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Dialogue - Issue #6

The Fire Element of Five Element Taoist Medicine

Words by Lori Hillman
Illustration by Fernando Leal

Fire governs the small intestine, and our heart, where the mind and spirit reside.

The spring buds of the wood element now blossom in the summer sun becoming aware of the other blossoms on the bough. Fire governs the young adulthood phase of our life cycle. Where childhood was consumed with discovering itself, adolescence discovers others. Fire gives us our ability to relate to the world around us and to form healthy relationships, deciding who to trust our heart with. We see how passionate young people are expressing their feelings about climate breakdown. My generation protested war in Vietnam. Our hearts wanted humankind to love one another. Today young people want humankind to love Mother Earth.

Fire gives us our ability to express and radiate compassion and love. The small intestine is the yang counterpart to the heart. In the psycho-spiritual realm, it sifts information before sending it to the heart, extracting the pure from the impure, as it does in the physical realm. Then can the heart act from conscience, without judgement, ego or self-interest.

Taoist mythology says spirit comes to us at the moment of conception directly from the stars, illuminating our capacity for consciousness and self-awareness. The heart’s emotion is joy. In the physical realm joy lights up our being, out of balance it can become hysteria or depression, like flickering flames reaching to the sky that plummet into ashes. People with fire as their guardian element light up the room when entering, aware or not, everyone will be attracted to them. However, a fire type may be the life and soul of the party, but inside they are vulnerable. The mind may be in conflict with the emotions. Many great comedians are fire, making everyone laugh while they suffer inside. Fire wants nothing more than to bring love into the world and be loved in return.

We are the cosmos in miniature. Our heart is at the centre of our body as the sun is at the centre of our solar system. Our heart circulates heat and blood to our extremities, and organs. Its relationship with the water element/kidneys maintains homeostasis. The sun’s relationship with the oceans provides moisture, maintaining equilibrium as the sun circulates light and heat to earth providing the conditions for fertile soil and vegetation.

Taoist alchemists did not recognise a boundary between the conditioned and unconditioned worlds. They were ahead of their time: contemporary neuroscience recognises three brains - gut, heart and head - because they share neurons and communicate through the vagus nerve to maintain physiological balance. This corresponds to the mind residing in the heart and the heart being paired with the small intestine. The sun loves and brings life to earth as our heart loves and brings joy to our being. To recognise this is to take our place in the cosmic harmony, the next stage of our evolution.

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