“The five phases of energy evolution, earth, metal, water, wood and fire encompass all phenomena of nature. It is a symbolism that applies itself equally to all life.” Nei Jing*
” Nature has four seasons and five elements” Nei Jing*
A belated welcome to Late Summer – the fifth season!
This post arrives later than I had hoped for, so my apologies for that, due in part to holidays and pre- and post-holiday commitments, and perhaps also to the slowness that accompanies Late Summer – a certain lassitude you may also have felt. However, it might surprise you to learn that we are still in Late Summer for a while yet, and certainly the climate accords with that – warm (18-19 degrees) and humid (80-85%) in this region.
In the Chinese division of the year into twenty four periods or ‘breaths’ of around a fortnight, August 8th is called the “Beginning of Autumn” and you may well have noticed a change in the air, especially in the mornings and evenings at that time, as well as the quality of the sunlight. This is actually the time the Chinese attribute to the beginning of the fifth season: Late Summer.
How four becomes five
Late Summer continues on through the following ‘breaths’: “End of Summer Heat” (August 23rd), “White Dew” (September 7th), “Autumn Equinox” (September 23rd), “Cold Dew” (October 8th), finishing around the middle of October just before the start of “White Frost” (October 23rd), which ‘fortnight’ is the last of the six periods of the Autumn season that began on August 8th!
Thus this season comes within their Autumn season of the usual four seasons. Each season has six such periods to make up the twenty four, which come from observing and feeling the changes in Nature and ourselves.
For our purposes, Autumn Season and the Metal Element will start from the middle of October and run up to the Winter Solstice period. The equinoxes and solstices represent points of transition and influxes of new energy, and in this particular series of divisions occur at the fourth period of each of the four seasons.
Perhaps you had been wondering how Five Elements fit into four seasons in their connection to Nature and all life, and I hope this and what follows (below and one other post to come) make it clear for you. The Chinese basically added this special season of Late Summer to the traditional four to create numerical consistency with the Five Elements, but also from their observation of Nature and ourselves, noting distinct qualities from the rest of Summer at this time.
Here is the first and most prominent distinction, since Summer (Fire) has to do with Love:
A Different Kind of Love: A Mother’s Love
In Late Summer, the season of the Earth Element, what we experienced energetically in Summer, as Fire increased and our ‘inner sun’ benefited, was the sharing of joy and laughter with intimate partners, family, friends and possibly new friends, now gives way to a different kind of love: the love of a mother for her children.
Mother Earth, as the embodiment of the Earth Element, is our mother in the grand sense. She gives all life the ground on which to grow and nourishes everything that grows on her surface with the utmost care she can give. Earth supplies our food, we build our houses on her, use her minerals, water, plants and animals for all the things we need in our lives.
With Earth, there is a wealth of generosity, stability and strength. It has a rich, ripe energy. It is harvest time. For the ancient Chinese, bounty was the generosity of the earth, not what the Emperor held in his Treasury. The Chinese character for Earth (Tu) contains the number 10, which represents ‘complete’ in Chinese – Earth has this completeness to it as we move through the seasonal cycles, as it gives life, is harvested and is then enriched by what dies back into it.
Mother’s Love: Complete Nourishment
This part of the cycle of energy through the seasons naturally offers us complete nourishment, not just physical food, which is why it is akin to the love of a mother. As a baby we are fed from the breast, then our mother is there to provide mental stimulus, teaching us our first words, as we are weened onto solid foods. Above all, it is the unconditional love our mother gives to us as children that is so vital to our health as a child, and which we will still be counting on until becoming an adult and even beyond. This maternal love is the foundation of a secure and nourished spirit.
Earth Element’s Nature: Nourishing Life from a firm foundation
“What is well planted cannot be uprooted.
What is well embraced cannot slip away.” LaoTzu, Tao Teh Ching, Ch. 54 (1)
Earth Element’s nature is to keep still, to receive, absorb and contain the ch’i (energy), nourishing life from its resources. When our Earth energy is healthy, we feel supported, solidly anchored, practical, receptive and accepting. Out of balance, we will feel ungrounded, uprooted, never satisfied, always in doubt, not even trusting ourselves.
In Earth we can find our common sense and are grounded in reality, balanced and stable in the world. Ultimately, we feel at home in ourselves and then, out of this calm and nourished centre, will be able to feel sympathy and compassion for all life, and a desire to care for all creation.
Late Summer: transitional stage in the yearly cycle
Late Summer is a transitional stage in the yearly cycle when Nature and ourselves are moving from the more externally directed part of our lives to the more inwardly, as the Yang energy gives way to the Yin energy. All the activity of previous seasons means that there is a new role to play at this time when there is such abundance, and that is to make connections and deliver what has come forth as a harvest to where it is needed, so transformation and transportation are key parts to this and we will look at this more closely in the next post when we will cover the meridians/officials of Earth.
Now let’s look at some other distinct factors the ancient Chinese observed that make up the season of Late Summer and the Earth Element.
“The region of the centre, the Earth, is level and moist. Everything that is created by the Universe meets in the centre and is absorbed by the Earth.” Nei Jing*
The Centre: Direction or Place of Earth
Earth is – Earth, that place of stillness between the Yang of Spring and Summer and the Yin of Autumn and Winter, the centre of the wheel of eternal motion, the power that binds everything together, and that holds and harmonises everything.
Life moves in a circle and cycles, and a chart of the Five Elements will show a circle of interconnected Elements flowing in a circle, one leading to the next as the cycle of the seasons progresses. Indeed, the previous Element is also known as the mother of the following one, hence the advice to pay heed to the requirements of each season to remain healthy in the one that follows.
There is another way of representing the Elements and it is to show them in the four cardinal directions, with Earth in the centre. Something at the centre is something that is crucial to all life, and the quote above shows the fundamental role of Earth in our lives and how all meet at this point/region.
Placed at the centre, the Earth Element has the qualities of stability, strength, and the ability to make connections, providing harmony, nurturing, support and satisfaction to all the other Elements, by transforming its energy and through transportation, distributing it, and these qualities, to the others in the four points of the compass, if you will.
As seen in previous posts, Water (Winter) is in the North, Wood (Spring) is in the East and Fire (Summer) is in the South. Metal (Autumn – whose post is still to come) is of course shown in the West. Thus we have the other four Elements placed in the cardinal directions, with Earth at the centre – a strong image of its relevance in the whole picture of the seasons and our energy.
Note the words ‘absorbed by the Earth’ – a quality that allows it to take both the good and not so good, with almost everlasting patience, something mothers are likely to know well.
The following quote clearly shows ancient Chinese understanding of Earth’s role at the centre:
“Earth occupies the centre and is called the heavenly fructifier. It is the assister of Heaven. Its power is abundant and good, and cannot be assigned to the affairs of a single season only. Therefore among the five Elements and four seasons, Earth embraces all. Although Metal, Wood, Water and Fire each have their own particular duties, they could not stand were it not for Earth.” Tung Chung-Shu, Philosopher 2nd Century B.C.E.
In its origins, acupuncture was preventative medicine, and traditionally when well, people would visit their acupuncturists at the change of season for a check-up, as these times were also considered to be under the responsibility of Earth. The practitioner would assess the state of the person’s energy and would treat to restore balance, so the patient would have the strength to carry them through the challenges of the new season. It is Earth’s role to assist us in moving through these transitional phases too.
“The (mysterious) powers of the earth create humidity in Heaven and fertile soil upon earth… of the flavours they create the sweet flavour…” Nei Jing*
Sweet: taste associated with Late Summer and the Earth Element
This is a time when Mother Earth, at her most abundant and fertile, pours forth her sweetness over the land and, from this ability to absorb (a Yin function), comes a special time that is celebrated for its bounty – the golden harvest, the gathering in of all that has been produced the rest of the year: a time of plenty and comfort.
Each of the flavours has a specific effect on the energy of the body. Henry C. Lu, in his book Chinese System of Food Cures, says sweet foods improve the digestive function, and can be recommended for people with weak digestion. Indeed, of all foods listed under each flavour, sweet foods are the longest. It is clear, however, that our desire for so much of it in our culture, often in highly processed form, and not from fruit or vegetables for example, points to an imbalance with Mother Earth and our own Earth energies. Mother’s milk is slightly sweet – no wonder sweet is the taste most craved by children and those in need of comfort.
“Humidity is created by the centre. Humidity nourishes the earth…” Nei Jing*
Humidity: climate associated with Late Summer and the Earth Element
Talking about comfort, there are days in Late Summer when humidity is high and when combined with great heat, as can happen in August and even September, it can get uncomfortably sticky and oppressive.
We are unlikely to experience that again this year, but next year take it easy, slow down your movement and activities and cultivate patience and contentment with what is, rather than a feeling of “it is stopping me getting on with things!”
You will nevertheless have felt the high humidity (currently around 80-85% here) and its effect on you. Hence a possible certain continuing lassitude that accompanies this season, as at times we just are, without urgent ‘to do’ lists. Pay attention to that and go with the energy, if possible – Nature is saying slow down and enjoy a feeling of security in the abundance and completeness of the yearly cycle, before we fully arrive at autumn and a new yearly cycle, with all that implies. This is a moment to pause.
Morning mists and evening fogs have been noticeable too during this recent period. Be aware that we can experience our own internal ‘humidity’ when our body retains dampness and this external climatic factor can create problems, so adjust to the climate with appropriate clothing, i.e. layers as needed. If subject to this internal ‘humidity’ (referred to as damp in acupuncture), you may experience physical symptoms such as heaviness, swelling, lethargy or edema for example. There are internal factors too, and we can look at those in the next post.
In the meantime, here are some guidelines for Late Summer and the Earth Element:
– Contentment: take five minutes after a meal to sit with your hands on your belly. Feel the soft roundedness, and allow yourself to feel the contentment that comes from a satisfied stomach after a good meal.
– Become the still point: with the sun still warm in the middle of the day, sit in the sun and feel as if you were soaking in this warmth to last you through the Winter.
– A humid day: go out at dawn on a humid day and look for spider webs covered in dew drops. I have seen them on the car mirrors, for instance.
– Sweet taste: go to your local farm shop or market and buy lots of seasonal fruit for snacks, instead of your usual sweets.
– Rootedness and belonging: look for opportunities to sustain feelings of rootedness and belonging through the building of community in your area.
– Nourishing mind and spirit: first thing in the morning give yourself a view of something beautiful – a vase of flowers, a framed print or painting or a photograph of a favourite place and feel it nourishing you at these levels.
– Earth’s rhythm: choose a day and, instead of driving to do your errands, walk. Feel your pace slow down to Earth’s rhythm.
– Contact with the Earth – via the soil: garden, either outside or indoors. Put your hands in the soil.
– Contact with the Earth – via the body: If warm enough, go to a favourite Nature spot and find a place to lie down, directly on the ground. Relax and close your eyes. Feel the stillness and support of the Earth under you. Feel its steady pulse. Notice how you feel afterwards.
– Harvest: What fruits have you harvested in your life from this year’s efforts?
Hopefully this is inspiring you to make your connections and enrich your experience of our shared planet Earth and the Earth Element within you. The final post is due shortly so as to catch the last days of the season – I trust you will be able to digest all the material!
* Nei JIng – the short form of Huang Ti Nei Jing Su Wen or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – the essential text of Chinese Health and Healing.
(1) Tao Teh Ching (The Way & Its Virtue) by Lao Tzu, is the source book on Nature and Man from a Taoist understanding.