Your Food Includes All of Life’s Experiences
by Bill Tims
Recently I was in the intensive care ward of Massachusetts General Hospital to visit a close friend of mine who was fighting for his life with acute duodenal ulceration, kidney failure, severe edema, and a rapidly weakening heart condition. As I entered the quiet, sterile, yet busy room, I was instantly consumed by a heavy cloud of death. As I approached what was to be my friend’s deathbed, I saw him lying there, unconscious, swollen beyond recognition, and punctured like a pin cushion with intravenous needles for injecting both food and medications.
A sudden mixture of emotions simultaneously arose in me. It was fear of death; a strange combination of gratitude toward the doctor and nurses caring for their patient and anger at the machines and medical establishment that they represented; and disappointment toward this friend who seven years earlier had left conventional medical care to seek and find relief from terminal pancreatic cancer through macrobiotics and now had returned to die such an ignoble death.
Clearly he was no longer fighting for his life. He was in fact struggling to die! Within moments, an awful odor of death pervaded every cell of my body, and I began to feel a slight tightening in the pit of my stomach which grew and grew until it encompassed my entire central abdomen, sending waves of nausea and dizziness to my head. First, being somewhat embarrassed at my lack of self-control, I tried to relax and accept what I was experiencing without emotional involvement. When this approach failed, I tried in vain to force back my nausea. Finally, I practically stumbled into the lobby of the hospital and out into the fresh air. I kept saying to myself, ‘I just cannot stomach this.’ I felt as if my stomach were regurgitating the odors and vibrations of the room, just as it might have a big swallow of soured milk.
Two reflections instantly came to me. First, our food obviously consists not only of our physical food and drink but also includes all our life’s experiences, what we take in every day through our senses, our emotions, our intellect, and our spirit. Second, the stomach is the body’s central location for judging whether a food is to be accepted or rejected. Nausea serves as a rejection slip which notifies the central nervous system that poisonous food or vibrations have entered the body.
The stomach is a J-shaped hollow organ located in the upper-left portion of the abdominal cavity and surrounded by most of the other major organs of the body. Eighty-five percent of its mass lies to the left of the body midline. It has four distinct layers, including: 1) the mucosa or the innermost coat of the stomach that secretes digestive enzymes; 2) the submucosa or connective tissue between the submucosa and the muscles of the stomach; 3) the muscular coat, which enables the stomach to contract and expand and therefore move food toward the intestines, and 4) the serosa or outer coat. The stomach mucosa contains millions of tubular glands, the cells of which secrete pepsin or hydrochloric acid as well as small quantities of mucin, anti anemia materials, and inorganic salts. Pepsin, along with hydrochloric acid, decomposes protein into its various amino acids. This enzymatic action together with muscular peristalsis converts solid food into semi-liquid chyme, an acid that relaxes the lower stomach pyloric valve and allows the chyme to be propelled into the duodenal section of the small intestine.
The traditional and Oriental view of the stomach extends beyond these anatomical and physiological features, as they do with all organs, to include certain energetic, emotional, psychological, and cosmological characteristics. According to this view, the stomach, since it occupies roughly the center of the abdomen, plays a crucial role in centering and stabilizing the various aspects of our life. Energetically, the stomach is the location of the third chakra (energy center) where the forces from heaven and earth collide, charging and emanating out to the kidneys, spleen, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. Emotionally, a healthy stomach is considered to result in stability, confidence, and prudence, while stomach imbalances are thought to lead to worry, skepticism, and certain forms of anxiety.
First, let’s take a look at the constitutional tendencies of the stomach by examining the second and third toes on each foot. which are the ends of the pathways for the stomach acupuncture meridians. These two toes are often longer than the large toe and may be partially or completely webbed, both conditions showing an excessive consumption of fruit, sugar, medications, and refined foods taken by the mother during pregnancy, resulting in an expanded (yin) stomach structure. This tendency is further indicated if the mouth is considerably wider than the nostrils or if the upper lip is thick. The opposite, though much less common condition, is when these toes are considerably smaller than the large toe or are curled toward the big toe, a condition created by the mother’s excessive intake during pregnancy of salt and minerals together with animal food. This contractive (yang) constitutional tendency is further increased if the mouth is narrow or the upper lip is nonexistent. (Incidentally, vigorous massage of these toes is a great treatment for nausea or upset stomach.)
To diagnose conditional stomach problems, we can begin by looking at the corresponding areas in the face, the bridge of the nose, and the upper lip. While the mouth as a whole shows the condition of the entire digestive tract, the upper lip accordingly represents the upper digestive tract or stomach. Even more specifically, the left upper lip shows the upper stomach while the right upper lip shows the lower stomach. The stomach generally develops one of two primary conditions, either too swollen and expanded (yin) or too tight and contracted (yang), either of which will often lead to the most common of stomach problems, over acidity. Because of the stomach functions, which are primarily to secrete acid enzymes for the digestion of protein, the stomach naturally becomes acidic regardless of what we eat. Problems arise only when this acidity reaches an extreme, usually the result of an excessive intake of animal protein or sugar. An occasional case of acid insufficiency usually is the result of too much salt or strong alkalizing agents such as baking powder or soda.
An expanded stomach condition usually appears as swollenness in the upper lip and is most often caused by over-eating or eating too many refined or simple carbohydrates such as white sugar, honey, fruit or fruit juices, alcohol, and white flour. A contracted stomach condition, on the other hand, will appear as tightness of the upper lip and is caused by the intake of meat, eggs, salt, dry baked foods, or fasting. As mentioned, either of these conditions may result in an acidic stomach condition, which often causes inflammation or a blister on the upper lip.
Freckles or brown blotches, a common appearance on the bridge of the nose, indicates chronic stomach acidosis, ulcerations, hypoglycemic and diabetic tendencies, or even stomach cancer. (In the case of stomach cancer this area may also take on a slightly green shading.) The bridge of the nose or often even the entire nose along with the upper cheeks may also become red. This indicates chronic swollenness and inflammation of the stomach, spleen, and lymphatic system, again owing to an excessive consumption of animal protein and refined sugar.
The skin as a whole can also be a good indicator of stomach imbalances. For instance, a dirty or splotchy brown skin color indicates chronic acid stomach condition due to excessive fruit or sugar consumption. This is particularly noticeable when there is also prolonged exposure to the sun, resulting in a so-called ‘suntan’ (when you cook sugar it turns brown!). This is the same for freckles. Moles or warts, on the other hand, also show an acid stomach condition but in this case caused by an excessive consumption of animal protein.
Next, please examine the near back of your tongue looking for the following symptoms: 1) dark red coloration, indicating inflammation, ulcers, and a progression toward stomach cancer: 2) a white or yellow coloration or white patches, indicating accumulations of fat and mucus in the stomach and general tiredness of the digestive functions; 3) blue or purple coloration from the over consumption of expanding foods such as fruits, juices, soft drinks, chemicals, alcohol, drugs, medications, or sugar; or 4) small mushroom-like eruptions also indicting acidity, ulcerations, and often nausea and regurgitations.
Recommendations for harmonious stomach functions include the avoidance of acid forming foods, including meat, eggs dairy foods, refined sugar, nuts, oils, and stimulants. Reduction of stress-producing factors in one’s life, in particular eating while in a rush or while emotionally upset, is also recommended. Avoid cold foods and beverages which can tend to shock the stomach. Emphasis should be placed on whole grains (well chewed), vegetables, beans, sea vegetables, and cooked fruits.
In ancient times, the center of a village or hamlet was almost always the granary, the central storehouse and distribution center for the village’s staple foods. Most probably, this was even the precursor for latter day church temples, shrines, altars, and holy places. The stomach then represented the granary or centrum of the body, held to be the symbol of home, family, and stability. A strong home and family life and a strong stomach were reflections of one another. Treat your stomach to a warm and secure hearth place.