Taste of Earth

The arrival of the Late Summer season has me thinking of food. To be honest, I think about food in every season and several times a day. But the Earth season is particularly evocative of the sense of taste. Just look at all the wonderful harvest of fruit that appears in the markets at this time of year. Cherries, nectarines, peaches, melons, berries, apples, pears and more. A cornucopia of soft, sweet yumminess. To say nothing of the groaning tables of fresh vegetables at the Farmers Markets. Just thinking of it has me salivating.

While filming for the Earth video recently, I took a tour of the Adelaide Farmers Market and sampled all of the many different flavours on offer, thinking while tasting of the associations of each of the Elements. As I bit into a juicy Kalamata olive, the salty flavour evoked the Water Element of the sea from which our distant ancestors emerged. The sour taste of a grapefruit evoked the sharpness and directness of the Wood Element. The bitter flavour of dark chocolate gave a taste of the Fire Element as well as a caffeine charge to fuel its activity. The sweetness of all the fruits brought a roundness to the mouth that captured the Earth Element’s sweet character. And the pungent flavour of a spicy pie brought forth the Metal Element’s characteristics of concentration and distillation.

Much Asian cooking pays close attention to the balance of these five flavours in a meal. When the five flavours are in balance and harmony, we are accessing the very nature of the Five Elements and the harmonious interplay of their vibrations.

We can use this information about the five tastes in a number of ways.

You can begin by examining your food choices to see if any of the flavours are missing from your diet. If you notice, say, that you don’t have much sour food in your diet, you could start adding cider vinegar to soups or salad dressings,  putting a spoonful of sauerkraut on the side, taking lemon juice in water or adding slices of lime to drinks.

Notice if you have an aversion to a particular flavour which you exclude from your diet altogether. This may indicate an imbalance in the corresponding Element. For example an aversion to bitter foods may be telling you that your Fire Element is out of balance. Perhaps find some bitter foods that can be added to your food so you are not overwhelmed by the flavour on its own.

Also notice if there is a flavour which you crave. There is a clinical anecdote of a Polish man who habitually added a whole cup of vinegar to a bowl borscht soup, clearly signalling an imbalance in his Wood. Many people are addicted to sugar which is highly detrimental to the Spleen organ of the Earth Element. If this is you, try to substitute refined sugars with naturally occurring sugars in whole fruits and vegetables.

For me, the coolest use of the five tastes is found in the operation of the Five Element control (ke) cycle. In this cycle, each Element controls or restrains the Element that is the grandson, i.e. two positions ahead. Water controls Fire, Fire controls Metal, Metal controls Wood, Wood controls Earth and Earth controls Metal. If we look at the corresponding tastes, we find that the same principle applies in a very practical culinary way. Salt will control bitter in the way that the bitterness of eggplant is removed by rubbing salt into it. A bitter food will tame a dish that is too spicy. If your curry is too hot, grate some dark chocolate into it. A pungent herb or spice will control the tartness of sour tastes like citrus or vinegar. In turn, a sour flavour will make palatable a food that is sickly sweet. And finally a sweet flavour will overcome too much salt. This is a well-known strategy of food processors who use salt to preserve the food, then sugar to mask the salty flavour.

Next time you find that your pot of soup, stir-fry or other meal has one flavour that is overpowering the others, while you can’t remove the flavour, you can add another flavour to control it. Try it!

Check this table which lists some of the foods that correspond to each of the five tastes.

TASTE ELEMENT FOODS
Salty Water Sea salt, miso, soy sauce, tamari, seaweed, dulse, arame
Sour Wood Citrus, cider vinegar, pickled/fermented vegetables, sauerkraut
Bitter Fire Cos lettuce, bitter greens, chicory, dandelion, citrus peel, dark unsweetened chocolate, tonic water, coffee
Sweet Earth Most fruits, pumpkin, carrot, sweet corn, rice, potato, cabbage, tomato, beets, almonds, walnuts, chicken
Pungent Metal Garlic, onion, spices such as turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, chilli; strong herbs such as rosemary, basil, fennel

One final use of the control cycle is in the case of overconsumption of certain flavours. When an excess of a flavour is consumed, it impacts upon the organ of the Element it controls, namely its grandson:

Too much salt injures the Heart.

Too much bitterness injures the Lung

Too much pungency injures the Liver

Too much sourness injures the Spleen

Too much sweetness injures the Kidney

Therefore be balanced in all of your consumption. The Elements and organs of your bodymind will sing harmoniously in gratitude.

Bon appétit.

Season Travel

I was recently invited by my publisher Singing Dragon Press to write a blog as part of their marking of World Acupuncture Day on November 15th. As is my usual way of working, I chose to write about the current season. The wrinkle is that the current season in London where Singing Dragon is based is winter, while I am inhabiting summer in the Adelaide Hills.

Therefore it was an interesting exercise to write about winter and the Water Element without feeling its manifestations around me. It required a kind of inner travel to the cold, wet, dark of the northern winter where nature’s energy is shrinking, folding in on itself and withdrawing within. All this while experiencing warmth, brightness and energetic expansion as my sensory experience.

It took a few days of contemplating this polarity before, quite unexpectedly one day, the winter muse led me to the computer and poured out a Watery musing on the nature of fear. I was transported to the bleak winter landscapes of the UK and the resonances of that season.  It was not easy to hold the dual experiences of outer summer and inner winter, but it did work. I wonder if I was tuning into that same discombobulation that occurs when we physically transport ourselves to the opposite hemisphere and season. One of the ways of working with that seasonal upheaval is to hold points of the Element to which you are travelling, pulling yourself forward to your destination in a seasonal rebalance. While I didn’t actually hold Water points on myself when doing the inner season travel, my conscious focus on the qualities of winter and Water had a similar effect.

The blog is now the property of Singing Dragon so I can’t repeat it here, but you can read it at this link, whatever your hemispherical condition.

Finding Wisdom in Water’s Depths

Doorway to Insight

Gall Bladder 14 ~ Yangbai ~ Yang White

A few weeks ago, in the middle of the night, I walked into a door. I was going to the bathroom and in the fog of sleep, missed my bearings and barrelled headlong into a door jamb. The shock was immense, the pain intense. I was left with a lasting headache, neck stiffness and a cut-bruise above my left eye.

When I surveyed the damage the next morning, I realised that the encounter with the door had left a neat round red dot just below the acupoint Gall Bladder 14. Which left me pondering the significance of this particular point. To start with, it’s spring time here, season of the Wood Element. Then I realised that the time was about midnight which is the time when the high tide of Qi moves through the Gall Bladder channel. And add to that it was lack of vision that caused the accident and vision is the sense of Wood.

Correspondences were piling up.

When a number of the resonances of an Element coincide, it is often an indication that an Element is calling for attention. So what was my Gall Bladder Official calling on me to see? I went to my library to review the significant uses of Gall Bladder 14. One of the sentences that resonated with me was from the Acupuncture Point Compendium:

Yang Bai: Good for Wood constitution types whose spirit needs encouraging into action or who are in a muddle; they have a plan but are failing to firm it up and move on… The clarity which this point brings is emphasised.” Indeed, clarity is embedded in the point’s name: while one translation of bai is white, another meaning is clear.

It’s true that I’m much better at making plans than carrying them out. Our constitutional Element seems to gift us with a mix of strengths and challenges that relate to that Element. I can come up with all kinds of ideas but I’m slow to make the firm decisions that are needed to put them into action. It seems my unconscious was bringing this lesson home in a very firm way.

Upon reflection, there are a number of things on my to-do list that have been there for a long time. The certificate program for my students, making videos to promote classes, changes to my website. These are all about moving forward with my work in the world. Could it be that I was being whacked over the head so I’d get the message to get my finger out?

Another indication for Gall Bladder 14 is that it clears wind. Not the kind that embarrasses you in public, but wind that is climate of Wood and which can invade the body. When there is wind invasion, the result can be headaches, neck stiffness, and jerking and shaking conditions like Restless Leg Syndrome. In my case I’ve had a lifelong susceptibility to wind invasion, and headaches have never been far away.

But in the four weeks since my whack on the head, I’ve noticed that I’ve been much less troubled by wind, even though it is spring when I’m most susceptible. For five days after the collision I had a stiff neck and headache, as if I’d had a small car accident. But on the sixth day I noticed that the pain and stiffness had gone. In fact my neck has since felt better and more flexible than it has in years. What’s more the whole experience has prompted me to focus more on following through on projects and moving into action.

It seems the bodymind has an intelligence that is below consciousness. It provides information to us in dreams, in intuitions, and if we don’t pay enough attention, it can find a dramatic way to bring the information to us. Bringing awareness to the threads of the fabric of our lives can offer guidance. And the Five Element model offers us a framework that can provide connection and meaning to things that may seem otherwise unrelated.

Location of Gall Bladder 14

 

 

On the forehead, 1 cun above the middle of the eyebrow , directly above the pupil when the eye is looking straight ahead.

 

 

To find more about the resonances of the Elements, I recommend my book
The Way of the Five Seasons