Five Elements | 五行
Our bodies reflect the natural world. The Five Phases of Chinese medicine are archetypal energies applicable to all systems, including our bodies, seasons, and life cycles. The relationships between these phases creates elegant metaphors in both life and Chinese medicine. Water nourishes Wood, which burns as Fire, whose ashes turn into Earth, where we extract Metal, whose minerals form Water, which flows forth to continue cycles upon cycles.
North. Winter. Fear. Wisdom 智. Will 志. Kidney. Bladder. Bones. Roots. Groaning. Ears/ Sound. Salty. Cold. Black. Rest. Resources. Storage. Purpose. Ocean. Rivers. Rain. Lymph. Cycles. Rhythm. Flow. Depth. Regeneration. Generations. Ancestors. Possibility. Unknown. Limits. Essence. Adventure. Danger. Hibernation. Patience. Dark. Peace. Spine. Teeth. Future. History. Sleep. Dreams. Mystery.
Water is the mother of life, dripping small droplets from the sky into streams that flow into vast oceans. Water surrenders to the unknown, trickling down to the lowest point. Floating in the expansive ocean, anything can happen. Unbalanced Water can manifest as fear of the unknown. Water in balance manifests as preparedness. The coldest winds blow from the north, governed by the energies of Water, and winter. Winter welcomes hibernation, storage, and silence. Our energies draw inwards, as Yin stillness blankets us. In our life journey, Water represents the liminal space between death and birth, that mysterious process of distillation and integration, of endings and preparing for new beginnings. It invites deep questions: where do we go after death? Where do we come from, before birth? Where am I going, now? Composing 80% of our physical bodies, and nourishing the parts of us that question the meaning of life, Water connects us with our Kidney meridian, Jing (精) Essence, pre-natal Qi, and will to survive.
East. Spring. Anger. Compassion 仁. Dreams 魂. Liver. Gallbladder. Sinews. Sprouts. Shouting. Eyes/ Vision. Sour. Wind. Rancid. Ideas. Decisions. Planning. Spontaneity. Direction. Growth. Birth. Pioneer. Actions. Goals. Creativity. Movement. Stagnation. Trees. Forest. Courage. Initiation. Dawn. Youth. Drive. Stress. Organization. Flexibility. Resilience. Wander. Balance. Emotions. Alignment. Learning.
Wood is the Yang, moving, manifesting, and birthing possibilities of spring. We welcome the sun rising in the East, and the fresh potential of each new breath and moment. In balance, Wood energy is directed and purposeful, getting things done, knocking out amazing projects left and right. Out of balance, Wood energy can be overly angry or aggressive, like a plant growing out of control, and wreaking havoc. In the life cycle, Wood represents birth and infinite possibility, ushering in exciting inspiration, with clear, visionary, and motivated goal- directed forward momentum. Wood governs the Liver meridian, which makes decisions and directs our Hun (魂), who actively manifests our goals and higher purpose into this material world. How can we channel our energies in a powerful and focused manner, to achieve our desired goals? Wood moves forward and outward in bursting growth, like the 2 million cells birthing and dying each second in our bodies.
South. Summer. Joy. Propriety 禮. Spirit 神. Heart. Small Intestine. Blood vessels. Flowers. Laughter. Tongue/ Expression. Bitter. Heat. Red. Scorched. Love. Passion. Relationships. Sun. Intimacy. Fun. Play. Dynamism. Wild. Thrive. Desire. Mind. Intelligence. Humor. Authenticity. Confidence. Core. Focus. Opening. Chaos. Practice. Dedication. Celebration. Mastery. Art. Pleasure. Creativity.
The sun is at its zenith in the middle of the day. It’s the hottest part of the day, like summer is the hottest season of the year. Here in the south, we welcome the Fire element, where all is in dynamic motion, at the height of its' Yang energy. We move, explore, play, and celebrate. Fire governs the Heart meridian, connecting us with our internal and external environments. Heart governs our Spirit, or shen (神), which sparks and mobilizes our life purpose, aligning our actions and communications. In balance, Fire energy is playful, active, passionate, engaged, and energized. Out of balance, Fire energy can be manic, scattered, chaotic, lackluster, or overly dramatic. We sweat and focus in the summer, with Fire energy. In the life cycle, it’s our adolescence, actively exploring how to live fully alive. The heart pumps 1/3 cup of blood with each beat, pulsing life force to power our entire body, Fire literally coursing through our veins. What are we passionate about? How do we express our passions?
Southwest/ Center. Mid- Summer. Seasonal transitions. Contemplation 思. Integrity 信. Intention 意. Spleen. Stomach. Muscles/ Flesh. Fruit. Singing. Mouth/ Taste. Sweet. Damp. Yellow. Fragrant. Food. Digestion. Belly. Family. Adulthood. Grounding. Stability. Body. Community. Home. Support. Mother. Gratitude. Harvest. Belonging. Nourishment. Mountains. Foundation. Comfort. Trust. Abundance.
Earth is the solid ground that holds everyone together, easing seasonal transitions and nourishing our physical bodies. Earth governs the southwest, in the "long summer," or chang xia (長夏) season between summer and autumn, when shadows start lengthening, plants are at their greatest height, and it’s time to relax, start drawing our energies inward, harvest, and celebrate. We gather our communities to feast on the fruits of summer’s harvest. Dust to dust, Earth to Earth, our bodies are made of this very Earth, and further Earthing with each bite of Earth-given food. Governing the Stomach and Spleen meridians, Earth relates to digestion and nourishment. In balance, Earth energy is loving, practical, grounded, compassionate and caring. Out of balance, Earth energy can be needy, stagnant, slow, worrisome and messy. Governing our intentions, or yi (意), we ask ourselves how we can be of service. What is our role in our community? Who are we, in our relationship with the greater whole?
West. Autumn. Grief/ Praise. Equity 義. Intuition 魄. Lung. Large Intestine. Skin. Seeds. Weeping. Nose/ Smells. Pungent/ Spicy. Dry. White. Transformation. Inspiration. Release. Hope. Sacred. Spirit. Ritual. Truth. Wonder. Breath. Tradition. Authority. Respect. Compost. Cleanse. Logic. Alchemy. Utility. Precious. Possessions. Power. Sky. Space. Solitude. Stillness. Transience. Father. Regrets. Surrender.
The sun sets in the west with the Metal element of the autumn season, when everything composts back to their original nature. Here, the veil between the worlds of living and dying draw thin, connecting us with our own mortality, and reminding us that suffering is a part of life. Governing the Lung meridian, Metal welcomes inhalation and inspiration. Governing the Large Intestine meridian, Metal releases what no longer serves us, the great expiration. Releasing and reflecting, we let go with grief and praise of what we cherish. In balance, Metal is clear, precise, organized, and discerning. Out of balance, Metal can be cold, detached, distant, and lost in grief. Metal governs the Po (魄), our animal nature that recognizes truth, directing clear and fair actions with crystalline discernment. Metals connects us with the sublime ceremonial sanctity present in each precious moment. Metal cuts clears lines and boundaries, and asks, "Who am I?"
We contain all of the phases and their corresponding qualities. And, we are born with proclivities toward certain phases, and their inherent gifts and challenges. Environmental and other life factors shift and shape us. Our natural tendencies can be our greatest weakness or strength, depending on how we dance with them. Let us live powerfully and beautifully, observing, understanding, and intentionally designing and sculpting our lives, aligning our greatest gifts within the capacity of our limitations. We walk between Earth and Sky, grounded while uplifted, supported and supportive, buoyed from within and without by the five phases that reflect multiverses within multiverses.