the original kStyle blog.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Part Five 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.

The Water Cycle

Life began in water and gradually squirmed its way onto land. We begin our individual lives swimming in the womb, looking much like fish. Thus the Water element is associated with the Jing, the foundation of life. Water, maybe like life itself, never ends; it only transforms: rain to lake to river to ocean to vapor to cloud to snow to ice to stream. The water element is associated with the time of death as well as the moment of conception in the life cycle, as both are merely transformations. Life on Earth depends on water, and so all energies in the body depend upon the original qi from the water element.

Although water can be contained, it can’t be contained permanently. It will burst the dam or evaporate from the glass, or freeze and expand, bursting its container, but it’s in no rush to do so. Some might say that water is full of illusion, one moment reflecting back the viewer’s own image, another clear to its very depths, and then turning opaque black, or sky blue, or green. I would say that no, these myriad appearances are not illusory, but rather the very nature of water: Water has great depth and infinite faces. Which explains why no text I’ve read on Five Element Theory (not that I’ve read a great many) satisfactorily describes the water element. There’s always something about fear, and something about the nervous system, maybe something about its primordial nature, but the books never reveal as much about water as they do about the other phases. Metal is solid and easy to see. Fire is bright. Earth is central, solid (in its nothingness). Wood will not be ignored. But water doesn’t care whether or not you’re looking, and would just assume reflect your soul back at you. Seeing water requires softening the gaze.

Water goes with the flow, tending to move downwards for a time, but then it will bounce upwards through evaporation or a spring. Fluids in the body move downwards to the Kidneys and Bladder for purification and elimination, but then the Kidneys mist clean fluids back up again. Although water does not possess the steely determination of metal, given enough time, it will wear the sharpest stone smooth and carve canyons. Water is patient, and often wields its power with subtlety, just as the Kidneys rule the body without fuss, letting the Liver think it’s in charge. It is perhaps the most adaptable element, the magician of the bunch, easily transforming between states of matter and qi. Cold is dangerous to the Kidneys, I think, because of the risk that they will freeze up and be unable to thaw, remaining stuck in one state. Conversely, there lies the risk of evaporating Kidney Yin and floating right off the planet. Because water is everywhere, in all states, it seems that it would be highly intuitive, especially when it is still and reflective. And just as water can take many forms, water energy is the basis for all other energies in the body.

The kidneys open to the ears, letting us hear babbling brooks, drumming rain, the pounding of the surf, and frozen winter silence. In hot climates, summer—not winter—brings deadly quiet, when heat dries the earth’s waters. Whether water flows again in spring or fall, its chattering heralds the joy of renewed life. And the riverbank talks of the waters of March, It's the end of the strain, it's the joy in your heart. Although Tom Jobim, the great Brazilian songwriter, penned those lyrics about the end of summer in Rio, they are perfect for the end of winter in Boston.

According to Masunaga, the Kidneys and Bladder control “purification and impetus”. Water is the great purifier, as are the Kidneys to the body. We tend to think of water purifying other things—us, the dishes, the earth—but water even purifies itself. The most polluted river system can cleanse itself once we stop adding more pollutants to it, even if we do nothing to clean it up. Rivers are the very embodiment of homeo-dynamic balance. We should take heart that perhaps the Kidneys can purify the system as long as no further pollutants are added for a time. “Impetus” refers to the fight-or-flight adrenal reaction to stress, and to the will to survive housed in the Prenatal Jing. The concept of impetus connects directly with water in two ways. First, water is forever flowing and changing. Second, water has a very definite direction. Woe to the canoeists trying to paddle against a tidal current, but if they paddle with it, how easy will their voyage be.

I can think of quite a few water people, most given away by a groaning voice. I hypothesize, based on Masunaga’s meridian functions and my own observation, that there are two types of water people: Impetus people and Purification people. Impetus people are always on the go, unable to sit still for fear of what they might find. I know two women who are avid runners. (They do not know each other.) Both run a few miles every day and go out many nights; both are running a sleep deficit; both have painfully groaning voices. One wears nothing but black; the other shuns black in favor of bright pastels, a suspicious lack of black. Interestingly, both had anorexia as teenagers. Their anorexia was probably caused by insufficient Jing, a lack of will to survive.

The Purification person, on the other hand, is more likely to be meditating than running. He just wants to relax; maybe in stressful moments he’s tempted to run away and become a monk. He hopes to affect the physical realm through the spiritual, to avoid confronting difficulties head-on. The person who wrote all those passages in the I Ching about retreating into reflection and letting the Sage resolve difficulties was a Water/Purification person. The Purification type often lacks in impetus and can get into what my mother calls “a funk”. The Impetus person often lacks the ability to purify and is tossed about by unresolved emotions. I suspect that Impetus-types have primarily KD-yin insufficiency, and that Purification-types have primarily KD-yang insufficiency. In my observation, Impetus people have no desire for sweets, but Purification people would dive into a vat of liquid chocolate if they could, which correlates with insufficient Spleen-yang arising from insufficient KD-yang.

Many water people are constantly asserting: This is who I am! Look! This is me! I think they are confused by their own watery shape-shifting and are struggling to find and project a solid, unified self. Some watery people have blocked their intuitions by projecting their insecure egos onto every situation, however little it has to do with them: What did she mean by that? What does that say about me? How should I feel about this? If they could find still reflectiveness, they would unlock great knowing, but they are like a choppy opaque harbor blown by winds. In balance, water is adaptable, multi-dimensional, intuitive, easygoing, flowing, still, purifying, patient, and comfortable with its own myriad manifestations.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home