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The Elements as an Archetype of Transformation:
An Exploration of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire

| Table of Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Appendix A | Appendix B | Appendix C | References | Bibliography

Chapter 4 - The Theory of the Elements, cont.

The Elements in Relation


As mentioned previously, the Water realm is centered around process.  Therefore all our activities, which are the expressions of relations between some aspect of our consciousness and our environment, are indicative of the Water element.  This is the most obvious and ubiquitous manifestation of Water – it is present whenever our consciousness takes into account some Earth aspect and responds to or acts upon it in some way.  We are involved in the Water element when we ask ourselves “how?” questions – “How did _____ get to be like _____ ?”, “How will _____ change if _____ happens?”, “How are ______ and ______ connected?”, “How do I ______?”  Every ‘how’ question implicitly necessitates the activity of the Water element, both overtly in the asking of the question and in the form that every possible answer must take.

Becoming conscious of the nature of the Water element allows us the recognition that the Earth element can only exist because it is embedded in the Water.  Indeed, we immediately notice that we are involved in the Water element when we are judging, conceiving, forming, isolating, and otherwise exhibiting any of the aspects previously found in Earth.  More properly, however, we can see that it is possible to ‘be-in-Water’ quite directly.  In this case, every Earth-fact, every ‘that’ which rises up in consciousness is immediately taken out of isolation and joined to a surrounding context.  The task of consciousness then is to find the connections and relations between the fact and all the other facts which most supports both the facts own implicit nature and that of all the other facts.  In other words, being in Water is like being a solver of puzzles, where no fact is taken for granted: is this little green section part of a tree leaf, part of a painting of pasture, or part of an elf’s hat?   Whereas the meaning for a consciousness in Earth is patently obvious, to Water consciousness it is constantly shifting and morphing depending upon its surroundings, its associations and relations.  Indeed, the unconscious has traditionally been associated with water because of its ability to connect, associate, and otherwise meld together aspects normally seen as separate 19.

We are immersed in the Water element when we explicitly engage in connecting, relating, comparing, withholding specific judgment, keeping open channels for new experience and information, remembering, situating, imagining, wondering, processing, orienting, sequencing, and balancing.  Being-in-Water sensitizes us to the process-nature of every experience – everything is always ongoing, involved in continual reformulation, evolution, progression, regression, growth, decay, some other type of transformation.  Consciousness of Water helps us recognize that whatever something looks like now cannot hold true for the indefinite past or future: “This too, shall pass.”

The Water element allows consciousness to take one step away from the solidity of the Earth, letting a creativity of association develop.  Fantasy is one expression of the Watery consciousness at work, and we can see how the rhythmic nature of Water, in combination with fantasy, can set up a powerful force for maintaining addictions, which are like processes that get stuck in a seemingly endless cycle where there is constant change but no evolution.  Whereas the Earth element naturally manifests in isolated experiences, the Water element encourages repetition, revisiting, mulling, developing, and dwelling.  This results in the potential for patterns to emerge as many experiences are strung together into a sequence.  Although change is the most direct aspect of how Water manifests, the type of change that is promoted, recognized, or manifested is often minor, or is made up of ‘single steps’ rather than great leaps and bounds.  In this sense, the Water element becomes our own tendency for self-situation within in our immediate environment.  Because of this, the Water element is the major element in which most ‘everyday’ communication takes place, where we are more or less riding along the slowly undulating waves of our everyday activities in the presence of various currents not in our control.  Water helps us to meld gently with our environment, to smooth any rough edges and mitigate the tendency for over-specificity, radicality, or any impulse that swings us far out of balance.  This is one reason why Water is associated with the social realm.

At the same time, Water can lead to the tendency for relativism and the feeling that in such a complicated and subtle world, we can only find local meanings, ‘meanings-for-me’, which maintain a certain relative, inner coherence, but which cannot be held up objectivity or universality.  A Water consciousness has real difficulty assessing things from ‘outside the box’, and would rather perpetuate endless variations on a single theme, which seems much safer.  Change, for a Water consciousness, must proceed methodically from point to point, from A to B to C and so forth, with no skipping, additions, or other funny business, which cause derailment and necessitate a cleanup job to get back on track.  This tendency causes change to occur slowly – but inevitably – when Water consciousness rules.


19: Back In fact, Freud’s whole psychology is built out of the recognition of the Water nature of the unconscious and its ability to be self-connected – manifested in his reliance upon the Water technique of association.  The particular ways in which consciousness expresses these self-relations can result in neurotic behaviors and other psychic problems which consist in their inappropriate persistence or initial formulation.  See also number 8 in the Broad List of Applications section of Chapter 5.

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