The Occidental (western) New Year and the Oriental Year of the Rooster fall 28 days apart in 2017. Now two weeks into January, we sit nicely between them. The United Nations has adopted this year as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Adding to these titles, I proclaim 2017 as the Year of The Elements. Please spread the word. It is time to raise our connection to nature to another level. To delight in its beauty and respect the powerful forces that nature can express. To better appreciate and care for our amazing planet. This post shares a selection of my personal experiences of the elements in the first 14 days of 2017. Fire and water predominate. Around the world people have engaged with the elements in their own way over the same period. In the year ahead I will continue my two blogs on the elements, fireupwaterdown.com and elementaljapan.com. I will also be experimenting with new ways to share the wonders of the elements that shape our world and our responses to it. I wish everyone a wonderful new year and look forward to others joining me on the elemental journey.
In early November 2016 I received an email from Rych Somdah, a gentleman living in the US who had traced his ancestry to the Dagara people of Burkina Faso in West Africa. Rych reminded me that in my first post on Africa I wrote that at some later time I would explore the shamanistic practices of the Dagara tribe in relation to the elements. Now is that time. I am grateful that Malidoma Patrice Somé has devoted his life to sharing the teachings and practices of the Dagara with the English speaking world. The five elements of fire, water, earth, minerals and nature are an essential part of his, and their, story.
For my 72nd blog, I bring to you an element of the elements that hadn’t crossed my mind before – the ins and outs of winter cycling on a bicycle. The book ‘Frostbike‘ starts with the question ‘is happy winter cycling possible?’ This means serious cycling in snow and freezing temperatures, not the relatively mild winters we have in coastal Australia and elsewhere. Even here the number of cyclists in winter declines markedly. So, thanks to Tom Babin, there is now information available on what bikes are suitable for winter cycling, how cities can be designed to accommodate it, and the importance of people’s attitudes towards winter and, with it, winter cycling. The book also provides a fine example of how our attitudes towards the elements can have an impact on our behaviour and wellbeing.
On July 7th, 2016 I had the great fortune to experience the name of my blog, ‘Fire up, Water down’ in real life. It came as a pleasant surprise. The location was at Kinpusen-ji Temple in Yoshino, Japan (near Nara). The occasion, a Shugendo festival that included a remarkable fire ceremony where flames and purifying smoke reached for the sky. Fire up. Down a flight of several hundred steps from the main Temple hall there is a small shrine called Noten-o-kami, where one can drink from a small spring said to promote health. Water down. I have written about fire and water being complementary and opposite. Here, they are part of a long and shared history of respect of and engagement with the elements to gain spiritual power. I will let the pictures tell the story.
Each of us brings a unique perspective to the elements based on our personal experiences, upbringing and interests. Recently I have met Corinne Costello, an artist who has opened my eyes to new ways of seeing, feeling and interpreting these fundamental building blocks of nature. I have been intending to write a post on how artists see, express and work with the elements for some time. That time has come. It has been greatly enriched with Corinne’s input.
India is a remarkable, diverse, vibrant country that I come across frequently in my exploration of the elements. It is a country that has developed philosophies, arts, medicine and sciences that use the elements as fundamental building blocks. Earth, air, fire, water, ether/sky – and consciousness – are abundantly expressed. So far I have touched on Praktri, mudras, Vastu Shastra (embedded in various posts), Ayurveda (ditto), Vikram Seth and other references to the elements in India. These posts draw on a range of books written by Indian and other authors. On a more immediate and intimate level the blog ‘Enchanted Forests‘ written by Mukul Chand has opened up a whole other world of India, and the elements.
Seeing the earth from above gives a new perspective on the planet we call home. This is epitomised by the image of earth from the moon captured by the crew of Apollo 8 on Christmas eve, 1968. The evocative image made people realise what we had on earth and how small it was in the universal scheme of things. Hot air ballooning, a more accessible activity that is closer to home, also allows us to (re)discover earth from the air. It is a truly elemental exercise – fire heats air, wind directs the balloon, earth and water influences the wind patterns, as well as providing the backdrop for the flight. The experience generates awe and excitement. No wonder ballooning is such a popular elemental pastime.