About Earth

It is unclear historically when the Five Element theory arose, but it does appear in the literature by about 500 BC. Initially, the Five Element theory (the term Five Agent theory is technically more correct, but Five Element has become more popular and familiar and so I use it here) was simply a grouping. Phenomena were grouped into five categories, with no relationship between items within a group or between the groups discussed. And, as is typically Chinese, there were many variations of these groupings. In the Huang Di nei jing su wen (Huang Di’s Inner Classic, Basic Questions; see Disposition), there are 26 chapters which discuss 50 types of such groups. It is also historically unclear why in the company of groupings of three, four, and six, five survived and became the most prevalent. From an internal perspective of Chinese medicine, there is more clarity on this issue.

The progression of numerology reflects the coming into being and the perception of phenomenological reality. And so the Dao De Jing says “The Dao gives birth to the one. The one gives birth to the two. The two give birth to the three. The three give birth to the 10,000 things.” The Chinese conceive of the Dao as something which cannot be described with words. The Dao Do Jing continues “The Dao that can be spoken of is not the true Dao…Look at it but you cannot see it. Listen to it but you cannot hear it. Grasp it but you cannot get it.” As soon as you identify it, you become separate from it, and have created a duality. So there is the Dao as one, but also something which comes before it that we cannot actually speak of. This is what you call a conundrum. Two is the most fundamental level of perception we can have. Human beings only perceive in terms of opposites. Day and night, good and bad, up and down, front and back. We cannot have one without the other. The Chinese call them Yin and Yang. The unity of Yin and Yang creates a whole, and this makes three. It begins to get more complicated now. The one that comes “before” the Dao, the Dao, and the unity of Yin and Yang, are all really the same, but we are talking about them as if they were different. From a philosophical perspective, three now represents heaven, earth, and humans in the middle. To say this yet another way, there is a progression of the Dao as it differentiates.

This uniting of one and two, or of Yin and Yang, produces Qi. Qi is what allows Yin and Yang to interpenetrate, and represents the movement of the Dao away from itself as it differentiates. Then there is a return of the Dao to itself, giving four. This can also be seen as the four seasons, which we understand are cyclical and therefore must include a return. So what about Earth? The above four stages, or seasons, can be described as Water, Wood, Fire and Metal. Earth is originally conceived, probably, as the center around which these rotate. This can be represented diagrammatically as Water below and Fire above, with Earth as a point of stability in the center. But the Chinese also like to make things fit, and other models of elemental relationships exist that warrant placing Earth along the cycle. In this case, Earth comes between Fire and Metal in a cycle that progresses as Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. This allows for an entirely new set of relationships that is of great philosophical and clinical value. Finally, Earth can also be viewed as a transitional element between the other four. Thus, Earth season can be seen as late summer, or as the transitional time between each of the other four seasons.

Although all of the other seasons are clearly marked according to the Chinese calendar, the Earth season of late summer is a little more variable. It tends to occur in late July and early August, around the time when I should have been writing my last newsletter. Since it did not get to it, I instead provided this long explanation to allow me to rationalize writing it during one of the other Earth transitional periods of the year.