by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac., and Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.
Let's admit it. We all strive for more of what we love, whether it's a deeper connection to our partner, greater success in our work or finances, a more abundant lifestyle, recognition, and even contribution and personal development.
Whether it's true to our human nature or not, we've been taught that more is better. In addition to our own personal goals, we have social media and television telling us that we should and could have more if only we buy X, Y and Z.
The great paradox is that once we buy and do everything we desire or feel is 'required' of us, the tendency is to still find that something's missing.
So when is it enough?
To be fulfilled means to cultivate a feeling of enough.
According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen and Stomach, which encompass the Earth element, are the primary organs of digestion and assimilation. These are the organs that satisfy the feeling of enough on a physical level by transforming raw material from our diet to help the body regenerate on a daily basis.
The Spleen and Stomach digest and process not just food, but also our thoughts.
If the Spleen and Stomach are harmonized, our digestion is unobstructed and our mind is clear. But when there is an imbalance in either of these systems not only do digestive difficulties manifest, but mental processing can also be disrupted causing problems such as a foggy mind and obsessive thinking.
When the Earth energy is out of balance there is a tendency to overthink and worry. According to one of the foremost classical Chinese medical texts, Nei Jing Su Wen, “Pensiveness harms the spleen” (Unschuld, 2011, 207) and if it is not properly resolved, it leads to obsession.
The Earth element relates also to our ability to feel completion, abundance and fulfillment.
When you eat a plate of food, the gut sends signals to the brain so it knows that you've had enough.
Excessive Stomach Fire can create an imbalance in this process, leading to binging, excessive thinking, obsession, and neediness. Stomach Fire most often results from a poor diet with acidic foods, as well as mental overstimulation. This heat in the Stomach ultimately burns out the Spleen Qi and leads to severe fatigue. This pattern is common among students and can cause post-college burnout and Spleen weakness.
According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen also plays a key role in producing blood. A weak Spleen therefore impairs one's ability to build blood.
This is especially crucial for women who work or study excessively since mental overstimulation weakens the Spleen, inhibiting it from building back the blood that’s lost during monthly menstruation. For vegetarians, the ability to build blood is even more challenging since animal products help to nourish the blood.
The key is that not having enough blood causes one to feel empty inside regardless of one's circumstances.
The feeling of not having enough relates therefore to either weakness of the Spleen in its production of blood, or excessive heat in the Stomach system causing obsession and the need for more and more.
Strength in the Earth element via the Spleen and Stomach helps ground us in the present moment. When our energy, or Qi, and blood are strong we feel less vulnerable and more secure in all aspects of our lives.
Furthermore adequate blood reserves provide a sense of comfort and security as well.
In fact, a deficiency of blood can cause one to feel a lack of wealth and prosperity no matter his or her financial status.
A feeling of inadequacy may also result from excessive heat in the Stomach, which not only causes mental overactivity and agitation, but can also lead to addiction, such as to sex, drugs, shopping or alcohol.
Excessive heat in the Stomach system physiologically manifests as inflammation anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract, or the gut. This is how Stomach Heat in Chinese Medicine correlates with the pathology of the brain and numerous mental and emotional imbalances via the gut-brain axis.
Essentially, the health of the gut determines the health of the brain and therefore our ability to process information, manage stress, and balance our emotions.
When the Stomach is full of heat, it can dump this heat into the Heart.
When in balance, the Heart stirs a healthy level of creativity, passion and desire. However, excessive heat in the Heart induces excessive desires and passions, and this can overwhelm or disrupt the Shen or spirit of a person leading to different types of neurosis, including anxiety and even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Since Heart imbalances can result from excessive heat generated in the gut, it's clear how our gut health influences both our state of mind and emotional well being.
Tools to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough
Since the Spleen and Stomach are the source of Qi and blood in the body, they are also the source of our nourishment and therefore the basis of our ability to feel comfort, security and wholeness.
We’re all prone to developing a weak Spleen causing blood deficiency through poor diet, irregular eating habits, lack of physical exercise, and excessive mental activity.
If the Spleen is weak, digestive enzymes can support the breakdown and assimilation of nutrients to produce blood and healthy cells.
Maintaining a clean diet with more alkaline foods will also support your Earth element. Alkalizing foods are especially important for people who tend to be "over-thinkers" as this leads to over acidity in the Stomach. This can lead to Stomach Fire that can over time lead to both gut inflammation as well as imbalances in the Heart.
A person with an especially weak Spleen will experience a lot of fatigue and feel too cold, so in cases like this it may be best to eat less damp producing foods such as grains, dairy and sugar which feed the fungal terrain known as Candida that ultimately suppresses the body's energy.
Eating cooked, warm foods will also support the Earth organs while raw, cold natured foods, especially during colder seasons, can weaken the digestive system and exacerbate Spleen Qi deficiency.
The simple yet powerful practice of gratitude can also contribute to a feeling of enough by helping to amplify all that's good in your life now. It's so easy to focus on what's not going right and this is the root of why so many of us feel like we don't have or are not enough.
A daily and consistent gratitude practice can be done simply by being mindful of and acknowledging things as they flow into your life. It's best to start with the little things so you can easily begin to see how quickly what you appreciate appreciates.
Small and simple changes can provide a great impact to help you restore balance in your Earth energy and bring a sense of comfort and satisfaction to your life.
Only through a healthy Earth element can we truly foster a feeling of enough where nothing feels missing or empty. Through this deep sense of abundance we're able to have a greater capacity to cultivate a prosperous and fulfilled life.
Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga.
Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.