Usually when I refer to the five seasons, people scratch their heads, thinking of how they have only known four seasons their whole lives. One of the clearest signs to me that distinguishes Late Summer from Summer is the humidity, which signals the beginning of the return of yin and a slower pace of life. The Late Summer corresponds to the Earth element, which is grounded, centered, cyclic, and nurturing.
There are two models of understanding this season/element—one is to obviously squeeze it chronologically in between Summer and Autumn. The other is to view it as a brief period of transition that occurs between every change of seasons. As a visual, we would place Late Summer in the center, with four seasons surrounding it, cycling sequentially and dipping into the center at each transition to tap into the transformative energy it lends.
Below is an excerpt from the Su Wen about the Late Summer season, translated by Paul U. Unschuld and Hermann Tessenow, in collaboration with Zheng Jinsheng:
“In an arrangement of perfect transformation,
the qi is in harmony and heaven is beautiful.
The virtue [of soil] flows into the four policies.
The five transformations are equally refined.
Its qi is balance.
Its nature is adaptive.
Its operation [manifests itself ] high and below.
Its transformation [brings about] prosperity and copiousness.
Its class is soil.
Its policy [brings about] peace and resting.
Its [climatic] manifestation is humidity and steam.
Its [seasonal] command [brings about] dampness.
Its depot is the spleen.
[As for the spleen, it fears wind.]
It rules the mouth.
Its grain is panicled millet.
Its tree-fruit is the date.
Its fruit are [those with] flesh.
Its corresponding [season] is late summer.
Its creatures are naked.
Its domestic animal is the ox.
Its color is yellow.
It nourishes the flesh.
Its illness is blockage.
Its flavor is sweet.
Its tone is gong.
Its [material] items have a skin.
Its number is five.” (p. 290-292)
Following the height of Summer, Late Summer invites Nature to literally let off steam, and relax into a slightly slower pace. Many people take this time of year for vacation—it just feels natural.
The energy of Late Summer resonates with the color yellow, the sound of singing, a sweet or floral fragrance, and sympathy. Seasonally, it represents the time when the crops are ready to be harvested—we reap what we have sown. Of course, the yearly cycle is just one example of this—people in their retirement years are reaping the relaxation and security they have earned in the younger seasons of their lives. On a smaller scale, someone who has prepared, planned, and executed a project, over any length of time, could receive the abundance associated with the completion of that project. In fact, the harvest often manifests in the form of life lessons, which can come to fruition on varying timelines.
These organs are responsible for digestion and nourishment, as well as transformation and transportation. In other words, they turn food into blood and energy, and make sure it is distributed to the four limbs. Similarly, these organs are energetically responsible for the digestion and integration of information. How well a person absorbs nutrients or information is indicative of the health of the Stomach and Spleen. There is a certain sing-song voice that mothers and school teachers employ to nurture children’s learning, which is another form of digestion and the integration process.
The health of a person’s Stomach and Spleen energy can also be observed in their relationship to chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry, or any other type of maintenance. These things must be done on a regular basis, and when we have the energy to take care of them, the results nourish us in return. This is just one example of the cyclic or back-and-forth energy of the Earth element. When the Earth energy is weak, the Stomach and Spleen may be unable to transform certain foods, especially heavy or sticky foods like dairy, gluten or other sugars, which can lead to the production of phlegm and other symptoms of dampness. Diet and nutrition are fundamental to the health of the Earth element, because we literally become what we eat. Our mental/emotional diet is equally important, as the information and entertainment we ingest are also integrated into our wholeness.
The gifts of late summer are understanding, nurture, reciprocity, intention and savoring. In a state of balance, a person’s Earth energy allows them to give and receive, to set intention and enjoy the results, to do the work and to savor the fruits of their labor. It is a sensual energy, that allows for complete presence—appreciation for the delicious input that stimulates the five senses. An inability to savor what is present in the moment can manifest as an insatiable hunger (for food, companionship, assistance, etc.) So, out of balance, a person’s Earth energy can manifest as neediness, clinginess, laziness, poor boundaries, worry, selfishness, or, being so generous with one’s time and energy that there is none left for themselves. Clinginess and laziness in particular are perfect examples of humidity personified. Worry or rumination demonstrate the cyclic nature of the Earth energy, and the selfish/selfless characteristic is a clear imbalance in the back-and-forth model of the energy.
On a personal note, I have recently been reminded how vital being with family is during times of transition. Accessing Earth energy is like tapping a tree root for an infusion of source energy—and bringing the nourishment up and through the rest of my being. Coming off a Late Summer family reunion vacation in my birthplace, I feel centered, nourished, and intentional.
Here’s an earthy reflection exercise for you—ask yourself: Where did I come from? What experiences shaped me? What does my support system look like? What lessons have I learned? What do I hold as truth at the center of my being? How have I evolved?
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