The Theory of The Five Elements
The philosophical origins of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are deeply steeped in Taoism. The ideas of Taoism are closely based on observation of the natural world and the manner in which it operates; the changes of the weather, the course of the stars, the cycle of life. These natural phenomena were perceived as having an influence on human beings, on their thinking and feeling, on the illnesses they developed and so on.
Everywhere in nature there is dynamic interchange; the seed (Yin) grows into the plant (Yang) which eventually withers and dies back into the earth (Yin).
This takes place within the changes of seasons – Winter (Yin) transforms through Spring into Summer (Yang) which in turn transforms through Autumn into Winter (Yin) again. Until today, TCM draws extensively on these metaphors which is articulated in
The Theory of the Five Elements – Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, Earth.
It is crucial to understand that the term ‘Element’ does not bear the same meaning as in the Western thinking. In Chinese terms, it is not seen as a material substance but rather as a power or a specific quality of the Universe. The Elements are seen as transition phases of the different manifestations of Chi. This idea of varied energetic states corresponds amazingly to modern discoveries in physics – especially Quantum Physics.
According to the Taoist view, the Five Elements are evident in all manifestations in the cosmos – in the directions, the climate, the stars, the seasons, the landscape… as well within human beings – in the organs, the tissue, the senses, what we eat, the emotions and the mental abilities. They manifest their relationship in two ways with the aim of keeping each other balanced – they support each other and control each other. If the energetic relationships are not balanced this will express itself in a human being as discomfort, distress and eventually illness.
If the Elements are in balance with each other
one finds harmony, clarity and peace
Apart from a diagnostic tool within Chinese Medicine, the Five Elements are expressed in the different dates of our calendar. Any birth date can therefore be transferred into Elements which are ruled by the same two relationships of supporting and controlling each other. Knowledge of this ‘code’ – the Personality Profiling – enables us to learn about strengths and weaknesses of a person, about health and certain character traits, about professional aptitude and talents.
As a consequence we are able to look at the person with different eyes: by discovering that e.g. the Water Element is not strong within a certain birth date, we know that the immune system should be watched. By being aware of any imbalance we have the chance of adjusting and correcting our life style, nutrition and how we take care of ourselves.
On another level, a person might be constantly frustrated, angry and controlling – by detecting a preponderance of the Wood Element we might be able to understand the feelings and reactions of this person better and have the opportunity to deal with him/her in a different way.
Children are often misunderstood as we associate certain behavior with a certain character; a student who does not speak up in class might be quickly labeled as being lazy or disinterested – while often the reason is a certain configuration within the Elements.
Within our professional life, the Elements can give us valuable advice on the kind of long term career we want to choose. Am I a ‘people person’ or do I prefer to work alone? Is it safer for me to stay employed or will I be more successful by going on my own? Is my child happy by studying at university or does he/she have more success through a vocational training?
Finally, in essence, the Five Elements manifest the five main characteristics
that carry us through life:
Metal Element the direction of where we want to go, while
Water Element expresses the fluidity of life and our willingness to adjust to change,
Fire Element provides us with enthusiasm and the joy of life,
Wood Element presents us with the ability to grow and expand and
Earth Element gives us the grounding and stability.
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Theory of The Five Elements