What does it look like to engage with an element on a visceral level, to meet its being with your own? To encounter it not just with intellect but with body-mind-spirit-soul?
This, the first of five planned posts on the 5 elements, focuses on Wood. As CM students and practitioners we’ve known about Wood since our first year of school: it resonates with springtime, with the liver, with the early morning; with the east, the color green; it moves up and out, spreading like the branches of a tree. It is born of Water. It feeds Fire. It controls Earth and is controlled by Metal.
Actually we’ve all known about Wood, in fact not just known about Wood but actually known it directly, for as long as we’ve been alive.
Our lives began with Water-into-Wood, after all. Drawing on the deep Water of jing, the reproductive essence, our parents bodies met to mingle their genetic information. When sperm, the yang seed, meets egg, the yin field, the very genesis of the universe is recapitulated in microcosmic form. But it took the up-and-out yang energy of Wood to motivate and achieve the union of Heavenly Waters.
When we talk about Wood, we’re talking about life force itself.
Yes, the Force! Libido, in its original meaning of primal energy, lust for life. This certainly includes sexual drive but is not limited to this one expression of our creative energy. Wood is life’s inherent vigor, its ability to assert itself simply by virtue of existing as a unique being. Wood is everywhere that life is: in the crocus growing up through the asphalt. In the idea you have for that stuffed eggplant dish you’ve been meaning to experiment with. In the uninhibited expression of whatever you happen to be feeling.
Wood is the essence of creativity.
The impulse to make something new. It wants to move! Is there anything unhealthier than suppressing a genuine creative urge? No wonder Liver Qi stagnation is TCM’s nearly universal diagnosis for modern American patients, in our culture where the individual capacity for creativity is barely even paid lip-service, let alone supported in meaningful ways. Wood is pissed about it!
No wonder, when each of us bears a unique signature, the potential to bring to earth a singular expression of our being through whatever medium suits us best. For Wood, there’s little middle ground: we’re either expressing the uniqueness of our being, or we’re suppressing it. A good deal of Wood pathology boils down to this kind of inhibited expression or suppressed emotion.
The image that just popped into my head is a strange one, but in the Woody spirit of spontaneous expression we’re going to go with it here. Picture a rooster. What more archetypal an expression of yang Wood energy and libido than the cock? Now picture its defining feature, the comb, that glorious expression of rooster-dom. It just kind of sticks up and out into the world, proud as can be.
If I were a rooster than protuberance would be my pride and joy.
It’s a symbol of his creative energy, a beacon for the hens of the world to admire or flee. Now imagine if our protagonist the cock were to suppress that Wood energy. Imagine if the cockscomb were inverted, sticking into the head instead of growing out from it. That would be one Liver qi stagnant rooster. The very thing that he most desires to express is what is now poking into him. It’s a double insult: not expressing is already bad enough, but he’s also got to deal with the discomfort of his creative potential jabbing him in his pea-sized brain meat. It’s enough to make you want to jab a needle between the webbing of his first and second claws, right at Rooster 3.
The spirit of Wood is not this mysterious thing, or rather it is the most mysterious thing of all: it is no more or less than life energy itself, in its capacity for growth and expression. It is our creativity, our capacity to sing our song, to dance our dance on the world’s stage. It’s scary to take up Wood’s gauntlet and live into our creative potential. It’s supposed to be. Wood is born from Water, and the scary deep places within hide the creative jewels we most desire.
When Wood qi is flowing freely, Fire is nourished, and communion soon follows. Fellowship, connection, warmth.
When Wood is unconstrained, it can keep damp-tending Earth in balance by injecting its life force into the soil. Bogginess, dampness, sluggishness–Wood antidotes these pathological states of Earth through the control cycle.
And yet Wood can flourish out of control; the most generative bushes are in need of a good pruning once in a while. So while most of us have work to do giving our Wood qi license to move, it also needs the controlling influence of Metal to keep from running amok. Too many half-finished projects, too many ideas and not enough execution…these may be signs that a taste of the pruning shears is in order.
Next time: Fire!