26 Oct The Creative Mountain
By Ben Fleisher, LAc, CZB
I want to preface this post with credit to Lorie Dechar and her wonderful book, 5 Spirits. Lori’s work in articulating this archetypal journey is incredible: in-depth, well-researched, and brought into language by virtue of her decades of study and practice. The roots of this perspective date back well into ancient Taoist writings and have been referenced over and over in writings on the medicine of the east and the spiritual practices that often accompanied them. For a full list of references, I suggest Lori’s book and her bibliography.
Patients often ask me for ways to understand “Chinese” medicine. I use the quotation marks because the truth is that much of what is currently studied as Chinese medicine is as much Asian medicine as it is Chinese. Traditions of practice arose in Japan and Korea and Vietnam and Indonesia (and most of the countries of Asia) so long ago that to credit all of that evolution to China seems to me a bit unfair… but that’s not the point here. Just know that when I call it Chinese medicine, it’s a sort of shorthand for the Asian perspective on the mind-body connection.
In any case, one of the most powerful images that I have come across in my studies of the 5 Elements of Chinese Medicine is what I will call here ‘the Creative Mountain.’
Firstly, for the record, the basic premise of Chinese medicine is that each of us is a microcosm of the entire universe, of nature itself. The 5 elements of nature (earth, wood, metal, water, and fire) are at play within each of us and maintaining their balance, or harmonious flow, is the healing power of medicine. Each of the five elements has signature qualities and each relates to one another. We can use the image of the mountain to better understand them and ourselves.
We begin with the element of the earth. The color is cited as yellow. The image that we work with is the plains and the valley, or perhaps rolling valleys. Abundance. The 10,000 things of the earth. It is the harvest. In terms of qualities of mind, this energy relates to a sense of abundance and it’s opposite, scarcity. The darker side of this energy is worry, over-thinking, an obsession with what is not abundant enough. Think: amber waves of grain.
As the plains evolve into the mountain, the earth rises up. We come to the second element: Wood. The trees along the side of the mountain. In Chinese medicine, they say that the Wood element, which relates to the energies of the Liver and Gall Bladder, rises to the eyes. Vision. As the trees reach higher and higher for light, they also have a vantage point to gaze out into the distance. The energy of the Wood is, in its enlightened state, one of visionary leadership. Life direction, higher purpose, envisioning futures… When there are obstacles in one’s way, this can lead to frustration, stagnation, anger: the darker sides of the Wood element.
In this archetypal image, there is a hole at the top of the mountain. A cave that leads down into the caves and caverns of the mountain. The element here is Metal. The color is white. Envision stalagtites and stalagmites and gems hidden among them. Think diamonds and minerals. The Metal element relates to the organs of the Lungs and Large Intestine. If you even consider the shape of these two ‘caverns’ of the body, the image starts to make sense. The Metal element relates to the emotion of grief. And for those with some personal experience of deep grief, you know that this is how loss can feel. An emptiness, a space where something has been carved away. Being in those caverns, spelunking the emotional landscapes of grief can feel dangerous, and lonely, and dark. And yet, it is within those dark, personal paths that we can find the gems, the diamonds of love that those who have passed over have left for us. The ways that we can embody those legacies and live the gifts that we have been given.
As the white caverns of the Metal element descend even deeper, they open up into a vast underground lake, the Water element. The Water element in Chinese medicine is the energy of the Kidneys. It’s color is blue/black. The emotion is fear and the enlightened quality is stamina and will power. As this myth goes, when we descend into ourselves to see the raw fear that lives deep beneath the surface, as we are willing to look right into this darkness and know it is also a part of us, we are then immediately transformed.
This transformed energy rises at the speed of light, it bolts out the top of the mountain as the Fire of transformation. It is inspiration itself. It is the pure energy of love and joy and pure possibility. The Fire element, the heart and heart protector, is seen as the color red. It’s emotion is joy. It is the sun.
The crops on the plains do not grow without the energy of the sun and inspiration feeds all the crops that we have going. The cycle feeds itself and the spiral of life continues.
This archetypal, creative cycle is constantly at play. You can see it in any creative endeavor.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Where in this cycle am I strong and where am I weak?
Do I allow myself to experience all of these landscapes?
Where do I experience myself shooting out of the top of the mountain?
If I am feeling weak in any of these elements, what can I do about it?
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