The 5 Elements
Chinese Five Elements or Phases of the Life Cycle
Chinese Five Element philosophy is derived from Daoist teachings that date back at least 3000 years. It is a way of arranging, organizing and understanding aspects of creation in an ecological system that is constantly recreating itself. From the oneness evolved the first major divisions of life. Daoism may have chosen five as the number for the primary division because it is the lowest number to form a circle. When you place four objects on a table it forms a square and five begins to form a circle, a circle of life. Primary distinctions are seen in other systems that are more familiar to us like the seven colors division on the spectrum of light, the seven notes of the western musical scale or the four Native American directions. This is intended to be an introduction to the richness of the five element theory. When the five Daoist elemental divisions move through the dimensions of season, time of day, color, food, sound, emotion, climate, body organs, odors, and human spirit they each distinctly different but share a family resemblance within their element. Each element is associated with a number as well. The distinct flavor of that number is seen and felt in the personality of that element. There is a link for each element with the herbs, foods, activities other correspondences that are distinctive for that seasonal element. I’ve also attached links for each element to Lorie Dechar’s website. She does a fantastic job of describing the five different qualities of spirit and soul reflected in each element.
Why Does This Matter?
By understanding the distinct gift and personality of each seasonal change (in a day, year or lifetime) I am more able to jump on the wave of that moment. When spring comes I know it is time to enjoy the upward fast moving surge of emerging life. Summer brings a ripe, hot time to be outdoors balancing the heat with water. In late summer there is a busy gathering of harvest in all areas of life. In the autumn, there is time to let go of all unnecessary activities, relationships and habits and allow them to fall to the ground to decompose into new soil. In winter the deep quiet, reflective rest can restore us for the next season of growth. More ideas for how to engage in the seasons can be found in the blog links at the end of each section.
One: The Water Element of Winter
First, is the primordial oneness of the winter, the water element. The spirit flavor that resides in this element named zhi is the most hidden and mysterious of all the elemental elements. This dark yin, flowing element can be both as powerful as a waterfall or tsunami, as quiet as a deep pool as exciting as bouncing creek or still as a frozen field of snow. The kidneys, bladder, bone marrow, central nervous system and reproductive system are the strongest reflection of water in the body. To preserve this energy in the body, extra activity is best conserved especially during the winter into a savings deposit for the big expenditure of spring growth. In winter, the seed and sprouting of life force invisibly germinates with potential and courageous promise. Stillness, sleep and rest and eating seeds and roots (the storage department of plants) nourish this aspect of life.
Two: The Fire Element of Summer
The first distinction rises that from the oneness is creation knowing itself. There is self and other, yin and yang. In this first division, there is rising and falling, expansion and contraction, dark and light, dry and wet, and hot and cold. From the depths of mystery emerges the height of illumination, awareness and connection of the sun and the fire element. This light is reflected in people thru the shen spirit is seen in the sparkle of the eyes. Communication, conversation and the dance of two happens naturally in this season of summer joy. Sex, fun and relational activities also nourish this part of ourselves. The sun and the spirit are at their zenith during this summer peak time. We tend to outdoors and interacting with others more during this season. For balance, sitting in a quiet peaceful environment can settle the shen like nesting birds. The heart, small intestines, pericardium and san jiao meridians are the residence of this spirit dimension in the body. The heart is the emperor of the whole body and the small intestine, pericardium and sanjiao protect the heart so it can sit and be present for the kingdom of each persons body, mind and spirit.
Three: The Wood Element of Spring
From the dancing movement of two develops the third movement that happens between two people or things. This dynamic dance between the two can have any motion or emotion. There can be harmony or discord. There is the possibility of anything in the bridge between two. This is the creative, decisive, imaginative, visionary quality of the wood element of spring. It has the capacity to judge that which is just and that which is not. This upward moving energetic moves most strongly thru the gallbladder, liver and eyes of the body. In nature, this movement of spring is seen most clearly in the strong, green upward sprouting of plants. To enhance harmony of this aspect of life, it is helpful to look at green plants, dream deeply and climb to mountain-tops for the big perspective of where you are being guided to. The hun is the soul aspect of metal that is expressed in our dreams and imaginations.
Four: The Metal Element of Autumn
The metal element of autumn is the domain of naming, speaking and making distinctions. The square is the image of the four directions. There is a sense of spreading to the corners of creation and knowing all of the parts. With knowing all that is there is, further distinction, separation and the possibility of loss. Grief is the emotion of this season. Science is a four-space pursuit. It is a way of thinking about things and dissects reality into smaller and smaller parts, Making distinctions offers the gift of knowing what is and is not of value. The autumn time of the metal element is a time when plants move their energy downward in an effort to prepare for the cold rest of winter. Cold is a signal to shut down any unnecessary functions. It is a time to gather and store resources like squirrels and protect ourselves for winter. In the natural world metal is primarily expressed in the mineral world that distills life into gems. The po is the animal instinct soul quality of the metal element which is expressed in the unseen autonomic nervous system that unconsciously knows how to maintain equilibrium. The lungs and large intestines are physical organs that most strongly express this energetic.
Five: The Earth Element of Late Summer
Five is the living circular relationship of life. This is the ecological process of one thing giving birth to another. The number five and the late summer earth element points to the inter-relationship of all things. Five happens when the many nameable things of the four space become an inter-sustaining family. The spirit quality of yi is our souls capacity for bringing ideas into manifestation. It supports our ability to think clearly and bring those thoughts into the world for the greater good of all. This grounded ability to digest and utilize life is expressed through the energetics of the stomach and spleen. In nature the soil, gardens and the banks of rivers and lakes express this abundant gift of the earth that holds, secures and nourishes all of life.