Taoist Seasons – Late Summer – Earth Element

by | Sep 14, 2010 | Qigong, Taoism, Five Elements

By Matthew Brewer

The Long Summer

The fifth season is late summer or Indian summer. The Chinese call it Long Summer (chang xia). Its element is earth. The Chinese element ‘earth’ 土 (tu) holds the same place as the Hindu element ‘akasa’ or space. It is that which holds and contains everything. It is the bedrock which allows everything else to be. It’s primary function is integration. By holding everything, it allows all of the apparently separate things of existence to recognise their non-difference.

In the Nei Jing, Long Summer does not hold the same status as do the four seasons. It is not mentioned in Chapter Two which discusses the correct way to live in harmony with the seasons. It is only briefly mentioned in later chapters, such as 22, where we are told ‘the spleen rules Long Summer’. How long it lasts is not mentioned either, though commentators usually give it about a month spanning the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. It is a time associated with heat and humidity (the end of summer) and with harvesting (the beginning of autumn).

In the body, the spleen system is the earth element, along with the stomach. The spleen is responsible for the use of all post-natal chi (qi) in the body. It transforms everything that we eat and drink into chi and blood. It is considered key to manufacturing blood through its function of extracting the chi from food, which it then sends to other parts of the body where the blood is made. The process is fairly elaborate, but the basic point is made in Chapter 19 of the Nei Jing, which says, ‘the spleen … is in the centre irrigating the four (organs) nearby’.

The spleen also controls the blood by containing it in the blood vessels. This is the nature of the earth element, which holds and contains. If your spleen is very weak blood can leak out of the vessels. If the blood is deficient, a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor will treat the spleen.

The holding aspect of the spleen can also be seen in its control of the zheng chi 正氣 (or ‘upright chi’ – zheng is the same word as ‘aligned/alignment’ and ‘true’ in Chinese), which holds the body and especially the internal organs in the right place. One aspect of zheng chi is the wei chi 衛氣 , or defensive chi, which is the energetic side of our immune system. Stimulating, balancing and strengthening the wei chi is one of the main focuses of Dragon and Tiger Qigong.

The spleen is also responsible for clarity of thought and our ability to concentrate. When the spleen is weak, our thinking is unclear and we worry; constantly running over the same thing in our minds. In this way mental and physical digestion are very closely linked. You will notice that it is much harder to think clearly after a large meal. When the spleen and stomach are digesting, the mind cannot and vice versa. This is also why excess worry produces stomach ulcers.

There is an interesting passage in Chapter 29 of the Nei Jing on why the spleen does not rule its own season:

The (Yellow) Emperor asked: The spleen does not rule a season why is this so?

Qibo answered: The spleen is that which is (of the) earth (element). (It) regulates from the centre constantly, according to the four seasons, strengthening the four internal organs, entrusted with each 18 day regulation, it does not need sole rulership of a season. The spleen is that which constantly manifests the jing 精 (essence) of the stomach and earth. Earth is that which gives birth to the ten thousand things and is modelled on Heaven and Earth. Thus above and below, the head and the foot, do not need to rule a season.

The function of the spleen is so pervasive that its power is not limited to one season, just as earth is the foundation of everything that is. It is the ground that enables the play of the four seasons. It gives everything life. Yet, it is also said to rule Long Summer, the pause between the opening of summer and the closing of autumn. Rather than seeing this as a contradiction, it is more useful to see Long Summer as a time when it is easier to see the functioning of the earth element, which is always there in the background.

In our tradition, the nei gung set that embodies the earth element is Gods Playing in the Clouds. This is the oldest of the nei gung sets, stretching far back beyond the historical record. This original nei gung set holds all of the others and is the only one that contains all sixteen elements of nei gung. Its great ability is to integrate all of the nei gung components that you have learned. This is the realm of the 16th element of nei gung. Of course it is important to have some of the other nei gung sets (Energy Gates, Heaven and Earth etc) working before you seek integration.

Read other articles in the series:

Taoist Seasons – Spring – Wood Element

Taoist Seasons – Summer – Fire Element

Taoist Seasons – Autumn – Metal Element

Taoist Seasons – Winter – Water Element

© Matthew Brewer, 2009


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