The Earth Element: Late Summer and the Virtue of Integrity
Here we are at the end of late summer in Vermont, enjoying the fullness of harvest before the frost begins to drain this glorious color from our world. Now is the moment of equilibrium when one feels the strength and solidity of earth, when we appreciate the bounty in our lives and the harvest of our gardens filling the kitchen’s storehouse. It’s a time of gathering.
The earth element is first and foremost an experience of body. Integrity begins with self-care, eating well, staying hydrated, exercise – all the ways we maintain good physical function. When the earth element is in balance, this attention extends naturally to care of family, work, and community.
Integrity is the virtue of the earth element. The true and solid foundation we enjoy in every facet of life is a direct result of personal integrity, our ability to come back to center. We re-balance or re-calibrate when we notice what is ‘off’.
Center is always here and now, what is, the place from which we make choices. For example, when we experience indigestion, our body isn’t processing our food thoroughly. Gathering and processing resources, or ‘food’, is the work of the stomach meridian, one of the two earth energy pathways.
Or we fail to experience the benefit of what has been digested: energy. Integrating the nourishment we have received – on a physical level through the production of blood – is the work of the other earth pathway, the spleen meridian.
With poor digestion, on the physical level, we may experience bloating or digestive distress. We may feel like no amount of food satisfies our hunger, or the food we eat doesn’t provide nourishment. Inversely, we may have no appetite.
On an emotional level we may notice that our attention becomes selfish, needy, complaining, or overly self-sufficient. Or we may give to our families or community to the point of our own physical, emotional, or financial neglect.
Mentally we may feel like our thoughts are foggy and vague, that we are unable to process information or emotions easily and therefore feel overwhelmed. Or our thoughts turn easily and habitually to worry, fabricating ideas of what may or may not be true. These are all examples of ‘digestion’ and ‘reciprocity’ not working properly.
When we choose to maintain the integrity of our health, we respond by adjusting our diet, eating healthy and wholesome food in modest quantities, getting more exercise to clear up our foggy thinking, extending more into our family and community – or pulling back if overextended. We assess our needs accurately and determine to meet them.
Now — the truth is we are often able to maintain integrity in one or two areas of our life, perhaps at work or in our personal relationships. In other areas, we may be woefully neglect, perhaps with finances or self care. Privately we binge watch TV or smoke cigarettes, nurse a shopping addiction. Living with these inconsistencies is a major cause of stress.
Leaning into the areas where we lack integrity can be daunting, even scary. Naming the issue is an enormous first step. Determining to make a change often involves transforming well established habits and beliefs about who we are and how things work. We may not know where to start. We often need to develop new skill sets. This work requires proceeding with honesty, willingness, gentleness, and compassion for oneself. Engaging this work enables us to grow more fully into our potential.
Our capacity to act with integrity determines how we experience the grace and blessings life has to offer. This is the innate dynamic between heaven and earth. Having established solid ground, authentic generosity naturally arises and extends to family and community. Generosity of spirit and action is the foundation of a meaningful life, one that nourishes us deeply.