Human beings have the ability to digest and to transform anything. And yet, some people develop such an exacerbated ‘sensitivity’ – whether it is to food or fabric or pollen or even other humans – that this innate ability becomes stunted and stymied and even inoperable.
'Sensitivity' can be a curse – whether it is physical, emotional, or mental sensitivity. I want to show you how your ‘sensitivity’ might become a blessing if you take good care or your Earth element.
Some people may think that the brain is in charge of our health and well-being. Others may think it is the heart which is in charge.
The reality is that our health and well-being in daily life is fundamentally created and supported by how well we are able to digest: not only our physical nourishment, but also our reactions and responses to our life experiences.
Earth Element - Digestion, Nourishment, Immunity
I want to introduce you to the Earth element in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – the Spleen and the Stomach channels which govern our digestion, nourishment, and immunity.
Unlike the other four elements – Fire, Water, Metal and Wood – which all have a specific season, the Earth element is seen as Indian Summer and sometimes as the 10 – 15 days before the beginning of each season and at the end of each season.
The ancient Taoists, however, saw Earth in the centre. In my own practice I have adopted this ancient Taoist perspective because in fact the spirit of the Earth element is ‘I’ which literally translates as ‘embodiment’. And in reality it is through the health and well-being and optimal functioning of our physical vehicle that we experience all of life. Therefore, cultivating healthy digestion at all levels – physical, emotional and mental – may well be a worthwhile pursuit.
The Stomach Channel
In TCM the Stomach is in charge of receiving and digesting our physical nourishment, transforming it into substances which can support and sustain our physical body and supply the Spleen with the nutrients necessary to build and to sustain a vital immune system.
The direction of the energy of the Stomach is downward – from Heaven to Earth. Think about eating and digestion. If the food is not going down we experience indigestion, acid reflux and other digestive discomfort. In TCM if the Stomach Qi is not flowing downward, it rises up and clouds the mind, leading to symptoms like worry, anxiety and over-thinking. When I have patients with these kinds of symptoms I often suggest going on a 10 day rice diet. This means that all you eat for 10 days is rice, and then you begin introducing other foods. You will notice immediately if cheese is not good for you or if meat is not good for you or fruit is not good for you or sugar is not good for you. This practice has the capacity to rebalance your digestion and to calm the mind, and allows you to take charge of the well-being of your Earth element.
I had a colleague who was worried about displeasing a friend. My colleague had been asked to participate in a project with this person and knew that she did not want to do it but was afraid to say no. She was losing sleep and having trouble eating. I asked if she had tried Narcissus (narcissus pseudo-narcissus) flower Essence – an Earth element Essence. She took some Narcissus that night, slept through the night, and woke up the next morning, phoned her friend and said, ‘Thank you for asking me, but now is not the right time for me to engage in something like this.’ No excuses and no apologies were necessary, just a simple statement of ‘This is my choice right now.’
For a person who has the tendency for their Earth element to become out of balance, it is critical for them to develop the ability to step back, take a breath and ask for some inner guidance to direct them. Earth is that place of stillness between Yin and Yang. It is the centre. It is present. It is NOW. And it grants us the capacity to receive and to digest all of our life experience so that we do not become crippled by our sensitivity.
When Stomach is doing its job of digesting we feel present and centred and embodied. Thus we are able to respond to whatever comes our way with grace and ease. When Stomach is not functioning optimally there is a tendency to worry and to overthink and to feel the pain of the world weighing us down. The emotion related to the Earth element is sympathy, but what use is sympathy if it is harming ourselves and not in fact helping whoever is suffering? Therefore, one of the most important abilities for a ‘sensitive’ Earth element to cultivate is healthy boundaries. For example, if we have a propensity to sympathize with suffering, we could deliberately and consciously choose to avoid TV shows about animals being harmed or other kinds of violence and suffering.
The Spleen Channel
One of the behaviours I have noticed about imbalanced Earth is that they appear to have difficulty making choices – whether it is what to eat in a restaurant or how to spend their time. Perhaps in an effort to ‘please’ others, they might say yes to everything but in fact internally be building up some resentment and anxiety. This is the moment where we need to step back and check in and see what feels right for us in this moment and give up the posture of being ‘nice.’
All that physical, emotional and mental energy expended on being ‘nice’ can in fact be directed towards making sure that out Spleen is doing its primary function of protecting us from external invaders. Physically the Spleen produces White Blood Cells from the nutrients digested by the Stomach. These White Blood Cells are fundamental building blocks of our immune system and protect us from external attack by dis-ease at all levels. When our Spleen is not functioning optimally we are more vulnerable not only to physical invaders but to emotional and mental attacks and toxins as well.
One of my favourite flower Essences for the Spleen and for the immune system in general is Goatsbeard (aruncus sylvester). It not only supports the Spleen to produce White Blood Cells but also the Small Intestine to support the production of Red Blood Cells. It manages this by triggering a parasympathetic response to our life experience. The parasympathetic nervous system is what kicks in when we are feeling relaxed and able to ‘digest’ whatever is coming our way.
Another amazingly powerful Essence for the Spleen is Urchin (strongylocentrotus purpuratus). I had a patient who was in a state of constant fear and anxiety about being attacked by others. He was a heavy smoker and suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety. He was also an empath. When he used Urchin essence he was able to get in touch with his ‘still small voice within’ and make choices which gradually increased his feeling of safety and well-being in his physical vehicle. And over time he was able to transform that over-sympathy and over-empathy into compassion.
Nurturing Our Earth Element
If you happen to be one of those people who have weight problems, who feel hyper-sensitive to external stimuli, who have difficulty saying no, who suffer from digestive issues or seem to catch everything that is going around, or who suffer just because you see suffering outside you, perhaps it would be good to check in with your Earth element and to see what you can do to restore balance and harmony within.
None of us will ever change the world ‘out there.’ But we can change our response to the world out there. When we embrace this reality we can develop greater adaptability and resilience to cope with changing times in powerful and effective ways. In this manner, we can harness the power of our ‘sensitivity’ to maintain health and well-being in our own Body/Mind and to contribute something meaningful and powerful in our world.