Once-upon-a-time – nearly 30 years ago to be more precise – a lone eucalypt seedling taught me an important lesson. The seedling was part of a major research project I was undertaking in Canberra, Australia on the response of eucalypts to fire. I had planted the seedling on a north-facing slope (which receives the most sunlight in the southern hemisphere) and it was growing much better than other seedlings nearby. Why was this so? The answer was a surprise. If I hadn’t had access to specialist equipment, I probably would still be wondering. It turned out that the interplay between fire, water and light was critical to the impressive growth of this seedling, as well as affecting the 1000 or so eucalypt trees I monitored for 18 months after the fire. Learning more about the inner-workings of these incredible plants reinforced the inter-connectedness of everything, and opened the door to further post-fire studies in Malibu, California. Looking back, it is safe to say this one eucalypt seedling changed the course of my life.
Our feet are amazing structures with powerful symbolism. They allow us to walk upright and can transport us towards or away from people, places and situations. Both feet and toes are associated with specific elements. In their barefoot state feet connect us to the energy of the earth – an ancient bond being reborn in modern times as ‘Earthing’. Acupuncture meridians starting in the feet connect our energy points internally. Reflexology and Applied Kinesiology also work with feet, energy flow and the five elements. These relationships highlight the importance of feet to our well-being. They may also help explain why feet feature in many phrases about how people feel and behave. Welcome to the fascinating world of feet, energy and the elements.
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.
There is so much humans have in common. It’s worth celebrating. Along with music and dance, the elements represent a universal language that connects us. These languages nurture shared experiences and provide a means to communicate with others across the globe, and beyond….
Gongs and cymbals of all sizes and styles were a feature of MOFO (MONA FOMA)– an arts extravaganza I attended over the weekend in Hobart, Tasmania. As well as being a joy to listen to, these instruments gave me a new perspective on the elemental aspects of metal. So now music making joins Chinese philosophy, the chemical elements, alchemy, blacksmithing, sword-smithing, sculpting and jewelry-making in the fascinating story of metal.
Feng Shui (which translates as ‘Wind-Water’) is referred to as both an art and a science of ‘placement’. It has a long and complex history in China where it has been used to harness the living energy (ch’i) of the universe to benefit people’s lives. Yin Yang and the Five Elements/Phases (Earth, Water, Fire, Metal and Wood) are essential components of feng shui. By applying the principles of feng shui modern practitioners say it is possible to develop a healthy, happy, harmonious and prosperous lifestyle, achieve balance, and energise and enhance your life. Even your cat can benefit from the recently ‘discovered’ art of ‘Fang Shui’. Feng shui can be used to help clear the clutter in your house and learn about the future through the interpretation of heavenly bodies. It is no wonder that feng shui is a global phenomenon.
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……
Architecture and the elements are intimately interconnected. It is estimated that around 50% of the world’s population lives or works in earth buildings, constructed mainly of dirt (clay, gravel, sand, silt, soil, loam and mud). Stone, also of the earth, has been used to great effect by civilisations like the Tiahuanacu and Inka, as well as in buildings in Europe and their colonies. Iconic buildings like the Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan pay homage to the elements. And ancient practices such as Feng Shui from China and Vastu Shastra from India use the elements to assist with the placement of buildings in a landscape, on a site and their internal design.
‘How Earth Made Us’ is a ground-breaking BBC series that tells ‘the incredible story of the natural forces that have shaped our history’. Now available on YouTube, it is well worth watching, offering fantastic imagery and though-provoking commentary. Presented by Professor Iain Stewart, the series examines the influence of four fundamental elements – Water, Deep Earth, Wind and Fire – on human history. The fifth and final episode, called the Human Planet, presents humans as a natural force in their own right.