The four elements come together to make the world fun and interesting. It’s time to look at how they show up in varied ways in all the dimensions of our lives. While I could go into more detail on any of the topics that follow, think of this chapter as a quick survey to stimulate your own thinking. As you might notice, once you understand their code, you begin to see them everywhere!
Childhood Adventure, Recreation and Weather
Since time immemorial, the four elements have been front and center in our human lives. We have always had our adventures in them. Think back to your days as a kid spending time outside, or even now as you hike, fish, swim, ski. Many vacations are centered on relaxing or otherwise being renewed by them. We like to feel the warmth of Nature’s sun-fire as we lie on the beach, the soft playfulness of water as we swim, the earthy terrain of a trail we hike, those refreshing blue skies of cool air we might take in from just outside our house.
There’s a reason people are brought a bit closer together when they “talk about the weather.” We relate to the four every day as they continuously come together: the sun and its sunshine; high or low pressures of air, winds gentle or fierce; there are Water’s showers of rain, its oceans, rivers, lakes, streams and ponds. Lastly, there are Earth’s hills and plains, its wooded forests and deserts, mountain and seaside parts – and with most relevance to us all, that particular earth place where we each live.
We’re all living a four element lifestyle to some degree right now as we engage Nature’s four in each day’s weather. Just getting outside every day can inspire adventure as you feel the power of one or more of these elemental forces. Find the time each day where they do come together so finely. Perhaps in the shade of your house in summer, or facing the warm sun in winter.
Part of a four-element-inspired lifestyle comes, then, as you feel the spirit of each day as you engage its weather by being outside some of each day. Of course, there are days that are clearly uninspiring, but pay attention to all the others.
As a temperate-zone person living in Syracuse, NY, I can’t help but believe that people in the temperate zone may possibly feel Nature’s – and the cosmos’ – energies in special ways. We get the cool crisp air of autumn that helps us gain easier access to the energetic, buoyant vigor of Air. When the sun shines on a cold day, you can especially feel the power of the Fire element. At that moment, it is not hard to imagine that you are in touch with Creation’s positive spiritual force as those photons of energy emitted from our sun of “Onenesss” warm your skin.
We are all, I believe, meant to be four element shamans of sorts. This is because we are meant to feel these forces through our engagement with the four elements in the weather each day, or as we have our adventures, our field games, our walking, running, fishing moments. The walking program discussed at length later is geared toward helping you draw in these elements as you do that physical thing that makes us human. Eventually, you may want to discover 4 Element Yoga to help you engage these four as you move in an exercise kind of way. There is a later chapter that will introduce you to it.
Clearly, most sports begin in our lives as we find ways to have fun and to be active in the world outside. While there are many indoor sporting events, there is nothing like an outdoor field when the weather is just right. Again, it’s that interaction of the sun, the breezy air, the moist green of life and that deep, long field that come together for our play.
As in all things, it is interesting to see how there are buttressed-together foursomes in sports. Here is one way of seeing it in sports: Fire is the essence, the overall look, or oneness of the game; Air is all those opposing principles at work (catching and throwing, for example); Water is the way in which these principles come together to create the rules and underlying structure or balance of the game; Earth shows up as the physical action of the objects and subjects of the game – the players and the ball – as well as the physical field of play.
Great plays in a sports game are “beautiful” in the way these four elements, or principles, can be so well put together and expressed by a team. The same goes with the best of players. They convey an artfulness that relates to their own individual elegant way of doing things, which ultimately means they are drawing upon these four principles in exceptionally balanced ways. The character, style and skill set of each player – which makes certain players interesting or endearing to us – expresses that player’s balance of these principles.
There are various ways the four come together as art. As it turns out, art often begins with our hobbies. Let’s take a look at scrapbooking. Here’s a way of seeing it: the Fire element relates to the essence or wholeness of the experience, moment, time of your (or another’s) life that is being expressed. The Air element relates to the interesting aspect of the story or the cleverness, so to speak, of how this fits with that, the interesting logic to your storyboard. The Water element speaks through the feelings that your collection of images brings forth – the emotions, the momentary joys and sentiments that are being memorialized. And lastly, Earth speaks as the particulars – the physical reality that the images are recalling.
We could go further into any picture within a scrapbook – or to any art form – and pick out another foursome: the Fire element’s shining visual wholeness; the Air of opposing principles – like light and darkness, stark vs. dense, near and far within the picture; the Water of various colors and various polar principles in some kind of balance, coming together with an emotional energy; and the Earth as the physical components building the scrapbook page, a canvas, a sculpture.
It is worth mentioning that in many ways, art is a Water element dimension of our lives because it relates to balancing principles in beautiful, engaging, interesting, artful ways. Remember the productive balancing and interconnecting of parts is exactly what Water is about. When this balancing act is done well, it is good art. There are a multitude of art forms where this balancing act might be noticed.
Music, as we learned last chapter, is an especially powerful art form. In part this is because music propels us to physically move – the water in us is stirred into motion. But still, it is more than Water that is strong in music. There is Fire, as in the organizing thematic idea or spirit of what the song is about; there is the Air of highs and lows, soft and loud notes, words sung and the silent spaces between them. There is, again that Water showing up as opposites connect together to create the emotional energy and structure of the song. Earth shows up as the physical instrument action needed for the creation of the music, in the throaty low sounds of a singer, the beats of the percussion.
The Beatles are possibly the most important musical group over the last 50 years or so. I suggest that the reason the Beatles were so esteemed and well-liked in popular culture back then is because the four elements moved so well through them. Let’s have some fun taking a look at that.
There was the complement of their four ways of thinking, using words, their voices, and their instruments; their four physiques, faces, personalities, lifestyles. What made them especially good was that while they all may have been reasonably balanced with each of our four principles, each Beatle was exceptionally strong in one of them.
While others may see it differently, for me, George was the one who drew upon the Fire Principle the most. His focus on India’s spiritual sitar music and the consistent spiritual focus in his life exemplified that. John was the most intellectually curious and politically engaging one – and so he would be the Air Principle dominant Beatle. Paul played out of Water’s more frivolous, cute, romantic version of reality – the girls especially liked what Paul offered them. And then we have Ringo – a drummer who cannot help but draw upon the power of Earth. Drums emphasize Earth as per the lower, more physical vibrations that are percussed into existence as they are physically engaged by hand, stick or foot pedal.
In some sense, all successful musical groups are composed of band mates that complement each other in this energetic kind of way; their high and low voices that get put into harmonies, their instrumentations, their general personalities. See what happens when you look at your own favorite musician or musical group in this way. Whether it be Mozart in the 1700s, musicians of the ‘70s like Bob Dylan, Joanie Mitchell, James Taylor – each had a unique style, which ultimately related to the way they brought these four principles together. The same goes for musicians like the Rolling Stones, Yes, the Ramones, Madonna, Green Day, Beyoncé… You will have your own musician or group that you feel these principles move so well within. Share your thoughts for this and other ways that you see the four elements playing out in the world at 4ElementLifestyle.com/bookchat.
Writing is another art form of sorts. While it doesn’t have the somatic watery energy of music, it does work by balancing the four elements in its own way. The four elements of literature might be seen in this way: Fire speaks to the overall essence or theme of the book; Air relates to how people are dealing with particular principles – showing up in the issues and conflicts they are facing; Water relates to the emotional drama and angst, the frustrations or joys as the issues are resolved; Earth relates to the physical action – deeds done – by the characters, which ultimately carry the story.
Along these same lines, we have four main categories of books: inspirational would be Fire’s realm; knowledge-based books draw upon the intellectual powers of Air; drama, fantasy, romance, sex and thrillers make up the Watery side of literature; and a book with lots of physicality in the action draws in a lot of Earth. A good book often combines all four.
Even within the sentence structure of literature (and our speech), these same four holistically show up. There is the subjective noun of Fire – as in I, or you, or chair, as in “the chair fell.” Air is the verb presenting itself as how something is happening – through some muscle-driven (or otherwise naturally generated) motion or action– whether as he said, or she jumped, or the chair fell.
Water brings into words the descriptive way something was done, the energy of it, often the emotion – sadly, profusely, beautifully. These are the adverbs of language. Adjectives also are of this Watery bent. They are terms that convey a descriptive energy to the noun. For example, “the snow was cold but beautiful” or “the old house is pale yellow and run down.”
Let’s do a quick summary as we use the statement, “I went for a walk.” I is the Fire element, walk is the Air of muscular verbosity. There is no Water in this sentence. Indeed, drawing Water into the sentence would flesh out more of what is really going on, adding an emotion or energetic quality, as in “I went for a walk because I was sad” or “I went for a brisk walk” or a “long walk.” If there consistently was a lack in this emotional energy of Water in someone or in some piece of literature, we might say they were flat or it was dry.
Earth as a literary element relates to the more passive object that is generally present (as opposed to the more active Fire element subject). This is sensible as per the active nature of Fire (the sun) as it shines upon a more passive Earth. Earth is so passive in our sample sentence that it is not even spelled out. Still, in this present sentence, Earth would be implied as in, “I went for a walk here (in this physical place where I am).” Of course, that Earth element could be more defined as well, as “I went for a walk in the woods” or “on my treadmill” or “through my neighborhood.” The object of the sentence – the more passive noun – is the Earth element of a sentence.
Let us move from arts and literature to another important part of our collective lives: politics. We’ve seen that while we each have our own way of creating a balance for the many principles in our own life, together we participate in creating a group politic as collective balances are meted out in one’s country, state and town.
Though we have our two-party system in America, there are, in a sense, four parties. Here we’re going to consider how each relates to one of our four elements. We begin with Earth. Remember, Earth is about maintaining a strong, hard inside against outside forces – those proverbial “barbarians at the gate.” The need for security is primitive and primal, one which brought forth cavemen and continues to motivate us to do things that help us feel physically secure.
Being so basic a need, we all have some of this desire for a politics that provides military strength and national security. This pull toward national security finds its home in today’s Republican Party. Their cries for a strong defense carry a lot of emotional power, drawing at least a little bit of everyone to them. It’s that “you can never be too safe and secure” way of thinking that generally motivates them.
Another set of the populace is focused on those olden, time-honored values – often with the goal of nourishing and protecting children. These Water-oriented people tend to be more religious and conservative, and they bristle at the idea of a secular national government promoting ideas that go against their “more old-fashioned way of thinking.” They tend to have a set of black and white moral codes and often want laws against things they see as detrimental to family values.
These people migrate to the Conservative Party. People in America’s South and rural parts of most other states are particularly attracted to politicians who have this Water nature in their platform. They do not necessarily like those people from the cities and the “educated elites” from Washington who they believe are imposing their secular, humanistic, liberal values onto them.
The opposite of their Water element is Air. The Air-element-infused populace is focused on Air’s spacious elbowroom that seeks personal liberty and freedom. While older people tend toward Water’s conservative way of thinking, young people often are more aligned to the freedom focus of Air. Along these lines, it is useful to sense that America was destined to be the place on this planet where the Air element would take off in a big way. Previously in Europe (the old world), and today in much of the Middle East and Central Asia, the Water element’s ethnic bloodlines and traditions work to keep things as they are. America began as a “new world” filled with the expanse of airy, open-ended frontiers. These ideas are enshrined in our Constitution as well. This open space was tailor-made for this liberal concept of freedom.
Air’s realm would be that confluence where Libertarians and Liberals meet. Both believe that America is all about freedom. Liberals typically feel compelled to bring this freedom and liberty ideal to all peoples. They see people who are oppressed by others – meaning those people are unable to have these liberties. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights… While Liberals actively promote this freedom and liberty agenda in social directions, Libertarians generally just want government to leave them alone. They would rather these things settle out on the local level, not imposed from above – perhaps believing that these liberal notions slowly evolve in people and are not worth the strife.
They also diverge in how they relate Air’s Self Empowerment-Liberty Principle to the economic realm. The Libertarian tends to focus upon the idea that people should have the economic freedom to do as they please. They typically believe that business should be left alone to do what they want, letting market forces decide. For this reason, entrepreneurs and the business class will often be aligned to their ideals. Republicans, who often feel the need to extend their way of thinking beyond just defense, will also find camaraderie with these Libertarians.
The Republican emphasis on military strength often stimulates business interests to support them – there’s a lot of free enterprise money to be made from war and defense procurements. The warning against a military-industrial complex was made by Eisenhower, who as an Earth element (military-focused) Republican president was able to see these money interests co-opt the Republican focus on national security. It is fair to say that these business class interests have found a home in the Republican Party ever since Lincoln and the Civil War. Even back then, there was a lot of money made as Lincoln championed the Republican ideal of defending the union.
And lastly, we have those who are focused on Fire’s sense of Oneness – feeling that all the demographic and socioeconomic parts of the greater whole should be treated fairly and equitably. They would be the Democrats of today. The way they generally seek to do this is through legislation – laws to gain progress toward what they see as a noble goal. They often champion the little guy against the moneyed business class, seeking taxes and regulations to even things out. Labor unions, a traditional part of the Democratic Party, seek to take this abstract notion of Oneness, or Unity, into the workplace.
In a sense, the Democratic Party is aligned to our nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum – “Out of Many, One.” Indeed, our founding fathers were idealists; they planted our nation very much into the realm of the Fire Principle and its ideals. While there may be a spiritual sensibility to some people as they relate to this Oneness context in the realm of politics, Democrats typically frame this Oneness in secular terms, as the wholeness of our nation.
Democrats of today (as opposed to the southern democrats of the pre-1960s) distrust smaller provincial ways of thinking. They seek to educate and “enlighten the smaller-minded” through top-down, strong federal government actions to ensure that our nation is as fair and equitable in its “Oneness” as it can be. For this reason, Liberals with their goals of growing our collective minds upward will often have some affinity to their goals.
America works so well – and the Framers continue to be seen in esteemed ways – because our Constitution was created after much debate about how to balance the principles of life within a political framework.