Winter is typically a time to go within and to rest, reflecting the Earth and how it gets covered by a blanket of snow. As we enter into the spring in the Northern Hemisphere, there is a tendency to emphasize a theme that leans toward planting seeds and beginning to emerge from the slumber that is winter. As we unfold and begin to awaken, the Journey group shall reflect upon basic foundational understandings and go back to the simplicity that is the elements. We did this in 2016, and you read the summary post from last year here.
What are the elements? How do we relate to them? Can we harness the wisdom inherent in them to find deeper meaning within ourselves and others?
There are many cosmologies out there that deal with the foundations of the elemental systems. They span anywhere from a three element system, to a seven element system (sometimes even more). They are akin to an operating system on a computer, and each works better for different individuals and for different purposes. There’s nothing wrong with preferring a Mac over a PC, or vice versa. The problem that we encounter most, is that a lot of people are running on autopilot, not aware of how they operate on a foundational level. All of these systems are correct in their own way, and the purpose of these journey groups is to find out what your personal foundation is, and to create/maintain an operating system that is right for you.
I will be introducing these concepts from a four element perspective because that is what I am most comfortable with. I do not want the individuals attending to limit themselves to condensing to my viewpoint of how I see things. For the pace of this Journey Group, it would be helpful if you did minimal research on how to journey so you can join along in conversation so we don’t have to back track on what exactly journeying is. If you follow one of the other numbered element systems, feel free to read through these blog posts and take what you need. Come to the groups and share your knowledge. Find the hidden gems to deepen your own practice. All paths are welcome, and I encourage others with different viewpoints to come. It brings diversity and a clarity of shared vision to the whole.
If we go back to the elements, we go back to the simple nature of the way things used to be before humans even arrived. Human beings have this tendency to add layers of complexity. We can find a lot of deep and meaningful teachings in nature, because Nature is one of the first teachers that we, as human beings, learned from. The elements are the core basics of everything that exists on this planet, and every material has reflections of these elements. Sandra Ingerman always says that the Microcosm of our Universe (within us) reflects the Macrocosm of the Universe (outside us), and vice versa.
So how do we take these elements and apply them to our lives? It’s not going to be in the literal sense that we find these answers, but the metaphoric. Surely we are in human bodies, so how can we find earth or fire in us? When we journey to our helping spirits, they will speak with us in metaphor. It’s rare that they’ll speak directly in English or our native tongue. Most of the time they give us thoughts, feelings, or images. It’s when we work with them that we begin to develop this symbology of how they speak with us.
How are we able to assess our stability, the ground we walk on, and do we have enough to feed and nourish ourselves? This is our sense of earth, and asking the element of earth is akin to asking our physical body (because our body is manifest) what exactly it needs. Earth helps us answer our basic needs, self care, as well as our stand in the world. This is how we define who we are, what we stand for, and why we stand for it. If our ground is unstable, and cracked – that can represent that we don’t feel secure with ourselves or feel like we’re living two different lives. Our mind might say one thing, but our heart says another, and in that, we can create shifting sand or something that may seem stable at first, but as soon as you put any pressure, you start sinking down and find that it’s mud.
When we take a look at our mental capacity and sometimes find that our thought swirl too fast in our head, we feel stuck in being able to see what is coming, can’t come up with new ideas or even having too many ideas which can lead to planning our next day instead of sleeping – this could be an out of balance relationship with air. Air represents our mental body, the strength of relationship we have with our minds. Lots of people in this society tend to be overactive and over-stress our mental bodies. This can lead to actions without a lot of thought, as well as doing things on “autopilot” because we’re constantly thinking of the next step instead of enjoying what’s in front of us. Sometimes it could feel like we are suffocating, or it feels like the air isn’t moving terribly well. If we get to our inner world and we find that there’s a metallic taste to the air, or there’s smog that makes us cough – it’s a metaphor that our minds/mental body is not as clear as it could be. We could be feeling “foggy” or we might not be thinking as clearly.
When sometimes it feels like our motivation is waning, we don’t feel like getting ourselves out of bed, or it’s the opposite and we are too emotional, too creative, too expressive, over share, and get really enthusiastic about a project but then fizzle halfway through – this could be an out of balance relationship with fire. Fire tends to be our energy production/level, as well as our connection to Spirit. When it’s out of balance, it can burn out of control, or feel like we’ve got nothing left to give. A fire that burns very hot takes a lot of energy and resources to keep going. If you enter into journey space and you see that there’s a fire that’s burning so fiercely it’s consuming things without control, then are you the type of person that tends to go off of whim and whatever good feeling you have? When you crash, do you find yourself feeding yourself caffeine or sugar in order to help cope? A fire that is forced is generally not going to be using all of the resources it has to it’s fullest potential. Do you see a path that the fire has burned, or does it have a stable place to burn and you are wise about what you feed it? If a fire is generally low, then that could mean we need to think about self care and how we are feeding ourselves spiritually. Are you giving too much to your relationships and not to yourself? These are all questions when we go to the fire.
Water represents our emotional body. It is our relationship with our emotions and the expressions of them. Emotions are not meant to rule us, they are meant to be flags for knowing if we are on the right track, or if we have a boundary violation. Western contemporary culture tends to flip flop on two extremes – either emotional indulgence or a shutting down of emotions. With a tendency for shutting down, we might be playing in the “shallow end” of the pool, or hanging out near the beach where if we fall down, we don’t have far to fall. We don’t have to swim. We can still get back up. In this, we don’t have to risk getting hurt by drowning, or have the fear of getting caught out in the rip tide. If we are too emotionally indulgent, do we happen to be swimming constantly? Diving in, even when we know we are not the best swimmer? The point of our emotions is not to get lost in them and have them control/power our actions – we are supposed to use them to float on top and to carry us to our deeper meaning experiences. To be present in the moment, and figure out how we feel in the moment. How deep of a person are you? Do you ride the wave, or do you allow the wave to ride you?
Now that we have briefly explored the elements, the next layer is how we view their relationships with each other. If there is too much water, then our fire cannot burn bright. If we have too much air (ideas and inspiration), our fire can burn out of control. If there is too much water (emotions) in our earth, then our stability gets muddy, and we begin to sink when we stand up for ourselves and our beliefs. This concept is known as complimentary dualism. In a lot of Eastern Traditions, it’s best explained as yin and yang. Yin is a word used to describe the inner aspect, while yang represents the outer. Everything has a yin and yang aspect. When there is too much yin energy present, that leads to a stagnation. If there is too much yang energy, that leads to a depletion. When looking at the elements in this four element system we will be exploring, the elements that represent more of a yin quality are water and earth. These are the elements that are restorative, that which we lean into when we feel tired or exhausted. They are replenishing, refreshing, and rejuvenating. The yang elements are represented by the fire and air. We typically go to these elements to carry out certain actions, or to be viewed by other people in a larger setting. They are how we interact with each other (one of the main archetypes that air typically brings is communication). Fire is interesting because it’s an element that requires the other elements to even be initiated. The environment has to be right, and the right potential for combustion needs to be present. Fire needs to constantly be fed, and all of the other elements need to be in balance for a fire to be more properly utilized – otherwise it burns out of control and causes chaos, or it is suffocated and cannot burn.
Having a more shamanic view of life is also about relationship, and if we view these relationships with our elements and assess the quality of them – it can provide a tremendous amount of introspection that can be transforming. Sometimes, being able to work with a metaphor can help us figure out what we need to do, in order to clear the pollution we find in them. Once we see the state that something is in, we can ask our guide what the next step is to create a healthier relationship with that aspect of ourselves. This is the gift of journeying – to be a powerful tool to help us see the imbalances and apply them in our life so we can learn to be in good relationship with the world around us. It all starts with our relationship with our self, and being honest with our self.
For a deeper look and practical application on how we can begin to work with these concepts, let’s explore each element individually:
Air – Mental Body
Fire – Spiritual Body
Water – Emotional Body (coming soon)
For those that tend to be auditory learners, the inspiration behind this series of posts are a grouping of podcasts from Why Shamanism Now. Feel free to listen to the originals listed here: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Each podcast is about 45-50 minutes long.