Five Phases | 五行
Our bodies reflect the natural world. The Five Phases of Chinese medicine (wu xing 五行) mirror our inner and outer terrain, reflecting our bodies, seasons, life cycles, and more. They help us understand our roots and shape our destiny (ming 命). Water nourishes Wood, which burns into Fire, whose ashes turn to Earth, where we extract Metal, whose minerals form Water, which flows forth into cycles upon cycles of rippling relationships.
North. Winter. Fear. Wisdom 智. Will 志. Kidneys. Bones. Roots. Listen. Salty. Cold. Dark. Purpose. Rest. Restore. Flow. Depth. Generations. Ancestors. Potential. Limits. Adventure. Patience. Hibernation. Peace. Time. Resilience. Regeneration. Sleep. Dreams. Mystery. Wonder.
Water is life. Dripping from the sky into streams that flow into vast oceans, we navigate the Great Mystery between death and birth, endings and beginnings, and beyond. Water flows down and out, moving into darkness beyond visible reality, expanding past the horizon, and surrendering to the unknown. Unbalanced Water can create gnawing fears, while balanced Water nourishes right preparation, wisdom (zhi 智), and perseverance (zhi 志). During winter, we conserve resources, drawing in our energy as Yin (陰) stillness blankets us in cold dark silence, and we rest and prepare for the coming year. Water invites deep questions. Where do we come from, before birth? Where do we go after death? Where are we going, now? Composing 80% of our physical bodies while nourishing the parts of us that question the meaning of life, Water connects us with our Kidney meridian, Jing-Essence (精), prenatal Qi (氣), and will to survive.
East. Spring. Anger. Compassion 仁. Hun 魂. Liver. Sinews. Sprouts. Shouting. Vision. Sour. Wind. Dawn. Creativity. Movement. Ideas. Decisions. Spontaneity. Hope. Freedom. Birth. Growth. Goals. Exploration. Stress. Align. Tensegrity. Flexibility. Adapt. Wander. Balance. Equilibrium.
Wood represents the Yang (陽) 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 is purposeful yet compassionate (ren 仁), accomplishing amazing projects with ease. Out of balance, Wood can get angry or controlling. Wood governs the Liver meridian, which makes decisions and directs our Hun (魂), moving inspiration into reality with glorious visions, clear goals, and directed forward momentum. How can we channel and direct our energies to birth our greatest visions? 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. Bloom. Laughter. Flavor. Bitter. Heat. Love. Passion. Play. Wild. Manifest. Humor. Chaos. Authenticity. Core. Circulation. Connection. Expression. Communication. Focus. Pleasure. Presence. Practice. Dedication. Celebration.
The sun is at its zenith in the middle of the day. Here in the South, at the hottest part of the day, in the heat of summer, we welcome the Fire element, where all is in dynamic motion, at the height of its' Yang energy. We explore, play, and celebrate. Fire governs the Heart meridian, which directs our Spirit (shen 神), sparks and mobilizes our Purpose, and aligns our actions and communications. In balance, Fire is passionate with propriety (li 禮). Out of balance, Fire can range from manic to lackluster. We sweat and focus with Fire, corresponding with adolescence, a time of exuberant exploration. How do we live and thrive fully alive? The heart pumps 1/3 cup of blood with each beat, pulsing life force to power our entire body, Fire coursing through our veins. What are we passionate about? How do we share our love for the world?
Center. Southwest. Midsummer. Empathy 思. Integrity 信. Intention 意. Stomach. Flesh. Fruits. Sweet. Damp. Food. Family. Home. Digestion. Belonging. Reciprocity. Nourishment. Foundation. Gratitude. Harvest. Gravity. Comfort. Harmony. Ease. Stability. Abundance.
Earth is the solid ground that holds everyone together, easing seasonal transitions and nourishing our bodies. Earth governs the "long summer" (chang xia 長夏) season between summer and autumn, when shadows start lengthening, plants are at their greatest height, and we celebrate, relax, then start drawing our attention inward. 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 supports digestion and homing with integrity (xin 信). In balance, Earth is loving and grounded. Out of balance, Earth can be needy and stagnant. Clarifying our deepest intentions (yi 意), we ask: How we can be of service? What is our role in our community? Who are we, in relationship with the greater whole?
West. Autumn. Grief. Praise. Equity 義. Po 魄. Lungs. Skin. Seeds. Scent. Spicy. Dry. Sacred. Respiration. Excretion. Reflection. Inspiration. Boundaries. Surrender. Intuition. Ritual. Truth. Sacrifice. Impermanence. Respect. Sky. Aspiration. Transformation. Compost. Death. Power.
The sun sets in the west with the Metal element in autumn, when life composts back to its original nature. As the veil between the worlds of living and dying draws thin, we connect with our own mortality. Suffering, loss, and grief are integral to truly praising life. Governing the Lung meridian, Metal welcomes deep inhalation and beautiful inspiration. Governing the Large Intestine meridian, Metal extracts what is precious, then releases what no longer serves. In balance, Metal is precise and discerning. Out of balance, Metal can be cold and distant. Metal governs the Po (魄), our animal instinct that recognizes truth, cuts clear boundary lines, and directs fair actions with crystalline discernment (yi 義). We connect with the sublime ceremonial sanctity present in each precious moment, and wonder: Who am I? Why am I here? What practices and rituals help me transform passing experiences into lasting change? How do I become a good ancestor?
We contain all of the Five Phases and their corresponding qualities. As the world shifts and shapes us, we can choose how we dance with our inherent gifts and challenges (xing 性), polish our luck (yun 運), and uplift our destiny (ming 命). By observing and understanding the Five Phases within and around us, we honor our limits, transform our greatest weaknesses into our greatest strengths, and fulfill our highest potential. We root down into the material reality of Earth (di 地), rise up into the infinite potential of Sky (tian 天), and center in the wild beauty of being Human (ren 人).