of Earth
Earth represents the time of year of harvesting, sorting, collecting together and storing. While spring looks forward, and summer enjoys the pleasures of the present, late summer – Earth – looks back at what was, and processes it. Earth is the pause between the upward and outward movements of Wood and Fire, and the inward and downward movements of Metal and Water that follow it. Earth is also the transition between each season or phase, the time for looking inside and collecting oneself; Earth’s direction is horizontal, a closed circle.
On a mental level, Earth can be described in terms of the late summer: gathering, processing, selecting, mental nourishment, survival, and gaining the wisdom that gives us the security to deal with difficult situations in life.
The Spleen-Pancreas holds qualities like logical thinking, a rational intellect, the ability be critical, the ability to think things over, and a good memory. The downside of the Spleen-Pancreas is represented by worrying about a thousand and one things, brooding over the past, and indulging in reminiscences.
An ‘over-stimulated’ Spleen can show itself in greed for knowledge and the latest news, and an addiction to reading. The most characteristic example of this is the person who accumulates knowledge about detailed areas of human life. This is the type of knowledge that specialists have: concentrated without seeing the context, the connection to the bigger picture. Another characteristic of an excess energy in the Spleen is seen in the person who can’t stop thinking, who has to think through and consider everything.
Yet another example would be the one-sided advocates of science and reason, people who judge and reject every other way of looking at things. These people are said to compensate for a deficit in Earth by mentally clinging to an apparent security in the logical verification of things. Compulsive behaviour, fixed ideas, obsessions and a passion for collecting that has become obsessive, also represent an excess of energy in the Spleen.
It is interesting at this point to note that it is not only desirable to have balance between the elements, but to also have balance within an element. The energy in earth has to express itself on many levels: physical, mental, emotional etc. If a person takes up a huge amount of energy in digestion and nourishment then there will not be a great deal of energy left over for thought and reflection. If lots of Earth energy is used up in intellectual activity, then there will be a deficit on the emotional level, leading to a lack of compassion. Excessive intellectual activity can also produce problems on the physical level, with allergies, menstrual problems, stomach ulcers or metabolic disorders.
The Spleen and the Stomach are good examples of the way that Chinese medicine interprets the idea of an ‘organ’ differently from Western medicine, even on an organic level. The ‘Spleen’ for example is seen as encompassing the part of the Pancreas that produces digestive enzymes used in the Duodenum. The ‘Stomach’ is seen as including the duodenum and the first six inches of the Small Intestine, which is why digestion, nourishment, assimilation and absorption are classified under the heading of ‘Earth’. The ‘Spleen’ also represents the lymphatic system: nodes, vessels, tonsils and thymus, it represents the red bone marrow and the mucous membrane of the intestines, since they have a large lymphatic component. So the idea of ‘nourishment’ also extends to providing oxygen – via the red blood cells – to every cell in the body.
So the ‘Spleen’ oversees the transportation of water from the tissues back into the bloodstream, the absorption of fat from the intestine into the lymph system, the production of white blood cells and the storage and breakdown of red blood cells. The Spleen is the ‘mother organ’ of the whole body. It regulates the distribution of water and blood, it nourishes the body, and it maintains the integrity of the body through the immune system. It is also seen as responsible for fertility, pregnancy and birth, together with the Kidney and the Uterus (an extraordinary organ that is not assigned to an element). The breasts are assigned to Earth.
The Spleen is important, and can be seen as being responsible for distribution, and the transport of energy throughout the body-mind. If there is a Spleen-Pancreas imbalance then other parts of the body-mind wouldn’t get the energy they need, and for this reason it is said that the ‘five viscera’ all get their breath of life from the ‘Spleen’.
The Stomach can be seen as the organ that receives nourishment, integrates it and brings it to fruition, and then passes on the food energy to be distributed by the Spleen. The Stomach is almost the most important function in the body-mind because our energy feeds from it, and it takes in every aspect of our lives.
If there is a Stomach imbalance then we cannot get the proper benefit from what we take in, whether this is food for our body or food for our mind. What we take in won’t be utilised properly. If we can’t get energy from our food properly then we will feel weak, lethargic, we will be depleted and debilitated. Obviously, many digestive problems are associated with an Earth imbalance.
So in practice, Earth imbalances could show as various disorders of the digestive system like indigestion, gastritis, gastric or duodenal ulcers, incomplete digestion, pancreatitis, diarrhoea and constipation. The immune system could display allergies, auto-immune diseases, immune deficiencies, a tendency towards illness, menstrual problems, infertility, pain and swelling in the breasts, inflammation of the mammary glands, problems with lactating, skin diseases, oedema, as well as diseases of the lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels.
On a different note, disturbances in the natural rhythm of life point to an Earth imbalance. The rhythms of sleeping and waking, of appetite and digestion, breathing, the menstrual cycle would all depend on a balanced Earth. In early Chinese writings on the five elements, Earth was in the centre, and Wood, Fire, Metal and Water were arranged around it. Not only that, but there were medical and spiritual schools based on handling every physical and spiritual complaint by bringing Earth into balance in a variety of ways encompassing the use of herbs, massage, acupuncture focusing on the Spleen and Stomach meridians, and mental and physical exercises.
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Picture credit: Alan Levine