The Healing Power of the Five Elements
Why do we seek out the mountains, forests, rivers, desert, and seashore? Why do we have
a sense of well being and serenity when around the works of nature? What is it that attracts us to
these natural environments?
The answer to all these questions is the same. These natural surroundings strike a chord
in us; they remind us in the deepest most basic way that we are an integral part of the natural
world. When we forget that we are nature we suffer. This simple, yet profound, realization that
we are part of the natural world is at the heart of the Five Element System of Chinese medicine.
The Five Element System provides for us a beacon that we can use to illuminate our path,
especially when our path appears overgrown and torturous.
The Five Element approach reflects the unity that we share with the natural world. Its
teachings give us a way to understand our lives in the larger context. I have been a student and
practitioner of the Five Element System as taught by Professor J.R. Worsley for over 25 years. In
that time I have seen this system help a vast number of people on the Body, Mind, and Spirit
levels. In my work with patients I have observed that when we have the experience of being part
of the natural world we feel at peace. We do not have to learn this way, only to recall it.
I would like to share with you the Five Element System and show how by remembering
who we are we can begin healing ourselves and the world around us.
The Five Elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. These elements were the
way the ancient Chinese saw the world (macrocosm). The early masters realized that these
elements were also within us (microcosm). One of the laws explaining the Five Elements is the
Law of Mother-Child or the Sheng cycle. This cycle illustrates how each element is connected to
the other elements in a never ending cycle of Birth-Growth-Harvest-Death-Rebirth. This cycle is
clearly manifested in the external world by the seasons. Wood-Spring (Birth) feeds the Fire of
Summer (maturation) creates the Earth-Late Summer (Harvest). Out of Earth comes Metal-Fall
(Dying back, letting go) continuing on to Water-Winter (Quiet Rebuilding Reservoirs), which
goes on to support wood.
The power and relevance of the Five Element System is that it places us in the reality of
ever changing nature and the impermanence of life. Take a walk in nature at any season and you
will see life springing forth and life dying back. It is no different for us. We are part of the dance.
The greater our acceptance of this dance of change the greater our experience of peace and
The Five Element practitioner acts as a farmer, tends to his or her (crops) patients, seeing
what they need. The practitioner discerns which element is the most out of balance, which
element is the most damaged, and where the blocks are along the cycle that are not allowing for
change. Supporting and nourishing the element that is the most damaged, which is called the
Causative Factor, the practitioner begins to unblock the patient‘s energy, strengthens the flow of
the sheng cycle thus bringing the person into balance.
There are numerous ways a practitioner can support the Causative Factor element;
acupuncture, acupressure, herbs, moxa, giving the patient homework to do, giving the patient an
understanding of where they are, where they are blocked, and a vision of their future.
Every aspect of our life whether the smallest, seemingly inconsequential, to the construct
of our entire life can be seen along the continuum of the Five Element cycle. For example, you
decide to create something, a relationship, a painting, a report, etc. It begins with the seed, the
idea, the beginning that bursts forth. This represents the Wood energy of Springtime, a season of
birth, beginning, planning, organizing, and decision making. When the Wood element is healthy
it grants us the ability, like a strong tree or sprouting seed, to be upright and strong yet also to
bend. As Lao Tzu tells us, "yield and you need not break".
The seed germinates and begins to grow nurtured by the warmth of the Fire element, the
Summer. Fire energy is about sorting out what to keep and what to throw away, what to give
love, passion, and energy to, when to open your heart and when it is appropriate to close your
heart. Fire grants us the ability to mature and experience joy.
After Summer comes the season of Late Summer, the Earth element. This is the time to
rejoice in the harvest, to feel fulfilled in your work, to see that you have taken the idea and
brought it to completion. The Earth energy is about nurturing and caring, as Mother Earth
provides the sustenance and a home for us, and ideally, as our own mothers provided for us.
Harvest time is followed by Autumn, the metal element, a time of letting go. In the
natural world sunlight, leaves, and warmth all are on the decline. We often feel sadness and grief
at this time. In the larger context this letting go is vital, change is inevitable. We would not be
able to bring in new ideas if we did not have the ability to discard old ones.
The Fall, metal season, gives way to the Water-Winter season. A time when the outer
world is cold, seemingly inert, but beneath the surface, nature is resting, regenerating, rebuilding
its storehouses in anticipation of the coming Spring. The Winter-Water season is as vital to our
health and well-being as is the birth of Spring. We must honor in us this time to rest and allow it
its proper place. We know that at proper times farmers allow fields to be fallow. We learn that
rest is as critical as action.
The understanding of this cycle enables you to begin to see the innate wisdom of this
system. It is the way the world flows and the way our life flows when healthy in Body, Mind,
and Spirit. This system of medicine is an experiential one. We can talk about it but as Lao Tzu
says, "the real Tao cannot be talked about in words". This system is alive in each one of us.
How do I know this? "It all begins in me", said Lao Tzu. I encourage you to partake in this
wonderful system of healing.
When part or all of your life is not flowing, meditate on the Five Element cycle and see
where you are blocked or off balance. What don‘t you have enough of? Too much of? What are
you not able to access? Using the Five Element System as a framework lay your situation upon it
and begin to provide yourself with the quality and essence of the elements that will restore
harmony and flow to your being. Trust your vision and inherent wisdom to understand the
validity of the Five Element System. Ask yourself how do you experience Fire? What are your
associations with Summer? Do this for each element. Allow yourself to have direct contact with
the elements. They are ever present to us in the natural world. Fire blazing in the sun or
controlled in fireplace, Earth, the varied soils beneath our feet, the center of our world. Metal the
trace elements that are so precious and fundamental to life, rare in quantity but of irreplaceable
value and quality. Water, the elixir of life. Water in all its manifest forms granting power and the
ability of flow. Wood the energy of growth and of the resilience of life. Can you be flexible with
Work with the elements, become sensitive to them, friends with them. In so doing you
reacquaint yourself with what is within you. Experience the seasons as they inevitably change.
Welcome in the changes. The essence of life is movement and flow. Watch what nature does and
We seek out the natural world. Our connection to it is non verbal, subliminal, oftentimes
unconscious and always profound. It directs our behavior. Remembering that we are part of the
natural world is not a luxury for us, it is a necessity, vital as the food we eat and air we breathe.
Allow yourself to experience the Elements-Seasons in ways that are harmonious with
your being. Following are some suggestions:
Fire: Sit by a fireplace or in the sun or creat it in you imagination and feel the warmth.
Feel how it opens you up, opens your heart, fills you with love and joy. Allow your heartaches to
beigin healing and experience love for yourself and for all the world.
Earth: Lie on the earth or work in the garden. Experience the grand abundant splendor of
our "Mother". Allow it‘s vastness and solidity to provide for you the experience of being
centered and grounded.
Metal: Touch gold, silver, copper, and platinum. Hold diamonds, turquoise, rubies, and
other precious gems. Experience their purity and essence. Imagine the vast quantities of earth
needed to extract the rare flecks of these metals. Metal gives us that sense of our self-worth, of
the importance of quality and essence in our lives.
Water: In a glass to drink, tub to float in, or ocean to gaze at, the element water is so
much part of our life that we can at times take it for granted. But no life could exist without it.
Water grants us the ability to flow, to replenish the reservoirs, and to wash clean. It is fearless
and patient wearing down the hardest rock and flowing everywhere.
Wood: Look at plant life, from the smallest sprout to the tallest redwood, all with energy
to grow and move upward. Ask youself; where am I frustrated and thwarted in my life? Where
have I grown and where do I need to grow?
Have a light heart and a joyful spirit when you embark on this journey. It is not to be
ponderous and burdensome. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslow says, "Joy is not incidental on the
spiritual path, it is essential".