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Embodying the Five Elements

Before you read any further, I invite you to take a few moments to feel into your felt sense--whatever sensations arise in your domain of your body.

From the tips of our toes to the crown of our head, a host of mysterious sensations arise every moment to our perception, carrying a wealth of information necessary for survival and for living a meaning-rich, embodied life.

The five elements represented by the five colors.

Blue - space, white - water, yellow - earth, red - fire, and green - wind.

Though truly the variety of felt experience can't be captured by any categories, Buddhist yogis (and others I'm sure) have classified the constituent elements of our embodied life with the five elements: space, water, earth, fire, and wind. Space is the conscious, accommodating field wherein our sensations arise, and is found in every atom, cell, cavity, and joint of the body; it is the context for the unfolding of the other four elements. Water is the wet and fluid quality of experience, and is expressed by our bodily fluids such as blood, cerebral-spinal fluid, and other interstitial fluids; it can be sensed quite potently when bobbing in the surf at the beach. Earth is the experience of support, firmness, and solidity, expressed by our skeletal system; it can be sensed potently by lying upon the earth and feeling the full extent of contact with her support. Fire is the heat and passion of the body, and is expressed by the warmth of the body and the "fire light" of the heart coming through the eyes; to sense it, perch yourself at a comfortable proximity to a wood fire and explore the resonance of your warmth with the fire's hot glow. Wind is the quality of movement and energy in our bodies; it is found in the motility of thought, in our quick reactions, and in the energy we have to move and act in the world; it is easily sensed in moments of potency and vitality, like during a runner's high.

What is fascinating about the elements, is that they are found equally within us as without us. Setting aside the periodic table of elements, it's easy to appreciate that on the felt, experiential level, these five elements are precisely what make up the natural world around us. We experience the world as the open and accommodating nature of space, the wet and fluid nature of water, the hard and supporting nature of earth, the heat and transformation of fire, and the movement and energy of wind. As such, the five elements connect us to the world, and there is, on the experiential level, a continuum between the outer and inner elements that we can feel and know directly.

I experience this quality of the five elements as a profound remedy to the disconnection from the natural world that modernity encourages. I encourage you to explore this in your own experience. Can you sense fluidity, or heat, or openness within yourself? When you do, can you sense that this is something you share with the universe? That perhaps these are universal qualities, in which our bodies swim, and that our own little share of each element is continuous with a mysterious whole? What kinds of movements or practices express each of the elements for you? I encourage you to explore the elements within and without, for the elements call out to us constantly, and are always with us to be played and experimented with. Playing with the elements opens us to a natural spirituality, a connection with life and the universe that is open to all and known directly with/in/by/as our own bodies. 


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