A Five Element Path to maintaining sanity amid chaos

This school term has flown by so fast, I haven’t known exactly what to do with it! It’s the nature of this education that you’re always taking in and trying to assimilate so much, while still retaining what you’ve already learned and really you feel like you’re not doing any of those things particularly well.

Personally, I try to take some solace in the fact that many many have gone before me and managed – so I will as well. Still, trying to keep everything together at school while managing home/family life, taking time for my personal and spiritual development and keeping up with all of my other commitments, like this website, has been quite a struggle.

Last night, my partner and I had a great conversation about life in general and the difficulties therein. What we really focused on in our talk was how important it is, within a life partnership as well as any other kind of intense relationship, to hold our own center and have some way to navigate the immense amount of information that comes our way – as well as the overwhelming number of decisions we must make in any given situation.

My sense is that in a relationship and in life in general, there will always be more information coming in than you can ever hope to process. With the Internet and other improvements in information technology, that situation is just becoming more overloaded. Many authors have discussed “information overload” and given various strategies to deal with it. What’s funny is that reading some of that information, in my experience, has actually added to the problem and not solved it. 😀

I thought I would offer you some of what I gleaned from that conversation, put in five element terminology, to help those students and harried young professionals in the audience to maybe get a handle on the wild ride of life. Please feel free to offer any additional wisdom if you have it.

1. Starting with Wood, as all good things should, we find the crux of the problem. The imperative of Wood is to grow, grow , grow – to take in all the nutrients that come our way, to process them as quickly and efficiently as possible, and to produce something in return — growth! It’s the impetus behind all basic life processes, to take in and to use, to reach higher and higher. This principle is behind that old saying, “I’ll rest when I’m dead.” It’s the constant pushing up against the world, the unceasing urge to take in and then create, to briefly nourish and then reach.

Wood is the element of the Liver, the General, who would – if imbalanced – sacrifice all in the name of victory! Rest is an afterthought – the essence is simply to keep going. This wood energy is a beautiful thing, and nothing would get done without it, but it must not forget itself and overrun its place — which it most certainly has in my life at various times. I take on too many projects, I open myself to too many inputs, I read everything I can, I ask the universe for too many teachers and I expect myself to take it all in and process it NOW.

2. Moving to Fire we have one hint of a possible solution. Fire is the realm of the Emperor, the Heart, and the Heart holds the mandate for the entire human being. Fire is the most ethereal of the phases and in that way, the closest to Heaven. Huge problems occur when we don’t let the Emperor be the Emperor. The Emperor is responsible for holding the space for our purpose in life, of animating our actions in that direction. The Emperor beats out the time of the body, giving the subtle commands to jump when and how high.

In my case, and I think in the cases of many, the Wood General in his ability to take in so much and desire to move forward so strongly has usurped the position of the Emperor. But that charge ahead leaves me overexposed and vulnerable to an attack from the flanks, or just a loss of energy as the food line is cut and resources become scarce.

So – the first thing first? Let the Emperor be the Emperor. Find your purpose – which means to remember it. You already know what that purpose is, just sit and be quiet long enough to let yourself recall. What is a purpose? There’s probably one for your life – for me it has a few facets. But there’s also purposes for the time that you’re in – for those of us that are students – our very first purpose is to LEARN exactly what we are being asked to learn, no more and no less.

My purpose at this time, aside from my grand plans and aspirations, is to learn this medicine as well as I possibly can in this time that has been graciously given me. What is your grander purpose or vision? Is it to get close to enlightenment? To work towards the elimination of world hunger? To have a lot of fun? I think everyone has one. Figure out yours. And then imbue it into the fire, the Heart, the Emperor and let it rule with that mandate.

What does it mean to rule with that mandate? Well, ultimately, that’s where the communication between Water and Fire come in and it breaks with the normal cycle of the five elements, but it’s important!

3. Using the power of Water to help the Emperor rule. I’ve talked about this in various ways before, but I think this is a powerful way to think of it. Even with a mandate, we may find ourselves crippled in the face of so much information and so many decisions. We need a way to connect our innermost purpose with real-time situations that we have to deal with every day. For me, this is the power of Water.

Water speaks to our connection with our accumulated wisdom, our spiritual selves, the mysteries of our inner universe. However you want to look at it – one of the greatest essences of Water is the ability to contain the wild and ethereal intensity of Fire in the cool, constructed force of tangible reality, Yin. Maybe that’s a little too woo-woo for some of you, but I’m simply saying that in human lives, Water can help us to bring our highest principles into concrete action in the world.

The “how” behind this has many faces depending on your personal preference. It could be prayer, it could be throwing the Yijing, it could be long sessions of Qigong followed by journaling, it could be a walk and talk with your best friend, it could be a hike in the Cascade mountains… whatever you do to connect with a deeper part of yourself, establish that as your primary method. Then, when confronted with overload or a serious decision, indulge in this method until clarity comes.

Most importantly – trust it immediately. I tend to use the Yijing for this – but long walks followed by meditation work very well, too. By employing some tried and true method of tapping into your subconscious processes you will find a way to allow the mandate of the Emperor to come into your every day life. I know this needs a little work, but I hope my essential point is coming across.

4. Earth and Metal both have powerful parts to play, but I will reveal those in another entry to save your eyes a little pain. 🙂

Have something to add? Share your voice in the comments. If you’re interested in learning more about five element theory or want to keep up with the conversation, be sure to subscribe to this blog via RSS feed or via email.


About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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