Every crisis follows a certain energetic pattern. If we understand that pattern, we can handle it better. The Five Elements of TCM provide an excellent approach.

In the past, when we could not rely on central heating, triple-glazed windows, down jackets and a never-ending supply chain from pretty much every continent, winter was considered a threatening season. Resources were scarce. The living conditions were hostile. Cold and darkness paralyzed the country and its people. It was necessary to protect, to preserve. Nature is showing us how to do it: everything withdraws inwards, as much as possible, a temporary isolation to sit out the worst. Animals are hiding in caves and holes, under thick plumage or covered in thick furs. In addition: rest. No unnecessary energy consumption. Protect what is there. Watching what you have. After all, you don’t know: one does not know when the universal gas station will open its doors again and one can fill up again.

WHAT WINTER, WATER AND CRISIS HAVE IN COMMON

So winter was once an crucial time, a danger to existence, a threat to body, mind and soul. TCM is an analogy system, based on the precise observation that there are certain similarities in all patterns and processes of life. Like winter, a crisis is also a crucial time. Whether triggered by personal strokes of fate such as emotional or financial loss, illness or death. Whether triggered by local, national or global threats. We are currently experiencing a crisis triggered by a virus, the extent of which cannot yet be estimated. We are reacting to this crisis in the same way that nature reacts to winter. We are reacting in a similar way. We are withdrawing.

We are hiding out. We are hoarding resources. We are more careful with our energy budget. All unnecessary activities are suspended. We don’t spend what doesn’t really need to be spent. So there is an analogy. In TCM, analogies are grouped into superordinate categories: crisis, winter, sickness, loss, separation… All of this has a similar pattern. It is all grouped under the umbrella of the Water Element. Because water always tries to flow back to the lowest possible point: inwards, downwards. Water seeks the deep, the roots, the dark, the abyss. Water eludes our control. Water goes where our fears lie dormant. And that’s where we should start when a crisis knocks at the door.

TOILET PAPER AND THE FIVE ELEMENTS

It was in the media, you experienced it yourself: toilet paper was the big seller among hamster purchases. Pointed tongues say: “Sure, with the vast amounts of food people hoard, at some point you have to shit accordingly.” But there is more to it than that. TCM likes to work with the system of the Five Elements in order to point out the dynamics, connections and interactions of the analogies summarized under the respective umbrella term. The Five Elements are: water (winter), wood (spring), fire (summer), earth (late summer) and metal (autumn). One element follows the other, one element produces the other. The respective interactions are described using archetypical images. It is said, as an example, that winter is the mother of spring. This is also what the farmers say. So say the scientists. A good winter, a good hibernation, these are the conditions for a good spring. Nature, like us human beings, needs an appropriate period of regeneration after a long cycle of exuberant activity: winter, the night of the year. Only in this way can the flora in spring – the morning of the year, when everything awakens – take off vigorously. The tranquility of winter thus nourishes the strength of spring. In TCM we speak of the nutrition cycle. After this cycle, autumn is the mother of winter.

Back to the time of our great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers, back to the time when winter could still bring shortage, hunger and death: when crucial life stages knock at the door, you better prepare for them as best as you can. This was usually done in autumn. Again, nature is showing the way. Hoard what you can. Protect what you can. No, not in Winter. The big shelves of the meadows and woods are already closed then. The shelves are empty. Preparation must be done before Winter. And the better the preparation, the more relaxed one could enter the dark season. Those who correctly understood and conscientiously mastered the task of autumn, could hope for a stress-free winter without a struggle for survival. Enough wood in front of the hut. Enough food in the pantry. Wonderful! So why not use the rest period for a lot of sleep and introspection, according to its quality? That is how it should ideally be.

THE ADDICTION TO THE EVER-PRESENT SPRING AND TOXIC HEAT

But our problem so far has not been the winter. Our problem was – and is – spring. Because globally, in all our actions and endeavors, we are counting on a spring that lasts forever. Everything is supposed to always grow, further and further and further. Everything is expected to become more. More and more and more. The economy, prosperity, personal space. Which in itself is of course completely absurd, because there is NO, please note: ABSOLUTELY NO natural process that has a continuous upward growth curve. That is the principle of Yin and Yang. The world moves in cycles. Even the universe expands and contracts. Only we humans firmly believe that we can define our well-being and meaning by the term increasing economic growth.

It does not work like that. It doesn’t work because every growth also has, and as a matter of fact, must have, its decline. Yin and Yang. Every activity needs its break. Every day needs its night. Every wakefulness needs sleep. Let us remember: winter is the mother of spring. Spring is the child of winter. A child who is constantly overactive will sooner or later wear out the mother (please understand this in the context of archetypes and not as a gender related label), to the point of complete exhaustion. The infinitely abundant maternal energy is a myth. Infinite resources do not exist either. Just as the constantly overactive child devours all the mother’s energy, an exaggerated, since deliberately forced, growth in spring can permanently leach out the ground, especially if one believes that spring can be extended infinitely and panics at the slightest sign of stagnation, i.e. stability instead of growth. Grow. Grow. Grow. That’s Yang. Spring is Yang. Regenerate. Regenerate. Regenerate. This is Yin. Resources are Yin. When Yang dominates, Yin decreases. It is one of nature’s laws.  Yin as an archetype for night and introversion also stands for calm and cool. Yang as archetype for day and extraversion also stands for activity and heat. So if Yang dominates, calm and cool are being used up. 

We have now done this globally for decades. We have consumed the Yin of the earth in a never-ending party. 

But the lack of cooling and rest, generates heat, up to the so-called toxic heat in TCM, a heat that can poison everything. Viral diseases are generally referred to in TCM – an analogy system – as toxic heat. Hence the symptoms associated with it are the way they are. It burns inside the body. From herpes labialis to the corona virus. This could also be one of the reasons why the infection is more dangerous, especially for those people who have less Yin as a reserve. In elderly people, Yin, the body’s resource, is only present in small amounts. Young people, on the other hand, still have enough Yin. To these people the disease is also much less threatening. We do not actually hear a lot about young children being affected. They are virtually bathing in a surplus of Yin. Everything is soft, everything is fresh, everything is alive.

WE BURN

Remember, it’s all about good Yin. Because there is not enough good Yin, i.e. little usable Yin. Inflationary Yin. It is like banknotes without value. You can have so much of it, you can’t buy anything with it. Inflationary Yin in the body is caused by an excess of carbohydrates, for example. Carbohydrates produce an abundance of substance and moisture, but substance and moisture of little value, with little vitality. Could this be one reason why the corona virus affects the pasta and dolce nation #1 so strongly? And should we perhaps not only think of pasta and chocolate when hoarding? Yeah, that’s speculation. However, speculation that does not lack a certain validity. But back to the toxic heat: the dynamics of this state are not only valid in relation to viral diseases. This state is symptomatic of our global situation. 

Climate change? Toxic heat due to an excessive consumption of Yin, the resources of the earth. The forest fires in Australia? Toxic heat with massive Yin deficiency. The mild winter? Toxic heat. And the panic associated with the corona virus? Toxic heat. Will this lead to our bank notes also degenerating into Yin without substance, into inflationary Yin? The probability is high. The world has lost its Yin. It tries to get its Yin back. Yin means standstill. Yin means pause. Yin means shut down. Yin means sickbed. Yin means quarantine.

Did we have had it in our hands? Yes. Just look at the Yin/Yang symbol: if one of the poles becomes too extreme, then it tips over into the opposite. If the Yang becomes too dominant, it turns into Yin. We could have recognized the Yang dominance in time and reacted to it. Without action, you are condemned to react. And an imposed process of transformation is not always as pleasant as the transition from one season to the next, like the transition from day to night. A change of poles can also be very radical. It can be painful. It can be instructive. So back to the energetics of a crisis…

WE WET OUR PANTS

Let’s remember: crucial situations belong to the Water Element. The Water Element also includes: security, insecurity and fear. The Water Element is the element of the abyss. Destabilization of security leads to insecurity and insecurity leads to fear. Of course: it also depends on whether a person has a strong Water Element in him- or herself, because these archetypical basic energies are reflected everywhere, in nature, in us, in our behaviour. A strong Water Element, i.e. a strong basic feeling of security and self-confidence, is not easily disturbed.

On this basis, crises can rather be seen as opportunities. Crucial situations can be a challenge to rise above oneself. 

In general, however, we are in this phase: uncertainty, which leads to fear. Our global Water Element is weakened. When one element is weak, its mother takes over. In terms of the Water Element, it is the Metal Element. The Metal Element must take the weakened Water Element by the hand. The balance shifts: we speak of a water-/metal+ state. Two organs are assigned to the Metal Element: the lungs and the large intestine. The lung is the home of the so-called Po. The Po can be understood as all psychological as well as emotional components, which are assigned to the Metal Element according to the analogy principle. The animal survival instinct also belongs to the Po. The Po is the entity that enables us to take our first breath. It is programmed to preserve the species. If the Po is activated by external threats, whether they be real or not, classic autumn „actions“ corresponding to the character of the Metal Element unfold. We react like the hamster that instinctively prepares itself for the coming winter and cannot have enough nuts collected in its cheeks. You never know. You think primarily of yourself. Because autumn is simply not the time of year when you generously share resources with others. Because, what happens when winter is hard and long? What if it’s all about survival? No. It’s about holding on to every possible resource. You have to squeeze your buttocks together. This is where the partner organ of the lung, the large intestine, comes into play.

The large intestine is almost tensed up in its effort not to let anything go: full control instead of losing control. No, letting things go just like that is not possible. That’s what the large intestine is afraid of. It almost wets itself because of that fear. That’s what we are afraid of. Hence the near-maniacal toilet paper rush. We feel that in the face of a major threat, we are becoming more of a chicken shit again – from an energetic point of view. And we are making provisions accordingly. A weak Water Element. And an overcompensating Metal Element. A clearly comprehensible dynamic based on the system of the Five Elements of TCM.

WITH REASON AND PLAN

In the system of the Five Elements there is, in addition to the nourishing mother-child cycle, also the so-called control cycle. The Water Element controls the Fire Element. The water is Yin. The fire is Yang. Without enough water a fire cannot be controlled sufficiently. Look at the fires in Australia. There it is again, the toxic heat. In TCM, the Fire Element also includes our mind, our consciousness. Because fire is also light, what we see is conscious perception. If the Water Element is weakened by fear, then the mind begins to burn. 

Heat rises upward according to its nature. The heart begins to beat. Restlessness is getting ready. Nervousness. But also confusion and mental instability. Because a fire without control simply blazes wildly, igniting new fires over and over again, and eventually turns into a wildfire that can destroy everything. Welcome to panic mode. Panic mode is a pure fire state. And this state is dangerous. It is not about trivializing the seriousness of a situation. On the contrary. It is a matter of avoiding one thing: a fire that is out of control. Because if this is combined with the animal instinct of the Po, which is purely geared towards self-protection, then we find ourselves in the middle of a fight for survival, a fight for survival that perhaps need not be, which we have conjured ourselves. The energetic state: Water Element-, Metal Element+, Fire Element+.

This reality is already knocking at our door. So we need solutions. The system of the Five Elements offers these. In times of crisis, one thing above all is important: the Water Element needs to be stabilized! Just as the Water Element controls the Fire Element, so the Water Element is controlled by the Earth Element. One can imagine it like this: the Earth Element is like a dam that prevents the river from overflowing its banks. The Earth Element, this dam, ensures that we are not swamped by our fears and thus continue to weaken the Water Element. Just as the psychological and emotional aspects of the Metal Element are grouped together under the term Po, there is a term for the Earth Element. Yi. Yi, this is our ratio. Yi is rational and efficient thinking. Rational thinking helps to control fears. Granted: …it’s not always easy, it’s sometimes impossible… …because often fears are like a tsunami that hits us and carries everything away, whether we want it to or not. So using the ratio will not always work. But in times of crisis it is important to strengthen Yi above all.

How? The Earth Element is also the element of nutrition. So it depends on what we feed Yi with. This is our responsibility. By its nature, Yi is an omnivore. We must therefore be careful and conscious of what we feed it. We must be careful and conscious of the information we feed it as the basis for reflection. We have to be careful and conscious with the media in these times. We have to be mindful and conscious of our opinions in these times. We have to specifically strengthen Yi in such a way that it can stabilize the flow of the quite also justified fears, so that reason thinks ahead and leads the way. 

If we weaken Yi, for example by consuming too much information – all of which needs to be digested at some point – then the Earth Element is no longer strong enough to control the Water Element. Therefore my simple proposal: shut down! Also inside your head. Two media updates a day are enough. And this is not only important in times of crisis, when the news are quickly overtaken and even the half-life of scientific statements is short. We know that we do not know much. Period. Then it is better to feed the common sense: what is to be done? What can I do? What can I not do? And on the basis of these considerations make plans and strategies. Because there is a second element that is good for the Water Element in times of crisis: the Wood Element, the element of spring. After all, until now there has been a spring after every winter, even after the worst, hardest, deadliest of winters. Humanity is tough. You can trust on that.

But we can consciously support the transition from winter to spring. We can nurture the Wood Element. Spring is up to something. Spring wants to do something. Spring brings movement. Spring melts the frozen winter soil. The Wood Element can help us get out of shock. It is about the feeling of being able to act and make decisions. Plans help in this respect. Exactly what is generally recommended at the moment: Plan. Plan your everyday life, plan the coming weeks. Step into action. Whatever. Even job, future and prospects should be gone. Do something. That creates at least a hint of possibilities. And that helps keep the energetic focus out of the Water Element, the element of fear. If you already stretch out one foot towards spring, you don’t have to fear winter so much anymore.

The decision lies with each individual person. And this is an approach that does not only apply to dealing with the whole Corona situation. All crises in life follow a similar pattern. For example: If you are still in shock after your last break up you will find it hard to experience a second spring. You have to want to do it. And take appropriate steps. Therefore from the perspective of the Five Elements there is a clear strategic instruction for crisis management: do not get driven into a state of instinctive panic by the relationship between the Water and Metal Element. Rather, stabilize the Water Element through the ratio of the Earth Element and then pull it towards spring with the power of the Wood Element, even if it is far from being visible on the horizon. After all, the Water Element will regain its power. It will be able to control the fire sufficiently again. The panic will give way. The toxic heat will cool down. In the end, this is also the best we can do for our immune system at the moment. And: the consciousness comes to a rest.

I wish that to everyone in these times. From the bottom of my heart.

Mike Mandl

 

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