The Five Elements

‘Five Elements’ is a style of Acupuncture practice. It is grounded in an ancient Chinese philosophy, which is based on the dynamic movement of energy seen in nature.

How the Five Elements can help in everyday life

The Five Elements is a model that can be used for analysing and predicting the transformation of all phenomena, and although it was conceived by ancient Chinese scholars it is still as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.

Observing the movements of the cosmos and the changing seasons, the ancient scholars discovered a set of natural laws, just as Western scholars have laws of physics.

Natural Laws – Yin and Yang, and the Five Elements

The ancient scholars believed that the physical world around us came from nothing, what we in the West call the ‘Big Bang’. They categorised all phenomena that arose after the Big Bang into Yin and Yang, and further into the Five Elements. The way the East views the world is slightly different to the West. In the West we tend to observe discrete objects, whereas in the East they view things in relation to something else. So when I say that the ancients divided all phenomena in the universe into Ying and Yang it is always in relation to something else. By way of example we can view ice as extreme Yin, and steam as extreme Yang. Water is Yang in relation to Ice, but it is Yin is relation to steam. This is why the Yin Yang symbol contains the seed of the other within it. Essentially, this phenomena is described by Einstein’s law of conversion of matter into energy: E=MC squared. The equation means that under the right conditions, matter transforms to energy, and energy converts into matter.

The Five Elements further subdivide the qualities of Yin and Yang, but also describe a pattern of transformation. When we look to nature, we can see the quality of energy embodied in the seasons of the year. We can also see their inevitable transformation, one into the next.


The Seasons and the Five Elements

The transformation of the seasons, one into another, represents the universal order underlying all things. Understanding this natural order helps us to manage change more effectively. Change is about the only thing we can predict in life. An understanding of this universal law, will help us to manage change, and the stress associated with it, better.

Spring – the season associated with the Wood Element

The energetic movement is upward and outward. Nature bursts forth with new life, according to the plan written in its DNA. Wood energy gives us the capacity to move forward with clear vision and determination. It gives us our creative spark, and the ability to plan and make decisions.

If for whatever reason, our plans are thwarted, we may feel angry and frustrated. Wood energy gives us the flexibility to move around obstacles, like a seedling moves around pebbles to reach the sunlight above the soil.

In a project management cycle this stage is related to being able to create plans, and to realise an idea.

Summer – the season associated with the Fire Element

The energetic movement is expansion to its fullest potential. Here, nature is flourishing to maturity as we see the plan of spring realised in all its glory. Fire gives us our capacity to mature and blossom, it is related to our capacity to communicate with others, share, and develop relationships.

When our Fire element is out of balance we can either lose the ability to relate to people with warmth, or, we may be over-excited, talkative and perpetually joke around. Shy or extrovert, without the knowledge of what we are about, we cannot enter into relationships or express our true selves.

In a project management cycle, this stage would represent the marketing or pitching phase.

Late summer – the season associated with the Earth Element

This additional season is not one we observe in the West, but I’m sure you’ll agree that there is a very marked difference between summer in its fullest glory and the chill coolness of autumn. In the transformation of the seasons, this is when we harvest the benefits of our hard work and planning earlier in the year. The Earth element gives us our integrity. It is associated with nurturing and nourishing, and without that it is difficult to feel centred, especially in times of stress.

Harvest is a time of abundance, even as the energetic movement of the season starts to decline. The Earth element gives us the capacity to nourish ourselves and others and have empathy for self and others. Out of balance we may be needy and over reliant on others, or we may not be able to receive help and comfort from others.

In a project management cycle, as well as being the phase in which we reap the benefits of our labour, Earth is also at the centre, because we must always have a sense of stability, not just to think and act from a place of integrity, but to be grounded as we make the transition through the cycle.

Autumn – the season associated with the Metal Element

The energetic movement of autumn is contraction. Trees drop their leaves, and the process begins of extracting essential nutrients into the soil for the growing season ahead. Everything is laid bare, and the Metal Element gives us the capacity to see what is essential in our own lives.

When Metal is out of balance, we may lose connection to our self-worth, we may try to attain quality from outside possessions and pleasures. We may be overly critical of ourselves and others, and we may not be able to let go of past losses, feeling a sense of emptiness that can never be filled. Metal gives us the capacity to let go of things that no longer serve us, and connects us to our higher purpose.

In a project management cycle, this phase allows us to reflect on our work objectively, to make refinements and to recognise our achievements.

Winter – the season associated with the Water Element

The energetic movement of winter is stillness. It is when nature rests, in order to ready itself for the next growing season. If nature did not pause at this time, growth in the following season would be feeble, or non-existent. It is a time to build our reserves, and the Water element is the source of our strength and ambitions.

Water gives us the ability to flow through life. It is the source of our willpower, but also the source of existential fear, which can sometimes overwhelm. Both ambition and fear can drive us beyond the capacity of our physical and mental resources.

In the project management cycle it is the beginning and the end. It is the stillness from which an idea is born, and it the end on which something new is built.

How the elements help in everyday life

Understanding which emotions and mental functions are at play in daily life is useful, so that we know if we are in right relationship with ourselves and others. Similarly, understanding the natural life cycle of a project, or activity takes away some of the anxiety of wondering whether we are on track. The phenomena of the movement of the Five Elements has been studied for thousands of years. The links page on this website has some suggestions for further reading.

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