I always think that one of Wood’s most important functions is that of bringing order out of chaos, adding structure to the unstructured. Its desire is to ensure order wherever possible, for it wants a world on which it can impose its own structure and design upon what might otherwise be disorganized and unstructured. We order and arrange things into boxes when we want to tidy up our homes or our offices. This seems to me to be an accurate image of what Wood wants to achieve in life. The picture that comes to mind here are those TV pictures of bank employees leaving their offices with all their working possessions stuffed into boxes after the banking meltdown in 2009 as the banks closed their doors for the last time. In a similar way I can see the Wood element trying to enclose everything it does within the narrow confines of individual boxes.
It might seem as if a bud, which is Wood’s signature in nature, appears to have a much less clearly defined contour than the boxes I have just talked about, but in fact each bud is a very structured object, whose shape has to adhere to parameters strictly laid down if it is to grow properly into a fully grown leaf, plant or tree. Without this well-planned structure, laid down in what I like to call the DNA of the seed, a bud will wither and die. This is a symbolic representation of what the Wood element within us needs to offer us if it, too, is to fulfil the functions it is there to fulfil.
A world in which things move in straight, ordered lines, have their allotted place and move forward in their allotted ways seems to me to be an image of Wood’s ideal world. If I were to put this feeling into words, I would describe it as someone saying, “And this is, and that is so, and yet again this other thing is so,”, forming a kind of movement at right angles to itself, and in words always spoken with precision and with emphasis. When I represent Wood graphically to myself, I visualize it as a series of straight lines, which run up and down, from right to left and from back to front, as though forming the squares of a Rubik cube which, when rotated, re-forms itself again into a further small square.
Wood always tends to speak with precision and with emphasis, creating a sense of order with its words. It can be said to want to “tell” rather than to communicate. To tell somebody something is just as much a way of ordering things, this time through the structure of words. Wood’s telling something can be described more as making a statement, rather than taking the form of a discussion with others. This is where its talking differs from some of the other elements, such as Fire, whose communications become a two-sided affair moving from one person to another and back again. Wood’s is in one direction only, towards the person spoken to, with far less emphasis upon the need for the words to be returned to it by the person spoken to, or, if Wood is very unbalanced, with no attention at all paid to the need for discussion with the other person. The image I have of Wood’s speech is to think of it like a tennis player practising alone by hitting a ball against a wall, whereas I see other elements as taking part in a game of two or more players, one or more on each side of the net, hitting a ball of words to one another across the net.
When I asked some Wood people what they want of their interaction with others, they all agreed that what they wanted was to “engage” with them. This is an interesting word. My dictionary gives it a very active meaning, which includes the sense of battling and grappling with, and is much used in military terminology. It implies more than just interacting, for there is the sense within it of some kind of a struggle, or, at the very least, pressure from one side to push against the other, which we can see as representing the push behind all that Wood does.
When thinking of the Wood element it is always good to have in mind the image of nature outside on an early spring day. We can see buds pushing themselves up from below the ground as though summoned into the warmth and daylight as the cold dark days of winter yield slowly to lighter, warmer days. I did not fully appreciate the force required for each bud to break through the often hard soil to emerge above ground until one day I happened to be walking across a concrete wasteland where a building had once stood, and noticed tiny little patches of green here and there below my feet. On examining them more closely I realised that they were the first vestiges of little plants, and was amazed to see how these tiny growths had managed, each individually, to break through what I could now see was a very thick layer of concrete, perhaps at least 1 metre deep, cracking it open to allow the plant to reach the sunlight. Over the next few weeks I watched these tiny growths become taller and taller, until when I returned a few months later, I found small trees, now a few feet high, their roots embedded deep within the concrete, but creating large cracks in it as they grew. The fact that a single bud has the power to split concrete apart in this way has always remained a vivid illustration for me of the force impelling the Wood element upwards and forwards.
And a sense of movement must always be associated with this element, for movement of all kinds is what Wood enjoys. It can be said often to appear to enjoy activity for activity’s sake. One of the traditional qualities associated with it is that it controls our tendons and ligaments, the parts of our body which dictate our movements. They tighten and relax as they propel the body forward, back, up or down. If you clench your hand it is the Wood element which first tightens your fist and then relaxes it to allow it to lose its tension. If you do this a few times in succession, you will feel how much effort is needed to keep this repetitive movement going. Eventually your muscles will be too tired to respond to your brain’s command and simply allow the tendons to lie still there as though defeated. All sportspeople have to concentrate much of their work on honing the Wood element in themselves. Just watch footballers out on the pitch before a match gradually exercising their muscles to a condition which will allow them to work at full strength for the whole of the match.
We are usually quite unaware of all the normal effort involved in moving around in our daily life, unless we are ill, when every attempt to move is exhausting, or when we are too tired to make the effort and are just glad to sit still. But there, hovering behind each everyday movement we make, is the Wood element doing its busy work without our noticing it. We can see this easily when we watch a body on the move, as we observe Wood controlling every stage of this activity, from a blink of our eyelid to the lifting of a leg as we walk. But we have to remember that the elements also do their work in all the other spheres of our life, those which relate to our mind and our spirit. Wood’s influence extends to these, too.
It does this by adding impetus and strength to our mental activities and emotional impulses (those of our spirit). If we translate this image of a Wood person striding strongly into the future into a mental image, we can see how the same impetus which guides our movements can guide our thoughts and the way we respond emotionally to life. It is likely that a Wood person may not wish to dwell too long upon the intricacies relating to our approach to life, the decisions we need to make, the way in which we distinguish what is essential from what is not essential for us to do. They are more likely to want to move on quickly to a new thought, a new decision, a new approach to life, not wishing to dwell too long in one place in the same way as their feet itch to move their body forward.
If we want to deepen our understanding of some of the qualities of the Wood element, it will be good to look at its role in forming the initial phase of each cycle. Let us think first of the impetus needed to change things from a quiescent phase as they slow to a stop to a more active phase as they start up again at the beginning of their next cycle. I have many mental images of the way the different elements display themselves. I find a picture of the Wood element that I have is very helpful here, which is that of an old steam train. We can all visualize the train gradually coming to a halt; its engine slowly stops, releasing steam, its wheels slow down, each becoming visible as it emerges from the blur of its movement at speed. The train appears to be releasing its breath until at last, with its final puff, it comes to a halt. The movement from slowing down to halting leads forward from what we can call the Metal phase of the train’s cycle of movement, its ending phase, to its Water phase, almost its dormant phase, as movement stops and all falls quiet.
What then will need to be done to re-invigorate the train’s energy to allow it to be re-started? All kinds of bustling activity will have to take place. Similarly much effort is involved in moving things forward from the passive Water phase of winter to the active Wood phase of spring. It is to Wood’s natural energy that we owe the ability for things to restart in this way. In the steam engine, all is activity, as coal is heaved manually into the furnace, shovelful by shovelful, to power the furnace which will drive the engine forward. The driver and fireman leap into action, as though trying to keep up with the fire devouring all that they feed it with. Gone is the temporary peace of the stationary train. All is hurry and bustle. Activity has replaced non-activity. Thus does spring’s Wood energy bustle in its attempts to bring life back to the apparently lifeless energy of winter. Keeping this image in mind is a very practical way of understanding the power that Wood harnesses in restarting all cycles.
What Wood finds difficult are situations which challenge its need to stay on the move, things which force it in some way to come to a halt. We can visualize examples of this in physical terms as situations in which Wood people are prevented from moving, for example if they work in a sedentary office job. This was true of a Wood patient of mine who felt that her working life was spent as though she was chained to her desk. Inevitably this had an effect upon her health, and might indeed have been regarded, as I did regard it, as the main cause of her physical symptoms. All of them, from her migraines to her back-ache, disappeared after treatment of her Wood element, and this treatment included my suggesting that she would benefit from changing her work at a desk for something more active, if this was possible. I found it almost laughingly appropriate that when she returned for follow-up treatment some months later she told me that she was now happily working for a gardening company which involved much time spent in the open air tending to the growth of plants, such a Wood-like occupation.
It is always good to think of the elements as together creating a complete cycle of activity, with each element allotted its specific activity within that cycle. I think of them as each waiting for the element before it to do its work before it takes over for the time of its activity. In terms of the year, this reflects its particular season, before the change of season dictates that it is time to hand over to its successor element. Because the demands of our element so dominate our lives, I feel that each of us is reluctant to allow our element to give up its place, as each season has to the next in nature. In a profound way, each us, so closely tied in with our particular element’s demands and wishes and under its power, would much prefer to bask in the blessings our season showers us with, not merely for that one season each year but for the whole of the year. In my case, Fire might like to enjoy a lifetime of summers, and Wood would bask in the joys of the year’s renewal in a lifetime of springs. But, as we know, this can never happen, so instead each of us must make the most of what our element’s season offers us once each year.
We therefore also have to take the greatest advantage of where our element places us in terms of the cycle of any activity. Wood is the element that most enjoys doing things just for activity’s sake, and is less interested in completing an activity that it enjoys starting. The bud, after all, hands over to the summer, Fire’s season, to draw it up to its full height. In a similar way, Wood people are not as interested in completing what they have started as perhaps we would assume they should be.
I had a Wood patient who was happiest in his retirement working on repairing a boat he had bought. On asking him what kind of a boat, I was not surprised when he answered, “wooden, of course”. Interestingly, his wife complained that he spent all his time fiddling around with different bits of the boat, but never actually completed it sufficiently to take it out on to the water. I did not find this odd. Wood people like working on things (particularly, as here, if they are made of wood), but are not so concerned with finishing them. They just enjoy the doing of things, often just for doing’s sake. Other elements, above all Metal, want things to be completed, or need to have things complete. For Wood, completion can bring to an unsatisfactory conclusion what they most enjoy, which is actively continuing to carry on doing what they are doing.
A Wood patient told me this week: “I always have these bright ideas, but then I never do anything about them.” If we translate this into an image of the Wood element in nature, this is like shoots popping up on all sides above ground in spring, many of which simply get trampled underfoot without growing to full size, with only a few gradually given the time and space to develop into mature plants. I cannot, for example, imagine any other element expressing itself in these words.