As far as altruisms go, this is one of my favorites, because it is not only true, it is necessary for it to be true. If each of us lived as our true selves in balance with ourselves, one another and the world, we’d still disagree and find it difficult to understand one another at times (the resolution of conflicts would happen more quickly and less painfully, though, I presume). But movement, change, even conflict are essential to life and growth, especially from the point of view of Five Phase Chinese Medicine theory. When I find myself astonished or offended by another person’s point of view or thought process, Five Phase theory can help me choose how I respond in the moment. Allow me to elaborate…
In addition to Yin and Yang, which many of us have at least encountered in passing, Chinese Medicine has another integrated, relational way of understanding reality, called Five Phase Theory. On a very basic level, it’s similar to the old Western philosophical idea of the four elements, except that, like yin and yang, there is always an idea that these Phases can never exist outside of relationship with one another.
The Five Phases are labeled Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. Two essential pathways allow Qi (energy, or really just the basic stuff that makes up everything) to flow through the Five Phases, creating all of reality. The first pathway is the Creation Cycle: Water feeds Wood, which burns as Fire, which leaves behind Earth, from which we mine Metal, and Water condenses on cold Metal. But if each phase turned purely and entirely into the next, only one thing would exist at a time. So we have the Restraining Cycle as well, to make sure one Phase doesn’t hog proportionally too much Qi compared with the others: Water cools Fire, which melts Metal, which holds back Wood, which controls and consumes Earth, which holds Water within boundaries.
Five Phase Theory is an entire philosophy, really, so I’ll post more detailed blogs periodically to discuss each Phase in greater detail, and I’ve included a link below to one of my favorite articles explaining Five Phase theory in terms of personal health and personality. For today, I’d just like to expound upon implications of the theory generally speaking.
Every individual thing and person, while containing elements of all five Phases, resonates most with one of them. This means that some people are Wood phase, while others are Water or Metal, etc. It also means that our different ways of seeing life and reality can be seen as ways of helping one another grow and change into better, more balanced versions of ourselves. Another implication is that it’s ok to dislike or come into conflict with others, and that each time such conflict comes up it’s an opportunity for the Creation and Restraining cycles to rebalance your little corner of the world. For example, a Metal person and a Fire person may find some causes of conflict specifically because Fire melts Metal and Metal, naturally, does not wish to be melted, or a Wood person may exhaust a Water friend, taking too much from them because Water feeds Wood (or choose any of the other relationships). So next time you just don’t understand another person’s opinions or actions, remember that it may be the friction of an opportunity for growth or just the natural tension between different Phases. It may help you distinguish when to speak up and when to let things go. It may even help you feel more relaxed and peaceful with life.
When I first delved into Five Phase theory, I shared this knowledge with some friends. The five of us have remained were a very tight-knit group in college, and have remained close over the years. Every chance we get to see each other is special, and we do make an effort to get together as a complete group at least a couple of times each year. We are all quite different, and discussing Five Phase theory we realized that one reason we work so well as a group is that each of us resonates with a different one of these Five Phases. And I actually believe that, through the lens of Chinese Medicine, we understand one another better, resolve conflicts with more patience, understanding and growth, and generally help one another in our quests to become the best versions of ourselves.
Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll start more in-depth discussion of Five Phase Theory with Fire. In the meantime, figure out your Phase with one of my favorite articles from www.chinese-medicine-works.com: “Who Am I? Five Phase Types” through the link below:
There are many other excellent related articles on the site: