The Five Elements – A New Way to Appreciate Ourselves, Others, and Our World

Posted by Sabina Pettitt on

Water moistens downwards,
Fire flares upwards,
Wood can be bent and straightened,
Metal can be moulded and can harden,
Earth permits sowing, growing and reaping.

From Shang Shu or The Book of Documents


For me, the five elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are visible everywhere and in all living things. The window of the five elements allows me to step back and to witness energy moving and energy manifesting. And when I am in the role of healer, it helps me to refrain from judgement and merely facilitate energy coming back into balance with acupuncture or Essences. 

Imagine, for instance, if you could receive someone’s angry words as an expression of themselves and not as a description of you. Imagine if you could notice when you were overexcited and heading towards a ‘crash and burn,’ and gently be able to autocorrect with a breath, a movement, or an Essence? These are just a few of the possibilities that exist when you understand the language of the five elements.

Fire Element

The Fire element radiates light and warmth. Its energy provides the impetus for communication and relationship and sets up the yearning for happiness which leads to love, and can inspire agape (the highest, purest form of love). It is the seat of compassion.

An unhealthy Fire element may manifest as blood and circulatory disorders, sexual dysfunction, body heat irregularities, and a build-up of toxins in the system.

When the Fire element is healthy it is vital and intense. It is the animating force of the five elements. Without the Fire the other elements could not exist in the physical body. The emotion of Fire is joy and its sound is laughter. In the balanced Fire element there is a spontaneous bubbling up of delight. More than any of the other elements, Fire gives rise to enthusiasm – from the Greek en theos (in God) – and is the path to at-one-ment or unity with Spirit. The Fire element houses the Shen, which is the spirit of the Mind. When Fire is deficient and passion for life is lacking, depression results and Shen is not at home in the Body/Mind. There may be a blank look in the eyes and the person may have difficulty with sleep or with concentration and memory. Fire creates Earth.

Earth Element

The Earth element is like the fertile ground of being. It is our connection to the earth plane and to the physical body which our Spirit inhabits. When we are nurtured physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually we allow ourselves the full experience of our incarnation. The feeling which corresponds to the Earth element is sympathy or empathy – we are all ‘strangers in a strange land’ at some level. The sound of Earth is singing.

People with an unhealthy Earth element may become obsessive and preoccupied with the mental realm because they are not grounded in the physical. They may suffer from digestion problems or eating disorders.

The spirit of Earth is I, the quest for nourishment, support, and understanding in our embodiment. It is from the Earth element that Metal arises.

Metal Element

The Metal element is cold, rigid, and hard, but it is also the source of precious metals – the minerals and chemical elements which are vital to healthy functioning. The Metal element seeks spiritual truth and purity.

An unhealthy Metal element may manifest as breathing problems such as asthma, bronchitis, and laryngitis or as bowel problems like constipation or diarrhea. All these physical difficulties have corresponding emotional and mental challenges such as being unable to let go of the past, or of being unable to take in and assimilate new life-supporting experiences.

The sound of Metal is weeping and the emotion is grief. The spirit of the Metal element is Po – our animal soul and the realm of desires. It embodies the same challenges as the eighth house in astrology – money, sex, death, and power. The Metal element creates Water.

Water Element

The Water element is cold, deep, transparent, and transporting. It is the storehouse of the vital essence and from it flows the stream of our ancestral energy. It provides the blueprint for physical embodiment – the sperm, the egg and the DNA.

An unhealthy Water element may manifest as energy problems, back pain, urogenital disorders, problems with the nervous system such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, infertility, tooth and bone disease, and lack of will power.

Water is cleansing and purifying and also persistent. There is no force in nature more powerful for wearing away hard matter like rocks. Its sound is groaning and its emotion is fear. The Water element governs the will, our will to sustain life. Its spirit is Chih which is the seat of our willpower. Water creates Wood.

Wood Element

The Wood element connects heaven and earth, like a tree firmly rooted in the ground with its branches rising toward heaven. Trees are strong and enduring as well as flexible and bending. The Wood element is the source of creativity and is connected to birth and renewal. It is the activator of the DNA blueprint found in the Water element.

When the Wood element is unhealthy there may be muscle and tendon problems, vision disturbances, epilepsy, and menstrual difficulties. There may also be anger, complaining and indecisiveness.

The sound of Wood is shouting and its emotion is anger. The spirit of Wood is Hun, the force of creative expression. The Chinese say the Hun is the only spirit which we carry with us from lifetime to lifetime. It is the motivating force for the optimal creative expression of the soul in each lifetime.

Harmony of the Elements

While unique, these five elements are interdependent and co-creative. Together, these five elements underlie all of our physicality, all of our thinking processes, and all of our emotions. When one becomes excess or deficient our whole Body/Mind is affected. When they are in harmony and functioning optimally, we are in health and well-being.

I love the framework of the five elements. I love sharing this ancient wisdom with people who have never considered the possibility that if we begin to play with energy, we can have a life of greater well-being at all levels – physical, mental and emotional.

If you are intrigued by the possibility of learning this new language, at the same time as enjoying a relaxing and rejuvenating retreat out on the West Coast of Canada, I am thrilled to announce that we will be offering our transformative 5 Elements Retreat and Energy Medicine Training again in 2024!

Five Elements Retreat

The Retreat will take place from May 23 – 29, and early registration opens on October 1. Learn more about the Retreat (including the beautiful accommodations, nourishing meals, and comprehensive training program) here.

This Retreat and Energy Medicine training is one of the high points of our year for Pacific Essences. Seeing people connect with the sea creatures at Botanical Beach, meet the Mother Tree, walk to the Gnarliest Tree at Avatar Grove, and seeing the eyes light up as someone learns that they too can connect with and receive messages from the Nature Spirits makes my heart sing. I am infinitely grateful that this path chose me, and this Retreat is a special way to share these gifts from nature with others. 


Curious what others have experienced on this Retreat? Here are some insights from our 5 Elements Retreat alumni:


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