We’ve just begun the moon cycle of Chinese new year, the beginning of Spring! In many traditions, the equinox is the mid-point of spring, and the beginning is marked by this time between the winter solstice and spring equinox; a time when the trees begin to blossom and the sap begins to run. Life on earth stirs from winter sleep, much like life quickening in the womb.

In Chinese medicine, Wood is the element of Spring, and Liver is the related energetic organ system (along with its partner the Gall Bladder). Also, because we are at the very beginning of the season, we are in Earth (Spleen/Stomach energetic system) time for another week or so as well. Earth times happen at the beginning and end of each season (as well as in late summer). Earth times are a nice time to look at the overlap of the season’s element with Earth, our center. Earth, our Spleen and Stomach energetic systems (including pancreas and other more modern concepts!), is responsible for how we absorb nutrients, transform them, and transport them throughout the entire body. It is both literally and figuratively thought to be the center of the body, affecting just about everything. For more on Earth, click here (can also look at other Earth/Late Summer blogs in the archives).

The Liver, in Chinese medicine, regulates and smoothes the flow of qi for the entire body. Again, this function can affect pretty much every system in the body, since it affects the flow of qi throughout. For more on Liver, click here and a little extra here. (Spring cleanse blog is here.) Liver is very easily affected by stress, anger, and repressed emotions. In fact, we often call it “the moody organ”. Given this nature and our sometimes stressful culture, we are often talking about Liver Qi congestion or stagnation in Chinese medicine, since this stuck qi often contributes to a wide variety of common ailments, including digestive, menstrual cycle, allergies, asthma, skin issues, ear infections, insomnia, and many more.... 

We often talk about Wood overacting on Earth, or Wood over-controlling Earth, in our medicine. This is because all of the elements have a specific relationship to one another, and Wood “controls” or “acts on” Earth, or some might say is like a grandmother to Earth (presumably not the spoiling kind of grandma). To imagine this, we can think about trees and plants holding earth in place, or even the way a sprout pushes its way through the soil to grow.

In our bodies, we can think about the way bile and qi flow influence digestion (governed by Earth). The Liver also of course helps our bodies process many of the things we digest. Wood and Earth also are intimately connected with the menstrual cycle (along with Water/Kidneys), both relating specifically to blood and what we think of now as hormones. When the Wood qi flow becomes stuck, congested, and stagnant, it often becomes overcontrolling of the the Earth element, which can lead to a wide variety of digestive and menstrual difficulties, as well as other complaints.

As common as these patterns are, I think it’s also important for us to dwell on the harmonious natures of Wood and Earth together, and to give our Livers especially some extra love, let them feel understood, accepted, and nourished. I’ve been thinking about this as I walk around in the lovely mud the last couple of days, how the areas where the plants are growing are so much easier to walk on than the muddy pathways. And noticing the little sprouts (considered Wood even though they are so green) that after the rain (Water is the Mother of Wood) use all their energy to push up into the soil and grow into friendly plant allies. How many of the plants then give back nutrients to the earth. 

The emotion of the Liver is said to be anger. Another aspect of the Liver is more like ambition. Liver’s partner, Gallbladder (also wood) has the quality of courage/decisive action. Lately I really think the Wood energy as that power of life that wants to push the sprout up and grow. Perhaps the anger is sometimes like a frustration with the earth seeming heavy, or uncertainty if one is going to sprout, or waiting for the germination process to complete, waiting for the husk of the seed to rot so one can put down roots and reach for the sun. In this situation, maybe it is helpful to get comfortable and snuggle up with the earth we’re in, which holds us in the whole process of growth, the waiting as well as the vibrant flourishing. 

In My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (amazing tale of a neuroanataomist who has a stroke), the author notices how emotions such as anger flow viscerally through her body in 90 seconds. Any anger continuing after 90 seconds, she notes, is no longer visceral, but more a part of her mental story.  This is an interesting variation on the connection of Liver anger and qi congestion-- what would happen if we let our angers and frustrations flow through consciously, and then release them?

So many cultures have the idea of a Tree of Life, and so many of us relate to the image of a tree. Even the pattern of veins on the placenta is in the shape of a tree. While it’s true that sometimes Wood can become too stiff and unyielding, trees yet often move their branches with the Wind (the climate of Wood). How do we find the places within us that use that life force to be both strong and supple?

I wonder, if we truly nourish the Earth within us to grow our own human tree, if our Livers are more likely to flourish happily and not get so stuck? Eating well and taking time to eat, making sure our bodies get enough movement (helps with smooth qi flow for Wood) so we are not thinking and worrying overmuch (a tendency of Earth is to ruminate and overthink). It’s harder to worry when you are moving your body outside with the plants.

The Liver soul (Hun), remember, is that unique spirit of being human, between Heaven and Earth, our own Tree of Life. We are struggling with frustrations and learning how to flow with emotions; getting comfortable with inhabiting the Earth time while still listening to that vital force within us that reaches green leaves to the sun.... The Hun also relates to vision, as the Liver relates to the eyes.... What is your vision in this cycle, and how do you flow with the vital force of it?

Spring blossom blessings, Shoshana