The Four Elements Within and Without
I am offering my own personal study and understanding. It is not a scientific document and people may or may not agree with everything I say.The study of the Elements is fundamental to all traditions around the world. This is because they represent the four basic energies in life. Of course they are experienced in different ways in different parts of the world. Fire, heat, the sun is experienced very differently in say Britain to Egypt. Water in Africa means something different to water in Scandinavia, but the essence of Fire and the essence of Water is the same in both places.
Each of the elements is absolutely vital to the whole, but none of them could exist alone. They are all wonderfully creative and positive and they are all equally destructive and frightening. We do well to try and understand them in order to live and grow with them in the outer world of nature and in ourselves.
In the beginning they were known as deities. This enabled people to relate to them, learn from them and worship and revere them. They are at the basis of religion, medicine, alchemy, science, agriculture and life in general. Carl Jung discovered them as psychological archetypes in the collective unconscious and worked with them through dreams.
Each one of us has all four of the elements in us in different mixtures. Some of us have too much fire. We become too active, too accelerated, too instinctive, too aggressive. Some of us have too much water which makes us too dreamy, too emotional, too indecisive, too unreliable. Others have too much Air which makes them too detached, too unfeeling, to much in the head, too indifferent. Others still have too much Earth which makes them too heavy, too blocked, too slow, too possessive, too prudent.
Getting to know the Elements within and without helps us to see how we really are integral parts of a Living Whole, and so become more aware of how they are balanced into our own particular pattern of Being.
It is important to realise that the language of the elements is a symbolic one. It is not literally real. It is a way of looking at reality through nature and the fundamental qualities that run through all things including us. It is one way of learning about things.
Let us now look at the Elements one by one in a deep and imaginative way. Let us begin with Earth because for us human beings she is our home. In traditional understanding Earth is considered feminine or Yin and it is easy to see why.
Earth is about giving and providing, about matter, being solid, physical, and having a shape. Earth expresses herself as bountiful, sacred, beautiful and awesome. Her very nature is diverse and she manifests in countless ways such as mountains, plains, deserts, fields and caves. From seeds to fruit she produces trees and plants, from birth to death she provides for creatures of all sorts, including human kind. Earth is about rhythms and seasons, external and internal. She is the great cup or chalice within which the alchemy of life unfolds, the cauldron where all the elements come together in the process of giving birth.
Earth is our great Mother. The Mother of all. We are born from Her, nourished sheltered and protected by Her. When our time comes we return to Her as do all living things. We are born of Earth, we eat from Earth, we build from Earth, we are clothed from Earth and our physical bodies return to Earth. We get our time from Earth, from the great natural Earth rhythms of day and night, summer and winter. From her relationship with the sun, the moon and the planets. We are in this sense her children, and brothers and sisters with all other living creatures. She is AWESOME in her weight and force and in her power, yet gentle in her sweetness. She gives and protects yet she also takes and destroys. She is beautiful and wild, mighty and humble. In physical reality she is the beginning and the end.
Earth is the basic element of material life. The great container or vehicle through which life can express itself. Physical and finite, all earthly things have a beginning and an end. An outside and an inside. A front and a back. A top and a bottom.
Earth is about separation and individualization. It is said that every blade of grass is different. That every single thumb print has its own particular pattern. Earth offers the basic ground on which all the elements play together in the complex manifestation of material reality.
Earth is tribal. Things are sorted into categories or tribes. The tree tribe, the rock tribe, the insect tribe, the fish tribe, the bird tribe, the animal tribe, the human tribe. Again vehicles for life to express itself, again forms for diversification.
Time belongs to Earth. The sense of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Past, present and future. Earth repeats herself continually and the seeds of the future are formed and contained within the fruit of the past. From seed to flower to fruit to seed the story of evolution unfolds at every level of existence.
Like the great mountain chains rolling peak after peak into the distance of eternity, those who live close to the earth are aware of being part of something that is continuously evolving itself. Something that is living and intelligent. Something that existed long before we were here and that will continue to exist long after we are gone.
Separation and connection. Life needs to separate itself into countless forms in order to be nourished and to evolve. In a sense all things are separate and all things are connected. The very essence of Earth is that of process. Things come together to be separated. Things unite to disintegrate and deep within this everlasting process of change lies stability. This is the element of Earth. Deeply rooted in the reality of the material world just as the tree is deeply rooted in the soil of it’s own seed.
You are lying on the ground looking up at the sky through the branches of a great tree. You come here often, whenever you feel the need to relax and centre yourself again after the stress and turmoil of the world. The grass you are lying on is soft and very green, full of wild flowers. You breathe in the wonderful scent of fresh sweetness and the gentle breeze, the song of the birds and the humming of bees busy in their daily activities fill you with peace and gradually you feel your eyes closing and your body beginning to let go and sink into the Earth beneath you.
Down in the damp dark Earth you lie as a seed. A seed which fell from the great tree last autumn, and the wind and rain and falling leaves have pushed down into the waiting ground.
You feel the heavy richness all around, holding you safe, letting you rest in the darkness, protected, nourished, loved. You lie there waiting..waiting..waiting, just as the unborn child waits in the womb of it’s mother.. You feel the spring rain soaking down through the Earth softening your shell, awakening something in you. A feeling. A calling. A deep deep longing for something that you can’t quite grasp. This deep longing brings about a movement in you and you feel yourself pushing out through the old shell that is now soft and easily broken.
Down into the Earth go your roots. Drinking in the goodness and the richness. Slowly you feel yourself pushing deeper, spreading out, finding a grip, a hold, an anchor. Up through your roots flows nourishment and strength, and you feel the longing in your seed beginning to push upwards towards something that feels inviting and warm. Oh the joy of expansion and growth. The joy of being alive.
The deeper your roots spread into the dark Earth, the higher your shoots push upwards towards the light. You feel a longing for both darkness and light, a need for both water and the warmth of the sun.
As soon as your shoots push out of the ground they are greeted with space and Air, and now the shoots and leaves spread out and up into the openness and the light.
The years pass and the seasons come and go. You have grown strong, straight and tall. Your roots have become large and sturdy and they hold you securely in the stable ground of your being.
Animals, insects and birds now find refuge and nourishment amongst your roots and in your wide open stretching branches. Your leaves have fallen each autumn and contributed to the making of new soil. People come and sit in the shade beneath you, gather fruit or shelter from the rain. You feel solid and strong, deeply grounded and yet free to dance with the sun the wind and the rain.
Sometimes the sun gets too hot and day after day the Earth becomes drier and drier. Great cracks open up in the parched soil and those plants and trees with shallow roots shrivel up and die. Your own roots have by now gone right down through the darkness to where the soil is always damp, and you know that even though some of your leaves may suffer and drop from the extreme heat and drought, your roots are so deeply embedded in the Earth that you will be alright.
At other times storms blow up and the wind tears at your branches, shaking you up, bruising your leaves, even breaking bits off you. You can feel your whole trunk swaying this way and that, creaking and groaning in the wild onslaught. But your roots hold firm…Your roots hold firm.
Rain pelts down, driven hard by the racing wind. The Earth fills with water and becomes soft, unstable and slippery. Again those trees with shallow roots risk being torn from the ground by the violence of the wind and the rain. Your own roots hold firm…Your own roots hold firm and you know that this too will pass.
Your are strong and deeply grounded, connected and involved with the world around you. For a moment just be aware of your roots. See them growing deep, firm and wide in the ground beneath you. Feel that sense of security and strength. Now bring your awareness up through your trunk and let it expand, open out into the empty sweetness of air. Feel that pull towards the warmth and light of the sun. Stand firm. Stand firm but allow your branches and all your leaves to dance and play in the breeze. Let them go in the knowledge that you are being firmly held.
Slowly slowly come back into yourself. You are once again lying on the grass under the great tree watching the sky through the leaves. It is time to get up and go home so when you feel ready you open your eyes, stretch yourself and come back here into this room bringing with you that awareness of your own strength and your own deep connection with the Earth.
Earth, when given time, will heal herself. What is important is that the other elements stop overwhelming her. Gradually she will grow back the vegetation and the trees. But the wind must stop blowing her away, Fire, or too much heat must stop burning her and water must stop flooding her. When things are healthy, the trees and vegetation will naturally form a balancing shield, but when too many trees are cut down, and open spaces created for building etc., when waste products that do not disintegrate naturally are buried in the earth and dumped in the oceans, when pollution from cars, aeroplanes and industry spreads through the air, when as a result of all this the earth's atmosphere begins to overheat, then the trouble begins.
In a similar way Earth, as our grounding, stabilising element, will gradually bring healing to us if we allow her to repair. Too much anxiety, worry and stress are like the winds that blow her away. Anger, frustration and hyper-activity are like the fire that burns us out. Heavy, unstable emotions and fears, are like water that floods and clogs things up, creating stagnation.
Just as in the outer world we are trying to replant trees to heal the atmosphere and the Earth herself, so we need to plant seeds of stability in our lives. Things that gradually grow in their natural time. Things that we can trust and love. Stable friendships and relationships, good ways of eating, basic rhythms that help us know where we are in our lives. We need to learn to give her a chance, time, space and peace to heal.
When in balance Earth is harmonious and sweet, she is balance itself. She offers grounding and rootedness. Strength, order, stability and boundaries.
Earth will look after and organise water, slow down fire and balance air. When unbalanced however, Earth becomes sluggish and too slow. She stagnates and becomes blocked. She will not move or listen. She becomes unreasonable dull and tyrannical. Insensitive and bullish, she overrides like a bulldozer or a landslide.
Earthly activities. Keeping to a routine, walking, physical exercise and physical work. Tidying up, sorting out. Massage, having your hair or feet done. Buying a new piece of clothing, gardening, cooking, working with clay. Moving furniture around, eating well, organising, planning, physical love, giving advice and help.
Earth colours are brown, yellow ochre, orange, green.
Earth's direction is North and the magical symbol is the shield.
The challenge for Earth is to let go.
Make yourselves as comfortable as possible. Uncross legs, feet firmly planted on the ground. Start becoming aware of your breathing, allow it to find its own gentle rhythm.
Now breathe your attention into your body. The physical reality of your body. Be aware of its boundaries, its weight, how solid it is, how firmly planted on the earth it is like a mountain. A strong, grounded mountain. Breathe into that mountain and see how it feels, rock solid, yet vibrant with life.
Around the base of the mountain, around your feet there are fields and woods, rivers and farms. Animals graze in the fields and birds fly through the air and nest in the many trees. Villages and towns crop up here and there with people going about their busy lives. In the distance big cities sprawl, spewing noise and fumes into the air. Trains race past, cars and lorries seem to be everywhere. Busy busy, rush rush, noise, noise, noise.
You are aware of all this activity around your feet, indeed you are part of it, sharing yourself and your resources. Sometimes things are good, the land prospers and people live together in harmony, but there are also other times when sickness and violence come and there is anger and fear. Then blood and tears burn your earth and cut down your trees. The earth and rocks around your feet may crumble, storms may rage round your roots, high winds tear through the gaps where trees once stood and crops and flowers parch under a scorching sun, but you are still there. The mountain still stands high, knowing that Nature, the healer within, will in time restore the balance.
Further up the mountain there is more space. Fewer people live here, only those who enjoy the quiet beauty, who seek fulfilment in ways other than material comfort, passing fashions and fast living. Here silver streams flash past and music can be heard in the breeze. The air is sweet and full of the scent of wild flowers and those who live here are courteous and free from the stress of worldly life, their hearts intent on the search for Truth..
This is still this same mountain. You are still this same mountain.
Up at the top of the mountain there is silence. The air is pure and the light clear. Golden rays of sunlight fill the atmosphere with a warmth that is sweet, and a sense of spaciousness and freedom stretch blue into the open sky. Feelings of happiness well up inside you and burst out of the rocky earth as smiling springs, full of sparkling crystal clear liquid. Up here you feel close to the source of life, the source of love, the source of peace. Here the sun is your brother, the moon your sister, and the stars your many friends.
Here your heart is open, its beat in tune with God's heart, and health and well being permeate your entire being.
This is still the same mountain. You are still the same mountain.
Firmly grounded, your mountain holds steady through the struggles of everyday life, through your deep rooted connection with the earth you receive inner nourishment and strength. You know that even when the clouds hang low, obscuring the light and hiding those far off higher places, you know that they are there and that they are part of you.
Breathe your breath out and down into your roots, bringing back the nourishment and strength with your in breath. On and up, send the next breath out and reach up to the mountain top bringing back the golden energy of love and peace.
Now with these two energies firmly held within you bring yourself slowly back to the centre of the mountain. Feel your own physical body returning to its usual shape, sitting on your chair. When you feel ready, open your eyes…
The Element of Air
The Element of Air is traditionally known as masculine or Yang. This is because of its immaterial and invisible nature. Air is pure energy as apposed to the matter of Earth. In this sense they are opposites, Mother Earth and Father Air (Sky).
Cosmically Air manifests as space. The spacious void, containing our universe and all other cosmic life. Spiritually Air expresses limitlessness, openness, emptiness, inspiration, silence and freedom. Energetically Air is dry, light, crystalline and vital. Artistically Air expresses Himself through mind thought and intellect. Philosophy, contemplation and meditation. Air is not an emotional Element, and if not balanced properly can become detached and cold.
Air is perhaps the most difficult Element for us to relate to as human beings due to its elusive nature. We cannot see or grasp it, and yet Air is extremely vital and alive, and around us all of the time. We breathe Air continually but unconsciously, a few minutes without Air and we die and yet we are not aware of it like the other Elements. Air is about the invisible worlds of Psyche and Spirit. we live in and are part of them, and yet most of us are completely unaware of them. It is the Breath which forms a bridge to these worlds which is why most traditions are based on the discipline of breathing.
Just as Earth is our physical home and the source of our physical bodies, so Air is the home and source of our spiritual bodies. Through the breath we are connected to, and nourished by the world of Spirit, the ethereal, abstract potential, and it is through the mind that we communicate with it. The more we pollute Air, the more we cut ourselves off from our spiritual source. This is one of the reasons why hermits and sages climb mountains, and mountains themselves are often considered Holy places. The air is pure. Air is the realm of the mind, and Universal Mind is another name for the world of Air. Higher thoughts, contemplation and prayer are the ways we can learn to communicate with the essence of Air, and it is through silence that we hear the Word.
This Element is about clarity, emptiness, thought and intention. It lives at the heart of our attitude and purpose. It is about keeping clear and uncluttered, about being single minded. We cannot see it or hold it, but we can experience its energy. We can close our eyes and breathe deeply, knowing that each breath connects us to the Source.
Air meditation - the Breath
Its midsummer, the time of year when light reigns over darkness. You are lying in a hammock slung between two trees in the garden. The heat of the day has gone and you allow the freshness of the evening breeze to caress your face, gently transporting you into sleep. Your breath begins to slow down, to take on another rhythm, and slowly you feel your body letting go and your eyes beginning to close.
You are walking up a small windy mountain path. It is several days now that you have been walking here, pushed by the pressures and stresses of everyday living to find a place of quiet. To be on your own with the silence of Nature, to feel yourself close to the sky, to fill yourself with the emptiness of Air. Walking by day and sleeping beneath the stars by night, your are already experiencing a deep change in your being. To begin with there had been a disquietening sense of loneliness in you. Nobody you. and you know that it is time to stop and simply “BE”.
Rounding a bend in the little path the view opens up wide to the valleys below and the mountains beyond. You catch your breath at the beauty and find a place to sit and fill yourself with this sense of Peace.
Breathe in the space around you, each breath filling your body with Prana, which sends ripples of cool energy over your skin and down your spine. You follow your breath with your awareness, seeing the light filled blueness of the universe flow into your lungs expanding and relaxing. Expanding and relaxing. At one with the eternal rhythm of Life itself.
Watch as the breath carries vitality, joy and light into your heart, gently opening, gently filling it with Peace. Each breath goes deeper refreshing and energizing all the vital organs of your body. You can feel yourself relaxing, opening out, expanding, going beyond. A sense of lightness, spaciousness and freedom comes into you.
Now breathe into your mind.
Breathe the sky into your mind. Open, clear, radiant.
Breathe into your mind. Watch the sky in your mind.
No beginning. No ending. Only Being.
No yesterday. No tomorrow. Only Now.
Breathe into the present moment.
Every now and then a cloud may appear in your sky like a thought in your mind. Keep breathing. Just watch the cloud as it floats slowly across the sky and away.
You are open. You are quiet. You are clear.
Open enough to listen. Quiet enough to hear. Clear enough to receive.
When you open your eyes you realise that what felt like a timeless eternity was actually not very long at all in earthly time. The sun is still climbing the great expanse of open blue. You stay seated for a while, still aware of your breath, still aware of the Air around you. Still aware that by breathing you are communicating with the invisible world of spirit.
You feel refreshed and revitalized, bursting with energy, a new sense of purpose and potential. You feel that you have found what you were looking for and are ready to return to the everyday world.
You stand up and raise your arms above your head in an open salute to the Universe of Air. Then you bring them down drawing through your palms the vital energy you have discovered and you bring your hands together in the position of prayer over your heart in a gesture of gratitude and thanksgiving.
You know that you can return here whenever you feel the need. Then you set off back down the windy path towards home. Back into the hammock slung between the two trees in the garden.
When you feel ready open your eyes and move your hands and feet and return slowly to this room bringing with you that sense of openness and clarity with whatever it was you received from the Essence of Air.
We need to let our inner energy expand, to feel it open up around us, to let it go free like a butterfly leaving the chrysalis and opening its wings for the first time. We need to open our wings and feel our spirit move. Air is our connection to the Spiritual Father. Earth is our physical mother, Air our spiritual father.
Air offers space, freedom, clarity, inspiration and detachment.
Air encourages Fire, helps cleanse and detach Water, balances Earth.
Airy activities are thinking, being alone, enjoying silence. Reading and studying. Yoga, breathing, meditation, contemplation and discussion.
The colours of Air are yellow and white.
The direction is East and the magical symbol is the wand.
The challenge for Air is to get involved.
The Element of Water
The Element of Water
From this experience of absolute freedom, this world of purity and silence, we begin to realise that the moment is right to move on. The light is fading with the setting sun and the first touches of darkness begin to melt the clear airy colours into a fusion of softness. The moon announces her arrival with a pearly light in the eastern sky.
Somewhere deep inside ourselves we feel something stir. An unexplainable longing, a voice from somewhere far away, a memory long forgotten, a thirst for something we cannot quite describe. Irresistibly we follow the call which grows in intensity as the moon fills the night sky with pale yellow light.
Down we fly towards a great stretch of gently moving darkness. As we get closer we are able to see the moonlight reflecting itself in hundreds of silver movements, and a feeling of peace and deep recognition fills our thirsty soul. We are now entering the realm of Water….
Soothing, cleansing, healing Water.
Peaceful, beautiful, romantic, melancholic Water.
Enchanting in her reflective mirror like face, Water calls to the Soul with a voice from the abyss.
We hear it in our dreams and in our intuitions.
It knows, it knows.
Sometimes we can hear it in the serenity of a calm lake, and sometimes in the heaving turmoil of a stormy sea.
Open, trusting and accepting, Water will always go with the flow. She needs to feel herself part of the whole. She embodies the fountain of life, carries within herself the eternal living spring, and for this reason there is something youthful about her, something fresh always renewing itself from the well spring of life itself.
Holy Water, Blessed Water.
Where she springs from the ground life can be.
Trees and plants can grow, animals and human kind can live.
Holy Water, cleansing, baptising and blessing.
Deep deep Water. Deep dark water.
Inner knowing, inner secrets, inner mysteries.
Tears, cleansing healing tears.
Magical, beyond words, too deep for words, only feeling, only knowing.
Like Earth, Water is traditionally considered feminine and Yin. She is by nature receptive and absorbent, has no colour or shape of her own and is completely without boundaries. She is changeable, unpredictable and not easily controlled without discipline.
There is a living pulse within Water which pushes her forward, and she will always find a way to follow and places to fill. There is something wondrous about the way in which Water keeps flowing. If she comes across something that blocks her, she will flood and then find a way to start the flow again. Sometimes she may have to go underground and find hidden and secret ways to keep going. In our human terms this can be judged as dishonest and wrong, but Water has a living pulse within her, she just has to keep flowing.
Water is completely unjudgemental and will take into herself all things without discrimination. Having no boundaries she will merge or embrace whoever or whatever she meets on her path. When she is strong and moving swiftly, she will carry them with her.
Having no colour or shape of her own, she reflects whosoever looks into her, acting as a mirror. Depending on the state of Water however, the reflected image will be more or less distorted. Whereas Air enables us to look clearly at others and the world, Water enables us to look at others and ourselves albeit in a somewhat distorted manner. Water is about emotions, and emotions can easily distort reality.
Water is mainly unconscious. She expresses the deep primordial, pre-verbal realm of Inner Knowing. Think of the depths of the great oceans where the light hardly penetrates. And think of the wealth of life and colour, and the life sustaining organisms that live there. Like Earth, Water has a dual nature. On the surface she expresses beauty and tranquility, she is healing, soothing, restoring, cleansing and life giving. At the same time deep down inside, there are powerful currents and natural forces at work in a world where exquisite beauty and grace intermingle with frightening monsters. There are many tales in folklore around the world of Mermaids, Sirens and magical deep sea creatures.
We store our emotions in the unconscious, in the deep primordial part of our being. Every experience we live is expressed through feeling and emotion in the unconscious. These feelings form our fundamental attitude towards life. This is the world of Water, of Memory and of the Soul. We communicate with these watery depths through dreams, intuitions and trance. Our present life is greatly influenced by our Soul, and maybe our personality and even our physical body is formed around it.
Just as Water carries an inborn pulse or heart beat that pushes it forward from the earth to the sea, so our Souls are moved to go forward and experience life and growth on our individual journeys. Through the essence of Water our own Souls connect and communicate with the Universal Soul.
Water and Feeling
Water..Water..Water. The breath like the rolling waves. Incessant movement. All embracing movement.
Water brings the deep power of emotion. The great unity of feeling, the one body of emotion that will push and carry and bring together and give force and power to an action, an idea, a decision, a look, a word.
When we are in touch with our own feelings, in other words when we are aware of how we feel towards others or situations, then we can act accordingly. When we are unaware of our feelings they can take us by surprise and push us into inappropriate action.
is not rational
When Water is healthy and free flowing there can be a very beautiful quality of spontaneity, however if Water is not healthy it can be very perilous.
Water is beautiful, enchantingly beautiful. We find peace and harmony in being with her. We receive healing and understanding, but the other side of Water is fear. Fear of the depths. The darkness. The power. The chaos.
In ancient times these characteristics belonged to the great Goddess. The great Mother. The great Feminine. The devouring, suffocating, engulfing aspect of the great Feminine. This is the negative aspect of the feminine power. Not the direct control of Fire through aggression and violence, but rather a power that comes from the emotions. It controls by emotional means. It knows how to manipulate and use blackmail. It can be extremely subtle and extremely powerful.
Water is deeply connected to rhythm and the moon. With cycles and tides, ebbing and flowing She moves rhythmically, never in a straight line but always flowing towards the circle trying to recreate the perfect Whole. Water is about being "at one", being connected, being part of. She tends towards peace harmony and unity. Water is immensely deep and moves as one, as a great body, a great movement, a great rhythm.
Moon, a perfect circle of blood red light
It is the perfection of that circle which moves me so deeply
sun produces his own light which opens the heavens
Where Water passes the Earth is softened and things are brought together. Re-united. Joined, re-membered, healed. In a sense the softness of Water encourages vulnerability and receptivity. It is within that vulnerable receptivity that things are born and can grow. When Water is scarce and the Earth is hard, things dry up and die. We are trapped within the confines of the rational mind. Hard, dry, inflexible. We become detached from our feelings.
We need Water. Water is so precious.
Water must keep flowing. Must be allowed to keep flowing. The lake needs to be nourished and replenished by streams and springs and rain. Our own lake, the reservoir of our deepest feelings and emotions needs to be nourished and replenished by life, by our relationship to others, by the meaning we discover in life and the activities of our soul. Doing things that are meaningful. Doing things with care. Being engaged in what we are doing.. Feeling connected. All these things replenish the reservoir of our feelings. Give us depth and value.
The boat on the lake.
Dark silent oncoming night. As the light of the day recedes with the setting sun, darkness closes in. Strangely within that darkness I am aware of another kind of opening. A melting of the separation between things, a kind of coming together in softness that creates a spaciousness in me.
The lake spreads out before me. Smooth, deep and rich with evening shadows. The Air holds that scent of wetness and damp grass which brings it down to Earth, and makes it more tangible. More accessible to the senses.
I stand still by the water’s edge enchanted by such beauty. An exquisite sense of intimacy fill me, heightened in intensity by the awareness of my solitude. I can feel myself opening, inner boundaries melting in my own darkness as the light from my conscious mind fades and the pale beams of the rising moon probe gently into my Soul.
A little boat lies half hidden beneath the rushes. Strange that I have come so often to this lake and not noticed the presence of this little boat. Curiosity calls me to take a look and I move closer. A boat built for one, freshly painted in blue and yellow. Two small red oars stacked neatly beneath the seat.
Following a strong inner feeling, I get into the boat and push away from the reeds with one of the little red oars. A few minutes of rowing out into the lake and the Water seems to carry us forward. There is little need to use the oars. I can lie back and allow the magic to fill me.
Sounds of night fill the Air. The croak of a late night frog, the breeze moving gently through the trees surrounding the Water. The sharp cry of a night bird calling to its mate. The rustle of leaves in the undergrowth as a wild hunter stalks its prey, the occasional splash of a fish rising to celebrate the fullness of the moon, and then silence. Soft, cool and full of the mystery of night.
I lie and look at the Moon. The perfection of that pale circle of light fills me with wonder. Softness radiates the sky and dances on the water. Streaks of silver play across the dark mirror surface and the Moon herself lies deep and trembling at the bottom of the lake.
I am aware of the gentle movement beneath my boat. Aware too of the dark volume of Water holding me effortlessly. Rocking me effortlessly. Carrying me effortlessly as a Mother carries her new born babe, and willingly I allow my boat to follow.
light. Quiet, shadowy, unknown.
There is in us too a part that is without form, without colour, without light. Dark and receptive by nature. Deep and hidden by nature. Our reservoir of Being, waiting to be shaped and coloured by our experiences in the world. Like Water it will naturally follow the flow, follow the current or in other words the patterns we have established in ourselves. Old habits, old attitudes, old familiar ways of feeling, ways of experiencing, ways of reacting.
When we let our days carry us one after another through almost mechanical structures and routines, we can easily loose touch with this fertile darkness, this unknown, undiscovered magic of the Soul. When we are rushing through life there is no time for our own lake to form and fill itself. We remain dry, life loses meaning. We no longer feel connected, nourished and replenished. We skim across the surface of things without getting involved, without feeling engaged, without being moved.
Water then can deepen our lives. Can help us to discover the treasures hidden within the situations of everyday.
The qualities of Water are hidden in the depths of the Soul.
Creative powers born of deepest memories, dreams and fantasies. When Water is weak we dry up and become arid, fearful, anxious, paralysed. When Earth is well nourished by Water it becomes strong and substantial. It will give us a good grounding and support on which to live. When Water is lacking Earth becomes brittle and dry, it no longer holds us up and we feel vulnerable and open to being hurt.
When too strong there is the danger of going too deep into fantasy and illusion. Fantasies that are too deep to ever be brought into the light of the world.
Water lives inside, deep in the inner world. Rich inspiring creative. For this reason Water will adapt to situations and put up with so much before re-acting. Its very richness enables it to continue whatever happens. Fire will re-act, Water responds, resonates, adapts, units with.
Water gives of itself quite naturally because the inner flow always provides more. It gives unconditionally without expecting its rightful return. Water cannot hold itself back, it is a natural carrier, a natural giver. It does not give in order to receive, it gives because it is in it’s nature to give. Where Water passes things grow, animals can live, villages and towns are built. Water gives nourishment and power.
Water holds the will. The deep power of will connected with the essential flow of life. Water will cut through the hardest rock to find a way to keep flowing. Bit by bit it will keep pushing forward with the kind of intensity born from knowing that it will get through. No doubt…only will power.
Interesting to note how Water is indiscriminate, adaptable and easily merges with, and yet also contains the will. Because Water is the element of unity and non separation this will is part of the natural will of life. The great intelligence that pervades all things. In the East this concept is understood as a basic part of religion and philosophy. (Taoism) As the willow tree bends and moves with the movements of Air and rain so the will of Water seeks out and follows the deep movements and rhythms of life. In the West the attitude is more materialistic, more ego based.
The will of Earth, on the other hand, is traditional, tied to the past. This is the way I’ve always done it, this is the way I do it and this is the way I am going to do it in the future. Strong, sometimes overpowering like the great oak tree that stands firm in the face of the storm. (security). The will of Fire is wild. Strongly ego centred it goes for opportunities, new possibilities new temptations to try and experience. What I want now. The will of Air has to be free will in the literal sense. The will to create anew, to break away, to let go.
All the elements express the will in different ways, but it is Water that carries within itself the deep will to continue, to flow, to live and to be. Our planet is composed mainly of Water just as we are as human beings. In its relationship with Earth, Fire and Air, Water goes through and completes the natural cycle of evaporation, absorption and transformation, recreating itself, making Water out of Water.
Water has no colour or shape, but reflects whosoever looks into it. Water has the capacity to find itself in others. To unite with another, to actually feel what another is feeling because it sees its own reflection in another and offers that reflection back for the other to recognise him or herself in. Earth too is absorbent and will listen, but will tend to give another person a shape. (Water will adapt to another shape, Earth will define another’s shape for them) That is tell another what to do, give advice, instructions, orders. Take another in, look after, care for, but condition. Fire is not interested in listening or understanding, but will help another move on. Get interested in life again and change and find new opportunities. Air does not reflect or merge with another, but will offer space and freedom to be. Without re-action, objective detached but healing through acceptance without judgement.
Water is without ego. The ego is born from a sense of separation. Separation from another person, from our mother, from God or the Source. Water is not separate and knows no sense of ego. It gives itself quite naturally without fear of losing itself.. It is therefore difficult for Water to focus, to differentiate, to concentrate. It is so connected to the natural flow of things…It is the natural flow of things, and in that sense carries the will to live, but it is an ego-less will.
Water is primordial, preverbal, unconscious, without a sense of self. In order to find awareness, consciousness, we have to step our of the Water like the Goddess Venus who was born from the sea. (it is interesting to note that Venus is the Goddess of love, unity and harmony) Coming out of the Water is about being born. Taking form. Becoming aware of one’s shape. Experiencing the heat and the cold. (Water contains both heat and cold currents but they are part of the Water itself.)
It is about leaving the womb. Becoming a person in one’s own right. That place of oneness and no separation, that place of Water however remains for us a harbour, Home in a way. It is here that we store our emotions, our fears and complexes and it is from here that urgent urges and moods arise to push us into sometimes uncontrollable and irrational behaviour.
It is here that we can safely take off the worldly mask, the paint and perfume that enables us to feel comfortable with and accepted by others. Here we can play naked with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and it is here that we come face to face with the serpent who will offer us ways of breaking out, breaking the rules or rhythms that hold us bound and at one in this natural state.
If the call is great enough, the pressure of Water contained powerful enough, we will go. Expelled so to speak by the great birthing contractions of our own expanding Soul, out into another space, another reality, another part of our own being. Another step towards becoming aware, towards consciousness itself. If the call is not urgent enough, and we are not ready, then we will find a way to compromise until the time is right to make that move.
Water is connected to and influenced by the Moon. Like Water the Moon has no colour of her own. Like Water she receives and reflects back. Again we have the symbolic connections of Moon and Water, reflection, darkness, rest and rebirth. The Moon returns to the dark every month to be born anew. And so it is that as we step out from the dark primordial waters of unconsciousness into the new light of growing awareness, we do well to maintain a connection, we too need to return to those dark depths at times to reconnect with our original source.
Ancient cultures understood about this connection with the dark as the Greek story of Persephone and Pluto tells, or the even older tale of Inanna and her journey to the underworld. Part of that journey is the letting go of worldly things, the disintegration of form which can be very uncomfortable and scary, but as the Moon teaches us it is out of the darkness that the new light is born.
Deep water nourished by an underground spring. People walk miles and miles to fill their water jars from this sacred place because without water life cannot go on. Lowering the bucket down into the darkness and then pulling it up full of life sustaining Water.
The element of Water symbolises life itself. Born of Itself through the passage of Earth it springs up and seeks out its path ever carried forward by the Divine Will to find and merge with the Great Mother Waters of the Sea.
Water is born within Earth and in this sense she is the daughter of Earth.
Sweet Water.. The Heart.. The deep well spring of feeling. The continuous beat or pulse that gives birth to our deepest sentiments.
Sweet Water. She comes up through the soil of our being. The soil of our experience. The soil of our lives.
She permeates our bodies through the blood, enriching and nourishing them. She permeates our existence through feelings, enriching and nourishing our souls.
This well spring is our most treasured gift and needs to be looked after and protected. It is here that the green lotus flowers grow, radiating their most precious essence of peace.
Earth needs to be strong here to hold the spring and to channel the precious water. Air is vital here to keep the water clean and fresh, to hold the space for her to flow freely. Fire too is essential here to make sure that water keeps moving and to guard this sacred place, for it is easily poisoned by unruly emotions.
Water. Bitter Water. Tears and sweat and sweat and tears.
Fed by the countless streams and rivers of experience and feelings. Fed by the sweat and myriad tears that fall from clouds of emotion. Tears of grief, tears of joy. Tears of rage, tears of sorrow. Tears of frustration, tears of gratitude. Tears of fear, tears of relief. Tears of loneliness, tears of compassion.
Powerful and deep. Irrational and chaotic. Out of our control and closely governed by the ancient rhythms of the moon. Precise in their own way, it is impossible to change the order of the tides. We are wise to learn how to sail with them.
This is where the mysteries are held.
The secrets of life’s existence. This is where the gods and goddesses live, the angels and demons who play with the very stuff of our being.
Water offers intuitive knowing, vulnerability, sensitivity, empathy, healing, beauty, relaxation, softness, peace and slowing down.
Water will vitalise and soften Earth,. Give depth and inner knowing to Air and challenge, balance and complete Fire.
Watery activities are listening to soft deep soulful music, sleep, dreaming, being in the dark, reading spiritual or romantic novels and poetry, drifting, doing nothing, listening, bathing, washing, yoga. Being with and stoking animals and being with green plants.
Water expresses herself through music and poetry.
The challenge for Water is individuality.
Like Air, Fire is traditionally known as masculine and Yang, and like Air has no physical form.
Fire is about movement and transformation. It is the living moving spirit in life. Everything that Fire touches is moved to change. Fire is never still, its very essence is movement. Without Fire or warmth life would not be possible and nothing would grow. It is warm and inviting, fascinating and comforting.
Fire is immensely creative and powerful. It brings passion, colour and intensity to life. The story of Prometheus illustrates the degree to which the gods valued Fire.
Prometheus was one of the creator gods in the Greek pantheon. With his brothers he was given the task of creating life on earth. His brothers set to making animals and plants and he took it upon himself to create human beings from clay. He wanted to give them something special that would distinguish them from all other creatures, so he flew up to the sun and stole a bit of Fire which he brought back down to earth in a hollow fennel stalk.
He gave this Fire to human beings, and when Zeus who was the god of gods saw what he had done, he was outraged because he knew how valuable Fire was and that with it humans could become independent and conscious of themselves. He had Prometheus chained to a rock where birds of prey pecked out his liver by day, and allowed it to grow back by night so that it would be an everlasting agony. So precious then is Fire.
Everything that comes into contact with Fire is transformed. It gives energy, warmth and light. Fire is about transformation, the chrysalis turning into the butterfly, the phoenix rising from the ashes, the becoming of who we really are. Fire is the spirit that makes us alert, ready and shining. Fire burns away impurities and purifies us. It makes us creative and adventurous. Fire expresses passion and gives us the power and the courage to express ourselves creatively, it pushes us to move forwards. At the gate of the garden of Eden stand two angels wielding flaming swords. No-one can return to the garden without going through the fire.
Fire then is about consciousness, awareness, focus. When we are in the dark we strike a match or light a candle and it enables us to see, and to face whatever is there. But like all the other elements Fire can be extremely dangerous and destructive. Fire is immediate and fast, it is about instinctive action and reaction.
Although immensely powerful, Fire is extremely vulnerable. It needs looking after all the time. If not tended and fed, Fire will flare up and burn itself out. If not disciplined it will jump about burning anything and everything around it. When unbalanced it can express itself in irritability anger and rage. In nature it will explode into volcanic activity, in humans violence and war.
Fire has an astral form. Not physical or material exactly but still a form, and a colour. Fire is always moving. Heat itself makes things move.
The Sun represents the higher aspect of Fire. Light .. the conscious mind. It is not however above the duality of earthly life. Too much light can be damaging. The Sun, like the Moon, was considered divine, but it was still part of our system.
Like Water, Fire offers a great deal, but whilst Water gives of itself quite naturally because it cannot do otherwise, the gifts of Fire are always connected to the satisfaction of needs and desires.
Fire creates stress, it is part of its nature. In order to move, create and transform, a certain amount of stress is necessary. Too much stress however is dangerous. Fire therefore relaxes on the one hand and creates stress on the other.
The nature of Fire is expansion. Openness and expansion. Travelling, exploration, discovery at all levels. Creative imagination also travels beyond the confines of material reality. In order to travel we need Fire for our cars, trains, and aeroplanes. Similarly we need to cultivate and nourish our own inner Fire in order to create enough energy to move through life.
Fire melts barriers and opens frontiers. Gently through the warmth of love or else through violence and aggression. Fire invites us into participation and communion. In hot countries people live together, there are no closed doors, everyone is part of the group. Warm rhythmic music also invites movement and participation, it is almost impossible to keep still whilst listening to it. The roll of a drum calls to us through the existential beat of the heart. It makes the blood flow with the ancestral power of the flame.
It is very dangerous to suppress Fire. The energy grows hotter and hotter. Burning red it needs to expand and move. The pressure grows, power builds up to bursting point, then the explosion, the eruption, the release.
The light from Fire helps us to see, to become aware of how we are. In other words to become conscious of ourselves. Sometimes we actually have to go through Fire in order to reach that consciousness. Fire purifies us, burns away all but the essential, melting our illusions, helping us to find our own special shape. It is as if we are cooked in Life’s alchemic oven because of course Fire is the great alchemist. Everything he touches is transformed. In some eastern practices, after lengthy preparations, one is asked to walk on live fire as a symbol of this spiritual passage. The guardian angels at the gates of Paradise represent the same thing. They hold flaming swords in their hands to prevent anyone who has not reached this stage of consciousness to re-enter the garden. Paradise represents the state of innocence. Once we leave the garden behind we have to go through Fire in order to find that wisdom which restores us to purity and innocence once more.
Sometimes this process is very uncomfortable, often dangerous. We risk a lot but the Fire inside is also our warrior. He who gives us the courage to go on. He who defends and upholds our growing spirit.
Love. The great warmth that melts all barriers, that opens us and those around us. Warmth that encourages and gives us enthusiasm and faith in ourselves. Warmth that radiates from our own personal sun. Sexual love is the earthly physical sharing of this magical essence of Fire. Sexuality without love, without the connection to this essence, depletes and corrodes. This is the reason behind the practice of celibacy followed in many spiritual practices. Disciples are taught how to harness and transform that same essence in order to develop themselves spiritually.
Sometimes the flames burn low, unable to burn properly and our light grows dim and threatens to go out. Then from the shadows of our darkened mind come the fears, the insecurities, the feelings of depression.
Fire must be looked after and nourished. It must have fuel in order to burn and produce energy and light. Fire needs to feel involved, engaged in life in order to move, create and love.
At other times the flames burn too fast. Unable to stop themselves in the fury to obtain and possess the object of their desire. They need to affirm themselves, to fight and overcome anything in their way. They overheat and can easily burst into destructive explosions.
Fire must be contained, disciplined and channelled.
Earth should be healthy and strong to nourish and contain Fire. A good diet and care of the body. A bit of order in our lives helps to organise and channel Fire. Earth offers common sense, reason and stability just as the hearth contains Fire and electric wire channels light.
Air will provide the space and the stimulation so important for a healthy Fire. Air offers inspiration and ideas, so necessary to get Fire going.
Water will slow Fire down. Water offers feelings and depth. Reflection and meaning so important to this more superficial ever moving ever changing instinctual element.
Fire is immensely valuable and immensely dangerous. Fire is about challenge and it offers movement, warmth, passion. Courage, command, creation, love, intensity, colour, light, transformation, resurrection, purification, independence, happiness and individuality.
When in balance Fire will transform Earth, focus and stir Air, and warm, awaken and quicken Water.
When unbalanced however Fire will consume and destroy everything that comes near it. The power of Fire will explode and burn, reducing everything to ashes.
Fiery activities are dancing, running, games, martial arts, anything that gets the blood moving. Listening to stirring music, military music. Stamping, drumming, being with people and doing things that inspire and move. Painting, making love, smiling, singing, laughing, drama.
colour of Fire is red.
The challenge for Fire is to take responsibility for himself.