Yin and Yang and the Five Phases

Beyond the basic flow of yin and yang  we advance to the concepts of the Five Phases. I prefer the expression Five Phases to the more common apellation of Five Elements. To a western mind the word element connects to the ideas of the ancient Greeks and the periodic table. It conveys components which are static, unchanging and discrete. In yin and yang is the essence of constant change. The expression Five Phases better reflects the fluidity of nature in yin yang theory. The Five Phases are Wood ( mù), Fire ( huǒ), Earth ( ), Metal ( jīn), and Water ( shuǐ). This order of presentation is called the “mutual generation” (相生 xiāngshēng) sequence. There is also an order of “mutual overcoming” (相剋/相克 xiāngkè), which is Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal.

Five Elements Cycle ChartThe Five Phases theory further expands the changing cycles of yin and yang into five stages of transformation. These phases represent the seasons of the earth, characterized as wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. All of the Five phases are apects of qi. They are applied to many aspects of life, among them the seasons. Wood is appplied to spring, a period of 72 days, as are all the seasons. It is the period of growth, which generates abundant wood and vitality. Fire is matched with summer, understanably, a period of heat, energy and in many parts of the world the outbreak of real fires. It is an expanding, flowering period. Earth is associated with a dual application, assigned to a fifth season know as late summer or long summer, which is one of leveling, moderating  and fruition. In some cases is is used with a set of in-between, transitional periods.  Metal is linked with the autumn period of harvesting and gathering. Finally, water is paired with winter,the period of contraction, retention and retreat.

The phases have relationships to each other. In the generating cycle, Wood feeds Fire; Fire creates Earth; Earth bears forth Metal, Metal collects Water; Water nourishes Wood. In the overcoming sequence, Wood parts Earth. Think of tree roots penetrating through the ground upheaving sidewalks and you have the idea. Earth dams,  absorbs and clouds Water. That water extinguishes fire is obvious, as is that fire melts metal. Finally, metal cuts wood. This is certainly true in the case of axes and saws.

One major area where the Five Phases are applied to human activity is Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Fives Phases are also said to  correspond with the stages of human life: birth, growth, maturation, death, and rebirth. In TCM the body is considered as a whole and the systems and organs analyzed in terms of yin and yang.  Some organs are considered basically yin in nature and others basically yang. The yin organs are the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. The yang organs are the gall bladder, stomach, large and small intestine and urinary bladder.  The organs are paired a yin to a yang which share meridians, tissues, muscles, and energetic functions and also correspond to one of the Five Phases: The liver/gallbladder pair is Wood; the heart/small intestinepair is Fire; the spleen/stomach pair is Earth; the lungs/large intestine pair is Metal; and the kidney/bladder pair is Water.

Chinese turtle back tomb

By User:Vmenkov (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Another area where the Five Phases are important is in feng shui. The origin of feng shui has it’s roots in locating a grave site that would ensure the happiness of the deceased. Unhappy ancestors were not a good thing for family well being as they would then not interceed with the gods in the spirit world. The practice spread to palaces and temples and then to the dwellings of ordinary people. Household harmony and business success were believed to be impacted by the way qi circulated. In feng shui the Five Phases correspond to this movement of energy or qi in the environment. Wood represents upward energy; fire represents a radiating energy; earth signifies an inward moving energy; metal is a contracting energy and water represents an expanding and penetrating energy.


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Caturday Thoughts – Cats Dislike their Environment and Schedule Disrupted

Toilet and sink stand with papers rolls

It was not neat and tidy like this!

Cats dislike their environment and schedule disrupted and so do I. Cats do not do trivial and useless things. I struggle to avoid them. The constant war with the plumbing put me totally off my schedule last week. The plumber spent the better part of the day strugglng to clear the sewer line. Major repairs are needed which I know the landlord will not do. I myself recoil at the though of dealing with the city functionaries and local contractors. I don’t know why people must be so clueless; it must have been the result of all the methyl mercury they let pollute the water around here. Slow on the uptake is the kindest thing I can say.

Fortunately I found a new yard man, a friend of one of my old lawn men, who I found out finally found full time work. So I can once again relegate that to someone else. Since it has begun to get truly warm there has been less rain and things are growing a tiny bit less frantically, but still the need to attend to it will not end until a hard frost this fall.

This is good primarily because taking care of the inside of the house requires far more work than it should. Triple filtering all the water takes time. Washing dishes in small batches because there is no counter available for a drying rack takes time, as does the hand drying. Having to rearrange all the small appliances every time I want to prepare food in different ways is also inconvenient.

Traditional hearth in Japanese houseEven as I pack more and more things ito the storage unit and have less in the house, I still find things getting misplaced. I still find there is not a good way to organize the things that are there to create space and keep things neat. I am beginning to wish I was living in a traditional Japanese house. It is not just the things that I have however, but the design of the house. It has very poor flow of design and qi. Most western houses do. I’m convinced it’s one reason I get low on energy. I was worried for a long time it was the cause of the cat’s illnesses but since everyne has been all right since Tony died, I think poor Tony and Mosby just lived in a toxic environment before I rescued them.

Meanwhile I am getting back on my schedule of writing and work. Sooner rather than later the house will be emptied to the bare functional minimum. Sooner rather than later I will no longer need to be constantly moving things out of the path of the cleaner, plumbers or handyman. The plumber figured the sewer pipe will take another year to back up again if it is not replaced but I will not wait for that. The cats and I do not need the trouble and disruption. We need a clean, organized and quiet home with routine and consistency and I will fnd a way to create it one way or another.

Room with floor to ceiling windows

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Minor Heat xiǎo shǔ 小暑 Jul 7th

Red setting sunWe have been fortunate that this year we have so far avoided the excessive heat of the last couple of years. The coolness continued until the farmers bagan to comment. On  July 7th we entered the solar term of Minor Heat 小暑(xiǎo shǔ).  It is the beginning of the hottest period of the the year. As it turned out, it finally got hot right on schedule. My house, not having air conditioning and getting the sun on the roof most of the day, gets very hot aftr midday. In late afternoon and early evening the cats sprawl on the floor in shady corners. I have fans directed at me as I work. Any physical activity is done in the morning, the afternoon is for writing, working on the computer, reading and running to the shops (they have air conditioning).

Fruit Smoothie in glassThis is one of the times I adjust my diet. Since by the time I get up, feed the cats and do the moring chores when this period of heatand high humidity  commences, I am dripping with sweat. It’s hardly when I want to cook something. Breakfast becomes a smoothie of fruit juice, plain Indian yogurt, frozen berries, instant meal or protein powder and spices, usually turmeric, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. It’s healthy, quick and deliciously cold. Adjusting diet to the seasons is a part of Indian Ayurvedic medicine and also TCM

Sincethe summer heat is very yang, TSM advocates that  to avoid excess yang,  consuming yin foods is useful.  Yang foods are considered “heating” or “warming”. Green leafy vegetables are considered yin and “cooling”. Instinctively, we gravitate to salads and cooling foods in summer heat. Watermelon is a very yin food. Of course there needs to be balance. No matter how hot it gets you can’t stay balanced eating just yin foods. If it’s that hot it’s always a safe bet to drink more water. But it’s not that hard to get balance. Tomatoes,  cucumbers and cilantro are yin and garlic, onions and any kind of peppers are yang, so combining them in a gazpacho gives you a nicely balanced summer dish.

So as the hot days build, enjoy summer activities and the chance to spend more ime outside. Balance your yang hamburgers with lettuce and tomato slices, have a a nice salad with your barbecues chicken and eat all the watermelon you want.

Open hamburger with lettuce, tomatom onion, mayonaise

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Yin and Yang Throughout the Day

Yin and yang not only cycle through the seasons but throughout the 24 hours of each day. An awareness of the flow of yin and yang through the day can benefit both health and productivity. Even relationships can benefit from aligning our activities with this flow. Traditionally the day is divided into periods characterized by the strength of yin or yang across those hours.

If we begin the day with clock time, the first period is from 12 midnight to 3 AM. This is the time yin energy peaks. The night sky is at its darkest during this period. It should also be when the dream state is at its deepest.

From 3 AM to 6AM while yin is still dominant,  yang is starting to rise. This is the best time to get up and get ready to start the day. This time is actually the most beneficial for activities like yoga, tai chi or martial arts training. While people have a tendency to prefer either a yang or yin type of exercise, performing either during this time of day helps the body balance the effects of the excercise. This transition of rising yang in dominant yin is also why it is also a good time for meditation practice.  Meditation itself is a yin activity, but the rising yang energy infuses our attention and concentration with it’s strength. Meditation in this period not only helps start the day in a calm and mindful state but can be done more effectively in harmony with the yin yang  state at the time.

From 6 AM to 9AM while yin is still dominant,  the yang is rising, gaining in strength. Using the rising yang in combination with the post activity body state makes this the ideal time for a light,nourishing breakfast containing some protein. Proteins take the longest to digest and the rising yang will help this. Fueled for the day you will be better set to conront the work day and all it entails.

Three person meetingBy the third period from 9am to 12 noon, the rising yang is starting to peak. This active yang period is the best time to tackle the toughest tasks of the day, whether they involve dealing with difficult situations or clients or brainstorming on complex problems. Having completed your practice and fueled up you are in your best mental state for facing awkward or sensitive interpersonal dealings, like meeting on subjects where there is controversy.  Make the most of the strength of the rising  yang to carry you along and enhance your prductvity.

After noon from 12PM to 3 PM the yang is peaking.  If your morning was intense and productive. it is now time t refuel. Lunch should be nourishing and contain eve more protein. At this time, the extra yang energy in the environment enables the digestive system to work at its peak to handle slow digesting proteins and larger portions of food. Overeating is not advised or necessary, a small amount of protein will do and a large heavy meal will only lead to that mid-afternoon drop in energy that so many experience.

This period is also the best for collaboration and inspiration. People instinctively schedule lunch meetings to discuss upcoming projects they are excited about wthout realizing this peak yang energy is workng in their favor. Whether you have a meeting at lunch or not, if you have been working all moring be sure to take a little break. The still strong yang will carry you through to resuming work of less intensity for the rest of the day.  By the end of the period the yin is again starting to descend and this is the time to work on tying up loose ends, working through emails and organizing paperwork and filing.

In the period from 3PM to 6PM yang has passsed it’s peaked out and now yin is now beginning to descend. It’s is time now to finish wrapping up the simpler work tasks. In summer we may not feel this change of energy as much, deceived by the artificial day of Daylight Savings Time but in winter the earlier darkness tends to reinforce our harmony with the descending yin. It’s unfortunate so many people find themselves fighting traffic at this time, when they should be winding down and beginning to relax. They are working against the prevailing energy in addition to the frustration and hazard of such traffic. This creates a burden of stress at the worst possible time of day.

By the period from 6PM to 9 PM yin has truly descended. Under a normal time scheme, the sun has set or is setting and the sky is transitioning in twilight. Since yin is associated with creativity this is one of the best times of the day to indulge in hobbies, DIY projects you enjoy or even doing homework for school. This is a time also for relaxation and unwinding from the day. Television can be fine if you are laughing at a comedy or fascinated by a stimulating documentary but TV news is not advised. This will raise stress levels, not something you need at any time, least of all before sleep. This is when you should be releasing the stress and difficulties of the day, not exposing yourself to more.

Lamp lit next to bed with read spreadIn the last hours of the day from 9PM to 12 Midnight the yin enegy will complete it’s descent. This is when we should be at our most relaxed and preparing for restorative sleep.  Those who commonly stay up past 11PM can miss the benefits of merging with this flow into a deep and rewarding experience in the dream state. Those who have undergone training have learned to recall their dreams and use them to enhance waking life, It is known that preventing dream sleep leads to mental breakdown; we all dream. Even if your dream recall is poor, giving yourself time for a proper sleep cycle will ensure you get enough dream sleep to stay healthy. In addition, alloting some time for quiet reflextion before sleep can help dispell any intense energies ligering from the events of the day. A brief meditaion or gratitude execercise will often bring sleep very quickly.

Even a cursory view of how yin and yand ebb and flow in the day shows it takes very little change in most peoples schedule to come into harmony with and take advantage of this energy. We all seek every advantage in trying to run life’sobstacle course so why not use yin and yang to our benefit?





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Caturday Thoughts – Fourth of July Ba Humbug!

Large white fireworks burst in front of small gold burstFourth of July is upon us. The first fireworks went off on the night of the 25th, scaring my little foster cat Charli. Thankfully, I was near her hangout in the kitchen and was able to get right to her and calm her. I wouldn’t mind some sparklers or some with bright colors but there are too many tall trees and those with color are not what’s sold to back yard enthusiasts. All I get is a good simulation of the mortar practice I used to hear when I lived adjacent to Ft Ord in California.

Noise pollution aside I don’t really feel like making a big deal about this particular day. Independence from Britain does not seem like such a big deal any more. Still part of the Commonwealth, Austrailia and Canada seem to be doing just fine, thank you.While we don’t have to spend money supporting a royal family, we’ve probably wasted a lot more on various aspects of our own government. On a trip to Fort Mc Henry with a friend back in the early nineties conversation naturally turmed to the war of 1812 and eventually got around to the burning of Washington D.C. by the British. The friend (who will remain anonymous) snorted, “Some days I fervently wish they’d do it again!” We are still better off than many places in the world but I understand the frustration with not just elected government but the bloated, wasteful and often quite sensless bureacracy.

So much for liberty; there is not much freedom either. Unless you are a member of the Amish community, you are not free to avoid credit, even if you don’t need it. Driving without accidents and violations for decades, suddenly my insurance carrier of twenty years decided five years ago my credit report was needed to renew my insurance. Since I always checked my credit report even when I didn’t use credit I knew when they first made an enquiry. Those who would like to live on a cash basis find that no credit is almost worse than bad credit in renting an apartment, getting car insurance and many other critical things.

As fewer and fewer people can have their own homes, they loose the freedom to have the pets they want, park their business vehicle where they live, or even choose the color of their walls.  Even in neighborhoods where people own their houses HOA’s have rules and regulations about inane things like the color of flowers you can plant and making sure your outdoor light is of one certain type. In some placesi f you don’t conform they can foreclose on your house. Aren’t the banks doing enough of that?

Gold fireworks burstSo we are just going to ignore the whole thing. Hopefully we’ll have a bunch of thunderstorms that sound much nicer and will drown out the fireworks that scare the cats. At least this particular day doesn’t unleash a deluge of advertising, sales, and reckless spending, so I won’t be battling crowds and traffic if I want to run an errand. Maybe someday I’ll again live in a place I could enjoy some well done professional fireworks but in the meantime it’s not that big a deal.

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Yin and Yang for a Balanced Life

The concept of yin and yang appeared in China as early as 1300BC. It was found inscribed on oracle bones used for divination and referred to the movement of the sun and its changing aspect on the land. Literally translated yang was as the sunny side of the mountain, and yin was the shady side of the mountain. From the very beginning yin and yang were about change and relationships.

By the time of the Spring and Autumn period (770-481BC), and the Warring States period (403-221BC) a formal school of scholarly thought existed. The yin yang school focused on the observation of how yin and yang expressed itself in both man and the natural world. The cycles of nature were carefully recorded, and mathematics and astronomy were used to integrate them into calendars developed for agriculture, government and religious activities.

From these original ideas of yin yang came the I Ching or book of changes. While considered a divination system, it is also an attempt to formulate a mathematical model of all the possible varying cycles of nature. It is a binary tool that expresses the movement in in time through phases that people travel in theor lives. Time in this system is not the linear time of the west but cyclic and repetitive.

Vertival stone in sand with tide outon This model is represented by the 64 hexagrams which show various combinations of yin and yang represented by solid ot broken lines. Human beings travel through only 64 various expressions or phases of time in a cyclic pattern. Readings from the I Ching help one understand which phase one is in and their own strengths and weaknesses in the situation, depending on the variations and influences of the yin and yang forces.

Yang is considered the active principle, expressed as extreme heat, expansion, logic, sun, and male energy. Yin is the passive principle, expressed as cold, contraction, intuition, moon, and female energy. The ancient Taoists discovered that all things, both animate and inanimate objects, can be broken down into primarily yin or yang characteristics. However, even though everything can be assigned a basic yin or yang nature, nothng can be totally yin or totally yang. For some quality to have definition implies the existence of a contrasting quality. Much like the philosophical idea that in order to have good you must also have bad, otherwise it is not possible define good. Both good and bad must exist simultaeously. Thus even in the most yin or yang object, situation or relationship, there must be at least some element of it’s compementary opposite.

To work with yin and yang in life thee are four basic principles that need to be undestood and incorporated into any action or plan. First principle is.  that yin and yang oppose each other. The second is that they mutually create and depend on each other. The tird is they change and grow in a cyclic and balanced manner. Finally, yin and yang transform each other. On an intellectual level the idea of constant change is simple enough. In truth the natue of human beings is that they resist and resent change, so the first step is the most difficult. Accept that everything changes, not just with your brain but with your whole being. Then be willing to adjust your lifestyle to sync up with the natural cycles of yin and yang. After time doing this you will begin to have greater insight into the flow of things. This in turn will enable you to be more flexible and adaptible to the changes that come. While we natuallly long for balance and stability if we accept that balance is a temporary state that comes and goes with the flow, like that moment of slack water when the tide is neither flowing in or out. We need to be more like surfers who achieve their peak experience with a flow of subtle movements that harmonize them with the wave, recreating balance moment by moment. To do this in life requires the same practice and calm assessment as it does in surfing but it can make life as filfilling as catching the perfect wave.

Two surfers on a wave




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Caturday Thoughts – St John’s Eve Jun 23rd

Painting The Feast of St Jogn bySt John’s Eve is the vigil of the feast of St. John the Baptist. It coincides very closely with midsummer or the summer solstice. The Nativity of John the Baptist is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian church and is different in two ways from other saint’s days. Ordinarily the day of a saint’s death is celebrated as his or her feast because that day marks their entrance into heaven. St John the Baptist is an exception, due to the fact he was considered cleansed of original sin in the womb of his mother. It was believed he was born six months before the Christ so his day should have been June 25th but that is not the date used.

It’s been said that Church authorities wanted to overlay a holy day onto the pagan celebration at solstice but this is unlikely because of one pesky detail. In the Middle Ages the solstice took place nearer the middle of June due to the inaccuracy of the Julian calendar. It wasn’t until the institution of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 that the solstice returned to June 21 as it had been in the fourth century. A better explanation for the date selection lies in the way the Roman calendar dated things, counting backward from the first day (Kalends) of the following month. Since June has 30 days instead of 31, counting backward eight days from July 1st takes you to July 24th.

If it was the church’s intention to divert attention from the pagan celebrations it does not seem to have succeeded very thoroughly. Fire is the most typical element associated with the Saint John’s Eve celebration. Bonfires are popular and are lit eve today on the eve in many countries, such as Croatia, Denmark, Hungary and Russia. Perhaps this is why it seems to have been be an evening when beings not of saintly quality are very active. Russian custom has it that as the world turns from longer days to longer nights and darkness takes overm evil spirits, witches, goblins and other creatures of the darkness, best warded off  with the bonfires lit at dusk which comes very late in the north at this time of year. These traditions are the basis of the famous story  “St. John’s Eve” by Nikolai Gogol that in turn inspired Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain”, which he originally named St. John’s Night on Bare Mountain. This was  made better known by it’s animation in Walt Disney’s “Fantasia.”. Attentive folk placed needles, thistles or rose thorns on the doorjambs and windowsills to keep the witches out.

Bright yellow Sr John's Wort flowersIn many places St Johns Eve is the time to harvest certain herbs most notably St John’s wort. It gets its name from its traditional flowering on or about St John’s day Hypericum perforatum is native to parts of Europe and Asia but has spread to temperate regions worldwide. The Latin genus name Hypericum comes from the Greek words hyper (above) and eikon (picture), in reference to the tradition of hanging plants over religious icons in the home during St John’s Day, to ward off evil. In medieval times, it was also hung over doors, and windows to keep witches and evil spirits away.

St John’s wort is not the only herb gathered. It varied by area, but include fennel, rue, rosemary, lemon verbena, mallows, laburnum, foxgloves and elder flowers. Herbs are given unusual powers of healing if picked during the night of the feast. In Germany they called these herbs Johanneskraut (St. John’s herbs), and people brought them to church for a special blessing.  Another plant gathered was bracken (Pteris aquilina), sometimes called brake or female fern. The minute spores of this fern were reputed to confer invisibility on their possessor if gathered at the only time when they were said to be visible, i.e., on St. John’s Eve at the precise moment at which the saint was born. Another herb associated with St John’s Eve was yarrow. Since it was used to ward off evil it was burned rather than gathered on that evening.

My back yard is not the place for a bonfire and my cats are indoor dwellers safe from acccusations of being witches familiars, so this is not a big holiday for us. It will be enjoyable to harvest my herbs in the manner of an ancient custom and since St John’s wort is an attractive flower, if I can get some blooming plants I may harvest some and hang it up. I can read Gogol to the strains of Mussorgsky as the dusk turns to darkness. After all I enjoy a good spooky story any time of the year. While burning some fennel to keep us safe from evil I can be glad the evil of mass persecution of cats is in the past and no goblins have been seen in the neighborhood for years.



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