What are the Five Elements? How are they linked to the ancient art of acupuncture?
Each person has a natural ‘home’ in one of the Elements, and it will manifest in the way you see the world, how you react to it, how your voice sounds, in your mannerisms, even in your appearance! It will demonstrate your vulnerabilities and your capacity for especial talents. It’s what makes you tick. Your ‘home’ element interfaces with the other four in a way unique to each individual.
The five Elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each Element has many associations which characterize it: a colour, a sound, an odour, a taste, a season, a time of day, a direction, an emotion, an aspect of human personality, a part of your physical body, even a body shape. All these associations can be subtly displayed within the individual and observation of these is how a traditional diagnosis is made in Five Element acupuncture.
If all the Elements are working together as a harmonious team, you will be well, happy and ‘in your skin’. When harmony is disrupted, whether by internal causes, eg negative emotions, extreme stress etc, or by external conditions, eg a damp house or getting too cold working outdoors, then troubles can start.
The Season of the Metal Element is the season of decline and loss, when the fruits of the Late Summer season wither away and are lost if not safely harvested. All the growth of Spring, and the burgeoning of Summer culminate in the fruitfulness of Late Summer’s harvest. How did your Earth Element fare this year? Did this year’s plans bear fruit, bring rewards to be reaped? Earth controls the Qi (life force energy) of your stomach and spleen so digestion is one of its important roles, it really needs a good harvest to nourish it and keep it robust. How does this Element manifest in you – for instance, how well does your physical stomach digest? How well does the ‘stomach’ of your mind do the same? Are there things in life you just can’t stomach? On the mental/emotional level, Earth in harmony provides the capacity for thoughtfulness, understanding and sympathy; but in disharmony, anxiety, endless worrying, an inability to give or receive sympathy, or over-reaction to it, can result when the Qi flowing through the Earth meridians of Spleen and Stomach is disrupted.
In Autumn, the Metal Element dominates; nights are longer, we are indoors more, at home more. Ideally ‘at home’ with ourselves too, if all is well! The Metal Element governs the lung and large intestine. The lungs need to breathe – breathe in life-sustaining air, settle the mind and see the preciousness of things. The intestines need to excrete – excrete whatever pollutes that preciousness. The emotion associated with Metal is grief. The grief that comes when what you hold most dear is not there, when what you long for and admire has escaped you. So there is a kind of emptiness. So you search and search; or you may cut off completely into an unfeeling blank, because to admit that loss is too painful. If your ‘home’ is in this Element, you may love finery, particularly jewellery! And the very best quality of whatever is available. Despite this intensity, you may sometimes feel remote, even cold, yet remain forever inspired to discover the ultimate, the faraway dream. You may be mercurially swift in thought and action, but paradoxically be deeply disappointed with the results. You may be able to let go too easily, or unable to let go at all. But in harmony, Metal confers a deep sense of completeness, a state of peaceful communion with your deeper nature, neither too much in the world, nor remote from it. No need to fret, all is going well and smoothly, just as it should. Neither lungs nor large intestines need to think about what they do, they just do it. It is only when they don’t function well that you become aware of them.
Ancient Chinese sages advise that living in accord with the Seasons is one way of helping to maintain your own harmony. Late Summer was the time to reflect on your personal ‘harvest’ and gather it in, so that in the Autumn when things die away, you are not left empty-handed but moving confidently forward into Winter with contentment and good cheer.