Metal is the counterbalance to Wood. While Wood is really expansive, Metal is contractive. The Metal Element is the framework, and has the benefits of providing structure, self-discipline, and critical thinking. However, unbalanced, it has a tendency to turn on itself with hyper-criticism, perfectionism, and collapse of inner order.
Metal is a tricky beast... as the self-discipline that is part of balanced metal... is that part that is so needed when metal is unbalanced... for it is through self-discipline that we can see the thing that is not right in front of us... the clarity that we so desperately need in our mis-alignment... is elusive. For instance, I remember once talking to a mentor of mine... I was working through some old medical trauma because I was facing a needed surgery. I was upset, irrationally fearful (a little is always normal... but whoa! I was getting kinda wacky...)... and I remember him saying that when we get into a mindset... a cycle of fears and doubts and anxiety... it is hard to see anything else that doesn't look like our current mental/emotional environment. We can even forget the totality of who we really are. This is what is happening when we say things like "I just don't feel like myself". When the Metal Element is unbalanced... it has a terrible habit of spinning out of control... reinforcing the "out-of-balance" through our inner critic.
So... it is through self-discipline (which I admit to having TOTALY resistance to in recent history)... that we are able to set down where we are in the moment to take a wider view of the situation. This is metal being flexible, using a foundation of our true essence, to use self-discipline to take a step back, and with clarity and discrimination, discern the true state of our Selves.
I'd like to offer that it is a practice of self-discipline that also allows us to hear our own story... played back through our cells. It is the willingness to sit in the quiet and listen to our body's subtle information streams... that supports our vitality. The discipline comes in the form of taking that time for ourselves regularly, creating (AND maintaining) a daily practice, or making sure our cups are filled through self-care. In that vein, a client and I are working together on a 21-day water-drinking challenge. We are both heavily influenced by our Metal Elements, and both need to be more regular around fluid intake. I hear that a habit can be created in 21 days... so I challenge you... what will you do for 21 days that you want to have as a daily practice (habit?)? And how will you stay accountable to the practice? Share in the comments if you feel so inclined! I'd love to hear from you!
The Earth Element in Chinese Medicine is associated with the late summer. The moment when things are stable but bountiful. The fruits of the spring and summer labor are mature... the intentions of the Wood Element have ripened through the action of Fire... and here we are to enjoy them and celebrate.
The Earth Element reflects our stability in time and space. It is because of our rootedness in the earth that we are supported, nurtured via our roots, and given a reference point or an axis around which the constellation of the bits of ourselves circumambulate. The Earth Element within serves as a unifier... a magnetizer... holding our patterns of emotion, behavior, and beliefs close by.
In daily life this might appear to be our strengths... the things we do well and relatively effortlessly. We can get in touch with the Earth Element through acknowledging what we are good at... finding the sweetness in the bounty of ease. This is Earth... where we are held, where our hearts feel light and happy. What are the things in your life that provide your heart that supported, loved, and connected feeling? What do you do that feeds your heart and makes it grow... makes it overflow and want to share? If you're wondering what I'm talking about... if it feels that you've never understood "an overflowing heart", or "feeling supported", or if you're not sure what people mean when they talk about being "grounded"... then you may want to explore with the Earth Element.
It's a unique and personal thing to discover what really feeds you... and the key is being really honest with yourself about what that is. It can be difficult to face sometimes, when what really nurtures your soul is not in alignment with the role you've agreed to fill with your family, friends, and/or communities. Misalignment between the day-to-day life and the true essence that lies within are among the most common forms of stress in our lives. A sense that we're not being true to ourselves... that we've negated some part of ourselves... that we tend to compartmentalize and partition our lives so that they are manageable. However, at some point that becomes a very energy intensive process... and it's possible to start feeling overwhelmed by life. If this is you... can you see your truth within? Can you find your foundation? The thing(s) about you that support your truth... that are constants for you?
Quick story of finding an Earth Element truth about myself. I had an advisor in graduate school who had to introduce me for a talk when I was graduating. He and I had a mixed relationship... and I'm sure that he wasn't overly fond of me. When he introduced me he said that I was "persistent"... and my first though was "Seriously? THAT'S the nicest thing you could think to say about me???". And yet, over the years I've come to realize that it was a great compliment... and it is a great truth for me. It is a foundational piece... something I look back through my life and can see always. It doesn't mean I didn't flounder... that I didn't misappropriate my persistence... but it really was always there. So when you're looking to connect with the Earth Element... settling deep within... imagining yourself as a tree... with roots comfortably and deeply in the ground... with a strong straight trunk... and leaves dancing in the breeze... connect with your truth... your inner fire... you will see what is always there for you.
Oh, the element of fire... action, movement, expression. Fire is the luminescence that comes from within... it is our own life force. Fire carries Wood into action... pulling the intentions and visions into manifestation... taking thoughts and making them reality. Fire also interacts with Water to create the living force of flow and warmth... our blood.
A balanced Fire Element might resemble a hearth fire... full of safety and trust, emanating warmth and comfort, nurturing and sustaining life. The Fire Element is about finding that personal, individual, unique "home fire" that burns within you. Fire people tend to be highly intuitive and easily mingle their energy with others... so without good boundaries (Metal Element) it can be difficult to tell your own truth from the ideas you've received from others.
How do you know your own truth? When you state your own truth it will make your body feel light and buoyant. Someone else's truth... particularly if it suppresses an innate truth of yours, will feel heavy in the body... you might feel like hanging your head, looking down, or dropping your shoulders forward if the truth belongs to someone else. These are subtle feelings, and require us to really listen deeply to our bodies and our inner Fire. The body is constantly giving you information... at a whisper. The world is often moving loudly and rapidly, making it hard for us to hear the voice that comes from within. To stay in balance, fire energy requires us to periodically slow down, listen deeply, and care for ourselves with compassion and self-love. These actions of recovery and contemplation are not valued in our instant-gratification culture... but necessary to keep our Fire Element in balance.
I said earlier that I'd tell you a story about me... related to my challenging elements, Fire and Metal, as they came up. Well... the energetic pathways that are associated with the Fire Element are heart, small intestine, circulation/sex, and triple warmer. They all stand for some aspect of the Fire Element... heart is love, primarily self-love, I think. Small intestine is what we are willing to release, and it often holds the secrets that we believe to be true about ourselves, but are ashamed to admit. Circulation/sex is about interactions with others, it is full of the beliefs we have about our place in the world. And, last, triple warmer holds our sense of trust, in others and in ourselves. I can tell you that I've worked extensively with each of these meridians... and it all came down to a sense of honoring my own truth. I had to be willing to define myself... not only by rejecting what others erroneously thought about me... but to embrace and fully step into what is true for me. The hardest part has been sharing that with people. For years as I studied the healing art of Bioenergy Balancing I worried that my friends, used to me living from my academic Conservation Biology background, might think I'd lost my mind... working in alternative healing. But it's my truth... it's what I do... it's what feels in alignment with my inner luminescence... my hearth fire. My dad, a classical physician, believes it's all hooey... and that has become OK for me. I sense his disappointment that I didn't finish my PhD in Forestry... and it floods me with all of the other disappointments I've caused him. And yet, those belong to him, not to me. Maybe it's true for all people... but I attribute it to my Fire... I just HAVE to be who I am. I don't have any other way of living a meaningful life.
In honor of spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, I think I'll start with the element of Wood, which is related to spring and beginnings. The Wood Element is the energy of intentions and goals. It is having an idea of where you want to go, setting of intention, and plotting your path. Chinese medicine texts often talk about people who have strong elemental energy and what type of people they are... but I'd like to tell you how Wood energy might be showing up in your life.
In balance, Wood is expressed as a sense of surety... of knowing what you want out of life. Getting in touch with your Wood element (because each of us carries all of these archetypal energies to one degree or another)... you could ask yourself what you would like life to be like for you in a year? Five years? Ten years? What are your personal goals for yourself? Deepening of your spiritual connection? To clear out old beliefs so that you can be your most authentic self? Creating more ease in your life? Wood energy can help get you oriented in the right direction!
Out out of balance, Wood is associated with frustration, angry outbursts, impatience, uncooperative and a predominance of being overly intense. Physical signs of imbalance in Wood can be excessively high or low blood pressure, pain in the eyes or ears, nail and skin issues, vertigo and/or constipation. Mediating out-of-balance Wood energy can be done through one or more of the following activities: daily mindfulness practice, adjusting the inner dialogue to put less pressure on the psyche, exercise (yoga or pilates is especially helpful because of the slow mindful pace of the exercise), and conscious breathing practices.
Having balanced Wood energy supports you setting goals and intentions that are in alignment with your true self. The alignment of those intentions with who you truly are can offer ease and flow to the daily life you live through having the longer, higher vision of life, rather than getting caught in the details. This energy is crucial to fully embracing your uniqueness and living YOUR life.
So... in true Wood form... LET'S GO FOR IT!
I went out back to let the chickens out this morning... and I flushed some California quail from the bushes. I saw them fly up to safety, and immediately thought of how my thoughts are like that. They are often headed one direction... flush a new thought... and just like that my attention is elsewhere. The quail made me think of inspiration: beautiful, subtle, quiet... until something flushes them... and they become startlingly alive and present and worthy of attention. Oh sweet thoughts that appear from nowhere... but like the quail... when I see them and sit with them... are such gifts of the moment.
This is a system I work with a great deal in my practice. Sometimes that work is subtle and directed at the organ systems associated with each element... or sometimes we work directly with these channels. I'd like to present a bit of an overview here of how this perspective works within my practice. This is not a complete or academic look at the Chinese Five Element System... but rather a sense of how it contributes information to inner landscape work in my experience.
This kind of healing art is always a path. It is not a single remedy for a single ailment. I find that, though sometimes useful, that type of healing tends to be short-term relief and a relatively surface look at the issue. While quick relief is often a prerequisite for long-term relief... which is to say that getting out of an intensity is what it takes to really grapple with a subject... if the underlying reason for the ailment is not addressed, it is likely to return in the same (or related) form.
The Chinese Five Element system can help us achieve that depth. Chinese medicine recognizes not only the physical, but the "chi" or energetic essence that flows within the physical body. Pathways of chi flow are called meridians. There are 12 primary pathways of chi flow which correspond to different organs. These 12 meridians are grouped into the five elements as shown below.
In recognizing the pattern of energy flow and knowing the physical symptoms, it is possible to look at the physical patterns as a metaphor for an energetic story, or vice versa. The metaphor is useful because it is one step removed from the actual tension, and thus is often easier to processes without stepping into all of the feelings, wrongs, and judgment that are part of the original tension. Thus, using this system allows us to translate back and forth between the emotional/mental body and the physical body.
I intend to cover each of the five elements in the next few weeks, to describe some of their characteristics. They are archetypal representations of possibilities of how each of us interacts with the world. Certainly each of us has all of these energies available to us... but I find... and my acupuncturist suggested to me that she also sees this in her practice... that the element(s) people struggle most with are often where their genius (or muse) lies. I'll tell you some stories about my muse when we get to metal and to fire.
I'm an explorer of inner realms, a pattern observer, and an invitation maker. I believe that healing the world starts within.
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