Air, Water, Earth, Fire, and Spirit
I know I’ve accessed an idea that works for me when it produces waves of gratitude and a sense of connectedness and expansiveness as I further contemplate and apply it. One of these ideas is the notion of five essential elements—but not along any one strand of how the ancients explored this philosophically and doctrinally (Greek, Indian, Buddhist, etc.), nor in a way that eschews the ongoing discoveries of modern science. Instead, I apply it as an integrative approach that shapes my experimentations as a being among other beings on the body of an earth that’s methodically twirling and circling around the sun, within space and across time. Decades ago, when my sons were preschoolers, I was committed to creating a context for them where they could experience each of these elements almost daily, and we loosely maintained this throughout their childhoods and adolescences, a way of balancing life’s strains and demands and further revealing its delights and wisdoms. Now, with my own and especially my mother’s aging bodies needing more conscious care than they (we) did when younger, along with my formal training (in 2019) and registration as a yoga teacher and my current creative doctoral research on the possibilities for female aging, I am feeling a great resurgence and renewal of energy and focus for this interdisciplinary practice, each element and its expressions informing the others.
Our access to the element can be formalized, a set-aside and timed session of resonant breathing, perhaps—or mindfulness applied to even the most mundane, breathing and smelling with consciousness (the indoors, outdoors, microclimates, shifting scents, stress responses) while moving from task to task within a work/busy day. Other examples: Sliding into a bath or a pool, the cleansing and buoyancy, the enfolding temperature of the water around an immersed body—or washing hands after toileting or before eating, the slip of the soap, the aeration of the tap, the miracles of bone and joint. Walking along a trail, the grit of the gravel and the smudge of the soil, the pace of foot and thigh and hip over miles—or the unfolding from a seat in a car, the stride across a parking lot, the search along a cement aisle. A salt lamp’s or candle’s or ceramic nightlight’s glow to mark the end of the day, maybe logs lit to counter cold—or internal combustion engines and/or electrical lines and batteries powering our progress. Finally, the stillness and openness of prayer and meditation, a dedication of time and shape to sitting and listening, to supple awareness and acceptance of the essential simplicity of being, perhaps of mystical and divine revelations—and/or an ongoing conversation of companionship with spirit, a recognition that we both are bodies and have them, our selves both filling and inexorably shaped by our immediate and external material spaces, transformation and awe available through perspective and practice.