Wood represents birth and new growth. In nature, we see the element of Wood in Springtime, showing itself as buds on trees, little greens popping through the surface of the soil, life and vitality awakening after the winter. We see animals waking up after hibernation. We see the birds, bees and lots of other insects come to life, actively moving about. The soil softens and the scents and sounds come to life. We see the world greening up with new life and vitality after a long winter. Within our own beings, we have more energy, more drive, and more determination. We look toward the future with hope and emerge from outside of ourselves. The winter has ended and it is time to begin planting the seeds with the energy and power of birthing. Spring signifies a new beginning and can be likened to the sun rising in the East, the direction of the Wood Element.
When wood becomes out of balance, there is the possibility of opposite directions of being out of balance, of too much or too little force. With too little, there is no power for the plant to burst through the seed and there is no growth. This can happen when all of the energy is utilized in the previous seasons and there is no time for revitalization or returning to the essence. When this happens, we become stagnant and unable to grow. With too much force, the plant expands out beyond its means or takes over everything in its path. This can look rage and hostility. Additionally, this can look like becoming the great doer, too prolific and diffuse, pushing people out of the way using force to follow through. There is an aspect of control associated with Wood out of balance, trying to control everything or everyone else when in excess, just like unruly, invasive plants. Growing too quickly can cause us to become stagnant as well, rooted on the spot or root bound in a pot.
The body can show this imbalance as the trees can, being inflexible and unable to bend with the winds, rather breaking or being so flexible that there is no stability. Both aspects of lack of balance can be modulated by movement, which is extremely important to the tendons and ligaments which are fortified by Wood. The balance of remaining active and making sure to get rest, is extremely important, especially during the horary time of Liver and Gall Bladder so that they may plan and make decisions for the body in a thoughtful way. This is where vision for the future comes come from. These two Officials working in coordination with each other, the architect and the general manager. Visual deficits can also be a sign of imbalance. In nature, the acorn always knows where it came from and where it is going.
This spring, 3 of my clients gave birth to beautiful babies. It was actually the most perfect example of the wood element, new life being born. I was particularly intrigued by these spring babies and how the families were impacted by expansion in the springtime. The families, despite being with infants were more active than when babies are born other times of year, bringing the babies out into nature. Spring is the perfect environment for babies and baby plants as it is not too cold, nor too hot. The days are longer, but the heat of the sun is not forceful. Nature is a safe and nurturing environment in the Spring for the delicate plants and delicate babies.
Fire represents maturity. It is associated with the peak of the summer, where all of the fruit, plants and blooms are at their most brilliant. The colors are the most vibrant and everything as at the zenith of its existence. The climate is hot, the sun is at its peak. The days are the longest of the year. The animals are active and present for us to observe. Like the animals, we too, become more active, we come out of our homes and spend time outside. The horary time for the Fire element is 11-3 (Heart, Small Intestine) and 7-11 (Heart Protector, Triple Heater). These are the most social times for many. We go out and share a lunch with friends. In the evening, we make love with our partner or have a get together with friends around the fire. This is very much the essence of the fire element, it brings the warmth that brings everyone together with connection and laughter. This coming together around the warmth of the fire is where joy blossoms from. Joy and lack of joy are the emotions associated with the fire element. Unconditional love is a product of this type of joy. It comes from the heart with an openness to giving and receiving. The vessels of our body, which are fortified by the fire element, carry the warmth and love of Fire to all aspects of our being.
The love of the Heart is the Tao manifesting through us and our allowance of that love to guide us in life. The Heart is our root and is the dwelling place for our Shen. The Small Intestine serves as the alchemist who touches and transforms everything into purity before it is distributed to the Kingdom and the Heart. The Heart Protector takes all of the emotional blows to the Heart. And, the Triple Heater maintains the warmth within the three jiao, providing the optimal working warmth for all. Each of officials does its job in working with the Heart and thus the Heart gives its respect and unconditional love.
When fire becomes out of balance, it may blaze out of control. It will destroy everything in its path until it is contained. Just as in nature, when the fire within us burns out of control, the whole of the body’s kingdom becomes unruly and isolated from their responsibilities. Within someone with this type of imbalance, we can see how the face may become red and their scent may become scorched from their internal fire. This may be associated with excessive, inappropriate joy or laughter. Fire may also go out or be smothered. We can really see the truth of lacking joy when the fire of our passions and loves goes out. We are left with nothing and empty within our hearts. The lack of laughter may be notable. It is easy to see how this might lead to the face being ashen. Imbalances within the fire element may lead to a myriad of problems related to the vessels as well as the heart and pericardium. Certainly temperature imbalances and sorting imbalances may also be linked.
The warmth and joy of summer brings love back into the Hearts and restores balance to the spirit within us. For this reason, I love the summertime. But, as much as I love it, I understand the impossibility of sustaining the peak of activity of too long. We literally burn ourselves out. In my practice, over the last 12 years, I have noticed people coming in more and more burned out. They have nothing to offer themselves or anyone else, but they are doing it everyday for their jobs, their families or their ideals. Without enough wood or oxygen, the fire dwindles to ash, is easily smothered or simply extinguishes. Then, we live on joyless, listless and missing the tremendous opportunity to experience love in the physical form. But when we feed the fire, our passions, inspirations and curiosities, the fire burns evenly and can last for a very long time.
I recall in TCM, the three treasures, Jing, Qi and Shen. The Jing is likened to the candle and the wick, which are limited resources that we bring into this physical experience. The Qi is likened to the metabolism that makes fire, as long as there are resources, rejuvenation can occur. The Shen is likened to the flame, the product of who we are radiating from the Heart outward. The physical life is not unlimited, the physical realm is such that there must be an end, just as there is a beginning. When we think about our lives as a candle, we may choose to live in alignment with the Tao to make the most of this life experience.
The Earth element is given the direction of Center. It is where hot transitions toward cold and light transitions toward dark. Its power is decrease. Everything starts to go inward. This is the time of Late Summer, the harvest. The sugars go from the blooms into the fruit, making the produce perfectly juicy and ripe. We begin to harvest and store food for the seasons in which we cannot grow. The temperature of the Earth Element is moist, generally the season is humid and moisture comes into the air, just as it does in the fruit. The smell of the Earth Element is fragrant and the taste is sweet, which make perfect sense for the season. The Element is associated with great abundance. The Spleen and Stomach officials are represented within the Earth Element. The Stomach brings energy from the food within our being by making the most perfect mixture of food for all the organs. The Spleen is the distributor and transporter of all the energies from the food. The sound of the Earth Element is singing and the emotion is sympathy or lack of sympathy.
The Earth element is considered the Mother. She teaches us to nourish and care for ourselves. We are secure, loved, cared for and held. We can feel at home anywhere, when we’ve tuned into this energy. Mother Earth gifts us with compassion. Mother Earth teaches us that to receive a good harvest that will carry us through, we must do the work each season to prepare and cultivate what is needed for a robust harvest within our beings and in our gardens.
A poor harvest may result in anxiety for the fall and winter ahead. When we think about not having enough for the cool and cold season, we may not be able to process information well. We can become consumed with taking in nourishment. We may churn and churn and churn, over processing on all levels of body mind and spirit. We may be unable to distribute and deliver what is needed within ourselves. Out of balance, the face be tinged yellow, like plants that are overwatered. There may be a fragrant smell, like the fruit that has gone just past ripe. Very often Earth CF’s are the caretakers for everyone else taking on too much responsibility. They may be doing all the things for everyone they are close to, but nothing for themselves. Quite the opposite can happen, as well, where they become needy and seeking from others for their needs to be met. We can see where sympathy is the emotion associated with the Earth Element, always sympathetic, lacking sympathy or seeking sympathy. They may sing with the undertones of their voice, just as if they were talking to a child. They may develop problems with muscle weakening, as this is the tissue fortified by the Earth Element. Many digestive issues can be linked to the Earth Element.
With the Earth Element as the center, I think about how each season relates to the harvest. Without filling our storehouses, there’s no harvest to consume in the cooler season. Without taking time to rest and rejuvenate the essence or seed of the harvest, the seeds we have are not strong. Without the bursting forth of the seeds, we don’t experience growth and maturity. Without growth and maturity, we can never achieve harvest. Each season contributes to nourishing our garden in unique and different ways. Each season and each element exist within us, as well. When we live in accordance with the seasons, we can take in and process all of Mother Earth’s nourishment in its different forms throughout each season and experience great harvest within ourselves.
The Metal Element is associated with the season of autumn. Its climate is dry. Its power is balance. It is represented by the trees letting go of their leaves. Letting go makes space for new growth. The old leaves compost and become nourishment for new growth. The smell associated with the Metal Element is rotten. Its taste is pungent. The Metal Element is a little bit like a sunset and is characterized by the direction of West. The Metal Element is comprised of the Lungs and the Large Intestine. The Lungs bring in pure heavenly Qi to the body through the breath and release carbons continuously. Thus, the Metal Element is linked to the Heavenly Father. The skin which is known as the third lung is fortified by the Metal Element. The Large Intestine is the Official of Drainage and Dregs, letting go of all that does not serve us. The color of the Metal Element is white which represents the heavenly connection and promise of a new beginning. White is the color of mourning in ancient Chinese traditions. The emotion associated with the Metal Element is grief and the sound is weeping.
The autumn can be a season of grieving, as the leaves fall off the trees, the harvest is completely over and we begin storing our abundance for the winter. We let go of all the things that no longer serve to make space for storage and for what lies ahead. We turn even more inward, just like the trees. They shed their leaves and the essence dives down toward the core to rejuvenate the essence over winter. Keeping the leaves would require too much energy and would not allow the tree time to balance. The season of autumn gives us a little more time and space to take in the purifying energies of the Heavens and release from our bodies and our lives what we no longer need and that which no longer serves.
Holding on for too long can lead to digestive issues in the body including constipation or diarrhea. What we say and how we live can also look like this as well, holding everything or discarding everything. In either way, we cannot optimally receive the nourishments of our food or breath. Holding on for too long can lead to immense grief. Not processing the practice of letting go and experiencing those emotions as they flow through, leads to us holding grief. The welling up of grief through suppressing one’s emotions can create havoc within the body.
The season of autumn and element of Metal is associated with the Fatherly energy of the Heavens, supporting us in all the ways a father does with inspiration, non-judgement, openness and guidance. The Father gives self-worth to the child. Metal stands for quality, richness, essence and purity; all the things the father provides. Without the fatherly energy, life can become barren.
The Metal Element reminds me of the greatest inspiration and integration of Heavenly Qi within our own bodies. Every breath we take, conscious or unconscious is an opportunity for the inspiration of the Heavens to flood our being and rejuvenate us with the gift of the purest, most rich essence of Universal Energy and Consciousness. When I tap into this energy, I feel balance, promise, integrity within myself and the world. I feel the ease of releasing that which no longer serves in an exchange of energy that drives me toward the future. I feel quiet within myself and connect to the worthiness within.
The Water Element is associated with the season of Winter. It is the most yin time of year and is accompanied by short days and dark, long nights. It is associated with cold temperatures. It is the time in which we turn within to the essence and prepare for the sprouting forth of spring. This is a season of less movement. The season where the essence of the plants in nature is held within the seed. The vitality is held within the seed. The power of the element is emphasis. The color associated with the water element is blue. The emotion is fear, and the sound is groaning. Great fear comes from not trusting that spring will come, not accepting the cycle of life and forcing ourselves out of this season of emphasis.
In nature, the water reminds us of the element’s inability to be contained. Its nature to flow through the least restrictive areas. It creates a path and flows continuously. Water that remains stagnant become putrid, the scent associated with the water element. Within our bodies stagnation can lead to disease and dysfunction. Water teaches us to go with the flow and be fluid. It also reminds us through its various states of liquid, solid and gas that it may be transformed depending on the circumstances. It also reminds us of the purity within. The Kidneys serve as the controller of the waterways and the Bladder controls the storage of water. The Kidneys filter and the Bladder determines the concentration needed within the body and what must be excreted.
The Water element is unique in that it is associated with the Jing Qi, the ancestral Qi that we enter into this plane with. The limited resource of energy that cannot be rebuilt. It is said to be housed within the Kidneys. The Kidneys are often thought of as the space from which we generate energy, similar to a water wheel or hydro-operated power plant. The wheels and turned by the movement of the water and in turn, this movement creates energy. The spirit of the Water Element reminds us of the importance of its essence and how we must respect and maintain our Jing energy. Depleting our Jing energy directly impacts our longevity.
When I think about water, I most often connect to the ocean. It can be most docile and most fierce. It holds great power of creation and destruction. The water also reminds me to respect her nature. Going with the flow of life, existing within the slip stream of our experience, and fluidly moving around obstacles are lessons that the water element teaches us. The Water Element is associated with the Zhi or will to live and will to accomplish.
When I observed dolphins in the water over the last several weeks, I noticed a significant difference between dolphins and humans. Dolphins are in constant flow because the medium they live in is water. Humans, very often, are less fluid and more staccato. We can even become stationary. It is a well known fact, that dolphins spend more time in the alpha brain wave state (meditative state of high function) than humans. It seems that while we don’t live in the water, perhaps there is a fluidity that we can find as creatures of the land that might serve us, just as the water serves the dolphins. After all, just like the dolphins, we are more than 70% water within our physical being.
Classical Five Element Acupuncture, Volume 3 by JR Worsley
Personal Class Notes ITEA 2019