The Five Elements

If you have been interested in integrative medicine, and have explored ancient traditions like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), you will be familiar with the Five Elements (Wu Xing), and how they relate to understanding nature, illness, and a balanced approach to healing.

The word Healing, after all, comes from wholeness. If we are made of a family of distinct parts, healing must include them all, and focuses on resolving any imbalances in the ‘family dynamic.’

As a person who has studied TCM for over 30 years, and taught it in various ways for almost as long, I have a few things to share about this understanding of healing, and an unexpected ‘glitch’ in the way this theory is appreciated and applied in the modern western world.

A Quick Overview

Just in case you are new to this theory, or would like a refresher on the TCM approach to the Five Elements, here is a short overview.

All ancient cultures, as far back as Hunter Gatherers, began with the understanding that the Universe, or Creation(ing), is complete and whole.

Said another way, ‘As above, so below.’

This suggests that the inner workings and internal organs are a reflection of the Sky, the Land, and the Seasons.

Element Season Yin organ Yang organ Sense organ Fluid
wood spring liver gallbladder eyes tears
fire summer heart small intestine tongue sweat
earth none pancreas stomach mouth saliva
metal fall lung large intestine nose mucus
water winter kidney urinary bladder ears urine

This list is very short! Some of the lists out there have over 50 specific body parts, functions, animals, constellations, tastes, and even the stages of life. You may be asking why are your eyes related to the Qi of Wood (growing plats) and your Liver and not another Element. There are good reasons, they just take a shift in perspective, and perhaps perception, to fall into place.

Take a moment and consider that this understanding suggests that all of Creation can be divided into five parts, or five qualities. These divisions make sense when you see the Universe as a constantly changing dynamic interaction.

A popular way of learning this systematic approach to Healing and interacting with reality is to see the Five Elements, or Five Phases of Transformation, as a (mostly) functional family. Each Phase, or quality of movement and change, is like the father, mother, or child of the other Elements. Depending on the ‘mood,’ or adaptive capacity of each Phase, the family dynamic can either be harmonious – or something from a reality TV show.

Those two situations create the conditions for two completely different experiences of health and of life.

What about that modern problem?

It is natural to ask, what is wrong, what is going on, and what will happen? Especially, when facing a health challenge. A more practical question is why is this happening. Or, how does this work, how do I change and restore things to health and wholeness?

I bring this up because modern culture focuses on learning things to know more, remember more, and connect some dots.

Given that the Five Phases is about tangible interactions, changes in function within a family-like dynamic, and aspects of Creation(ing) as a whole, it seems that exploring them experientially would ‘teach’ us all a lot more. In fact, if you were to delve into an experiential and practicable approach, it would make the most sense to learn about them all in a sequence, using similar practices, and/or therapeutic approaches.

An Experiential Opportunity

My partner, Mira Koerner-Safrata and I are going to be offering a five-part series of Group Qi Gong, Acupuncture, and a Sound Bath (Crystal Bowls, etc).

Each week, beginning Thursday, February 8th, we will take a collected and profoundly experiential journey into and through each of the Five elements.

HERE is a link to the Facebook Event if you want to learn more.

Over the next month, I will be sharing a series of articles about the Five Phases, some of the Qi Gong practices we will learn together, and some seaasonal inspirations to move through Winter and into Spring together.

If you are looking for a short ‘mindful interlude,’ the video below is of Mira playing some crystal bowls by the woodstove during a power outage.

For those of you who are waiting for the last article on Neuroplasticity – it should in your email first thing Tuesday morning.

I hope you are enjoying all of the snow!

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