We are all used to behaving in a certain way, often based on our family background and relationships. Most of us have a comfort zone in which we tend to be drawn to certain kinds of people whom we enjoy and feel at home with. Then there are others who may be a challenge for us or seem beyond our range experientially – I really like this person, I’m not so sure about him or her, that one drives me mad or so and so is so cold. There may be certain issues that predominate in our lives such as the need for order and structure – not a pin out of place in the house, everything mapped out well in advance. Another person’s house may be a shambles, clutter everywhere, where hoarding abounds and nothing ever gets thrown away.
We all have our unique inner landscape – our hopes, fears, joys, what makes us uneasy, what keeps us awake at night, in what circumstances we might really blossom. For many people emotional balance and self knowledge are often stubbornly elusive as the pressures and pace of our speeded lifestyle show up where the cracks are in our emotional wellbeing.
In nature a different order prevails – a cycle of ebb and flow, where the sap rises in trees and plants, brings forth the fruits and then withdraws again into the seed. The law of duality or opposites – day and night, heat and cold, summer and winter, yin and yang – prevails. Nature unerringly demonstrates the balanced order of life which we are all subject to.
The ancient Chinese observed these cycles in nature and saw in them a pure expression of divine harmony to be revered and emulated. They saw expressed in nature the ideal qualities and balance that a person should manifest to maintain perfect health. I am using spiritual terms because these truths belong to very ancient times, when mankind in general was seeking spiritually at a very high level of evolution. The ancient Chinese talked about the Tao – the Way – what was the right way to keep balance, to maintain perfect health, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and the cycles of nature became their model for the law of the 5 elements.
Emotion, they saw as the prime cause of many of man’s health problems. Ultimately, they said, emotional imbalance is what gives rise to physical symptoms and they used the model of the seasons to demonstrate this on many different and sometimes complex levels.
Spring manifests the power of birth and the quality of vision – the ability to create a vision for one’s life together with the resourcefulness to make it happen. Summer represents the power of maturing, of coming to fruition, and the ability to have fun and enjoyment in life, to be able to communicate socially and intimately with others, to be able to give and receive love. What we call late summer or Indian summer, after the harvest has been saved, is the midpoint between the yang of spring and the yin of winter and is ascribed as a separate season in the model of the 5 elements. This time of year represents the ability to reap a harvest of inner resources distilled from the riches of life’s experiences, with the wisdom and understanding they bring, which enable a person to be emotionally self reliant and also to be able to empathise with others. The associated power is to decrease which represents the nurturing quality of giving, just as a ripened apple falls from a tree.
Autumn represents the power of balance – to be able to let go of the past and be in the now. It is to do with the ability to find an internal spiritual connection that enables a person to surrender to whatever happens in life and have the faith to go forward into an unknown future. Winter represents the power to emphasise, to be able to face the core reality of our being. It is to do with survival instincts and our core impulse toward self preservation. It is to do with our hidden reservoirs of will, determination and ambition to succeed in our endeavours – the unseen force that ultimately gives rise to the explosion of spring.
The emotional correspondences of spring, summer and late summer are more outward, about being in the world, creating a life and relating to other people in different ways. The emotional correspondences of autumn and winter are more internal, more to do with one’s relationship with one’s self.
In imbalance we may have a vision for our lives but be frustrated in our efforts to fulfil it by a lack of confidence and assertiveness; we may struggle in our personal relationships and with intimacy; we may give sympathy and understanding to others but be unable to receive it; we may be cut off, living in the past, in a permanent state of grief; we may be overwhelmed with fear and exist in a constant state of high alertness.
The emotions are different skins that people wear or lenses through which they perceive and experience the world, according to the law of the 5 elements. What I have described are extremes. Most people have issues with two or three of the emotions but one will predominate and very much shape the world they inhabit. This will be their emotional agenda, most likely beyond their conscious awareness. The predominant emotion is often a person’s greatest strength as well as their weakest link.
Our emotional issues are a manifestation of the life lessons we need to learn at this stage of our journey toward wholeness. Knowledge of the 5 elements can deepen our self-understanding and give us keys to understanding the behaviour of others and the way they affect us, for better or worse.
In acupuncture, shiatsu, and kinesiology knowledge of the 5 elements is used in diagnosis and treatment. Whatever a practitioner’s modality, for those who engage therapeutically with others, the 5 elements can be an invaluable aid to understanding the emotional issues of others and the forces that drive them. For practices such as reflexology the 5 elements can bring additional diagnostic information as to where a person’s root imbalance may be and suggest additional treatment options. For yoga teachers the 5 elements can give insight into the emotional content behind posture and bring some new inspiration for planning classes from the perspective of the seasons and the emotions.
Seamus Lynch, B.Arch, Lic.Ac., M.B.Ac.C., M.N.R.R.I., originally trained and worked as an architect and also worked as an actor and director in the theatre. He studied 5 element acupuncture at the College of Traditional Acupuncture, U.K., and has been practising in Dublin since 1993. He introduced Indian Head Massage to Ireland and has been teaching these techniques since 1994. He is also a certified Zero Balancer and yoga teacher.