Before I look more closely at this, I need to define for myself what I regard as a balanced human being, and how far that is something achievable at more than rare times. I must also ask myself how far we should regard this as something desirable. Is there, as I think there may be, a positive side to the constant struggle of the elements to maintain their balance? Is this, perhaps, something which offers human beings the potential for leading stimulating, creative lives? In my Keepers of the Soul I wrote that we are, as I put it, “necessarily incomplete”. I say this because each element is only able to hold its dominating role for one-fifth of the complete cycle. We can see this in nature where each season only holds sway for a short time before having to hand over to the next season, Wood in spring having to hand over to Fire in summer, and so on. This finds its echo within us, as each element passes on its function to the next, as they work together to bring us life. This means that since each element represents only one stage in the complete cycle, each has to accept that it is as I put necessarily incomplete. And therefore each in a different way always remains at heart dissatisfied because the tasks it sets itself are never done. If I think of my own element, Fire, everything I do is in some way connected with Fire’s need to enter into relationships with everybody it meets, and its deep need is to ensure that these relationships are good ones, bringing the happiness and joy its Heart strives for in all whom it encounters. But then it must hand over its duties to its child element, Earth, as the cycle rolls on from summer to late summer. And Earth, not pre-occupied as Fire is with the need to enter into relationships with everybody, has instead been given its own quite different task, that of producing the fruit of the two preceding elements, Wood and Fire.
The actions for which each element is responsible can therefore be seen as finding their completion not within the element itself but in the succeeding element, Wood in the Fire element, Fire in the Earth element and so on. Each element concentrates with almost fanatical dedication upon achieving that one aspect of the complete cycle which it is its task to perform. Fire can only do what Fire is there to do, just as summer can only be summer, and Water can only do what Water is there to do, as winter is always winter. There is something almost tragic in each element’s recognition that it will not by itself be able to complete the tasks it sets itself, but has to hand them over incomplete to the elements which succeed it. Wood will forever seek to carry out all the activities it is there to initiate, but will never complete all the activities it wants to before the cycle moves on and it has to hand over to Fire. And so on, from element to element.
I like to think of the play of the element within us as what I call representing our elemental DNA, and like our body’s physical DNA this gives us a unique imprint which distinguishes us from anybody else. The elements’ interactions within us are unique to us so that no Earth element manifests itself the same in any two people. This is all the truer of those more complex inter-elemental relationships which we call those of the elements within our guardian element. If a person’s Wood element is diagnosed as also having much of the quality of the Earth element within it, colouring its dominant green with a little yellow, and even deeper within it has a pink tinge which the Fire element adds to the Earth within it, this combination of elemental colours stamps us with a unique mark, as unique as any DNA sequence discovered by modern science.
And I also like to think that there may be a purpose to this, some reason why human beings have been endowed with this unique potential, offering each of us the possibility of being ourselves and like no other. None of us can truly know why human beings have been chosen amongst all the sentient beings on this planet to have been given individual destinies associated with one of the five elements. No other species has to cope with the difficult task of shaping its own destiny as we have. All others seem to be satisfied with living a herd-like existence, one among many, being almost clones of each other. Each of us, on the other hand, has been given what seems to be an individual fate, related to the challenges the interactions of the elements within us offer us. This seems to be for some deep purpose, related to our ability each to think our own thoughts and do our own thing, and therefore closely linked to the demands of our guardian element.
It would appear that we sit at the pinnacle of advanced life, our brains by far the most complex of any other living creature’s, with unparalleled ability to shape our environment both physically and spiritually through our artistic and intellectual achievements. No other creature has managed not only to stand on its two feet and reach up to the heavens above, but to devise the means to escape the pull of gravity to penetrate far out into the secrets of deepest space. And no other living creature, as far as we know, even wants to do this. This curiosity of ours pushes us inexorably to try to decipher the secrets of the universe. And somehow I feel that the great diversity which the characteristics of the different elements endows each of us with must play its part in all this.
I have written in The Keepers of the Soul of my own understanding of why this should be so. Others may obviously have quite different views on this. I wrote: “I like to think that the impetus within us to evolve towards ever higher levels of diversification became so overriding at some point in our evolution that we were no longer able to contain within each of us the totality of characteristics which make up humankind. Our very complexity appears to have placed so great a burden upon our individual capacity to absorb the awesome range of powers the human being has developed that we might be said to have burst the bounds of what each of us can encompass within ourselves of the human condition, becoming dispersed into so many fragments of the whole.”
If this is in some respects true, then the unique destiny conferred upon each of us through the imprint of our elemental DNA places not only a burden upon us, but is potentially a gift which we can make use of if we choose to do so. But it leads us often to live precarious lives, subject to the unique demands placed upon us by the interactions of the elements within us and their interaction, in turn, with the elements of all those we encounter. It is little wonder that human life is experienced as being so complex that it often threatens our ability to maintain our balance.