In today’s post, I will go back to the Five Elements theory and further explore this Eastern philosophy. As mentioned in the Five Elements in Taoism and Eastern Medicine, the Five Elements are generated by the interaction between Yin and Yang.
Together with the principle of Yin and Yang, the Five Elements theory constitutes the cornerstone of traditional Korean, Chinese, and Japanese philosophy. In my past posts, I already introduced the basic Five Elements theory, going over each of the Five Elements, which are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. This time, I will explain how the Five Elements manifest in human life cycle from conception to death based on the Five Elements theory.
The Water Elemental Phase
The Water Element holds the secret of life and has a limitless potential. In fact, it is the Water Element that constitutes the basis of our physical existence, as our life begins with the Water Element. According to the Five Elements theory, the Water Elemental phase corresponds to the time between our conception and our birth into the world. When we are in this phase of life, we are akin to a tiny seed that will blossom into a tree.
The Wood Elemental Phase
After ten months’ waiting period in our mother’s womb, we bring our bodies out into the world and thereby, the Wood Elemental phase begins. The power of the Wood Element lies in its enormous capacity for growth and development.
According to the Five Elements theory, the energy of the Wood Element is exhilarant, arousing, expansive, vigorous and vibrant. Thanks to this energy, our bodies can rapidly develop muscles and joints, which enables us to walk and run. When we are in this phase of life, our bodies develop on a daily basis.
In addition to the physical development, we also undergo phenomenal development in our mental and emotional capacity. Not only do we learn how to speak, but we also adopt the cultural and behavioral patterns, as well as the values of those around us, through observation and interaction. We shape our emotions and personality traits. We learn how to adapt to the environment and interact with others. In a way, the process of growth is akin to metamorphosis. A newborn baby transforms into a child who is capable of walking and speaking.
According to the Five Elements theory, it is the power of the Wood Element that brings about this “metamorphosis.”
According to the Five Elements theory, the Wood Element manifests in every plant and animal that undergoes the process of growth. The energy of the Wood Element transforms a tadpole into a frog and an acorn into an oak tree.
Imagine a tadpole and see how it differs from the frog it will eventually grow into. Compare an acorn with an oak tree and see how they differ from each other in size and shape. The energy of the Wood Element enables plants to sprout from hard seeds and leads them to grow. The same energy governs us in our infancy and childhood and that is why such a rapid metamorphosis-like growth is possible during this phase.
Fundamentally Yang in nature, it is the Wood Element that makes children active, noisy, restless and excitable. Also the Wood Element’s aptitude to change is reflected in children’s ever-changing emotions and their short attention span.
The Fire Elemental Phase
According to the Five Elements theory, the Fire Elemental phase corresponds to our adolescence and young adulthood. It is the time when we are governed by the flourishing energy of the Fire Element. For example, due to the explosive energy of the Fire Element, we develop pimples during this time. According to the Five Elements theory, the energy of the Fire Element promotes joy, love, passion, abundance and development. It also offers us inspiration, intuition and a desire to nourish an intimate relationship or friendship.
Due to the radiant energy of the Fire Element, our outer appearance tends to “glow” when we are in this phase of life. The Fire Element gives a sparkle to our eyes and fills us with bursting energy. We all have heard that love makes people beautiful. When we are in love, it stimulates the energy of the Fire Element and thus our looks naturally become more radiant. When we are in the Fire Elemental phase of life, we also tend to ooze vitality, energy and beauty.
The Fire Element often fills us with sexual energy and that is why many of us become sexually more active in summer when the Fire Element prevails in nature. When we become an adolescent, the Fire Element also triggers sexual urges in us. During the adolescent years, our hormones increase and our gender traits become more pronounced in us.
As we become capable of procreating, our interest in the opposite sex also mounts. Love and romance fascinate us. Many of us experience the intense feeling of love during this time whether it is one-sided or mutual. We could fall in love with someone who would be inappropriate to bond with romantically, such as our teacher. We could also frequently experience love at first sight.
The passion we taste during this phase tends to be short-lived, since the Fire Element does not bring much depth to our relationships. Like a flame that can be easily set ablaze and easily quenched, the fleeting sensation of passionate love frequently comes and goes during this phase of life.
Given that the Fire Element draws us to glamour, it is not surprising that some of us idolize entertainers or become obsessed with them. The energy of this Element sometimes carries us away with unrealistic dreams or fantasies. It also makes many of us sensitive and emotional. However, no matter how glowing we may look from outside, the Fire Element rarely brings us something that has real substance or a lasting value.
Therefore, we are invariably subject to insecurity, confusion and emptiness when we are in the Fire Elemental phase of life. The Fire Element could lead us to seek pleasure, excitement and adventure at the cost of balance and security. Therefore, when we are in this phase of life, guidance and support are essential in order for us to remain grounded and stay on track.
The Earth Elemental Phase
According to the Five Elements theory, the Earth Elemental phase corresponds to mid-life. As we reach the middle age, most of us shed the traits of the Fire Element and increasingly adopt the characteristics of the Earth Element. Consequently, instead of seeking pleasure and excitement, we generally look to security and stability. Instead of only concerning with ourselves, we think of our family, seeking to create a better environment for them.
This is the time when we generally become ideal members of our family, community or country. We generally become more reliable and dependable. We generally become more patient with others and more tolerant of opposing views. We also become more responsible and mature and do not act as rashly as we did in our youth. Our increased sense of self, compassion and maturity enable us to render services to other people whether they are our children, spouse or other community members.
If the Fire Element brings out passion in us, the Earth Element brings out balance and maturity. If the Fire Element fills us with bursting energy, the Earth Element leads us to become more well-grounded and serene, according to the Five Elements theory.
Therefore, while many of us become more balanced and centered, we also experience a lack of passion during this phase of life. Love and fantasy do not excite us any much. We don’t fall in love as easily as we did when we were young. We become more interested in practical matter. We desire warm companionship more than a “hot” love relationship. These characteristics reflect the characteristics of the Earth Element.
However, the impact of the Earth Element could also be negatively expressed in us when we reach the middle age, as some of us also exhibit stubborn, narrow-minded, miserly or meddlesome qualities, which are also manifestations of the Earth Elements.
Physically, the tendency of the Earth Element to accumulate could manifest in weight gains in our middle years when many of us gain weight. The tendency to accumulate could also mentally manifest when we develop a strong desire to accumulate material possessions, such as a house, cars, furniture and clothes.
The Metal Elemental Phase
According to the Five Elements theory, the Metal Elemental phase corresponds to our old years. Given that the Metal Element is Yin, this is a Yin phase when we turn more conservative, inactive, contemplative and slow, all of which reflect the Yin qualities. The Metal Element expresses itself in condensation, contraction, reduction, organization and order, according to the Five Elements theory.
These characteristics could be keenly discerned in our old days when our bodies become smaller in size and when we seek to organize our surroundings. It is common that older adults dispose of extraneous material possessions, such as books, furniture or other household items. Oftentimes, they sell their houses and move into smaller ones.
The ability to let go of what is no longer necessary is a valuable virtue of the Metal Element. When we lack in this ability, we are susceptible to grief, the emotion of the Metal Element. Grief often surges in older adults and the best way to deal with grief it to learn to let go.
As we grow old, our energy is directed inward and consequently, we lose the vitality and physical strength of our heydays. Our outer beauty conceals itself when we reach this phase, allowing more wrinkles on our skin, as the physical glow begins to leave our bodies.
Given that the Metal Element governs the skin, our skin is the first physical clue that gives away our age. Our physical deterioration is not very different from the wilting and withering of plants in autumn, the season of the Metal Element.
The physical change that happens in our old days could be devastating to some of us. However, for those of us who have lived a full life, we could easily embrace it, as this phase could be the most rewarding period of all. The Metal Element governs harvest and this is the time when we could relish the fruits of our efforts and hard work.
It could be through our grown-up children, well-established businesses or monthly pensions. It could be also through our inner strength, wisdom, peace of mind or inner wealth that we have acquired. We could reflect on our past and truly digest all the life lessons we have learned along the way. And most importantly, this phase allows us to look at life with much more wisdom, composure and detachment than ever before. With the awareness that our time is coming to an end, many of us turn to religions and spirituality during this phase of life.
On the other hand, it is possible that we could find ourselves struggling in this phase of life, refusing to let go and more tightly holding on to what no longer serves us. According to the Five Elements theory, when the Metal Element affects us negatively, we could become cold, domineering, cynical, pessimistic, uncooperative or extremely inflexible, all of which are negative expressions of the Metal Element.
The Water Elemental Phase
After undergoing the Five Elemental cycle of human life, we return to the Water Elemental phase of a dormant state. According to the Five Elements theory, our life begins in the Water Elemental phase when we spend ten months in our mother’s womb. According to the Five Elements theory, our life also ends in the Water Elemental phase as we part with our physical existence and enter the unknown territory called death.
However, our death signifies a new beginning for our soul. In that sense, our death in the Water Elemental phase could be seen as the beginning of another Five Elemental cycle. Given that death is considered to be the ultimate mystery that most of us fear, it would be interesting to note that mystery is an expression of the Water Element and fear is the emotion of the Element, according to the Five Elements theory.