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The 5 Elements

June 20th 2015

This month we looked at the 5 element as they relate both to creativity and healing. The following excepts were shared and discussed.


From my book Mind Over Metal, Chapter 5, the Alchemy of Artistry:


The Five Elements


     The law of the five elements has long been a huge part of martial arts, philosophy, mystical and alchemical practices, and many areas of the healing arts and eastern medicine. By understanding the properties or ”nature” of each element, we can unlock the source of its power. We can then explore the idea of this power and use it as a strategy or we can conceptualize an expression of its energy.

    There are many different interpretations of the five elements and their meanings and they vary from culture to culture and by the applications that they are used in. In my studies I have found the Japanese names of the five elements and the path of their natural and destructive cycles to be the most in tune with how they apply to music. These elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Many times you will see Ether or Air as one of the five elements usually in place of Wood, but I like to think of Air as the invisible sixth element that binds the main five together.


    Each element has its place in a natural and destructive cycle of life. In a natural cycle for instance, Fire burns Wood and creates ash that becomes part of the Earth, the ash gives nutrients to the Earth, which produces Metal in the form of minerals and ore. The Water that is present in the Earth and that is acquired from rainfall mixes with these minerals giving nutrients to plants and the cycle begins anew. In a destructive cycle you see how one element overpowers another. For instance, Fire can melt Metal and Metal can pierce through Wood and Wood can grow up from and break through the Earth, and the Earth can absorb Water and Water can put out Fire. So we see the nature of these elements and we can see how understanding their nature can give us insight in other areas of life.


   Aside from the cycles of these elements as they intertwine, each individual element has its own unique energy characteristic. In the Ninja arts there are evasive and attack maneuvers all based on the elements. For example an Earth evasion technique would be something like hiding in a tree trunk or a ditch, using the Earth as a means of hiding or a Water technique like remaining underwater in a river using a small shoot of bamboo as an air source. By understanding the nature of the elements the Ninja is able to apply the concepts of each to blend in to his surroundings and use their energy for his next attack.


    In this same manner, the five elements can play a huge role in the Alchemy of music. Understanding the ideas behind the energies and how they work can open our minds to new ways of writing and expressing ourselves through music. Let’s take a look at a song structure and see how it may relate to the elements. We start with the Wood energy, which is a growing energy (very much like an intro or beginning of a song grows). Then we move into Earth energy, which is a stable energy (or the main verse or body of your song). From there we add some Fire, which is our expanding and explosive energy (your hook or theme). After repeating this cycle we fade into Water energy, which is a dissolving or sinking energy (much like an outro or fade out).


    This is a very basic song format that I translated into elemental energies, but look at the possibilities that await us if we can use the energies to create a unique song structure or to highlight particular moods. Outlining techniques based on the energy they portray can open our minds and add a magical presence to our expression of life through music. I have made two charts to create a visual concept of how the elements work and are related to music.  


Experpts from The Mysticism of Sound and Music by Hazrat Inayat Khan 


The conception of the five elements, which the mystics have always had, cannot be explained in scientific terms, because the mystics have their own peculiar meaning. Although the elements may be called earth, water, fire, air and ether, this must not be taken literally. Their nature and character, according to the mystics, are different. But, as words are few, one cannot give other names to theseelements, although in Sanskrit we have distinctive words for them. 'Ether' is not ether in the scientific sense. It is capacity. 'Water' is not water as we understand it in everyday language. It is liquidity. 'Fire' is understood differently. It means glow or heat, dryness, radiance, all that is living. All of these words suggest something more than is ordinarily meant by them. The working of these five elements is distinguished by different colors and sounds. The fiveelements are represented by sound. In the musical scales or ragas of India and China, the raga of fivenotes is considered the most appealing. And my own experience is that the scale of five notes is much more appealing than the scale of seven notes. The scale of seven notes lacks some vital influence which the scale of five notes possesses.



Every element has a sound peculiar to itself; in the finer element the circle of sound expands, and in the grosser element it narrows. It is therefore distinct in the former and indistinct in the latter.

The earth has various aspects of beauty as well as of variety in its sound. Its pitch is on the surface, its form is crescent-like, and its color is yellow. The sound of earth is dim and dull, and produces a thrill, activity and movement in the body. All instruments of wire and gut, as well as the instruments of percussion, such as the drum, cymbals, etc., represent the sound of the earth.

The sound of water is deep, its form is serpent-like, its color green, and it is best heard in the roaring of the sea. The sound of running water, of mountain rills, the drizzling and pattering of rain, the sound of water running from a pitcher into a jar, from a pipe into a tub, from a bottle into a glass, all have a smooth and lively effect, and a tendency to produce imagination, fancy, dream, affection, and emotion. The instrument called jalatarang is an arrangement of china bowls or glasses graduated in size and filled with water in proportion to the desired scale; more water lowers the tone, and less raises it. These instruments have a touching effect upon the emotions of the heart.

The sound of fire is high pitched, its form is curled, and its color is red. It is heard in the falling of the thunderbolt and in a volcanic eruption, in the sound of a fire when blazing, in the noise of squibs, crackers, rifles, guns and cannons. All these have a tendency to produce fear.

The sound of air is wavering, its form zigzag, and its color blue. Its voice is heard in storms, when the wind blows, and in the whisper of the morning breeze. Its effect is breaking, sweeping and piercing. The sound of air finds expression in all wind instruments made of wood, brass and bamboo; it has a tendency to kindle the fire of the heart, as Rumi writes in his Masnavi about the flute. Krishna is always portrayed in Indian art with a flute. The air sound overpowers all other sounds, for it is living, and in every aspect its influence produces ecstasy.

The sound of ether is self-contained, and it holds all forms and colors. It is the basis of all sounds, and is the undertone which is continuous. Its instrument is the human body, because it can be audible through it; although it is all-pervading, yet it is unheard. It manifests to man as he purifies his body from material properties. The body can become its proper instrument when the space within is opened, when all the tubes and veins in it are free. Then the sound which exists externally in space becomes manifest inwardly also. Ecstasy, illumination, restfulness, fearlessness, rapture, joy and revelation are the effects of this sound. To some it manifests of itself, to others when they are in a negative state caused by weakness of the body or mind; to neither of these is it a benefit, but on the other hand it causes them to become abnormal. This sound only elevates those who open themselves to it by the sacred practices known to the mystics.

The mingled sound of earth and water has a tenderness and delicacy. The sound of earth and fire produces harshness. The sound of earth and air has strength and power. The sound of water and fire has a lively and animating effect. The sound of water with ether has a soothing and comforting effect. The sound of fire and air has a terrifying and fearsome effect. The sound of fire with ether has a breaking and freeing effect. The sound of air with ether produces calm and peace.



 In every being the five elements are constantly working, and in every individual one especially predominates. The wise have therefore distinguished five different natures in man, according to the element predominant in him. Sometimes two elements or even more predominate in a human being in a greater or lesser degree.

The harmony of life can be learnt in the same way as the harmony of music. The ear should be trained to distinguish both tone and word, the meaning concealed within, and to know from the verbal meaning and the tone of voice whether it is a true word or a false note; to distinguish between sarcasm and sincerity, between words spoken in jest and those spoken in earnest; to understand the difference between true admiration and flattery; to distinguish modesty from humility, a smile from a sneer and arrogance from pride, either directly or indirectly expressed. By so doing the ear becomes gradually trained in the same way as in music, and a person knows exactly whether his own tone and word as well as those of another are false or true. Man should learn in what tone to express a certain thought or feeling as in voice cultivation. There are times when he should speak loudly, and there are times when a soft tone of voice is needed; for every word a certain note, and for every speech a certain pitch is necessary. At the same time there should be a proper use of a natural, sharp or flat note, as well as a consideration of key.

There are nine different aspects of feeling, each of which has a certain mode of expression: mirth, expressed in a lively tone; grief, in a pathetic tone; fear, in a broken voice; mercy, in a tender voice; wonder in an exclamatory tone; courage in an emphatic tone; frivolity, in a light tone; attachment, in a deep tone; and indifference, in the voice of silence.





The purification breaths (or elements breaths) and almost instinctively as I d0each of the 5 breaths for each element I put my attention on the Body Mind Heart Soul and Spirit. So first breathing magnetism and energy from the Earth into the body then transmitting that breathing out, then on to the Mind, etc. Then repeating with the water element in each place, then the next element and so forth. I found this kept me very focused on the practice (as sometimes doing the purification breaths my mind wonders or I loose count) and really got me quite high doing it. So here is a bit more detailed explanation.


So in the purification breaths we breathe in and out the element of Earth in through the nose and out the nose 5 times. Then the Water element in through the nose and out the mouth 5 times, then the Fire element in through the mouth out the nose 5 times, then the Air element in and out of the mouth. All done very subtle so you can't even hear yourself breathing.


So what I added to this was I placed my focus with each breath on a domain so it looks like this:


Earth element breaths (in and out of the nose) x5

Breath 1 - drawing magnetism and energy from the Earth in the BODY and radiating Earth energy and magnetism out 

Breath 2 - drawing centeredness and grounding from the Earth in the MIND and radiating a sense of centeredness and grounding out to the Earth

Breath 3 - drawing connection and living/loving essence from the Earth into the HEART and radiating living/loving essence and connection to the Earth (and all it's inhabitants)

Breath 4 - drawing inspiration and guidance from the soul of the Earth into the SOUL and radiating inspiration and guidance back to the soul of the Earth

Breath 5 - drawing remembrance and pledging to uphold the divine SPIRIT of Mother Earth and radiating remembrance and devotion to the spirit of the Earth.


You would do the same concept for the Water, Fire, and Air breaths and the "qualities" that I invoked are just my own ideals of what that particular element would be representing when connecting to that element through the breath. It's really just consciously taking a breath in each domain for each element that would be important I believe. 








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