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In the workshop 5 Dimensions of a Cannabis Experience, we explore different ways of thinking about our cannabis experiences so that we can be conscious consumers, aware of the way we’re using the plant, and in charge of the outcomes we’re looking to achieve.

The 5 dimensions presented there are based on the 5 elements, and over the next few posts, we’re going to explore those elements by learning what they are, uncovering what they mean, and discovering how we can use their energy in our life to feel balanced, happy, and healthy.

Ancient Principles of Nature

Many cultures around the world have used 4 or 5 elements in their traditions, and their basic characteristics are the same across cultures, even though their names are sometimes different.

For example, Chinese philosophy and acupuncture are based on the concept of 5 elements, including water, earth, and fire, wood, and metal.

“The five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, water, encompass all the phenomena of nature. It is a symbolism that applies itself equally to man.”

-Su Wen
The Five Elements in Chinese Philosophy

These same elements also show up in the holy scriptures of India, and they’re the philosophical basis of Ayurvedic Medicine. Ayurvedic teachers used the 5 elements to understand human anatomy and physiology and as a framework to determine the medicinal properties of foods, herbs, and spices.  This awareness of food as medicine is the foundation of Ayurvedic cooking.

The Ancient Greeks and the Four Humours

For the ancient Greeks, life depended on a combination of 4 elements: earth represented the physical body, and the food we eat to stay alive.  Water is necessary to live, and it makes up the majority of our bodies and of the Earth. We need air to breath, and we need the warmth and light that the Sun gives us to grow and live.  The Greeks noticed the elements in the natural world and extrapolated them to the people they met in everyday life.

They developed a system of medicine based on the “four humours”, which described a person’s temperament, personality, and psychology. Even today, we use terms like sanguine, melancholy, temperamental, in good humour, or in your element that reflect this idea.

Tibetan Elemental Energies

The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya Which Liberates Upon Seeing

In Tibet, huge structures called “stupas” were built as symbols of the structure of creation, with each symbol representing a different element.  The stupa base was a cube (earth).  On top of that rested a sphere (water), and on the sphere was a triangle-shaped structure (fire).  On top of triangle was a half-moon (air) in which rested a small sphere (ether, or “the energy from which the other elemental energies flow”). Tibetan prayer flags use colors to represent the elements.

Tibetan Prayer Flags wave at Boudnath Stupa in Kathmandu Nepal; photograph by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash

Most cultures that use the elements teach that there is one primary energy (called Qi, or prana, or vital force) which is too intense for us to integrate directly.  This is element known as ether, space, or spirit.  This intense energy manifests on earth as “stepped down” energy forces, or energies that are less intense and easier for us to integrate individually; these stepped down currents are known as the 4 (or 5) elements—earth, air, water, and fire.

To understand this stepping down process, think of the way energy is carried into our homes.  The energy we use every day to power our computers, coffeemakers, and air conditioners starts its journey to our electrical outlets from the point where it is stored, whether it was accessed from wind, sun, or fossil fuels.  Let’s call this place the “Power Plant”. 

The stepping down process allows us to receive energy at a level we can process.

As it leaves the Power Plant, energy first travels along High-Voltage lines, which are used to quickly transmit large amounts of energy.  The voltage used on these lines is around 125,000 Volts.  As the energy travels towards our cities, towns, and rural areas, it must be “stepped down”, or transferred onto smaller, less powerful lines that carry less energy.  These Medium-Voltage lines carry up to 69,000 Volts.  Once the energy reaches the local substations, it’s stepped down again, now moving to Low-Voltage lines that carry less than 1000 Volts.  These lines deliver energy right to people’s homes and businesses.

At each step in the process of transferring energy from the place where it is stored to our homes, the energy has to be converted to something less powerful, so that the lower circuits are able to handle it.  In the same way, the 5 elements step down cosmic and universal energies for us, so that we can integrate and assimilate them in a way that makes sense for us and for our unique expression of life on this planet.

How we can use the elements

Everything is energy, and the 5 elements are simply energy put into a language that we can understand. The elements represent specific types of consciousness and perception, and understanding them and knowing how to use them in a balanced way can help us tune into specific life experiences.

For example, when I understand how to use the element of water, which represents the emotional dimension of life, I can take from it the lesson of simply flowing around, accepting whatever is in my path while I receive the changes that occur in my life with grace and allow them to reshape my journey.  I do this rather than struggling against the current, helplessly attempting to control outside forces that are much stronger than me, or blaming others when my actions are ineffective.1

Water teaches me that by gracefully accepting of the direction of my journey, I can focus my energy and patiently carve away something as hard as rock with my powerful attention.

The Colorado River has patiently carved this rock using only water

A Balancing Act

We each have our own natural tendencies to feel and express the elemental energies, finding some of them easier to work with, and others more difficult.  Because we each have a unique expression of life, the ways we balance them is personal too.

This balancing act can take on many different forms. We might learn about and balance the elements through our relationships, by consciously paying attention to how the energies play out within us, or through the study of astrology2.  We might also engage in specific types of physical activities, such as meditation, breathwork, or yoga. Yoga teaches that the earth and water elements are located below our belly button, in the bottom half of our body; fire is in the middle of our torso, and air and space are found in our upper body.  Holding an awareness of this when we exercise, meditate, or practice breathing techniques can help us focus on moving energy consciously around our bodies to balance our internal elements.  

In the next five posts, we’ll explore each of these elements individually and learn how we can understand and integrate them into our daily lives, allowing each of them to help us find a place of balance. 

Endnotes:

1 There are always 2 sides to the lessons the elements teach us—the opportunity to learn as a victim and the opportunity to learn from the perspective of personal power. 

2 Astrology is one way of examining our own internal and innate elemental balance.  The element associated with our sun sign shows the basic inner force that motivates us. Air signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) are motivated by intellectual concepts, and by making connections.  Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) feel driven by their deepest emotional yearnings. Fire signs (Aires, Leo, Sagittarius) are fired up by their inspirations and aspirations, while the Earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) are motivated to meet their material needs. Our sun sign shows us the primary energy we are constantly depleting, and that we must replenish to stay happy and healthy.