Which Element Are You? Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal or Water?

Day 8

by Gene Chuah

Yesterday’s class was the most spirited so far. The energy level, excitement and participation were the highest they’ve ever been since we started. It was a time of deep introspection and discoveries about ourselves and others. We talked about life and death, growing and letting go, how each person has distinct and unique qualities, and self-realization / self-awareness.

Before we discuss the Five Elements as personality types, let’s first describe the properties of each Element, some of them revisited from the last class.

Image from acupuncturebyshannon.com showing how the 5 Elements relate to the seasons :

The beauty of each of these Elements that each and every one of them is needed. There is no one “better” than another; each one has a role to play. Also, in the Generating Cycle, where we traverse Wood -> Fire -> Earth -> Metal -> Water, each phase is necessary and must “ripen” before the next phase can be started.

Again here is the list of the main correspondences of the 5 Elements, from Day 7 :

Keywords: birth, baby, crying, youth, fighting the world, adolescence, seed bursting through shell, growth, change (rapid), impulsive, excitement, unaware, violence, exploration, aggression, raw, rebellious, impressionable, excess, new beginnings, development, curiosity, resilience, innocence, learning, freshness, feistiness, adaptability, idealism, freedom (new breaking from old), revolution.
The Liver is quick to respond, has the qualities of Wood.
Spring cleansing for the body happens in Spring, detoxifying the Liver is important during this time. Many plants that sprout in spring like Dandelion and Stinging Nettle are good for the Liver.

Generally age 30-40. Keywords: achievements, aspirations, creativity, productivity, joy, laughter, unity, understanding, passion, brightness, desire, excitement (with awareness), awareness.
Coffee (Bitter) roasted (Fire) –> goes to Heart. Too much also hurts the Heart (palpitations, high blood pressure, murmurs).
Bitter foods in general affect the Heart (whether positively or negatively).

“Blessed routine” element; generally age 40-60. Time to enjoy fruits of the harvest/labor. Midlife crisis tends to happen here because Earth is at equilibrium in both Yin and Yang components. In this case Yin represents the routine of being settled, while Yang is still present to drive the energy of change (perhaps a career change?).
An apt picture is that of a monastery with singing/chanting and sweet incense (see chart).
Keywords: grounded, stable, settled, centered, maturity, family-oriented, responsibility, accountability, serving the community.

Typically age 60-70. Keywords: somber (sadness of Lungs), harsh, realizations, retrospection, looking inward (beginning to), asking the questions “What have I accomplished/missed/lost?”, letting go (of illusions, leaves in Fall), “Who am I?”, excellence, sharp/polished, clarity, minimalist, authentic (without fluff/layers/illusions/masks), cold, cutting, a “reality check”. Metal, like Water, are the “spiritual” stages. One way that Metal corresponds to the color white is because the roots of underground bulbs are white. Pungent taste corresponds to Metal because these bulbs/roots (onion, garlic, ginger) are pungent too. Eating these foods expels Sweat from the Lungs. The associated emotion is grief, and we can picture the sobbing / heaving of Lungs while crying. Crying is the release, and I think of Metal as the element of catharsis or letting go.

Age: typically 70+. Keywords: rest, withdrawal, acceptance, surrender (no resistance), enlightenment, stillness, “being” vs. doing, and death. Even though Water represents death, it also represents the “womb” of new beginnings (remember that the next in sequence is the restart of the cycle at Wood). There is water from the uterus at birth — it marks the end/death of a cycle (pregnancy, life in the womb) and it also nurtures new life. Embryos are surrounded by water, and one view is that life began in the oceans.

Life Stages
There is a poetic beauty to this cycle, as applied to the life stages of a person. In youth, there is exuberance, excitement, expansion and drive, with plenty of energy for anger if blocked or frustrated (Wood). Then they mature in their career or life’s path, and are productive, like a fire burning or an engine chugging away (Fire), and doing so with gusto (an aware kind of excitement, not the raw, naive type in Wood). They reach the pinnacle of their productivity in mid-life, and are now “stable” and can reap the fruits of their labour and settle in to a “blessed routine”, with room to help/serve others, including their family (Earth). After the top of the hill, it’s downhill, and with this realization comes some sorrow, perhaps regret while looking back and asking the hard, cutting questions (Metal). Now this is where things get interesting, and this is where I will be adding a lot of my own insights. Of course, to you, they’re outsights, but that’s only cos you’re on the outside. :-)

On the pessimistic side, the Metal stage of life represents “losing what you used to have” (youth, health, energy, anything important to you). But remember, we said that there is no Element that is better than the others, or worse. So, pessimistic as Metal sounds, what is the good side? Metal phase is really the start of enlightenment. Dr. Wayne Dyer says it ever so sweetly and succinctly in his film, The Shift From Ambition To Meaning. Basically (I’m mostly paraphrasing him but also adding my own thoughts), the real motivation behind ambition is the fear that we are insufficient and incomplete until we acquire or attain _______ (fill in the blank). Everything we do in life can be distilled down to these two basic motives, Love and Fear. When you were in the womb, everything you needed was provided for you. It was the ultimate time of peace and all-encompassing Love. After you were born in to this world, somehow you forgot this connection, and the cares of the world started weighing you down. You became preoccupied with defining yourself through (1) what you own, (2) what you’ve achieved, and (3) what people think of you. You took on an E.G.O. (edging God out). Somehow you started thinking that you are separate from the Divine Source of Love (God), the same source that provided for you in the womb. You forgot that you were made in the image of God, which means that a part of God is always within you (remember that God breathed life into Man; that breath is Spirit). You succumbed to fear, and decided to take charge of your own life. The Metal season is a time of looking inward, just as a tree loses its leaves in fall, we still recognize that the tree is still alive — if you were to cut a cross section (although I forbid you to), you would see that the tree is full of life and vitality in its core being, even though it has lost its leaves. This applies to you as well. You are the Soul. You are not your possessions, treasures, achievements or friends. You are already connected to everything in the Universe in spirit, so you never really “lose” anything you don’t already have. (Dr. Dyer goes on to say that all you need is to bring it about, and that you don’t attract what you want, but rather you attract what you are.)

The Metal stage has its own beauty because it may not necessarily have to apply when one hits age 60; in fact it applies when we reach a point in our life when we feel we have lost something that (we thought) defines us (Five Elements applies as much to microcosms as it does to macrocosms). When you are able to make peace with yourself, to see yourself as you truly are (a beloved child of the Universe/God), even in the process of losing your _______ (fill in the blank) which was so precious to you (Smeagol had the same problem), when you you are able to let go of all your leaves, attachments, excess layers of illusion, baggage, you are ready for the next stage.

Which brings us to Water, the element of completion, acceptance, enlightenment. It could mean death, but it could also mean a time of rest before the rebirth. Time for the land to lay fallow. This stage is really a stage of union with God (that’s really what enlightenment is). When we have cast off all our excess baggage, illusions and attachments, we find peace and bliss here. When one is at peace with themselves and others, having said whatever would otherwise have been left unsaid, without any regrets to leave behind, one is ready to pass on. The Water stage is different from the others because it is about “being” while the other phases are about “doing“.

These stages do not strictly correspond to the suggested chronological age ranges; one could be young and still have gone through the cycles — whether in terms of soul realization (attaining enlightenment before physically dying), or on a microcosmic scale. Here’s a working example. As a teen, I had a nice “racer” bicycle whose parts I enthusiastically upgraded over 2 years, and I even gave it a nice custom paint job with fancy decals (which made people think it was a more expensive bike) (Wood). I enjoyed riding it around and gained some recognition for “having a cool bike” (Fire). My bike and I were best of pals, and it took me places on a regular basis (Earth). One day, I lost it to some bike thieves. Of course I went through the pain of loss, but was able to let go and realized that I had become too attached to it in an unhealthy way, and realized that the theft was a blessing in disguise (Metal). Eventually I was at peace with it (Water). Later on, I got a new bike… (back to Wood)

And now, on to our personality types! Which one are you?

The Five Elements as Personality Types and Archetypes

WOOD | The Pioneer
Keywords: leader, entrepreneur, visionary, authentic, direct, sight (Liver corresponds to eyes), goal-oriented, action-oriented, wants to be first/best, thrives on competition, seeks challenges, maverick, rebel, ambitious, driven, quick, flexible, committed, high libido.
Dysfunctional: anger, stress, frustration, aggression, judgemental, impatient, rude, hard on self, intolerant, selfish/egotistical, rigid.
Physical ailments: pain, migrating pain due to Wind, headaches, migraines (high-strung), muscle spasms, PMS, blurry vision (burned Yin), night blindness, sensitivity to light (Liver-related), TMJ, grinding teeth (Liver Wind), high blood pressure / hypertension (also Liver, an outward expanding type of pressure).

FIRE | The Wizard
Keywords: clown, comedian, actor, extrovert, talkative, joyful, excited, jolly & lively. Some examples: Robin Williams (especially when he’s doing stand-up and getting all red), Eddie Murphy, Jim Carey. Also applies to Fidel Castro and Hitler.
Dysfunctional: narcissistic, manic, hysteria, loud, tactless, foolish, irresponsible, suicidal, high anxiety.
Physical ailments: insomnia, palpitations, heart issues, skin rashes, redness, mental disorders, addictions (including psychoactive drugs), constipation.

EARTH | The Peacemaker
Keywords: altruistic, social worker, empathic, serving the community, responsible, “backstage” worker, shuns the limelight, pleasant, stable, supportive, sweet, caring, predictable, nurtring, the “martyr”, “Mother Earth”. Remember that Earth is in the center (see Correspondences chart), just as the mother is the center of a family. Has a relationship with food. Some examples: Albert Schweitzer, Jane Goodall, Oprah.
Dysfunctional: worrying (e.g. about the kids), worrying themselves sick, overcarrying the weight as a subconscious ulterior motive to create dependency (see below, “The Loneliness of The Earth”), possessive, clingy (Earth likes to accumulate, collect), having lots of friends due to insecurity, overthinking, dependent, busy arguing with themselves, self-doubting.
Physical ailments: digestive issues, bloating, edema/distension, eating disorders (dysfunctional relationship with food), overweight/underweight, insatiable or poor appetite, slow metabolism, soft muscles, lympathic problems, soft lumps, swollen glands, varicose veins, slow healing of cuts, bruise easily, lethargy, hemorroids, prolapse of organs, sadness, feeling unappreciated & lonely.

METAL | The Alchemist
Keywords: calculated, organized, logical, likes definitions & boundaries, cut & dry, militaristic, driven by rules, structure, discipline, admires authority, perfection, precise, accurate, cold efficiency, robotic. Careers: engineers, soldiers/police, accountants, ballerinas, bankers, computer programmers.
Dysfunctional: autocratic, rigid, self-righteous, overbearing, strict, formal, impersonal, distant, close-minded, regimented, conformist, sadness/grief due to suppressing emotions and not feeling human / not enjoying life (no juice/fun).
Physical ailments: dryness overall and of skin, hair, nose, throat, asthma, allergies, stiffness of joints, nasal-sounding voice, constipation (mentally as well), poor circulation, anemic/pale, sinus issues, autism. On the other hand, due to their regimented nature, Metal people can also have robust health (good habits/routine).

WATER | The Philosopher
Keywords: self-contained, introspective, self-sufficient, like a cat that always lands on its feet, adaptable, adjusts to situations quickly, smooth, smart, articulate (comes from self-acceptance), clear, self-aware, self-assured (no self-doubt), they flow, independent, perceptive, balanced, inquisitive, curious, seeking knowledge/understanding, prefer to stay anonymous, mysterious. Some examples: Albert Einstein, Indiana Jones.
Dysfunctional: detached, aloof, inaccessible, isolated, lonely, unforgiving, suspicious, manipulative, chameleon-like. Polar opposite of Wood which is direct and authentic. They are the one in your school yearbook that nobody knows much about.
Physical ailments: infertility, sexual/libido issues, impotence, spinal / lower back issues, problems with bones, teeth, prostate; loss of hearing and memory.

The Loneliness of The Earth
We talked about a pattern that Earth people, especially women, fall into. Coincidentally, it was also an issue addressed in Dr. Dyer’s film. Because women tend to be expected to play the role of mother and be the central figure that keeps a home together, they may feel constricted by this and question their self-worth. It becomes a question of “who would I be if I didn’t have this role”? On a personal note, I’ve seen this in families. The mother/wife feels unappreciated, and in some cases even takes on more than her fair share of the responsibilities by not delegating / teaching the kids to share some of the housework; this is done with a subconscious ulterior motive of reinforcing their role and thus their self-worth, since they (erroneously) believe that their worth depends on their role. And yet they feel this emptiness and yearning to be recognized as a whole person, regardless of the role they have been identified with. The solution, again, is what we discussed earlier: to let go of the attachment to their role, and realize that at the core they are already complete, appreciated, and of infinite worth. As Dr. Dyer says (again I paraphrase), they should recognize that in addition to (or despite?) their role as wife and mother, they are equally entitled to contribute something special to this world, to “sing the song they were meant to sing” (my words).

Fun With The Elements

During a class break we had fun categorizing Lord Of The Rings races (thanks Rachel, Ron and Pantea) :
FIRE: Gandalf (not a race, I know)
EARTH: Hobbits
METAL: Dwarves
WATER: Elves

When I got home, I categorized some countries/regions as well:
FIRE: Latin America
EARTH: Switzerland, Asia, any country with a community-oriented culture
METAL: Germany!
WATER: Britain, Canada

Do you know which Element you are?

UPDATE 2013-07-18 :

Here is how I categorized the characters from Kung Fu Panda. It will make sense if you watch Dreamworks’ Secrets Of The Furious Five which explains the origins of each character.

Mantis : WOOD
“The world went by too slow for Mantis.”

Crane : FIRE
Started as a janitor, but through dilligence to his work, “Even his hat was full of confidence.”

Monkey : EARTH
“Find the one thing that you were denied so long ago… Compassion.”

Tigress : METAL
“This game requires discipline, precision, a still hand and a steady heart.”

Viper : WATER
“My deceptive dancing defies your poison-proof armor.”

Po the Panda (the Dragon Warrior) : EARTH and FIRE


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