John Kirkwood has been working, living and playing with the Five Elements for 30 years. In this article, he discusses how we can explore the Water Element – that of fear – during the coming winter season. John is the author of The Way of the Five Elements and The Way of the Five Seasons.
In the northern hemisphere winter is beckoning. Nature’s focus slides down and goes within.
As practitioners we are not separate from nature and its changes. To be fully present in the treatment room we must take account of the season and our relationship to it. Winter conveys the essence of the Water Element and all of its associations. Great yin: dark, cold, deep, within. How comfortable are we with what we find there, deep inside ourselves – the hidden places, the dark secrets, the cold corridors of our history?
Winter offers us the opportunity to plumb these depths in the long, dark nights, driven indoors by the cold. In particular we are invited to explore the deep emotion of the Water Element, that of fear.
Fear is not a simple thing. It may begin as a cold, visceral, shrivelling reaction to things that threaten our safety and survival, but it can morph into a host of reactive behaviours. Caution, collapse, paralysis, withdrawal, isolation, mistrust and suspicion are some of the yin responses to fear. But also possible are yang responses like ambition, drivenness, grandiosity, hatred and domination.
All fear ultimately derives from separation from the Tao, based on a belief that we are separate and destructible. It could be said that fear is the fundamental emotion, the motivation for all our ego-defences. If we track our fears back to their origins, we come ultimately to fear of death, of annihilation, of non-existence. This is the ego’s fear, but from the perspective of the Tao, our nature is indestructible and eternal.
This is the deep spiritual lesson that Water offers us: return to Original Nature. As we do our inner work and the egoic defences begin to thin, our identification with the ego-self loosens. We begin to see through the illusion and realise that our true nature is not what we have taken ourselves to be. We see that the collection of ideas, beliefs, memories, body images and emotions that make up the concept of who we are is nothing but a program that keeps running. For most of us, that program will continue to run. But we can begin to see it for what it is. Like a digital image, our small self is as artificial as pixels.
I invite you to use the Five Element model to explore these depths of yourself this winter. Examine your relationship to Water in all its resonances: the health of your bladder and kidneys, ears, bones and hair; the strength of your jing; your capacities of wisdom, perseverance, stillness, trust and will; your relationship to fear in all its forms; and the extent to which you believe you are separate from the Tao.
When done during the season of winter when the power of Water abounds to support us, this work can be profound in helping us to see the places where there is room for growth. It will serve you personally, it will serve your clients, and it will serve the Tao.
52 acupoints that provide self-help for common complaints such as travel sickness, colds, backache. With an acupoint for each week of the year, organised season by season, it uses the healing principles of Chinese medicine to lead to a happier and healthier life.
A guide to living well through the seasons of the year, the book reveals how the Five Elements, which embrace body, mind, and spirit, change focus through the year. The author offers a model for living in harmony with the world by responding to the Elements of each season, through nutrition, activity, and mindset.