Some General Considerations
Now that we have set the Spleen in its broader context let us look more specifically at how to assist the Spleen in its digestive function. After many years of working with my own and my clients’ dietary needs, I have come to the conclusion that the following general guidelines are more valuable even than the detailed understanding of food to be found later in this book. The first of these is joy.
Enjoying our food is part of opening up to being fully nourished by what we eat. If we are happy when we eat and happy in our relationship with food, then our bodies will literally accept the food more effectively into our system. Often it is more important for us to heal our relationship with food than it is to change what we eat.
Often we develop beliefs about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Some foods are ‘good for us’ even if we don’t enjoy them. Other foods are ‘bad for us’ and we eat them guiltily or avoid them resentfully. Although common sense tells us that there is some truth in these labels, our attitude to the food we eat will instruct our Spleen what to do with it. So whatever we eat, once we have made a choice it is better to accept the food lovingly, to welcome the food as wholeheartedly as we can. In this way we will get the most out of all foods.
The Chinese believe that it is better not to mix food and work. Our digestion works best when we are focused on our enjoyment of the meal, not distracted or troubled by other influences. So it is better to make mealtime a relaxed occasion when we are not trying to read, watch television, do business etc.
It is helpful to take a little time to relax our posture too, perhaps take a few quiet breaths before eating. Crossing our legs, sitting twisted or hunched will compress our digestive organs and hinder the passage of food through our body.
There is a saying that ‘The stomach has no teeth’. Well chewed food lessens the work our digestive organs have to do and increases the efficient extraction of nutrients. Chewing also warms chilled food.
Stop just before you are full
In a culture of plenty this can sometimes be difficult. If we overeat at any one meal, we create stagnation, a temporary queue of food waiting to be processed. As a result we feel tired while our energy is occupied digesting the excess food. If this is a habit, our Spleen becomes over-strained and may produce Mucus or Heat (see later sections).
Don’t flood the Spleen
The Spleen does not like too much fluid with a meal. A little warm fluid with a meal is helpful, but too much dilutes the Spleen’s action and weakens digestion: a teacupful is generally sufficient. Most fluid is best consumed between meals.
Don’t chill the Spleen
Too much raw or chilled food or fluid will also weaken the Spleen. The digestive process needs warmth. This is expressed in oriental medicine as the Digestive Fire. Prolonged or excessive use of chilled or raw food will eventually severely weaken the Digestive Fire, leading to collapse of the Spleen function.
Eat the main meal early
When we eat late at night our system is naturally slowing down and the food sits around for longer in the digestive tubes. This creates Stagnation and, in the body’s attempt to burn off the food, Heat is created and the Yin of the Stomach will be damaged. (See later sections for explanation of terms.)
Choose foods with strong lifeforce
It is helpful to include as much locally grown food and organic quality food in our diets as possible. In both cases the lifeforce is more strongly preserved. For the same reason it is helpful to eat plenty of fresh food. The lifeforce is also significantly damaged by microwave cooking, by excessive processing and by chemical preservation. The lifeforce is killed by irradiation.
Trust your body
Sometimes we crave our poison, but there is in each of us a deeper level of knowing. As we bring our awareness to our eating, we can begin to feel what our true needs are, what truly nourishes us. At first we may need to be guided by more analytical judgments, but as we listen inside we can begin to make choices from our bodies too. What makes us feel good at the deepest level is good for us. Over time we can cultivate this skill of separating our cravings and addictions from our deeper levels of guidance.