Dear Five Faces: This isn’t really a relationship question, but I’m new to the elements and am having a hard time understanding the difference between them and how they act. A friend told me they heard you teach the topic once and you described the elements like a sports car. How does that work? Signed, Newbie
Dear Newbie: Your friend has a good memory – I have described the energetic dynamics and phases of the elements using a sports car many times. Here’s how it works.
We teach that the Five Elements represent the phases inherent in moving through the whole of any cycle. We often use the different seasons of one year to illustrate this. Water is winter, Wood is spring, Fire is summer, Metal is autumn, and Earth represents the balance point between each season (the solstices and equinoxes) and also the season called Indian summer.
But the Five Elements aren’t just about the passage of time or seasons. They represent the expansion and contraction phases, the dynamic interaction between yin and yang, that anything moves through in the course of a complete cycle. Take a look:
- Water, as winter, represents the pure potential and maximum contraction of full yin.
- Wood, as spring, represents growth and expansion, the movement from yin toward yang. Because of this, Wood is often referred to as “new yang.”
- Fire, as summer, represents pure yang, a maximum state of expansion and activity.
- Metal, as autumn, represents contraction and decline, the movement from yang toward yin. Metal is often referred to as “new yin.”
- Earth represents the balance point in the process of moving from expansion to contraction. It is neither yin nor yang, but a point of perfect balance between the two.
My husband Mark has heard me describe this cyclical movement hundreds of times and finds it pretty dry. So he came up with his own way to explain things and I have to admit it does make the model more exciting. Here’s Mark’s sports car analogy comparing the Five Elements cycle to driving a fancy sports car (in his dreams).
When the sport car’s engine is idling in neutral, it can be said that the car is in a Water phase. There’s a lot of horsepower under the hood, lots of potential, but it’s not manifesting yet. With one quick press on the gas pedal it’s flying, but as it sits in neutral, it looks still and calm. That’s Water.
The Wood phase is represented by the car’s rapid acceleration, the ability to go from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds. As long as the car is accelerating, that’s the Wood phase.
When the car reaches its peak cruising speed and is running full throttle zipping down the road at 120 mph (hypothetically, of course), it’s in a Fire phase. The acceleration has leveled off and the car is being held at a steady, breakneck speed.
At the point the driver takes her foot off the gas but hasn’t applied the brakes, there’s a moment of perfect balance; the car isn’t accelerating or slowing down. That’s the Earth phase.
When the driver does brake, the car begins slowing down and that’s the Metal phase.
When the car stops and is once again idling in neutral, it’s back to the Water phase of pure potential, maximum contraction, and no visible movement.
Like I said, it’s really a rather clever analogy.
I hope this gives you a better sense of the elements and the phases they represent. And it really is about relationships. We need to remember that there will be a lot going on under the surface for the Waters in our life. The Woods we know will absolutely be driven (no pun intended) to keep moving toward success. Our Fire friends will want to stay busy and celebrate life. The Metals in our circle will value quiet time to study and learn. And the Earths we know will just want everything to stay happy and balanced.
Mark’s version of the elements and their phases did impact our relationship, too. It proved that he really does listen, which makes me happy. Of course, he could be angling for a new car . . .