DATE. 08.09.2020


On the alchemy of the season

Still from “Daisies (Sedmikrásky) 1966, Věra Chytilová.”

Round, ripe, rotting, reciprocity. Beyoncé as Oshun, the splendors of the body, security, stability, being filled to the brim. Humidity, heaviness, hearth, harvest, not fearing the reaper. Moldy peaches, Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, languidness, turbidity, torpor, ennui. Ahhhh, late summer, Sorceress of Saudade, surprise season of surplus and swamp, of yin emerging from yang, duality and abundance on the precipice of decrease.

In the five element calendar, Late Summer is the fifth season, a poetic interlude of plumpness betwixt the third week of August and the autumn equinox that hearkens the arrival of fall. The Earth element reigns over her kingdom in Late Summer, and to understand her splendor is to romp in her amber waves of grain. Abundance and satiety abound in tandem with decline and decrease. With a tinge of melancholy and a golden brush stoke, the entire cosmos is swaying in a heat-drunk torpor to Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’ as the earth does its best impression of a Fauvist landscape with languishing bodies lolling in the low-hanging sun. Some may say, “my dude, that’s just summer!” But if you’ve been paying attention to the Great Unfurling, everything is… slowing down. There’s an entirely different flair to Late Summer than the swank and swagger of its sister season. For in this moment, fire hath liberated the moisture hiding within Earth, and the air is pregnant, heavy, like an Earth deity herself, arms teetering with grain and a pregnant belly full of nascent baby goddesses. The whole of the cosmos is telling the alchemical tale of how yin - substance - emerges from yang - energy. Can you feel it? (Hint - it’s sticky.)

Our embodied Earth element is our spleen and stomach organs, the Axis Mundi and cosmic hinge for the whole of our metabolic processes, and the reverse equation of how yin - substance - creates yang - energy. What a magnificent ouroboros this universe is! As five element acupuncturist Lonny Jarrett says, “the earth element governs our connection to the Earth in a way that empowers utilizing and integrating all sources of available nourishment in life so that our potential may be actualized.”

In order to discuss the majesty of the Spleen and Stomach, we have to understand the central metaphor of digestion through the lens of the Earth element. Both our center and our alchemical furnace, the Spleen and Stomach are paired as the organs of our internal Earth, and their transmutation and transportation of nutrients provide the context and structure for how we support ourselves. These digestive organs nourish and nurture, providing stability and serenity (or when out of balance, worry, obsession, and self-doubt). They are responsible for the efficient digestion of all we encounter - both food AND experiences - churning and turning the manna of life into qi to fuel the body’s processes. ‘Neutral Good’ in alignment, the Spleen and Stomach are concerned with how we meet our own needs and the needs of others. Providers of comfort, they are the embodied  Nonna’s in all of us… worried with how we are fed, perhaps a little needy, often overbearing, imprinting our relationship to food for life, for better or for worse.

One of the legendary Chinese medical physicians of yore, Master Li Dong-Yuan, founded what would come to be known as the Earth School in 1200 C.E. The Earth School believed that disorders mainly originate with damage to the Spleen and Stomach, and helped to contextualize how disease could be engendered by lifestyle and emotions, and how both these things are shaped by oppression and poverty (hello, radical). I was going to write a whole swoony love letter to the Earth School, but everything I would have said, acupuncturist Sharon Sherman said better in this article:

As Chinese medicine evolved, practitioners began to realize that patients did not live in a vacuum and they could not be treated as such. Every patient affected by an ailment needed to be treated individually because many factors beyond just physical disease were playing a role and required attention. For Master Li Dong-Yuan, lifestyle was a major factor in the preservation of a patient’s well being. He felt that patients’ emotions could heavily influence the qi’s integrity and that physical illness could be eroded by the socio-economics of a war-torn society plagued with famine, epidemics and poverty.

Li Dong-Yuan believed that the cause of damage to the stomach and spleen occurred as a result of three main factors: intemperance in eating and drinking (especially consumption of excess amounts of cold, raw, fatty or unclean foods), overwork which leads to exhaustion, and from the effects of excessive and habituated emotional expression — excessive emotions agitate the body and consequently weaken digestion. When the conquered people were left powerless, poor and unable to access proper nutrition, opportunistic disease processes were able to also overcome and vanquish health physically, mentally and spiritually.

In honor of the Earth School and Late Summer, I invite you to to do a hot little inventory of nourishment, and how that might be supporting or thwarting your tao.