In last week’s article on the origins of Mother’s Day, I mentioned connecting with the earth as a means of feeling supported in a motherly way. This week I’ll explain more about that earth/mother connection.
The earth is a mother to all lifeforms who live upon her. She births them and sustains them. In animistic traditions, the plane above us – sometimes known as Father Sky – tends to have a rather ethereal influence on our lives. But Mother Earth’s role is decidedly tangible. She gives physical form to a soul and feeds her young from her own body.
In Five Element philosophy, the Earth Element governs nourishment and growth. The internal organs corresponding with Earth relate to food intake, digestion, and distribution of nutrients to all parts of us, like our inner mother. Earth also presides over our ability to give and receive nurturing, support, comfort, and understanding – to others and ourselves. Compared to Fire, Water, or Air, Earth is very slow to change, and such is the quality of a mother’s presence – like the solid ground beneath our feet, her support is constant, enduring, unconditional.
The Earth season is late summer – the time of harvest – and the Earth phase of any process is when we reap the fruits of our labors. It offers us an experience of abundance, of fullness, of having all our needs met. It’s the role a mother serves for a baby. And a woman’s pregnant body – round and full in the belly and breasts – parallels this phase beautifully.
Just as the Earth has a powerful gravitational pull that keeps us rooted, our mother, too, has a certain gravity. We are drawn to her through a bond that began nine months before our emergence. We run to her as children for comfort and nurturing. And after leaving home to strike out on our own, we are drawn back to visit her and recharge this link. Like the earth, she provides us a sense of home. Throughout our lives, our mother is often the one around which all the children and grandchildren gather, for as the Earth, she is our center.
Speaking of the center, our navel marks our personal center of gravity, and it’s a permanent reminder of our oneness with our mother – the closest connection two humans can share. It’s also a vestige of the most perfect nourishment we have ever had. As such, it is a very important point in acupuncture, Qigong, and other systems of traditional healing.
A woman once came to me for help with incessant vomiting and diarrhea. It was as if the Earth Element within her was in utter turmoil. She had tried a wide range of drugs, but nothing made a difference. She was emaciated and lethargic – at five feet eight inches, she weighed only seventy-eight pounds. Her cheeks were hollow and her eyes were sunken. The acupuncture and herbs I gave her barely helped. Eventually, I decided to try a somewhat obscure treatment: centering the umbilical pulse.
If you press the fingertips of one hand into your navel, you’ll probably feel the pulsation of your abdominal aorta. And if you feel more closely, you may notice that the pulsation is strongest above or below, or to one side of the navel. The goal of this treatment is to use physical manipulation to move the pulse so that it’s most powerful right in the middle. I succeeded in moving her pulse, but to be totally honest, I had little belief that it would do anything.
So, I was astonished when she reported the next week that her digestion had improved dramatically. Over the coming months, her episodes of diarrhea and vomiting diminished almost to zero, and she began gaining weight. When I last saw her, she was strong and muscular and weighed 135 pounds. Such is the power of restoring our center – our Earth, our inner mother.
Each of the Five Elements is expressed as a virtue when we embody it in a healthy way. The virtue of Earth is integrity – meaning a quality of being whole, entire, and undiminished. When the earthen banks of a river have integrity, water rushes through them but they remain stable without eroding. When an earthen building has integrity, it can be battered by wind and rain for centuries without crumbling or washing away.
The initial shock to our sense of wholeness occurs through separation from our mother in the act of birth and the cutting of the umbilical cord. Our mother’s womb is our homeland, and we will never return to it. After the fundamental separation that occurs through birth, we are usually cared for and held closely, but gradually this connection becomes more distant. Can you remember the feeling of being always held, enveloped in your mother’s arms, cradled, protected, understood, comforted, and safe? Can you imagine how it would feel to let yourself be held again by someone big enough to carry you easily and take care of all your needs? Even though this separation is completely natural and, as children, we play a role in the distancing process, there’s no guarantee that it will leave us feeling capable of recognizing and meeting our own needs, or able to ground and center ourselves.
When Earth is out of balance in us, we may experience it as a feeling of neediness or hunger. We may have an erratic routine, erratic energy, or erratic digestion. We may feel insecure and become excessively clingy. We may feel a need to mother everyone – every injured worm in the garden, every guy whose mother never taught him to cook – and we may do so at the expense of nourishing ourselves. We may use consumption of all kinds (food, clothes, data, etc.) to ground ourselves. We may try to elicit sympathy from others, feeling a need to always tell our story, yet never being fully understood. Underlying all these feelings and behaviors is a belief that we’re not quite whole, and as it drives us to search for something outside ourselves to fix us, it greatly undermines our freedom.
But it’s not true. What you are is undiminishable. The hole you feel is an illusion created by a misunderstanding about what you are and how you’re nourished. Perhaps you’ve closed your eyes to your resources and given away your power by buying into the idea that you need approval (maybe your biological mother’s, maybe your own) to be complete. Perhaps you’ve hardened your spiritual “stomach” or locked your spiritual “teeth” – refusing to accept nourishment and even creating something that looks like a hole in yourself. But there’s really nothing missing.
It’s fully possible to restore your integrity, to feel whole again. As I wrote last week, an important step is to recognize that your ability to access the qualities of Earth (wholeness, nourishment, groundedness, stability, sufficiency, belonging, being understood and at home, etc.) doesn’t depend on anyone else. If that seems like a giant philosophical leap, you can begin by opening yourself to the idea that at least it doesn’t depend on any single person. You can be supported in these ways by any good friend or family member, and by your own Higher Self. You can nurture yourself and get your own needs met. Observe a practice of gratitude. Notice all the ways in which you are held and provided for. Notice all the ways in which you have enough and are enough. And open yourself to receiving all that’s coming to you. You are worth it.