From Chapter 3
Could the four elements really be at the foundation of everything, or at least the most relevant expression to us of a single cosmos-wide pattern? You certainly couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the idea of a foursome propping up Nature, the Cosmos, and ourselves was absurd. It is hard to imagine that any four things could be responsible for so much. Still, as you will shortly see, so much can be built andsustained by a simple pattern with four parts.
Perhaps the most significant one is life itself. For example, we should remember there are only four genetic bases that together build the genetic code for all life. These four genetic bases have interacted and joined together to build every life form on this planet – ancient bacteria, giant dinosaurs, and the moss, sequoia, antelopes and humankind of today. Each life form is built upon a set of distinctive proteins that define its physical body and all its functional mechanisms. What is significant here is that all these proteins are built from the coming together of those only four genetic bases. It’s how they come together in almost infinite ways that has allowed life with all its immense diversity to be created.
As far as naming the four cosmic principles that are theorized to be at the foundation of all those foursomes in our world, we could simply call them the A, B, C and D principles. As you can see from the title and focus of the book, I have found it is far more interesting and insightful to call these principles by the terms we see them in Nature: Fire, Air, Water and Earth. I’ve taken my lead from the Ancients, who as we saw in an earlier chapter, did the same.
Another reason to call these four principles by those Nature-based names is that like numbers, Nature’s four elements represent an objective reality we all share and operate in. As I give my talks on the four elements, I’ve come to know there is something about this quartet that rings true to us – our mind, our heart, our human spirit. Again, that’s why humankind’s cultural traditions typically acknowledge them, even showing up as we’ve seen in Genesis’ first four days of creation.
We will continuously see that the more we understand the sun, air, water and earth foursome of Nature, the more we are apt to live happier, healthier, and even “holier” lives. Indeed, the whole world becomes holy when we see this set of four principles embedded in everything.
Because these four elemental principles are holistic (repeating on all levels of the world), we can gather clues on how they operate in us by looking at them in that larger field of our lives, Nature. We’ll begin applying this foursome code in a broad way – working our way up from Earth at the bottom, to Fire at the top. We’ll see how each manifests as one of our body systems, as one essential part of our individual natures, and as an important part of our common human condition.
Earth and Bone…
Can you sense how as a principle, Earth directs the stuff of the world towards its ideal of rock-hard, solid physicality? For example, when we are noticing an object’s hardness or solidity, we are noting the amount of this element,
this ideal, this principle of Earth within it.
Along these same lines, can you see that while each part of our body has Earth’s physicality, it is our bones that are the hardest, most solid portion of us? Earth, then, expresses itself most strongly in us as our bones. Women’s post-menopausal desire for strong bones calls out to this element’s power to work within them. But more
than just static bone, the whole of your skeletal
structure – its alignment and posture – will be seen
more and more to relate to this Earth principle.
Within our daily lives, Earth gives us our need for practicality. We need to be practical because Earth demands that each of us maintain this physical life we have – to maintain our house, our car, and often much more. It is Earth that pushes you to complete
your actions, to work in ways that make something physically, tangibly real, as opposed to being merely an abstract notion in your head. Earth seeks physicality and craves the accomplishment of tasks successfully done.
For good and for bad, and in so many different ways, Earth creates hardness – making things hard in both physical and metaphoric ways. We would not be able to appreciate the fullness of our accomplishments or to physically sense the world without this hardness given by Earth. Whether it be for skyscrapers or for the heels of our feet, Earth gives the solid, granular physicality needed for important parts of our life to function.
… Hardy Sturdiness, Too
Your health and personal sturdiness demand the stuff of Earth. As part of a four-element-inspired lifestyle, you’ll likely want to find ways to strengthen Earth in the problematic parts of your body. You’ll learn how before you know it. As you draw Earth into those weaker links, they (and the greater you as well), become sturdier in the process. A strong Earth gives greater resistance against falling apart, fracturing under pressure, and losing one’s cool. Our weakness shows up as arthritic pain, our dis-ease, and for many as anxiety.
We’ll learn too, in later chapters, that success and prosperity come as we use Earth’s power to physically manifest our goals in the here- and-now of our lives. Part of a healthy lifestyle includes drawing forward the various elements needed for success, which surely includes Earth’s push to make our goals physically manifested and real – even if that process is, like the fourth of our foursome, hard.
Water and Our Organs
Now let’s talk about Water. Think about the way ancient life began as small amoeba in the seas. Nourishment was carried into these one- celled creatures by way of the water that flowed in and out of their cell walls. We learned earlier how Water is the element of connectedness; life is maintained as water connects life’s creatures to their most primitive need: nourishment, or food. For the ancient amoeba – and for those today as well – water carried the necessary nourishment, from food to minerals to oxygen.
As life got larger, canals were needed to transport this nutrient-laden water throughout its larger self. Later yet in the evolutionary process, a digestive system was established to break larger catches of food down so the smaller cells could use them. Eventually a heart developed to pump the nutrients through those canals. By then, a whole circulatory system had formed and even an immune system to keep all those watery canals free of invaders. Kidneys would evolve to filter the water in those canals. Eventually life moved onto land. The oxygen that was dissolved in the oceans now needed lungs to draw it out of the air.
The point is that our blood (and food) are not the only expression of the nutritive power of the Water element in us. All our visceral systems – urinary, respiratory, digestive, immune, and cardiovascular – are an embellishment of this Water element within our body. And further, when we discuss the nutrients and herbs useful for different organs and health problems, we’ll be tapping into this Water Principle built realm of life as well.
Water’s Soft Inter-connective Ways
Can you sense that while Earth pulls the parts of Creation toward hardness and solidity, Water speaks of softness? Softness is inherent in the fluidity of water. This softness allows the parts of a greater whole to connect more easily to one another. It’s useful to think of how a soft tissue or a piece of toilet paper can touch your skin in a gentler way, on a more intimate level than a stiff sheet of writing paper can.
Life depends upon a substance that is gentle, soft, able to reach into the smallest parts of the whole; interconnecting those myriad of small parts in a way that sustains that whole, that oneness. Water surely fits the bill! The softness of Water is part of its power to bring nourishment to every cell of your body.
More and more we will see that this soft inter-connective power of Water is what vibrates in the fibers of your ligaments, cartilage and tendons – what are aptly called the body’s “connective tissue”. And too, they give us a look at the holistic template where there is a repeating of a successful pattern.
Here, thousands of collagen fibers making up a tendon or ligament are created as hundreds of small amino-acid-built microfibrils join together to create a subfibril, which come together to create a fibril, which finally get drawn together to make that ligament or tendon.
Whether it be to heal theweaker ligaments of a painfuljoint, the watery tissues of a
distressed organ, or the water-filled discs of your spine – you will want to keep Water’s power in you strong.
It’s worth pointing out that in more ancient times, Water was seen to connect to our passions, those energies that motivate us to do important things in our life. It takes the nutrient-laden blood of our body to pump us up with the energies needed to have those passions.
We’ll be seeing how Water helps us feel meaning in our lives, too. It gives us a sense of interconnectedness with our fellows, our family in particular. It is the power of this Water force operating in us that allows us the ability to interact in deep ways with the world around us; it connects all of life together in its soft, interweaving ways.
Air and Muscles
Remember, Air as an element is space. Nature fills this space of the cosmos with life-giving oxygen – and we call it air. As a force of the cosmos is what creates open, endless space.
Everything in the cosmos needs its “elbow room.” It is not hard to see that everything existing requires a spatial separateness between itself and other things. Consider what it is that we each use to give ourselves this elbowroom: muscles.
Muscles are very different than Water’s ligament structures. Our muscles bring forward the self-empowerment that all life desires. This self-empowerment typically involves our ability to move through space (the Air of Nature) in the direction we want as we do the things we are seeking to do. As it turns out, the air we breathe in provides us with what muscles require, oxygen.
As alluded to earlier, this muscle (or Air element) part of us builds with the same kind of repeating holistic template we saw operating in the connective tissue domain of Water. Muscles are built as its own amino-acid-specific actin and myosin protein fiber strands are twined together by connective tissue (perimysium) to become a muscle fascicle. These individual fascicles are twined together by another layer of connective tissue to become the wholeness of a particular muscle.
How we use our muscles defines how we do what we do. If we habitually have bad posture, walk slumped-forward, or sit too much it is a sign we are not using our muscles properly. As we will continually learn, the way we use our muscles affects our ability to invigorate our body with life. This is a major reason why it is so important to stay active, to move and to have good muscle-invigorated posture. If we don’t, we suffer.
Sports and physical activity are the traditional ways to maintain and even rev up this realm of your life. As we will discover later in more detail, our life’s physical activities strengthen local tissues because they turn on muscles. Interestingly, different muscles turn on different life- positive physiological processes. If we don’t use our muscles in broad and significant enough ways there is a loss of one of the major building blocks of our resiliency.
Fortunately, the increasing number of health clubs, gyms, and YMCAs has helped to counter this problem of our time. The 4 Element Yoga maneuvers discussed later can also help in that regard. Their muscle-invigorated motions will strengthen one’s weaker skeletal parts and even one’s weaker organs as this muscle-built part of resiliency is increased in a region’s local tissues.
Fire and Our Nerves
In the same way that Fire is the least physical of the four elements, nerves are the least physical part of your body. And so it is that the nervous system manifests the Fire Principle in life. Think of those fiery nerve impulses moving quickly down from the brain to the rest of the body.
It is worth noting that just as the sun’s light is responsible for creating order on our planet, the firing of nerve energy directs all animals toward well-organized, orderly body motions. We will see in later chapters that we can do a lot to keep our Fire – our nerves, our brain, even our heart (which is very nervous-system driven) – strong.
Can you see that the actual order of Fire, Air, Water, Earth plays out not only in the order from Nature’s sun up top to Earth’s solid ground at the bottom, but also in this same order in your body? Your brain – the most concentrated Fire of our body – is up at your top. Your feet, with its density of bones, concentrate Earth at your bottom.
Between these two poles, you have the airy lungs above the more watery mass of your abdomen and pelvis. As you will continue to see, this FAWE order keeps showing up.
While we just familiarized ourselves with how the four elements build the framework of our bodies, our next step is to see how we can use this holistic model to understand how our human mind works. Think of this book in part as kind of a success manual to help you accomplish your life’s goals. To get that success we would do well to understand how our mind works within this same four element context. Read on; that’s where we’re going next!