5 Transformations or 5 Elements
Lost in translation – the 5 Elements, or is it the 5 Transformations?
Chinese Medical Theory incorporates 5 principles of change, of transformation that are recognized as 5 different aspects of the natural world:
These 5 are often translated into English as “5 Elements.”
However, many authors go to great pains to explain that a better translation would be “5 Transformations.” I have been wondering about this debate for years. What significance could it possibly have for an average human like myself, sifting through a myriad of opinions about how to be healthy and happy?
My western mind likes to hammer out the details, pin everything down, and declare it “known.” I first encountered the Chinese 5 Elements as the static diagram below:
I thought of each item as an element, a thing, an object. I memorized this chart, and I could reproduce it any time, any place. However, I still didn’t “get it.”
Recently, I tried out the notion of “5 Transformations”. Now, I have been able to go a little deeper. “Everything changes” is a popular saying all over the world. Yet, how do we know the process of how things will change, or transform?
I looked at my “5 Elements” chart again, and wondered what it would be like if it kept moving and changing. I lightened up my stubborn left brain, and let the 5 keep transforming. And I came up with the following diagram:
I’m using the term 5 Transformations now to remind myself of that reality.
My mind was stuck on elements as stagnant “things.”
Thinking in terms of transformations, I can see more easily how one thing transforms into another. Just like the environment around me changes every few months, as the earth moves around the sun, the seasons transform one into the next. I know what Summer is, and I also know that things will keep changing into Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, etc.
Everything changes, everything transforms.
Classical Chinese Medicine
Classical Chinese Medicine has always considered the human to be a reflection of Nature. This notion is one of the things that draws me so deeply to this form of medicine. We are more than just a “part” of Nature, we are Nature itself. Within us are the 5 transformations, Yin and Yang, Night and Day, sunshine, humidity, rain, hurricanes, and gentle breezes.
With Nature and the 5 Transformations as guides, we can know ourselves more deeply. With self-knowledge and a connection to the wisdom of our inner Nature, we can find our way to a long and happy life.