Traditional Acupuncture:
The Law of the Five Elements
by Diane M. Connelly (1994)

ISBN 0-912381-03-5



Excerpted from the introductory chapter:

"To the Chinese, and to any people who live from the earth, the closeness and importance of Nature are understood. They live in the Elements, depend on the cycle of the seasons, survive according to the laws of the universe, and revere the flow and changes of the world around them. They watch, heed, learn and steep themselves in the Elements so basic to life. And, just as Nature all around them is going through its natural process of change, they instinctively know that the Nature inside them follows these same patterns, that intuitively human beings go through the cycle of the seasons within themselves, that the Elements are recreated within them. Each element is ever present and ever basic to life. It is not just in the world around them that the tender shoots are born bursting into life; it is also within themselves. It is not only in summer that things bloom and flourish, but also within them, and so on with all the seasons. We are the seasons. We are the Elements. Nature is without and within us, each of us every moment. We are a replica of the universe passing from season to season in a natural unending cycle of life.

All thinking, feeling, and acting are done in accordance with Nature. Chinese medicinal thinking grew up with the relationship of the human being to Nature in mindbodyspirit. And so, the system of examination, diagnosis and treatment is based on natural processes. The concept of health follows laws inherent in Life Energy, inherent in Nature.

Now, when I speak of Energy, I am speaking of the force we call life. The Chinese term it Ch’i Energy and liken it to the streams, brooks, rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans of Earth. The Life Force flows in us via interconnected pathways. In a way it is like electricity. It flows in a current, and though we cannot actually see it, we can see the manifestations of it, and feel the effects of it. In a way it is like the blood flow which, though we usually do not see it, pulses life through us. All life has it, and it converses with every aspect of life. Without this Ch’i Energy, this Life force, we do not have life, we are dead.
The Chinese saw the existence of humanity and, in fact, all of Nature as dependent on this Ch’i. It is only be Ch’i that the planets move, the sun shines, the wind blows, the Elements exist. It is only by Ch’i that human beings live and breathe. When Ch’i is flowing, all of life’s processes are in operation in a rhythmic and harmonious way. This Life Force is the cohesion of our bodymindspirit, and the integration of the myriad aspects of each individual human being. Ch’i is spoken of with reverence because it is the basis of life and because, if it goes awry, it becomes the basis of disease. Health and illness are defines by this Life Energy. It is this that the traditional Acupuncturist speaks of balancing if some aspect of this life energy is no longer in harmony with the totality.

Because it is so precious and basic to life, this Vital Force, the Ch’i Energy, asks of every living creature a way of life that preserves it. There is a path to caring for this Life Force on a human level that speaks of balance and harmony. The sages of the ancient classics knew the secrets of life because they followed this path. It is called the Way, the Tao. This Tao has been spoken of as the tranquility at the center of all disturbances. Life was not an asceticism, for it aimed at the harmonious function of all the senses, avoiding both depravation and excess. There was a completeness of living, a preservation of the intactness of life. This intactness touched on all aspects of daily living – food, exercise, thought processes, caring for one’s own unity and simplicity – living according to the movement of Nature."

Connelly goes on to talk about Ch’i energy being made up of what at first looks like a duality, the Yin and the Yang, but is really a harmonious balance between these two parts of the same thing. She describes how in Chinese Acupuncture the body is ordered according to the function of the organs, which are governed by one or the other side of these energies. And then to the Elements:
"Though YinYang gives us a facility for working and thinking about vital Ch’i energy, it is the Five Elements which give us the framework more closely connected with daily life. The Five Elements are Wood, Fire, Earthy, Metal, Water. Around us at any moment we can feel the Elements and have a direct experience with them."
"Like YinYang, the Five Elements are further descriptions of the Ch’i Energy as it goes through its cyclical transformations. Everything in life is concordant with these Elements, and so not just philosophical and agricultural thought was based on them, but also medical thought. The cause of illness is diagnosed through an examination based on the Law of the Five Elements. Health is the harmonious balanced cyclical interaction of these Elements. Health is maintained only when the Energy flowing through each of the Elements is clear and life-giving."

The chapter ends with this:
"Chinese expression often sounds poetical and allegorical, giving the impression of a beautiful system that smacks of unreality or at least is quite removed from life as we know it. Yet, the system is eminently rational and real. The poetry serves to elucidate the art of the science of Chinese medicine based on the Five Elements. Each Element and its correspondences in human life are as real as the words on this page, as real as the presence of the earth beneath our feet. I say this to make it quite clear that the beauty and common sense of this system of healing in no way detract from its seriousness and depth.