Everything is Made of the 5 Great Elements

Image by Kathleen MacGregor (Unsplash) 

My teacher tells me, “everything is made of the 5 great elements.” Earth, water, fire, air and ether. This makes sense to me intellectually, but not in an embodied way. How are my thoughts the elements? How are my emotions the elements? What about that recent interaction or that thing I love? What about that thing I hate?

I generally feel like a separate being. I don’t mistake myself for the pillow behind my back or the person I had a conversation with. Part of the View my teacher shares with me tells me I am not separate. I am the same as the pillow behind my back and that person I talked with. I trust my teacher and therefore trust this wisdom, but this is not something I truly understand. I believe the rishis and sages who came before me and the lineage that says I am non separate. I have faith in it, yet I can’t feel it. 

I was recently doing a meditation with my teacher and she guided me to think of someone I loved. I thought of her. She offered the inquiry that this person is made of the 5 elements. My teacher tells me she is with me all the time. This is, yet again, something I believe because I believe my teacher, but not something I grok. We are far away from each other. She is in Michigan while I am in Seattle. We can talk on the phone or interact on zoom, but even that feels separate. Even when I am lucky enough to be in her presence I do not see myself as her. After the meditation it struck me. If I am earth and she is earth she is with me always as earth. If I am water and she is water she is always with me as water. For a moment I felt her with me and understood she is always with me. Every time I feel something, if I can identify it as the elements, then I can know that I am her and she is me. It was a small window into the non-separation this path teaches.

In that same meditation she then invited me to think of someone challenging. As I brought this person to mind I could feel the contraction (earth), recoiling (fire and water) and tightness (earth) in my throat. When my teacher said this person is also made of the 5 elements the disdain I was experiencing softened. All of a sudden it wasn’t so personal. This person is the 5 elements and so am I. We are the same. It softened the contraction when I let go of the stories of this person doing this or that “wrong” and acknowledged the truth of this person and of myself. We are exactly the same. The elements that create him are the same that create me. Yes they are configured in different ways, but the elements that structure us are no different. I can get lost in the way things are structured that create different features, behaviors, thoughts and beliefs. When I get caught in this it increases my sense of separation. When I feel separate I suffer through judgement, comparison, confusion, longing or despair. When I drill down into the elements things are not personal and I get a glimpse of the web that connects every single thing in the universe.

Since that meditation I have also been applying this to myself. When a thought arises instead of getting lost in it I sometimes observe it as air rising up in my chest or the fact that whatever arises comes and goes back into the ether. Sometimes my thoughts feel heavy like earth or hot like fire. Other times my emotions feel like a tsunami of water or a light breeze. As I begin the lifelong process of integrating my beloved teacher’s words, “everything is made of the 5 great elements,” this opens a doorway to freedom, spaciousness and deep connection. 

Elements Practice

When you have a feeling what is the quality of the feeling? Is it hot or cold (fire)? Is it heavy or light (earth)? How is it flowing? Like a waterfall or a gentle stream (water)? Does it feel subtle like a breeze or gust moving through you (air)? Can you feel the space that holds all of this, the space where the feeling arises from and returns to (ether)? What happens when you observe your feelings through the lens of the elements?