I don’t know what images and thoughts are coming to the fore for you in this unusual moment, but I am pondering how to be of use from a six -foot distance.
My view of the world is informed by classical Chinese medicine and Christian tradition. Perhaps these lenses offer something to you as well. My medical practice is named in part for the vision of the world explored through the concept of five elements. I’d like to share with you how I see them engaged with the present time.
The five elements in classical Chinese philosophy and medical theory are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. Each element has a season, a virtue, and a part of the body associated with it. Each stage of life correlates to an element, as well as each emotion, each energetic vector, each expression and sound and taste. In my view, each element is also engaged in some way with the present circumstances of ‘stay home and stay safe’.
Spring manifests the Wood element. The tiny sprout pushes its way up with all its might and determination through the soil for the warmth and light of sunshine. The action of Wood thrusts upward, strives, envisions, and executes the vision. As the trees made of wood, in this season we aspire to remain rooted deeply in the soil and reaching toward the warming sunshine.
Wood element gives us our vision and the energy required to accomplish that vision. The emotion associated with wood is “anger”. It is not the anger of general agitation, but more a righteous anger. Think of the Biblical prophets, who are angry that the people aren’t “behaving right”. The desire for the faithless to ‘turn around and get right with their God’ is the Wood element. The anger of Wood expressed the righteous anger of one who sees ‘how things ought to be’ and is frustrated that things are not working out that way.
Can you see how the present moment really taxes our wood element? Nothing is the way we imagined it might be even 8 weeks ago. In this Spring season when everything bursts into bloom and we crawl from the cold into the warmth we are exhorted to stay home and to avoid physical contact and to do as little outside the confines of home possible. We may head outside for a walk keeping distance, but we are not reaching for new heights. We are holding ground as best we can.
If you feel anger, resentment, frustration, I hope you will grant yourself some grace in that. It is the emotion of the season. It is a reality of the distance between your vision and your reality. Breathe deeply.
Walking is the movement of Wood, and deep breathing is its medicine. The diaphragm is associated with the Wood element, and helping the diaphragm to drop by breathing deeply releases pent up feelings.
The ability to let tears flow is also medicine for the Wood element. Therefore we often feel better after a good cry. Pent up emotions release, enabling us to find more acceptance of the new reality, or to establish a new vision for the present moment.
Benevolence demonstrates the virtue of the Wood element, and reaching out to others to offer support and assistance is an activity for the Wood personality. In this particular Spring season, I encourage you to offer yourself benevolence and grace. I’m writing this during the Christian holy week, when we proclaim rebirth from death.
Surely in this time of unmet expectation, deepening anxieties and necessary reorganizations of plans, ideas, beliefs, and practices we are due some trust and faith in life. Be present in the moment.
We refer to changing circumstances in Chinese Medicine as ‘wind’. We hope to be able to accommodate changes and to be flexible like vines or willows instead of inflexible and brittle. These times do give us a chance to flex our flexibility. Letting tears fall, breathing deeply, gentle walking to relax the diaphragm all aid in that effort.
In Hebrew the word for wind, the wind that moved over the waters in the beginning of time, is also the word for Spirit. As nothing is so sure as change, nothing so pervasive as wind, perhaps there is nothing more present to us as Spirit.
I wish you the company of Courage, a second virtue of the Wood element in these moments. As you are present every day to your body, your desires, your expectations, your grief, and your pleasures and connections, may you feel the spirit of that which nurtures and sustains you.
Blessings and good health to you,