Elements in the extreme

On August 30th, 2005 the focus of the world was on New Orleans in Louisiana, USA after a category 4-5 Hurricane called Katrina unleashed its elemental power. Combined with a levy system that could not cope with the intensity and aftermath of the hurricane, Katrina was the most destructive storm to strike the United States and the costliest in U.S. history, causing over $100 billion in property damage. The human cost of the storm, which is not something that you can put a dollar figure on, is still playing itself out. Lessons on how to plan for and respond to extreme elements can be learnt from the experience of cities like New Orleans and other parts of the planet.
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The Year of the (Yin Green Wooden) Sheep

We are almost half way through the Oriental Year of the Sheep, or Year of the Goat, or Year of the Ram. The Chinese character yang (羊), which represents this year in the Zodiac cycle, can be translated as all of these animals. In Japan the yang character represents only one animal, the sheep. In Australia we also refer to 2015 as the Year of the Sheep. Not because we have studied the astrological intricacies of this year, in the main. It’s due to the long association of the post-colonial Australian psyche and economy with domestic sheep. Who would have thought the animal zodiac could be so culturally influenced? And what has it to do with the elements? It’s a fascinating story……

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Neuroconservation, the brain on fire

For my 50th post I would like to reflect on the emerging field of neuroconservation in the context of the intuitive elements – earth, air, fire, water, ether/spirit, metal, wood and consciousness. Dr Wallace J. Nichols, the author of Blue Mind, coined the term neuroconservation to describe the convergence of neuroscience and conservation biology. In one word he has tried to capture the fundamental connections our brains have with nature – personal, ancient and emotional connections – with a focus on the benefits of clean, healthy waterways. Dr Nicholls implicitly contends that of the elements, our relationship to water is paramount. While this raises some questions in my mind, his ideas and activities have certainly generated considerable interest. Including from myself.

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Popularising the periodic table

In 1959 the mathematics lecturer and musical humourist Tom Lehrer wrote a song titled ‘The Elements’. The song refers to the chemical elements, the ones that are classified in the periodic table. The opening lines are “There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminium, selenium; And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and helium”. Sung to the tune of the Major-General’s Song from The Pirates of Penzance, ‘The Elements’ has popped up in all sorts of places since it was composed. There have been many other attempts to popularise the chemical elements since 1959 including giving them personalities, showing them in action and translating them into art works. These efforts are educational, entertaining and worth further examination.

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Celebrating our sense of wonder

We are born with a sense of wonder. Taking delight in the warmth of the sun, the colours of the rainbow, the leaves dancing in the wind. Mesmerised by the beauty of fireflies and dragonflies. Amazement in the smallest of things.  It is a sense to celebrate and recapture if it has been buried under day to day distractions.

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Africa, a continent of mysticism

It’s time to put the mystical continent of Africa on the elemental map. It’s been just over a year since I started my blog exploring the elements and this will be my first post on Africa. Its day has come. The cultures and belief systems found in Africa are diverse and many. Having chosen Sufism as the starting point, perhaps I could have selected something simpler! Having begun though, I felt that it was important to finish what I started.

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Insights from the edge of the sea

Recently I spent a year immersed in the elemental land and seascapes of Cape Cod, on the Atlantic coast of the United States. In my mind’s eye at least. This is where Henry Beston’s book ‘The Outermost House’ transported me. I will let his captivating prose set the scene:

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Being well, with help from the elements

At the start of a new year, many people’s thoughts turn to how they can improve their wellbeing over the coming months. Certainly mine do. In addition to being inspired by beautiful views, enjoying the calming effect of water or warming ourselves with fire there are many other ways the elements can help us to be well.

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Uniting the States, elemental style

Every so often I discover books that use the elements to frame their stories. Having just returned from a trip to the USA, I was drawn to a book titled ‘The Men Who United the States’. The author, Simon Winchester, uses wood, earth, water, fire and metal as the basis of the five ‘Parts’ in the book. This framework is loosely based on Wu Xing, the fivefold conceptual scheme that is found throughout traditional Chinese thought.

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The Russian Firebird – a symbol of inspiration and art

One of the delights of undertaking research on the intuitive elements are discoveries that open up new worlds. Recently I came across a miniature-lacquered plate in a second-hand shop. This most unusual object led me to Russia, magic and the exquisite imagery and symbolism of the Firebird.

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