I was recently introduced to the 6ooo year old Chinese philosophy of the 5 Elements… after extensive research on this philosophy I have come to the conclusion that I have been in harmony with this philosophy my entire life without so much as an inclination as to what it is. Whether it is due to my heritage or my consciousness or sub consciousness is of no matter, what is of great matter is that this philosophy has me completely intrigued and on a greater level, balance is detrimental to life.
I’m sure you’re now asking what exactly this 5 Elements Philosophy is…
The 5 Elements Philosophy was derived from early Taoist philosophy which divided the world into 5 Elements. Each element has certain properties and virtually everything in life is slotted into one of these 5 categories.
The 5 Elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.
The 5 Elements are most frequently depicted in a circular formation showing that each element has intimate relationships with each of the other elements which together make up an integrated whole.
According to 5 Elements Philosophy as it applies in Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are two main cycles of interest. One is the Generating Cycle and the other is the Controlling cycle.
When the 5 Elements are depicted in a picture they are specifically arranged in a particular order in a circular formation. According to the philosophy, Wood generates Fire, Fire generates Earth, Earth generates Metal, Metal generates Water and Water generates Wood.
If you were to associate this flow of the elements with nature, you see how Wood is the fuel for Fire, how burned wood returns to the Earth, how Metal comes from the Earth, how Metal promotes condensation and how water promotes the growth of Wood.
In Chinese Medicine, each of the major organ systems is assigned an element. Wood is the element of the Liver, Fire is the element of the Heart, Earth is the element of the Spleen, Metal is the element of the Lungs, and Water is the element of the Kidneys.
“For example, a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis following these principals would look at the Liver disharmonies in terms of the effect the Kidneys have on it. The Kidneys (water) promote the Liver (wood). If there is a Liver disharmony, a treatment principal might be to tonify the Kidneys in order to promote the Liver.
The Liver is wood and promotes Fire, the Heart. If the Liver is in excess and too much wood is put on the Heart fire, the Heart fire flares. So, to find the root of a Heart disharmony, one may look to the Liver.
In Acupuncture, 5 points on each channel are designated according to the 5 elements. That is on each of the 12 channels, there is a Wood point, a Fire point, an Earth point, a Metal point, and a Water point. These points are all located below the elbows and the knees, at the beginning or at the end of the Channels. Choosing points for treatment, then following the Controlling cycle, for Wood disharmony one chooses the Water point, for a Water disharmony, one chooses the Metal point, and so on. If this sounds a bit confusing, it is a bit, but with practice it becomes easier.”
The second cycle is the Controlling Cycle. In the Controlling Cycle it is said that certain elements control others. Again, the 5 Elements are arranged in the same circular order; however, in this cycle Water controls (rather than generates) Fire, Wood controls Earth, Fire control Metal, and Earth controls water. From Nature, it can be seen how, Water puts out Fire, Leaves cover the forest floor, Fire forges Metal, and Earth can dam up and direct water.
In traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis these relationships are significantly important. “For example, there is a close relationship between the Heart and the Kidneys. Kidney Water cools Heart Fire and Heart Fire warms Kidney Water and balance is maintained in the body.
The Five Elements Philosophy extends to every aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the body’s organs, tastes, smells, bodily fluids, as well as the seasons, foods, and directions. Everything found in life is assigned an element.
What struck me as being quite interesting is the assignment of emotions. In the 5 Elements Philosophy, each of the cardinal emotions is assigned an Element. This means, these Emotions are connected to the 5 major organs in our physical system. For example, Anger is assigned to Liver/Wood, Joy is assigned to Heart/Fire, Worry is assigned to Spleen/Earth, Grief is assigned to Metal/Lungs, and Fear is assigned to Kidneys/Water. Since traditional Chinese medicine diagnostic philosophy holds that emotions or Endogenous factors are a primary cause of disease, it could be very helpful in Western medicine to know if a patient expresses Anger excessively or inappropriately, you could suspect problems with the Liver organ system. If a patient develops phobias, Kidney deficiency can reasonably be suspected. Excessive grief may be treated by tonifying Lung or Metal points and so on.
There is much more to 5 Element Philosophy. It is found in every branch of traditional Chinese medicine. In a clinical practice, the 5 Elements Philosophy is not actually the main theory most practitioners use. In fact, it is not always that useful in determining a course of treatment. But it is useful in many ways and is one more way of looking at the world.