Digest the Gristle: The Earth / Spleen Element and Transformation

We’re moving more fully into Fall now, so let’s complete our discussion of the Late Summer / Earth Element by discussing aspects of Earth / Spleen energetics and the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of transformation.

Just as we digest, assimilate, and obtain nourishment through the Stomach and Spleen organ system for our physical bodies, so do we digest and assimilate our experiences, whether good, neutral, challenging, or even traumatic. When our Spleen / Stomach energies are balanced and regulated, we can “digest the gristle” – that is, take from the experience the lessons learned, the “nourishment” to help us grow and get better, the impetus towards the transformation that may be required based on our new knowledge. And we also eliminate that which does not serve or help us.

If we are out of balance – for example, if we are living in a stressed-out state of mind and being or suffering from a chronic health condition – we may have difficulty assimilating nourishment from our challenges. We may embrace lessons that contract or constrict our world view, rather than expand it. We may lack confidence to move forward in life. We may find ourselves unable to trust – we don’t trust other people, and we don’t trust our own gut or intuition. We lose faith in ourselves and our ability to move forward.

In Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), the Spleen (Yin organ) and Stomach (its Yang organ pair) are intimately connected. The Stomach receives nourishment and begins the digestive process; the Spleen transforms this nourishment into Qi / energy and blood, and then transports the Qi and blood throughout the body. Stomach and Spleen create a dynamic balance between giving and receiving.

The key qualities of the Earth element are nourishment and stability. When our Earth element is balanced and stable, we easily transform food into nourishment and experiences into lessons-learned and growth. We feel well-nourished and grounded within our body. Our Earth energy provides the stable platform from which to trust ourselves, our gut, our intuition. And we can attend to others, giving support, encouragement, and nurturing.

When our Earth element is out of balance, we are unable to transform or assimilate food or experiences. We feel unstable and ungrounded. Our mind may go around and around in an endless cycle of excessive rumination. This can include rumination and overthinking about something that just happened, so we can’t digest and learn from it. This can also include obsessing or excessive worry about an event (either real or imagined) yet to come.

As a result, we never get off the dime. Our natural Yi or intention, also associated with the Spleen / Stomach, becomes weak. Our Yi influences our capacity for thinking, concentrating, and studying. It helps us think through our life experiences. If our Yi is weak or unbalanced, we won’t learn our lessons, and we may make the same mistakes, over and over again. We also lose motivation and become less resilient.

Earth’s Connection to Our North Star

Within Daoist teachings, the Earth element is associated with the North Star. How so? Well, first, visualize yourself standing on the stable, solid earth under your feet – this is the grounded state of trusting yourself. Then form a triangle with the thumb and forefinger of each hand and raise your arms straight up above you. Now look up through the triangle to the North Star. Set your ultimate goals, your intention (or Yi) square within your sights. Your “True North” helps guide you through life, through the challenges, the lessons learned, the detours. As long as you can stay grounded and have a place to stand, you can figure out a way through.

Or, as Casey Kasem used to say, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep looking at the stars”.

So, you see how important the Earth / Spleen element is to our growth and transformation. Its key virtue is Trust: trust in ourselves, as well as our ability to trust in others.

Trusting oneself to learn, to grow, to be able to handle new situations and challenges. Going deep inside and listening to what our gut is telling us (i.e., the enteric nervous system which has more neurons than the brain). Using this as the stable ground from which we set our intention and purpose and move forward in life. Good stuff!

How to Boost and Balance your Spleen / Earth Element

The Wu Xing / Five Elements exercise for Earth / Spleen is a simple yet powerful movement for building this energy within yourself.

Earth elemental energy rises from the level of the Spleen and Stomach and then divides as it reaches the top of the thrusting meridian (Chong Mai), which moves up through the center of the body. This yellow, dividing energy exists at the point of change or transformation of the other elements.

In the Earth / Spleen exercise, we use movement and intention to pull up energy from the ground / earth through our core, through the level of the Spleen and Stomach, up to the point at which the energy divides at the center point of change between the other elements. The nice stretch and twist of this exercise also directly activate the Spleen and Stomach meridians.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Five Elements exercises, visit the Wu Xing / Five Elements Course page.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

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