The Five elements can be used in Chinese Medicine to describe the flow and relationship of the human body and the world around us. The Five Elements can represent the seasons, the major organs, personality types, emotions, spirit and more.
I have always loved how it can be used to explain the flow of emotions from joy all the way to fear and then back to joy again. I particularly love how it explains the benefits of the emotion of anger in the cycle of our emotions. Anger in our society can have such negative connotations; we are taught to supress it, hold it in and thus it can become volatile and toxic to ourselves and others. Every emotion has a place and a purpose and when we allow them to flow with awareness, they allow us to process and respond to what is happening within us and around us.
The cycle starts with the Emperor Element, the ruler, which is the Fire Element, this is where our Shen (spirit) resides. The physiological emotion of Fire is joy, happiness, excitement and when we feel this emotion it obviously feels fantastic, we smile, laugh and our emotions can almost bubble over. But we cannot stay in this emotion indefinitely, otherwise the Fire Element of the joy can start to cause a sense of over excitement and in its worst state, mania. So, after our initial burst of joy and happiness, we settle back and move into the element of Earth: contentment. We bathe in the endorphins that were emitted, the bliss that our heart experienced and we settle in to enjoy the aftermath of joy. This is Earth, we feel grounded and content. But as this sense of contentment is felt, we begin to feel the loss of the joy that our heart had experienced, and this loss very easily turns to sadness. ‘Will we ever feel true joy again?’ The Emperor Element Fire (our heart) starts to crave happiness. And from sadness, which is the Metal Element, we start to move into the Element, Water, we begin to fear that we will never feel the fire of joy again.
Fear is the emotion of the Water Element, it can be deep and dark, like a stone sinking to the bottom of a deep pool. It can be tumbling and violent like a rapid and that fear can freeze us like ice. But to move ourselves out of the Water Element and fear, we need to start to utilise the growth of the Wood Element. The determination and drive that comes with the growth of wood, the energy of inner anger and determination to change the situation we are in. ‘I will NOT stay in this FEAR! I WILL move!! I WILL feel fire again!!’ And from this space we find the energy to move out of this fear and into the dynamic and volatile energy of Wood to create the change and growth we need to feel JOY again. And then, we move into the Fire Element again, we find the joy our heart needs.
This cycle can happen in a split second or in a lifetime. We can become stuck in any of these Elements, unable to move out of Earth to become so inactive and worried that we are not able to reach the potential of our soul. We can become so caught up in loss and sadness that we become depressed and locked in Metal Element and our life is tinged with a sense of loss. And we can also get stuck in the Wood Element; we fail to use the growth and dynamic element of our anger to move us forward. Our emotions can pivot from fear to anger erupting into rage to insult and disturb the Fire Element, our Emperor or Spirit, affecting our decisions and relationships.
Emotion is E-motion, Energy in Motion. When we allow our emotions to be felt, the energy of each emotion can move and flow. This helps our Autonomic Nervous System to regulate, our stress hormones to be in balance and brings us into homeostasis and health. When we feel each emotion fully without making a story up about it, but simply allowing the somatic and emotional sensations to be felt, we find that every emotion transforms and changes. The non-judgemental awareness and sensing of our emotions allow them to move and change, propelling us along the elemental cycle and towards health and our true potential.
Chinese Medicine, the technology of Yoga, the awareness of meditation and recently the science of interoception point towards the absolute need for connection to our body to be able to be self-aware and balanced. The Five Element model is another way to understand the interconnection of our body and emotions and to learn how to become friends with the sensations and feelings we have. We no longer have to push down strong feelings but embrace them with gentle awareness.