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THE FIVE PHASES
OR SEASONS OF LIFE

In the movie, Being There, the President of the United States asks Chance-the-Gardner, played by Peter Sellers, to comment on the economic environment of the USA. Chance replies: First comes Winter, then comes Spring. Spring is followed by Summer. Then comes the Fall and Harvest. The President doesn’t understand, but the media describe Chance’s reply as a brilliant economic forecast.

Peter Sellers, as Chance, was describing the ancient system of Feng Shui and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This system has guided both physical healing and environmental affairs for thousands of years. It deserves a closer look.

The 5 Element Theory is based on observing the natural cycles of the seasons, and of life. Each season emerges from the previous and gently turns into the next. Winter snows feed the ground for Spring’s blossoms. Summer’s heat ripens the plants for Fall’s harvest. This mutual interdependence has been described as the dance of yin and yang. Yin represents the nurturing, receptive, passive side of life. Yang represents the aggressive, giving, active side of life. There is a part yang in yin – like the bright moon in the night sky, and a part of yin in yang – like shadows on a sunny day. As yin and yang dance around themselves, turning day into night and night into day, so the seasons of our life dance through 5 phases or cycles. Winter, formless and silent, is considered the Water phase or time of potentials. Spring, green and growing is the Wood phase or time of structures. Summer, hot and dry, is Fire or time of accomplishment. Late summer, damp and moist Earth is the time of accumulating, and Autumn, crisp and clear is Metal or the time of reflection.

In the West, we tend to resist and even fight nature’s cycles. We’re too hot in Summer and wish it was Fall. We’re too cold in Winter and wish it was Spring. This restlessness represents a deeper level of unease. For each season, each cycle, brings out in us aspects of our very nature. When we resist the natural flow, we, and our world, become ill and dis-eased. Let’s look more closely at this flow.

The Season of Winter and Water Element.

Water is formless and yet full of potential. When we are in a Water phase or cycle in our lives, we are living in potential. Potential without form is hard on the Western mind, which wants action. We want to be doing, accomplishing, and acting. But in Winter/Water, all we have is ideas. Sometimes the ideas swirl around so fast we can’t catch them, and sometimes the ideas harden like ice – and nothing seems to be moving on our minds at all. All this potential, without action, tends to generate fear. We’re afraid of the future because we simply can’t see where we are going. We’re afraid that something is wrong with us. Why can’t we “get the lead out” and start moving. We don’t realize that we are in a natural “germination” stage or season. Seeds must germinate deep in the ground before they begin to show. Our ideas for our lives, our incomes, our environments, our businesses, and our bodies must have this season of formlessness before they come into being. Trying to resist this phase and get moving only causes more fear. What if we simply allowed ourselves to BE in this space for a while? What if we permitted ourselves to trust the process? Certainly we would feel much better. The rest would allow our bodies to heal and our minds to relax. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Water rules the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder. Problems with these organs point to a lack of ease within this phase of life. If we listen deep inside, we know when our winter ends and spring arrives. We know when we’re ready to move on because suddenly our ideas become supported by the world. They suddenly, or gradually, become concrete as we move into the next phase – the Season of Spring.

The Season of Spring and the Wood Element.

The ideas that were generated in the water of winter now spring forth as new plants. They begin to take form, as suddenly we are busy planning and organizing our lives. Our careers grow, our businesses grow, and our unique inventions come to life. This is the phase of our lives that involves learning and creating. Bringing form forth from the void. You’d think that this time would be joyous, but unfortunately our Western mind kick’s in again with impatience. We become angry when our projects are delayed or don’t come out exactly as planned. We are anxious for the results and forget to enjoy the process. We get angry with others when they “interfere”. We keep ourselves busy and forget about our physical and mental health. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wood rules the Liver and Gall Bladder. Anger and the liver do have a direct relationship!. We “don’t have time now” because we still believe that we wasted all that time during the Winter/Water season. When we “fight” the season we are in, we don’t allow ourselves to relax in the perfect growth of our plans in the perfect time.

The Season of Summer and the Fire Element.

The plants that began their growth in Spring now come full bloom. Our projects are finished and now are becoming financially and emotionally productive. We come to the height of our success in Summer. All that we worked for is now ours. We’ve become successful businesspeople, successful authors, and successful entrepreneurs. Obviously, we feel joy! Or not. Even at the height of our success, we still remember the anger and hold resentments towards those we believe blocked us in the past. We still blame ourselves for not making this season come fast enough. We may give token attention to the emotion of joy, but, once again, our society doesn’t tolerate joyful people much. Just look at the news. How much joy is reported on in proportion to misery? It is no surprise that the Fire element rules the heart, endocrine system and the small intestine. We are often unable to express, or even feel, joy and love. We haven’t made time to simply “absorb” life! It truly is OK to be joyful about our accomplishments – to “stop and smell the roses” in our joy.

The Season of Late Summer and the Earth Element

What do we do after we accomplish a goal? We go out and celebrate, and buy things to remind us of our success! The Earth season is the season of accumulation. Just as vegetables accumulate on the earth in late summer, we accumulate after success. We buy a new car, a new house, new clothes. Gentle accumulation is wonderful. But often, after we begin to “have” things, we begin to worry about being able to keep them. We worry that our present success is not enough to keep what we have. We buy more just to remind ourselves that we are successful. Suddenly we end up all this stuff and all these new worries about all this stuff. The cycle of Earth is about proper accumulation to prepare for the future. In our lives, it’s having the necessities (money, housing, health) to prepare for retirement. But worry over what we have effects Earth element organs of the Stomach and Spleen. Again, there is a direct connection between worry and stomach ulcers, noted long ago in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Enjoying our possessions, without worrying about the future, is a key to living comfortably in this natural cycle of life.

The Season of Autumn and the Metal Element

At some point (or points) in our lives, we realize that living is not just about the things we have. It’s also about the things we do to make a better world. In this phase of life, we begin to search deeper into our souls to find the precious gems of truth, beauty, honor, and essence. We journey to the depth of our beings to discover our highest ideals. And we begin to let go of our attachments to power, money, glory in exchange for a chance to follow our inner direction and discover our true purpose for being here. Often giving up attachments results in grief. Allowing a natural grief at the changes that are occurring is just part of this phase of life. We are using the Metal element to “pare down” our lives in order to refocus on the higher good. Some reach this phase at the end of their lives and we see a gradual detachment to the issues of the physical world. Some reach this phase at the pinnacle of their careers. These are the folks who suddenly quit the corporate world to open up a summer camp for disabled children, or who move from the city to the mountains to open a peaceful bed and breakfast. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the lungs and colon are the organs of Metal. The lungs breathe in new life and spirit, while the colon lets go of waste.

It is important to honor each stage of life - to experience each phase fully and openly, and then move on. In today’s society, with many of us having multiple careers, we move through the 5 phases several times. When we hold on to a past season, we cannot enjoy the current one. When we look at our lives as a series of cycles, we can see in hindsight where an entire “year” began and ended. And we can see the perfection in that year. So cherish whatever season you are in, knowing that life changes, and you will be soon moving into another season, and another. Night moves into day. Day moves into night. The seasons move through the year, and the years move through our lives. Enjoy your season and make it the best ever!

Written by: Dr. Jill Henry

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