I’m a big fan of the four elements. You know, Earth, Water, Air and Fire? (Although someone suggested to me once that the last one should really be sunlight. That actually makes sense, because isn’t the sun fundamentally a big ball of fire? But I digress.) I like the elements because they reduce everything in our physical world to its lowest common denominator, to its simplest form. (I’m also a big fan of simplicity.) I like that there are four of them, because according to my limited knowledge of numerology, four is a very cool number. It represents completion, solidity, foundation. It is, with apologies to Buckminster Fuller, the number of stability. You can build things on four. So each morning I greet the dawn with four deep breaths and focus on one element with every breath. It gets my day off to a good, stable start.
Awhile back I was thinking about four other aspects of life in this world. There is the physical aspect, of course, but also the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual aspects. Then it struck me: four and four. Could there be a connection? I believe that we live in a world of symbols. Could the four elements somehow symbolize the four aspects? My beautiful mind went looking for patterns and here’s what I concluded:
Earth = Physical That is, everything that exists in physical form – trees, rocks, bodies, atoms, planets.
Water = Mental How our minds perceive and interpret everything around and within us. Stream of consciousness, flow of thought.
Air = Emotional The myriad of feelings we experience – happiness, fear, worry, peace. Like the air, they can shift in direction and intensity in wild, unpredictable ways.
Fire/Light = Spiritual The symbolism on this one is so ancient and universal that I probably don’t need to say more than Sun God, Burning Bush, Tongues of Fire and Into the Light.
So if the physical elements are symbols for these other aspects of life, or vice versa, what does that mean? Well, first of all, it underscores the divine simplicity of existence. It makes life less complicated and easier to understand.
And recognizing the symbolism has helped me in one very specific way, and that is in how I perceive and respond to my emotions. It’s very easy to let our emotions overtake us – especially the unpleasant or uncomfortable ones like fear, worry, anger – and feel paralyzed by them. It’s also easy to become “addicted” to the more pleasant emotions, like happiness, excitement or optimism. That’s problematic because when those pleasant emotions are absent, we can feel like something’s wrong. But if instead of viewing our emotions as factual states of being, we liken them to the air around around us and allow them to flow through us without resistance or attachment, life just becomes a lot easier. It’s elementary.