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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Part One in a Five-Part Series

Five Element Theory (or Five Phases Theory) is an important aspect of many schools of Eastern medicine. Although Mao et al (you know, the Communists) diminished its importance when codifying TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), it remains a vital part of many schools of Classical Chinese Medicine, Shiatsu, and so forth. Every week for the next five weeks I will be contemplating an element and writing a brief essay about it for class--how it acts in nature, how it applies to the human. I direct the curious to an overview or two of Five Element Theory. For the version of the essay published here, I've tweaked a few details about the person described in the end to "protect the innocent". I've also added a few notes in brackets to explain technical terms.

Thoughts on Wood Qi

I believe that both Don Juan, the famous shaman from the Carlos Castenada books, and a Congolese boy in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, asserted that trees and men are the same: Both trees and men have roots and grow upwards towards the sky. I would add, sap nourishes the tree the same way the channels nourish a person; what is sap but qi and xue [blood--but not exactly blood like you're thinking of, though it encompasses that, too]? I would also add, if either a human or a tree is severed from its roots, it will die.

Why then does Wood Qi so often pester the human? During my walks this week, I placed my attention on the plants around me, trying to learn what I could about these majestic green things living in the perhaps-not-ideal environment of suburban neighborhoods. The first thing I noted was that each plant has its own role in the plant community. The white pines soar high above the other trees, but do not grow many branches from the lower half of their trunks, allowing light to pass through to shorter plants. The oaks and maples are middle-height, maples more slender than oaks. Then there are the woody shrubs, content with the light that filters to them, and then low-lying brush. And so forth. I understand that this layered affect of plants is even more pronounced in the rainforests.

Which is to say, plants cooperate. This observation fits in nicely with the Chinese view of Wood—Wood Qi pertains to finding one’s role in life, to making decisions that support that role (I’ll take the sunny area!), and to harmony between the individual and the group (I’ll avoid growing low branches so you can have that sunny area). Where, then, does this association between Wood and anger arise? Anger manifests as an imbalance of the Wood element; harmonized Wood does not tend to anger. When I discussed this point with a classmate, she reminded me about invasive plants attacking an area, eating up all the minerals in the soil (Wood attacking Earth), and pushing out native plants: another association with anger and aggression and Wood in the natural world.

In balance, Wood energy is creative. Look at the infinite variety of flowers and the myriad of autumn colors produced by plants. Wood energy tends to move upwards and outwards, like shoots growing in spring. Excessive upward qi movement is a common manifestation of Wood imbalance. Perhaps the problem is not the upward movement so much as a lack of rooting to ground that movement. Liver, the yin Wood organ, stores xue and ensures smooth flow of qi; rich, flowing sap is necessary for a healthy tree. Wood people tend to work hard and be a little “Type A”. This tendency brings to mind both our use of wood to make many important objects, from furniture to paper, and also those bright little flowers one often sees blossoming, impossibly, out of rock cliffs battered by strong ocean winds. A puzzling thing about trees is that, rather than push out an irritant, such as a plant tumor or fence or carving, they absorb it. I wonder, does it continue to bother them? Has the tree made this wound part of its identity? Has the tree somehow transformed its wound? This inability or refusal to push harmful influences out might parallel inward-directed Liver aggression, which is known to cause depression in humans. I don’t think I’ve unraveled its implications yet, however. As for fire and wind [Fire and Wind are two of the Pernicious Influences of Chinese medicine, climactic factors that can cause disease. Remember that the human is a microcosm of the universe, just as each of our cells is a microcosm of the whole of us, encoded with all our DNA. Therefore, what upsets the Wood Qi outside of us can upset the Wood Qi inside of us. Too metaphysical? Put another way: the Chinese noticed that lots of people get sick a certain way when, for example, wind is blowing. Next time it's really windy, notice if your neck gets stiff, your muscles spasm, you become irritable or angry, or you experience sharp, moving pain. These symptoms are more likely to manifest if you have a preexisting Wood Qi imbalance.]—fire can burn up entire forests, and wind, when it becomes too much for a plant’s ability to sway, creates mangled-looking plants, like the bent red pines perched precariously high on cliffs in New Mexico.

Wood is vital to our planet’s health. It provides food, shelter, and oxygen for humans and other animals. Plant life is the conductor of the sun’s energy to earth, which also corresponds to the creativity of the Wood element. We can see, then, that Wood Qi has a very generous nature. In some ways, this seems more like an Earth Qi characteristic, but it is important to remember that the Elements are interdependent, interchanging conceptualizations of Qi.

I know an actress/director, a very creative person, who is bursting with Wood energy. She works long days, from 8 AM to 6 PM without a lunch break, drives over an hour home, and then spends her evenings rehearsing and planning her shows. More than a little Type A, she has obsessive-compulsive disorder. I've heard that she is prone to cursing and kicking the filing cabinet at work. It seems that her fits of temper blow over quickly, but she often suffers crippling migraines. Perhaps her migraines are like the “plant tumor”, a piece of anger she has internalized, causing Liver Yang to rise to her head. She dyes her hair a bright orange, as if to show her Liver Fire physically. She keeps no houseplants because she always kills them; I suspect that she cannot stand to have more Wood around her. I think that beneath this excessive Wood qi, she has a strong, balanced Fire element, as she is very warm and compassionate, fast-moving and funny, and her Shen is very bright.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great observation, Kstyle. I've always looked at trees, flowers, plants, and even rocks with a similar feeling. It always evokes peace. thanks from Ann's mom.

10:18 AM  
Blogger kStyle said...

glad you liked it. :)

12:32 PM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

YES! This is exactly what I wanted to see. This is so cool.

6:51 PM  

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