Alchemical Cycle Logo Master's Thesis:
The Elements as an Archetype of Transformation:
An Exploration of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire

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Chapter 6 – Into the World: Dialogue and the Elemental Cycle

Basic Theory of Elemental Dialogue

Water Communication: Discussion

Communication that leaves the Earth mode and enters into the Watery realm can be called discussion.  Dis Pater, literally ‘rich father’, was one of the Roman names for Pluto (meaning wealthy), the god known in Greece as the ruler of the underworld: Hades.  ‘Dis’ even became another way to refer to the underworld itself.  The Latin ‘Dis’ is a root which also means ‘asunder’ or ‘apart’, while ‘cutere’ means ‘to shake or strike’.  Together we see the connotations of the word discussion, which can be experienced as a breaking apart and sending to Hell.  In an ideal Earth communication information is simply presented – it doesn’t matter by whom – and is available as a fact quite independently of either the speaker or listener: “This watch says 4:30pm.”  Water communication, on the other hand, only occurs on the basis of a continual exchange between partners.  As a proto-Indo-European root, ‘dis’ has the meaning ‘twice’, and it is precisely in pairs that discussions take place; even if there are many participants, Water communication is found to work on the basis of the context provided by another person’s words.  Discussion thus takes the form of a back and forth debate where the goal is to take apart the other person’s meaning and expose the implicit connections (or lack of connections) flowing within and between the overt facts of the other’s communication.

At this level, the meaning of the communication is carried not by the overt facts or details, but in the process through which the details either do or do not link together and through their style and method of presentation.  It is the way in which the facts work together to create a stream of meaning that forms the basis of Water communication.  It is, in this way, a higher level of communicating than can occur in a purely Earth situation, but as such it creates both new problems and new capacities.

With its focus on the way facts are linked, the processes of logic become much more present in any exchange that moves into the Water realm.  When two people are able to be ‘on the same wavelength’ with respect to the underlying assumptions and implicit logical connections at work in a train of thought, an amazing sense of flow and compatibility can arise.  This acts as something of a lubricant for moments when each individual’s stream of thinking diverges from the other’s, providing the basis for a willingness to come back into relation with the other.  This occurs when the moment of disjoint is recognized and each person traces their thread back to a common ground before proceeding further.

This process of moving forward, then backward, then forwards again can become a rhythmic pattern of re-hashing data, which can often create a sense as if the conversation is foundering in murky waters.  As a tendency, the re-hashing manifestation of Water communication is exacerbated when new information is brought into the flow, which must be thoroughly processed and worked over from seemingly endless perspectives in order to be integrated.  Any time a new person enters the discussion re-hashing arises as a natural response to the completely new background and set of assumptions brought by that person, adding another stream to an already potentially turbulent flow.  What is unfortunate is that real integration cannot take place solely through the Water element, which is limited by its inability to see beyond the immediate context and connections at work between the given facts.  This is to say that Water communication still looks primarily ‘downward’ and is easily brought under the influence of the gravity of the Earth aspects of communication.

As ‘hearers’ in a Water mode of communication we constantly relate what is said to our own personal patterns of meaning.  These links are both of the logical variety as well being purely emotional in nature, causing the communication to enter the personal realm, as we have invested something of ourselves in the facts by linking them in a certain way that fits with our own inner life but not necessarily with anyone else’s.  This is what creates the basis for the sense of ‘discussion’ as explored above, where the flow of meaning is more or less completely individualized.  When these individual flows oppose one another, they can create great chaos as they interact, throwing off vortices and semi-stable eddies of meaning around which attention gravitates as the two energies spiral together.  In such situations, the potential for a higher, complementary flow of meaning between participants is sacrificed due to the inability of the participants to swim along with the other’s experience; this causes the exchange to default to Water’s basest manifestation, in which personal elements precipitate out of the interaction to become stones which get in the way of a smoother interaction.

Much of the stones created in this way are formed unconsciously, and find expression as our habitual thought patterns, our unquestioned assumptions, our emotional attachments, our assumed meanings behind particular words, and through the inherent bias we carry for whatever process we went through to link two things together.  When a speaker is unaware of such personal aspects creeping into their communication, they risk alienating, offending, or simply losing their audience.  These subtle inclusions of meaning commonly act as triggers for defensive or reactive behavior, initiating discussion in the negative sense, which is really just the staging ground for the bringing to consciousness of just these hidden aspects.  If a speaker is conscious of these aspects when communicating, then it becomes much easier to avoid the potential pitfalls noted above, both because the assumptions can be made public to begin with, and because any unwanted ripples can be addressed directly and without the feeling for needing a defense on the part of the speaker.  Needless to say this task is quite a difficult one to accomplish, but can become something of skill with practice.

Depending upon the context, the potential ‘moods’ of Water communication can be well-described by the way water as a substance moves: like a pristine mountain spring, like a meandering river, like a stagnant bog, like a vast ocean, like a waterfall, and so on.  Each of these physical manifestations of water accurately describes the way in which an interaction might feel to a participant.  Paying attention to the mood that accompanies the flow of an exchange can be an invaluable technique for regulating the desired outcome of any situation.  Is the situation best served by a tightly-sequenced presentation that sticks closely to the facts, by a wide, ruminatory meandering through fields of data, by a flash-flood of content that sweeps away everything before it, or by slow eddy-circulation around a single point? 

Because the bulk of day-to-day communication happens as an oscillation between the Earth and Water modes, with only occasional moments that rise up into the Air – let alone Fire – levels, awareness of these potential Earth and Water aspects can greatly enhance one’s ability to sail through the waters of communication without hitting too many obstacles.

For healthy Water communication, the task of the speaker is to bring to the surface any assumptions, implicit associations, and logical gaps present in their own speech, making sure that each fact is properly connected to the previous and the next.  The task of the hearer in Water communication is to become sensitized to the way meaning flows through the speaker’s speech while ‘testing’ that flow against the hearer’s own flow of meaning, so as to gain better insight into the hidden elements of both the speaker’s and hearer’s perspective.   The hearer’s internal state is like a thermometer that gauges the coherence, logic, and validity of the speaker’s meaning, allowing the hearer to ask pointed questions that target the potential weak areas in the other’s speech in the spirit of providing a whetstone against which the speaker can hone and refine his or her meaning.

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