If you have trouble remembering the five Chinese elements, springtime is the perfect way to learn them.
In this ancient system, spring is associated with green, shouting, the wood element, wind, things sprouting, your eyes, your liver, your anger, patience, altruism; and it is represented by a green dragon. Not surprisingly, spring is also associated with the direction east - the sunrise - as Earth spins toward the beginning of each new day.
The system is called Wu Xing, which translates to the Five Phases because it’s a description of seasonal nature, which as we all know never stops moving. We watch things sprout and begin to grow (spring). They fire up or ignite or bloom (summer) and reach completeness (late summer). They begin to dry and wither (autumn). They rest (winter).
The Chinese use Wu Xing to describe interactions and relationships between many ordinary things around and within us. This system connects diverse activities as music, military strategy and the martial arts. It is used to help us understand how to heal the human body. When I first encountered it, after years of studying astronomy, it reminded me a lot of western cosmology, in that it provides a framework for a whole universe.
If you pay attention you can see Wu Xing in many things. It’s a deep way of thinking about nature and can help you understand, for example, how profoundly the stillness, cold and quiet – the deep unknown – of winter has to happen first before spring (or new endeavors of any kind).
To celebrate the spring equinox in accordance with Chinese thought, you stand facing east. Just stand for a few moments and honor the quality of east as it relates to the season of spring. Plant a garden or vines on your fire escape. Use your eyes without strain. Rest them by taking a long car ride, looking at the many soothing greens of the landscape.
Since wind is the season of spring in the Chinese system - let it go. Time to begin anew.
When you consider the five elements in this way, you see them cycling in and around everything. You can recognize these phases in the course of relationships, over a workday, in the progress of a play or novel, in the process of aging, while eating a meal, in the growth of a garden, in a scientific or political enterprise, or doing yoga.
So enjoy this season … this beginning. Happy spring, everybody!