I remember when I first learned about the five elements or the five phases, I compared it to the Vedic/Greek elements that I had learned. 'Where is the air?', I asked. The air is metal. The best way to think about the five phases is to think about the phases of human life or the seasons. The generative cycle of the five elements also describes the development of the organs in the womb.
We begin life in the womb as a seed in the winter, buried underground. This is the water phase, the dark subconscious, the cold, the yin. Water is the element of the kidneys and the urinary bladder. The emotion is fear. But we can also think of these emotions as a complex. So, the water is not only fear, but also courage, but the kind of courage of the body that someone who faces danger just does what is necessary without thinking. This is the lower brain, the so-called reptilian consciousness that makes our body move automatically. In fact, in ancient Chinese medical theory, the brain is considered an extension of the kidneys.
The water is both life in the womb and the helpless baby before walking. The color is black. The water is like dissolution into the subconscious into pure sensory awareness. The water is like the seed in the ground, waiting for the cold to end, forming itself, waiting to come out. The water is the bones and the marrow. The water is the formative survival force. The kidneys house the spirit of the will.
In the springtime, the seed begins to sprout and burst out into the world. This is the wood energy. The wood energy is that of an exploratory toddler reaching out into all directions like tree roots and tree branches, the terrible twos. The emotion is anger, but also that of benevolent and generous power. The organs are the liver and the gall bladder. The brain part that develops at this time is the limbic system, mammalian brain. The liver is the ligaments, the springy, stretchy parts.
The liver houses the three hun spirits. The hun is also known as the celestial spirit and upon sleeping travels out the crown chakra to heaven on a silver chord in order to eat spirit food. The hun spirits and the shen spirit survive the death of the body. The hun spirit is what gives animals their ability to move around.
The summer is the season of fire. The fire is red. The fire energy is the heart, the consciousness, the gateway to heaven. The fire is he emperor, and thus has four organs instead of only two, like the other elements. The heart is paired with its protector, the small intestine which is linked to discernment. The small intestine is selective in both digestion and in letting information in. The small intestine channel ends in the tragus of the ear and the joke is that the small intestine can be like sticking your fingers in your ear and shouting 'La la la la.'
The shen spirit cannot leave the heart or we will die. Death is when fire leaves the water, spirit leaves the substance. So the emperor needs a minister. The ministerial fire is that which extends the consciousness. For example, maybe you weren't thinking about your toes, but now all of a sudden you feel them. The ministerial fire travelled to your toes and that is why you feel is right now. The ministerial fire is in the pericardium of the heart and is also known as the heart protector.
The yang pair of the pericardium is the triple warmer. The triple warmer is the peritoneum, the fascia that wraps all of the organs. The triple warmer is also the fluid distribution system. It makes sure that everything keeps flowing.
The emotion of the heart is joy. The negative side of the complex is mania. Mania takes a lot of energy and depletes the body and mind and so mania can be paired with depression. It seems worthy of note that the spirit of conscious awareness is joy, that joy is the base emotion.
The fire energy is that of a child developing their intellect, the period from ages 5 to 11. This is when children develop the cerebral aspect of the brain. The fire is thought. The sound of the fire is laughter. This is the summer months when people are out at public events.
The earth is both what is known as 'Indian summer' and is also the earth, which all the seasons revolve around. The earth is yellow. The earth is the spleen and the stomach. The spleen is the hardest working organ. We think of the spleen as the master lymph gland. It cleans up all the maldistributed fluids. It also provides the fires of digestion. The earth is the source of food energy. It deals with our digestion and absorption of energy.
The spirit of the spleen is the yi spirit of the intellect and imagination. The emotion of the spleen is compassion. The negative side of the compassion complex is worry and over thinking. Worry is damp in the head. The earth goes round and round. So does the damp. So does the overthinking.
The earth is adulthood. The earth is the center of the seasons. The adult, earth phase, is where we spend the majority of our lives. This is where we get married, raise families, and become a functional member of a society.
The autumn is the metal and restriction. The metal phase is represented by the lung and the large intestine. The lung wants to suck everything in, but it is also a perfectionist. The large intestine eliminates waste. The autumn is restriction where we go within to prepare for winter. The lungs are the last organ to develop. We call the lung, the delicate organ as it is the most susceptible to sickness.
The lung houses the seven po spirits or material spirits. This is the energy that ultimately causes death as our spirit is not meant to remain in the material for too long, and the po spirits want to return to the earth. The lungs contain the emotion of sadness, which helps us deal with the temporary nature of the material world and the temporary nature of our material bodies. But contained within the complex of sadness is also cosmic awe at the sheer mystery and wonder of being alive, an understanding of the eternal.
Metal is the rules of heaven. The phase of metal also includes the afterlife before reincarnation. Heaven can allow no imperfection. The sound of metal is crying.
Then the metal of the perfection of heaven nourishes and sends a new seed into the material realm of the womb and the cycle begins anew.