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Intro to Living the Elements
by Thea Elijah
Transcript of Thea’s class of Living the Elements
The opening question that was just asked was: Does everybody have a primary Element, and can you tell by looking at them?
Here’s the background on the theory. Let’s start with the one way in which we are all absolutely identical.
One way to think of it is, we’re all different kinds of donuts, and there are many different flavors of donuts. Some have sprinkles, some have glaze; there are all these different donuts. Some have a bite taken out and you have to heal the wounds…
But the part of the donut that is the same as every other donut is the hole. At the Heart of every donut is an emptiness; is a void that light shines through. That’s true of everybody in this room. We use the metaphor of different types of people; we could also say different types of donuts… but at the center of every person is a Heart, and therefore shen, which is like sunlight shining through the void.
Another way I often think about it is: we’re like stained glass windows. Imagine that this room is a cathedral, and all these people are different windows that have different pictures on them, but the same light is shining through all of the windows.
What that means is that inside of everybody is a place that’s just consciousness, just awareness. That part of you, the part that’s just a simple awareness looking out through your eyes, is the same as the awareness that’s looking at you from other people’s eyes… filtered through all kinds of stuff! But on the other side of that window is just a light! And, in fact, when we make eye contact, and we jump the fence, there’s this feeling of: what am I doing over there? Hi! You know, you can wave to yourself over there, in the other person’s eyes. It’s a lovely feeling.
This is what’s meant by heart connection in Chinese medicine. It’s got nothing to do with liking or enjoying the particular colors of their stained glass window. Lovely stained glass window, yeah, but it’s that light that’s me looking back at me.
That’s a central place in everyone that is always healthy. It’s not part of the donut; it never gets mixed into the donut; it’s just there. Sometimes when the donut is freaking out, stuff from the donut starts cluttering it up or we get caught in our own donut-ness and we forget that at the core of us is this place of just light, and just the same as in everyone else.
This is why one of the major Fire issues is contact and connection. We get very lonely if we’re trying to connect donut-to-donut. Those of us who have very peculiar donuts or very strong tasting donuts can feel especially isolated if we think that the basis of rapport is being like anyone else, or trying to get somebody to favor the flavor of your donut, when actually it’s not. It’s based on something that’s an unbreakable connection, that’s already there: that the light that’s coming through you is the same light that’s coming through me. If I’m with that, then there’s no possibility of rejection. Because we’re the same light. There it is. The connection is already there.
So this is the basis of rapport: that we’re already there. We don’t have to make that connection. We don’t have to make rapport with the hole in the donut. There’s something that’s healthy in the person. They’re already home and we can already be with the already- home place in them from the already-home place in us.
This doesn’t mean we aren’t absolutely crazy flailing neurotics in our own donut. That’s fine! I’m a crazy, flailing neurotic, and there’s also a part of me that’s completely healthy. I ground in it when I see it in your eyes too. All of the sudden health in you and health in me connect. Good, that’s the first treatment; it’s just reminding us that what we are all about is this central health of the Heart.
All of health comes down to this: that the Heart moves through every season of the year. What does the Emperor do? Wu Wei. But the Wu Wei is not actually just sitting there on the throne in the Imperial Palace. The Emperor goes in the spring time to the Eastern chamber and performs the ritual of the East, then comes back to center.
Then in Summer, the Emperor goes to the southern chamber, and performs the ritual appropriate to the southern chamber, then comes back to the center. In the autumn the Emperor goes to the chamber of the West and performs a ceremony appropriate to the Western Chamber, then comes back to the center. In the Winter, the Emperor goes to the Northern Chamber and performs the ritual appropriate to the northern chamber, then comes back to the Center.
This movement of the Heart through the seasons and their transitions is how we live. We’re not living in a static monotone of life, because we are earthly; because we are donuts; because we are creatures and we exist in time. We move through many seasons, and we go through all kinds of things. And we’re meant to! We’re not meant to have no emotions. We’re not meant to have no experiences. Life experiences take us through the many seasons.
I’m speaking of both of the seasons of the year and the seasons of the day. The beginning of the day is the Spring, then it widens into the Summer and then it comes down into the autumn, and the Winter and silence… and you just never know when its going to be spring time! There’s a new beginning, there’s a rising energy, there’s a sudden spring time! Okay, the Emperor needs to get off her butt, go to the Eastern Chamber and do what is appropriate in Springtime, whenever Springtime hits: inner springtimes, outer springtimes, Wood element moments. Somebody starts screaming their head off at you in traffic. Okay, it’s springtime: time for the Emperor to go to the Chamber of the East and do the ritual appropriate to Springtime. Great.
Then, ah yes then, comes the really important part: then the Emperor leaves the Chamber of the East and goes back to the center again. Now: one of the things that can happen (for various reasons; some of them are inborn and some are environmental), is that the Emperor might start saying, “…You know, the last time I went to the Eastern Chamber I got klobbered. I don’t feel safe going there anymore. Never mind the Eastern Chamber.” Now I start moving with a kind of lop-sided Heart, avoiding the Wood element, the Eastern chamber. Uh oh.
Or, it could just as easily be that a person says, “Oh man, I had such a good time in the South Chamber; South Chamber is the Life! Hey! I want to stay in the South Chamber! This is so great! Never mind going back to the Heart!”
Or, a person can feel like: whenever I go to the Western Chamber I don’t know what to do there. I keep being called to it but I’m stuck . It’s not a pleasant experience.
Sometimes we get stuck in a chamber because we like it there, and we just want to be there, and we don’t want to return back to the Center. And sometimes we’re stuck in a chamber because there’s this feeling of something unresolved. We’re in the middle: I can’t stop grieving or I can’t stop being angry or I’m caught in fear and I can’t perform the ritual appropriate to that Chamber to be able to resolve that movement, that season, and come back to neutral, to the Heart.
The concept of constitutional type is the concept of there being a particular place where we are lopsiding our heart in relation to that chamber. We could be lopsiding by avoidance of that chamber of the Heart, or lopsiding by being stuck in that chamber of the Heart.
Thus a lot of what we’re going to be looking at in ourselves (so that we can look at it in others) is: Is the Emperor, the Heart, able to be in a state of wu wei which is an easy flow, appropriate to the seasons? Oh, it’s appropriate to be grieving at this time. Can I go there? Or am I saying, “I don’t do grief. I just don’t go there. Ha ha! Oh well! Guess everything’s perfect just the way it is! Move on!” Or am I able to go appropriately into the season, perform the correct ritual, go through the grieving process, and come out of it in such a way that I’m able to bring something back to the Heart.
This is called the Confucian Transformations of Virtue. Each of the Chambers of the Heart has an appropriate ritual and way of returning back to the Heart. The Emperor comes back in some way changed, different for having gone through whatever emotion it is. It takes going through that ritual transformation to be able to come back in health.
It does appear, at least it certainly appears to those of us who believe in it, that we do have a kind of innate constitutional tilt, i.e. an innate tendency toward the cultivation of a particular path of virtue. Some people think of constitutional type in terms of a capacity for a certain type of illness. But I actually think that we get into our illnesses because we’re so dead-set on a particular virtue that we get ourselves into certain difficult situations.
For instance, you wouldn’t fall on the ice unless you were interested in ice skating. You wouldn’t make loud screechy voices on the violin unless you wanted to be a violinist. There’s a calling in our hearts, a predisposition in our constitution towards certain core values. Those core values lead us in certain directions. For instance, for those whose constitution is Wood, there is a core value of progress…
You can see each element as a midpoint between the element before it and the element after it. Wood is the midpoint between Water and Fire, between potential and manifestation. A wood person says, “Hey! There’s more potential than is manifesting around here. Let’s get it going! Visionary, constructive! All this!” Just so, it is naturally those who have a more activist core who are more likely to bang their heads against things and end up more angry. You are more likely to end up with anger if what you’re trying to do is make the world a better place for everybody, and get a move-on with it.
Whether constitution is a core weakness or a core strength, I don’t know. Let your experience guide you. I know that for me, the results that I have in working with people when I’m coming from the point of view that what people are basically in pursuit of is health and then having a few issues along the way that manifest as pathology… I have seen this orientation to illness and healing confer a level of dignity to my clients that I can’t live without.
I have a really hard time with diagnostic systems which, when it all boils down are just a fancy way of saying, “You’re sick!” I don’t want any part of that. I had a situation in which there was a client being seen in front of the class by another practitioner, and, the discrepancy between the way the practitioner spoke to the client when the client was in the room, and then spoke about the client when the client was not in the room, upset me so deeply that it really called upon my own core values. What I want to be about is seeing people’s beauty and health, and also seeing the difficulties they’re having with manifesting it. Now that’s a different context for seeing pathology, and one that you can tell the client about right to their face. You don’t have to ask the client to leave the room when you are talking about them, if what you’re doing is pointing out quite clearly, yes, here are some troubles, here is where something is off the mark, but in the context and the dignity of: “Where you’re headed is health, and you were already doing your best to be headed there when you ran over this thing and got a flat tire.”
In terms of integrity and wholeness inside of me, that feels so much better to me that I’ve just made that my home. You may run across some other 5-E folk who are more into the orientation of constitution as central weakness or central pathology. I just can’t do that. I can’t live that way. I don’t think it’s best for my clients.
So there is, I believe, a sort of innate tilt that comes with the genotype. And because of that, there does tend to be, in looking at body types, certain information. Now, it’s not infallible. We tend to be a mix of different elements. Some people are more archetypally particular body types, and others are less archetypal. It’s considered to be agreed in the 5E community that a person’s color refracted off their face, i.e. one of the 5 E colors; the person’s sound of their voice, i.e. one of the the five tones; the person’s odor; and their emotional sticking place, i.e. where they get stuck and can’t come back to the Heart, or else refuse to go (usually because they’re afraid if they go there they’ll never get back) is the determinant of a person’s constitutional type.
I always want to add body type. I do look at body types a lot in diagnosing, but many Worseley 5E types don’t include that. They just say the color, the sound, the odor, the emotion.
That being said, life experience can also throw some things off. Although what life experience we have often has a lot to do with what we bring to the life experience. I’m thinking of one very exquisite Metal client whose primary childhood trauma was being beaten by her father in front of everybody else in front of the church every Sunday. This is such a sense of desecration for a Metal person. She has four brothers and sisters and none of them has a memory of this, and they are not Metal types. So what you particularly remember as traumatic has a lot to do with who you are in the first place, that would take that as a trauma. It’s hard to know what’s nature, what’s nurture in terms of how life experiences have shaped us.
This being said, yes there are some life experiences that are particularly hard not to take in a particular way. If you were kept in a cage and fed nothing but gin and french fries for thirteen years, I think you would come out green and shouting and rancid and angry. It’s too much of a stress to put on the Wood element and not have it show.
One of the things that I think is very important in using the five element tools diagnostically and in treatment is that, if you’re wrong, diagnostically, you will help the person anyway. You will help them to the point where the element you helped is enough in balance that then you say, “Oh. Oh look at that! That wasn’t really their constitutional type because that’s cleared up and now I can see with what’s left that actually they’ve got something else going on.”
I want to encourage you not to be paralyzed by any sense of need to be right. What you’re doing is not choosing whether to administer insulin versus morphine! There aren’t the same level of terrible consequences.
If you see something elementally off in a person, that element may be, diagnostically speaking, the schlamiel or the schlamazl element. Schlamiels and schlamazls are not Chinese diagnostic terms, but I consider them to be very important diagnostic terms.
A schlamiel is defined as the person who always spills the soup at the dinner table. A schlamazl is defined as the person upon whom the soup is spilled. So diagnostically speaking, what we’re wanting to do ultimately is differentiate between the client’s schlamiel and their schlamazl elements. Often it’s the schlamazl element that’s yelling because they’ve got hot soup spilled all over them. So there may be a loudly yelling schlamazl element, and it’s good to help clean up the soup! It’s good to give to that element what that element needs. Ultimately, would it be better to treat the schlamiel who’s doing the spilling? Yes!
Sometimes we’re able to say oh, I see that where you keep getting stuck is fear, but now I’m beginning to see that why you get stuck in fear is actually because of this unresolved grief that you don’t want to go into because it feels like a bottomless pit and so you can’t go there and so….uuuuuhhhhh…
But be patient and be merciful because you’ll be feeding somebody and helping them on along the way to the deeper insight. It’s always great to have the deepest possible insight and get the first domino. We want to find out what’s the constitutional element because this is the first domino. Then when we treat the first domino, everything else clears up. If we get to the core concern and help somebody with their core concern, everything’s going to free up and feel better. Okay, if you didn’t get the core concern, you still did them good, and you do them enough good hopefully over time that you begin to see that there’s still some loose cannon of a domino spinning around knocking other dominos down. Then you treat that.