Is Empathy Obsolete? A Five Element Acupuncture Perspective

As tensions build in our world and within our communities, the sentiment, “Every man for himself,” is not uncommon. Aggression is often how this anger and fear are expressed. You can see it on our roadways, in the way in which we drive, and in the political arena, where politics and parties have become so polarized that consensus is rare.

These primitive instincts and behaviors have become dominant in our culture. As our technical prowess grows, the impact of our increasing consumption has taken a toll on the quality of our air, water and climate.

In fact, the vision that must guide us forward is, “We are all in this together!” How do we transition from being self serving individuals into global citizens where each person on this planet matters?

Empathy, the emotion that corresponds to late summer and the Earth Element is in short supply. 

The Earth Element corresponds to the late summer season of harvest. The sound of crickets become louder while the nights grow cooler and fruits ripen. If crops are abundant, we reap the benefits and enjoy a rich harvest.

Amidst this abundance we feel safe, secure and fulfilled. During this time of contentment we are supported by  Mother Earth and the Earth Element.

The Earth Element grounds, nurtures and regulates our cycles including the rhythm of our breath, heart, appetite, digestion and hormones. Acupuncture can improve these processes that regulate and provide foundation for health and prevent disease.

The meridians that correspond with the Earth Element are the stomach and spleen. In Chinese medicine, the Spleen meridian includes both the spleen and pancreas organs.

These meridians, and their corresponding organs help us to break down the food we eat. Our food  contains large molecules including proteins, carbohydrates and fats that are too complex for the body to assimilate. The stomach and spleen break down complex foods into smaller, simpler usable molecules including amino acids, simple sugars and glycerol.

When the stomach and spleen are working well, they help to nourish and support us. What happens when things go awry? Indigestion, reflux, bloating, diabetes, overeating and under eatting are just some of the maladies we develop when earth is out of balance. Additionally, we also now know that the spleen also plays an important role in our immune system.

The Earth element’s nurturing energy extends beyond the physical. Emotionally, Earth energy embodies the irrepressible love of a mother. JR Worsley, who helped bring Five Element Acupuncture to the west defines the Earth’s emotion as sympathy. It is the giving and receiving of compassion, empathy and affection. Earth is about feeling connection. This “mothering” energy is not in any way limited to mothers, rather it is an important aspect of a healthy human being. Anxiety and depression are often related to challenges within the Earth Element.

The Earth Element and the Spleen also correspond to the digestion and synthesis of of information – thought. Our ability to think well is an important part of mental health. The spleen influences our capacity for thinking, studying, concentration, memorizing. ADHD and learning problems are often related to challenges within the Earth Element.

Acupuncture is uniquely suited to restoring health by harmonizing the energy within the body. The acupuncturist unblocks and balances the flow of chi/energy in the body to help restore our physical, emotional and mental well being. Acupuncture helps to balance the function of the earth element, which includes the Stomach and Spleen meridians. These meridians have a large jurisdiction that includes appetite, digestion, hormonal balance, our emotions of sympathy and empathy and also our ability to think and concentrate.

The short supply of empathy in the world is a personal, political and global challenge that needs to be addressed for ourselves, our families, communities and the planet as a whole to prosper.  Empathy is as important to our individual and collective well being, as is the Earth Element and Late Summer.