What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs at night? Yea, yea, yea, we all know the Riddle of the Sphinx. But I thought of it recently while talking to a client. Because the Five Phases can be seen in all aspects of life, she was wondering whether there are also certain stages of life when one phase or another is dominant. The answer, of course, is yes. And yes, this also means that, depending upon which Phase is dominant for you certain stages of life may require more effort for you to maintain balance.
First we start with Water. This phase is all about potential, which is to say the formation and beginning of new life. Different sources and teachers have expressed different opinions of exactly when this phase ends, but generally it covers your time in the womb and your time living out in the world as a baby.
During this stage, you have all the genetic information and energetic potential you will ever have- but much of it has yet to be expressed. Neither you nor your family knows much about who you’ll become. Heck, you’re still just figuring out that those hands over there are attached to you, and if you concentrate you can put them in your mouth or up your nose.
Sometime within your first year or two, however, you start to put two and two together, and for the next ten years or so your biggest priorities are growing and learning how the world works (by which I mean, of course, how to get what you want). You’ve entered the Wood stage that, like the Spring Wood season, is characterized by rapid growth and change. It’s the time when you lay down the foundations for who you’ll be as an adult, the time when you begin to differentiate yourself from the other humans around you.
As the Wood stage, this time of life is also very susceptible to the emotion of frustration. Learning how the world works involves lots of trial and error and at times this can be very frustrating. Kids often have temper tantrums at this age because they have their eye on what they want, but they either don’t know how to get it or don’t understand why they can’t have it. Pressure builds emotionally, and they just erupt. Different kids of different Phases may erupt differently, but they generally all do erupt at some point.
Adolescence is another time of transition, and this can be viewed as the crossover between Wood and Fire- some kids move to Fire sooner than others, and this is part of what makes puberty so awkward for just about everyone.
Fire is the time of life when we’re meant to burn the brightest: physically and mentally at our peak, and more motivated by social groups and establishing relationships than ever before. This Phase stretches from sometime during puberty through young adulthood, before we settle into a career and family (the Phases and stages are affected by culture, too).
Earth-time in life is, as you might expect, family time. Whether you’re having children of your own, getting to know your own family better, or establishing a group of friends to function as a cohesive support network, at some point we generally shift our focus a bit and work to maintain and deepen existing relationships more than establish more and more new ones. Closeness and nurturing become important as well as self-expression and self-realization.
Then, as you mature (or at least get older) your activity level tends to slow a bit, and your priorities may shift again. As hair grays and you move beyond middle age, you grow into the Metal stage of life. Our culture doesn’t necessarily place as much value on seniority as most other cultures have. Think of the wise women and wise men of prototypical traditional cultures in most of the world.
Wisdom comes from years of experience, and you weren’t generally allowed into that club if you still had colorful pigment in your hair. In order to both know what was most important and what was best for the future, it was essential to have survived a long time- not everyone did, after all.
Age also brings you closer to the spiritual realm in this paradigm, so you also had a better chance of being a spiritual or religious leader.
Think for a moment about these stages of life, and how your own dominant Phase might interact with the Phase of life you’re in now. How can you respond to this Phase to make the most of your life?