What’s Your Element?
Excerpt from Decorating With the Five Elements of Feng Shui
In Taoist philosophy, the human body is simply a microcosm of nature and the universe. The five elements cycle we observe in nature is also within us. In Chinese Medicine, there are five major organ networks associated with the five elements. Instead of referring to the organs individually, Chinese Medicine considers the major organs as a network that disperses and distributes chi (energy) throughout the body. The organ networks are thus:
Wood: Liver and Gallbladder
Fire: Heart and Small Intestines
Earth: Spleen and Stomach
Metal: Lung and Large Intestines
Water: Kidneys and Bladder
Chinese Medicine modalities are used to balance these organ networks to achieve harmony and balance in the body. As a result, existing disease can be remedied and potential disease prevented. Chinese Medicine also recognizes that the mind and body are not separate. As the physical body is a manifestation of the mental and emotional bodies, it is therefore treated in tandem. Any imbalance in the physical body first begins as an imbalance in the emotional and/or mental bodies. So the energy of the five elements is not only found in us physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
We embody all five elements in all ways, but the concentration of each element is what makes us unique as individuals. For example, some people are primarily yang, embodying more Wood and Fire energy. Others are more yin, exhibiting more properties of Metal and Water. Some people naturally have a high concentration in one element, while others may have a more even balance of all the elements. This is our own individual five elements constitution. It is how we run our energy. Your five elements constitution represents aspects of your personality, how you operate in the world, and how you express your emotions.
When you become imbalanced within your own constitution (a result of stress), one or more of the five organ networks mentioned above will be affected. While the physical health implications are beyond the scope of this book, it is important to note that there is a direct correlation between our own elemental constitution and any physical distresses we typically experience.
Knowing your dominant element(s) is helpful in knowing your strengths and in recognizing when you are out of balance. Keep in mind that no combination or concentration of elements is better than another. What constitutes balance will differ from person to person depending on an individual’s elemental constitution. Having an equal distribution of all five elements is not common, nor should it be the goal. For example, some people come into the world with a high concentration in one of the elements in order to carry out a specific life purpose. Others are well-rounded, jack-of-all-trade types who need an integration of all or several of the elemental energies for their purpose.
If you score high in two of the elements (take the accompanying quiz here to find your elemental makeup), notice whether they are compatible in the constructive cycle or opposing in the destructive cycle. Elements next to each other in the constructive cycle (e.g., Wood and Fire) will provide extra support. However, if you have a high score in two elements that oppose each other as seen in the destructive cycle, (e.g., Wood and Earth), you will notice this contradiction in your life, which can serve as a springboard, motivation, or a call to balance opposites in your life. Neither is good or bad, only interesting to notice.
Whatever is not balanced within ourselves we unconsciously seek out in others. This is the beauty of relationships—whether business or personal. Relationships help achieve a yin-yang balance within ourselves, and the same is true with the five elements, although the latter are a little more complicated due to how the elements interact. For example, it might seem as though someone who has a predominance of Fire would attract someone with a predominance of Water. This is certainly common, but the relationship may be somewhat combative because Water, as Fire’s controlling element, puts out Fire. And of course, with the proper mix of fire and water you get steam.
With the dual energies of yin and yang, it is easier to see the yin-yang match in partnerships than with the five elements where other factors play a role in our balance. We are social beings with so many different types of relationships: family, work, children, friends, neighbors, and so on. You are unconsciously striving toward balance in every decision you make—who you live with, where you live, where you work, what type of work, your commute, your living room, your children. None of these are coincidental; all play a role in balancing your five elements world.
Maintaining our own internal balance is the first step for our own mental, emotional, and physical well-being. If you know what your balance point is, you also know when you are imbalanced and can correct course much more quickly, alleviating further undue stress. When I moved from Tennessee to California, my environment changed very drastically, and I found myself needing different amounts of various elements around me than previously. It rained a lot in Tennessee and I craved as much sunlight as possible. But in Los Angeles I was exposed to the sun every day, combined with the yang energy of the city in general. I found myself actually seeking more yin spaces than I had in the past.
You may already have a sense of the element in which you are dominant. Most likely, there are aspects of all five elements that speak to you because we all embody aspects of all of them, although most people are dominant in one or two of them. Remember, the goal is not to have an equal amount of all five elements but to find your own unique elemental constitution or baseline.
There are several methods included to help you determine your dominant element. In Chinese astrology, the birth date—specifically the birth year—determines one’s element. There is also the numerology method, as well as a comparison to the elements in Western astrology. The Chinese art of face reading is another branch of Chinese Medicine that is also used to determine one’s element by taking the physicality of the face into account.
I recommend trying all the methods and comparing the results. You may notice a consistency in your results as well as some differences. I have found there to be facets of truth in all methods. We are complicated beings and can’t always be narrowed down to a formula. Once you have explored all the methods, you should have a good idea of your element constitution. If you find your results to be contrary among the methods, use your intuition as to what feels most representative for you. Most likely all are aspects of you.
Take the Five Elements Quiz here and discover which elements are most predominant in you.
This piece was is an adapted excerpt from Tisha Morris's book Decorating With the Five Elements of Feng Shui, Llewellyn Publications.