Earth Element


Emotion: Empathy and Worry
Season: Late Summer/Harvest
Struggle with: Worry
Need: To be heard
Strength: Sympathetic and Giving
Organs: Stomach and Spleen

Nature of Earth:

Earth is the structure that supports all life. It is our living planet that exists by a miracle of chance in the inky expanse of space and it is also the exquisitely thin layer of magic that provides the support for all the plants that provide food for everything else. The soil itself doesn’t ‘do’ anything but it provides the habitat for abundant life. Particles of soil form together to create gaps for roots, insects, water, and air to move through. It is alive with millions of archaea, bacteria, viruses, fungi, mycelium, plant roots, and thousands of animal life forms. The nature of our planet is also supportive, it nourishes, provides us with abundance, and fosters life. The Earth hosts an incredibly complex web of self-sustaining support systems that manage our atmosphere, temperature, and weather and maintain all this within the tight boundaries that allows life to exist. Earth embodies the Buddhist quality of khanti – patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, and endurance.

Nature of Late Summer/Harvest:

In Prosperous years, Harvest is a time of celebration and plenty, while in challenging years it is a time of worry and apprehension. Either way, it is the culmination of all the hard work that has gone before. Historically, it was a time when entire communities would unite in cooperative efforts to gather and prepare crops for storage
Harvest and its varying abundance, serve as a stark reminder that no matter how diligently we toil, rewards are never guaranteed. We remain subject to forces beyond our control: the sun (Fire), the rain (Water), the minerals (Metal), and the vitality of seeds (Wood).

Yin in Yang: When thinking about Harvest we can see that we are at the stage in the year when Yang is waning and Yin is ascending. The days are gradually getting shorter but at this stage, they are still longer than the nights. This is Yin within Yang.

Earth as centre: In the broader context of our universe, for us Earth holds a central role. It serves as our point of reference. Earth’s orbit around the sun dictates the passage of time, including the ebb and flow of Yin and Yang.


In Chinese Medicine, the vitality of the Stomach and Spleen energies holds fundamental importance for our well-being. A robust Stomach Qi is indicative of good health because these organs collectively create an environment where external substances are broken down, sorted, and transformed into useful elements. They are often referred to as the “Root of Post-Heavenly Qi,” the energy produced after birth from the nourishment of food, beverages, and the air we consume. The health of our Stomach and Spleen profoundly influences our capacity to absorb and utilize physical, mental, and emotional nourishment.

The Stomach – The controller of rotting and ripening
The Stomach, regarded as the most important Yang organ, initiates digestion by breaking down food through “rotting and ripening.” With the Spleen’s assistance, it transforms and transports nutrients where needed. Stomach energy naturally flows downward, balancing the Spleen’s upward flow. If Stomach Qi doesn’t descend correctly, it can stagnate, causing discomfort, or rebel, leading to symptoms like nausea and heartburn. The Stomach also plays a role in fluid management, preferring moisture to aid digestion.

The Spleen – Transporter and Transformer
In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen significantly differs from its Western medical counterpart and performs functions akin to the pancreas. Paired with the Stomach, it plays a substantial role in the digestive process. The Spleen continues the transformative process initiated in the Stomach. It breaks down, categorizes, and reorganizes ingredients into useful substances, then transports them to their respective destinations. On a mental level, the Spleen similarly processes the information we consume, breaking it down, filtering it through existing knowledge, using it to address immediate challenges, storing it as memory, and finding practical applications. Sorting, transforming, and conveying.

In our modern world, this specific function of the Spleen is under more pressure than ever, given the constant deluge of information we encounter. Just like soil, the Spleen prefers relative dryness, as air passages in soil enable movement. When the soil becomes waterlogged, transportation is impeded. Similarly, in the body, a Spleen struggling with excessive dampness leads to inadequate nourishment and a clouded mind. Another crucial role of the Spleen is support, akin to soil holding organs in place within the body and ensuring blood remains within vessels.


Empathy/Lack of Empathy: Emotionally, the Stomach and Spleen are about providing nourishment, both for ourselves and those we care about. Empathy: the ability to understand and support others is a quality of Earth. When in balance this skill makes those with strong Earth energy excellent communicators and connectors, providing insight and support for those around them. Ideally, we take care of our own needs and then share our surplus with others, but if this balance is out, or Earth’s good nature is taken advantage of this trait can flip into a lack of empathy too.

Overthinking and Worry: Earth imbalance can also lead to a tendency to overthink and worry, partly due to an inability to ‘digest’ concerns, partly because they tend to be the person everyone goes to with their problems, and also perhaps because of the unpredictable nature of Harvest, Earth imbalances can lead to excessive thinking, which further weakens the Spleen

Sense organ: The mouth, lips and the sense of taste, particularly the sweet taste. As we have seen the Earth element is all about what we consume and whether or not we appreciate it.

Aspect of the Spirit: The Spleen houses the aspect of the Spirit known as Yi. Our Yi is our rational mind. It is our ability to concentrate and process information. It helps us to study and memorise things, making sense of the world. The symbol for Yi can be translated as, “the process of establishing meaning in the world with words that come from the Heart” (MRCHM et al., 2010. p.117)

The Emotions of Earth:
The Earth element in us resembles the Earth itself, providing us with numerous vital aspects such as a home in the universe, food, shelter, medicines, fuel, emotional, and spiritual nourishment. This Earth energy within us is characterized by its kindness, generosity, and giving nature. It often manifests as offering physical or emotional support to others. Earth individuals are typically the ones who hold families and communities together. They are highly empathetic and have an innate ability to understand what others are going through. They often exhibit maternal affection and concern for their loved ones, even taking on the role of fierce protectors when necessary. When this Earth energy is balanced, it becomes a powerful tool for creating connections and satisfying our innate desire to be kind, helpful, and to feel like we belong.

Contentment, defined as the feeling of completeness, appreciation, and “enoughness” when our needs are met, is a prominent emotion for Earths. This low-arousal positive emotion is not about constantly wanting more but rather appreciating what one already possesses. Earths are also adept at being grateful, recognizing and celebrating positive aspects in their lives and the lives of others, which further strengthens their sense of contentment.

Earth Element Challenges:
However, the boundless generosity of the Earth element is not always reciprocated. Just as the Earth’s resources can be depleted through inconsiderate use, individuals with dominant Earth energy may find their reserves exhausted, primarily because they often prioritize others’ needs over their own. This altruism can sometimes be misinterpreted as overbearing or pushy when they attempt to solve others’ problems.

Establishing personal boundaries and recognizing what they are willing to accept is essential for Earths. It’s unfortunate that the most generous amongst us, like the Earth itself, are often undervalued in society. Without these self-protective measures, chronic hurt can result from feeling devalued or rejected in social interactions. This emotional pain can lead to anger, sadness, resentment, and disconnection within relationships.

Earths are susceptible to overextending themselves, caring for others excessively, and neglecting their own well-being, which can result in physical or emotional burnout.

Distinguishing between Cognitive empathy and Affective empathy is a valuable tool here. Cognitive empathy involves understanding others’ emotions by recalling a similar experience from one’s own life and communicating from that understanding. Affective empathy, on the other hand, involves losing personal boundaries and actually feeling what the other person is feeling, which can lead to overwhelm and burnout.
Earth individuals are acutely aware of the reciprocity of nature and may become resentful when others do not return their generosity. This resentment often stems from unmet needs that they are hesitant to express. It can escalate into envy and self-pity, causing them to compare themselves unfavourably to others. Envy is desiring what someone else has, while self-pity undermines their natural empathy, and may ultimately result in bitterness.
Key Question – Is there enough?

A significant question for Earths revolves around whether there is enough. This question is closely linked to their tendency to worry, as an intolerance for uncertainty contributes to anxiety. Worry, in this context, is described as a chain of negative thoughts about potential future problems. People who worry often believe it helps, view it as uncontrollable, and may try to suppress it, which often exacerbates the issue.

Earth individuals, being central to the lives of many, frequently worry about others. However, their worry is often about circumstances beyond their control, leading to discomfort and unease. Excessive worry can even prevent them from fully experiencing joy, as they may fear inviting disaster by allowing themselves to feel joy.
One specific concern for Earths is whether there will be enough. This concern can be traced back to the importance of a good harvest in traditional societies, as a bad harvest could have dire consequences for the community. Consequently, Earths may struggle with the concept of “enough,” leading to constant cravings for more, whether it be food or material possessions. The Buddha’s wisdom that all misery stems from craving is particularly relevant here.

For Earth individuals, a profound sense of belonging is crucial. Love and belonging are fundamental human needs, and the absence of these experiences results in suffering. Earths are often the pillars of support in their communities, and not fulfilling this role can lead to unhappiness. However, true belonging requires vulnerability and the ability to be present with others without sacrificing one’s identity.

To navigate these challenges, Earth individuals must establish clear boundaries, develop a sense of “enough,” and practice gratitude. Gratitude is especially valuable, as it allows them to appreciate what they have and helps combat the constant craving for more. True belonging doesn’t require them to change who they are but rather to be authentic and self-compassionate while maintaining patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, and endurance.

Individuals with strong Earth energy possess an innate ability to nurture and support others. To maintain balance and well-being, they must be mindful of maintaining personal boundaries, addressing their own needs, and managing challenges like hurt, compassion fatigue, and self-pity. Practising gratitude and self-compassion can help them maintain their abundant, nurturing qualities while avoiding burnout and emotional exhaustion.

References and Further Reading
Brown, B., (2021) Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. 1st edition ed. London: Vermilion.

MRCHM, A.H.Ma.D.Mba., MRCHM, J.H.P.D.D.Mba. and MBAcC, P.M.M.Ma., (2010) Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture, 2e. 2nd edition ed. Edinburgh ; New York: Churchill Livingstone.