A cycle, in motion
Like your bodily organs, these Elements are not just five lumps of stuff, they are something much more sublime and alive than that. They are a way of viewing the exquisite magic of nature and all its workings. Like your Yin and Yang, your Five Elements exist in harmony, and in dynamic relationships with each other, and not in isolation.
Reflecting this, they are sometimes translated as Five Phases rather than Five Elements. In fact, I just looked it up, and even I didn’t know how many other ways they are known: “The Wu Xing (Chinese: 五行; pinyin: Wǔ Xíng), also known as the Five Elements, Five Phases, the Five Agents, the Five Movements, Five Processes, the Five Steps/Stages and the Five Planets of significant gravity” (Wikipedia).
The Five Elements model is a rich framework for viewing yourself, the world, and everything in it, and seeing how all of those things are in an ongoing relationship with each other.
The generative Sheng Cycle
Your Sheng Cycle, your generative cycle of the Five Elements, moves clockwise around the sequence:
- Water nourishes the plant life of Wood Nothing in nature stands still, and soon winter is revitalised by the first buds of spring.
- Wood burns to create Fire Spring gives way to summer.
- The ashes of Fire create Earth The bright sunshine of Summer builds up to the fields of abundance in late summer.
- Earth is compressed to create Metal Summer yields to the mellowness of autumn.
- Metal cups aquifers to create springs of Water (Like the picture on the Evian bottle.) Autumn retreats as we embrace the stillness of winter.
If the child is crying, it may be the mother who is sick
From this cycle, arise ideas such as ‘where the child is crying, it may be the mother that is sick’.
A prosaic example would be that where your digestive Earth energy is not strong, phlegm can start to bog down your Lungs and respiratory system, clogging up your Metal energy.
The calming Ke Cycle
And, while everything is in harmony, your Ke or control cycle, keeps each of your Elements from flaring up excessively:
- Wood controls Earth Plants and trees cover Earth.
- Fire controls Metal Excess Metal is melted away by Fire.
- Earth controls Water A dam holds back the deluge.
- Metal controls Wood The axe trims the tree to size.
- Water controls Fire A bucket of water subdues a blaze.
And where this cycle goes wrong, the Element that is flaring up can be a pointer back towards your Element that should be controlling it. For example digestive problems in the realm of your Earth’s stomach and spleen, which are worse with stress, suggest that Wood and your Liver are also involved.
As in many areas of Chinese wisdom, you are a microcosm of the whole.