The Mental aspects of the Elements

I previously described the gross and energetic features of the elements in previous posts. They are essentially linked with the material body components and information flowing through our nervous system and blood circulation. The third component is related to the psyche, including the mental, feelings, emotional and intuitive aspects.

The Chakra systems

In the Eastern traditions, the psychological and physical are not separated or at at least viewed as reflection of each other. The traditional map of the psycho-physiological network as presented in these tradition is illustrated by the Chakra system consisting in a large number of information exchange nodes and redistribution network pathways. Our body is thus viewed as a network of cells exchanging information back and forth in a sort of flow.

This network has principal and secondary pathways and nodes similar to highways and megacites, secondary road and cities, forest paths and villages. These megacities are the 3-5-7 Chakras and the highways are the three Nadis called Ida, Pingala and Sushumna in the Indian system. The most common Indian Chakra system has seven nodes illustrated below, but other systems also exists in other traditions.

Recent Western clinical and medical science are re-discovering this relational aspects between the psyche and physical components. It has been proposed that the nervous and endocrine systems can be approximately mapped onto the Chakras as illustrated above.

Prana and vayus/winds

Each node or Chakra has specific psychological function which are themselves linked to the elements(*). The vehicle transporting the information across this network is called Prana or vital wind. This vital energetic and informational vehicle is described as the five Vayus/winds when considering its human embodiment as illustrated below.

The five Vayus are thus the manifestation of Prana in our body and enables the circulation and transformation of the elements for the efficient functioning of our body.

Mind and its objects

We constantly perceive things by two ways: either from memories or from direct sense perception. For example, we can recall a flower, its shape and smell, where it was seen, with whom and the emotions that were arising. This is recalling mind objects from memories. Imagined mind object are of the same kind. The second case is when we perceive a chair, a friend, a mountain and we have different feelings and emotions coming. Mind holds millions of objects in its storehouse that we constantly recollect.

Sometime they appear suddenly without an apparent cause, a sense of ‘déjà vu’. In reality, we could not perceive objects without a tiniest memory of them. When we perceive a sound for example, we are recollecting memory traces of it. When we are looking at a picture with random dots, our mind seeks its storehouse for memories of any shapes that can correspond to the observed pattern. This is how we can ‘see’ elephants, faces, beasts in the clouds. When the mind give up, it still perceive basic shapes, colors, textures and feelings that are associated with them.

Therefore, all objects that we perceive like feelings, emotions, colors, sounds and else are memory traces. The re-cognition of these object is performed by our consciousness which is the function of the mind. Consciousness label and classify objects that she perceives. But are these objects ‘real’? Like a dream, they appear to our sense consciousness either by recall or direct contact with our five senses and disappear when our attention shift to other objects: they are constructs resulting from the interaction between our consciousness and memories, and are sustained by repeated contact with them. Like for example, if we visit a friend regularly, we will associate its persona very quickly when seeing other people. We might even see her or him as a mirage at a corner of a street, in a shop or in the train. Consciousness and mind are not separated but are two different qualities of our awareness. Awareness is constantly present, at disposal to the mind and consciousness to play their game.

Objects of mind and their embodiment

When a mind object is recollected, it can be associated with some feelings, emotions and so on. These objects generates bodily responses such as when such an object reveals to us a threatening feature: increased breathing and heart rate, heightened blood pressure, weakness on our legs when we recollect a dramatic event. Our body responds to these memories and their dynamic patterns. These memories modify our physiology down to the cellular level where they store these patterns in the form of specific tissue and cell arrangements. One may also suspect that they also go down to the genes, molecules, atoms and down to the spacetime fabric from which we are all finally made of.

Each cell is in contact with its close neighbors and far beyond, thus forming a web of dynamic interconnection. I use the word dynamic because the links of the web are constantly adapting to the situation at stake, rearranging themselves to new patterns. This is how our neuronal networks is very plastic, malleable at will. I use here the word will on purpose to hint to the incredible power of our will.

Indian and Tibetan traditional medicine understood the existence of these mind-body correspondences long ago and have associated certain organs to mind patterns. These organs are themselves connected to the information pathways of our neural and circulatory networks that they call Prana, Lung, Qi or Pneuma depending if you are Indian, Tibetan, Chinese or Greek.

Elemental minds

The inseparability between the mind and physical-energetical-informational components of our being as exposed in the Indian culture as well as in the Tibetan and ancient Chinese ones bears the fundamental assumption of a phenomenological and numinous unity between these three. In all Oriental and ancient Western philosophies, the concept of elemental principles underlying all phenomena, from animate to inanimate, from physical to mental, appears to be a common ground for apprehending Nature.

The element theories happened in East and West at separate while overlapping epochs manifesting the permanent exchange between these countries. Despite the different interpretations of these elements corresponding to the respective sociology-cultural aspects, it is striking to witness that five principles emerged as this fundamental Unitarian interpretation of Nature. This somehow reveals a common trait of the human mind to interpret Nature and pointing possibly, therefore, to a common underlying ‘reality’ independent of race, culture and location. Whether this fundamental unity persist across the universe is a metaphysical question that we should address in another post.

As described above, the Chakras, Nadis and Prana are the three pillars behind this unified view of Nature. These three are the manifestation of the qualities and principles of the five elements in our human condition.

The five elements are put into action through our intention (Prana(**)) which further develops into thoughts (information) propagating in the energetic pathways (Nadis) to manifest in the web of Chakras via the Vayus and finally the cells, tissues and organs as illustrated above.

There is continuity and inseparability between the elements, the subtlest Prana, the Prana Vayus, Chakras and Nadis. The elements are the essential qualities of Nature, both material and immaterial which simply manifest in the world that we perceive through our six senses (the five sense perception and our conscious recollecting mind). The five elements are inseparable from our mind and all its objects such as thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Interconnected with each other, the elements form a gigantic web of beables(+): that is to say units of processes that can take decisions for the benefit of themselves and the whole.

Our journey into the heart essence of the elements is continuing into the next post where we will explore the very roots of these five principles. This journey is not only a philosophical one, but a true inner journey to discover who we truly are on this planet as well as in the universe, the purpose and meaning of our life, how to heal ourselves and be content. The elements are the doors to our most profound being, they compose us as much as we compose them, constantly and continuously.

Notes

(*) The correspondence between the Chakras and the elements is different from the pure medical systems. The likely reason is that the Chakras are primarily used in meditation and contemplation techniques, while the traditional Indian medicinal aspect is more related to the energetic and physical ones.

(**) Prana as the vital force is viewed here as the subtle manifestation of our consciousness, while in the previous post on the energetic aspect of the elements, Prana was more related to the physiological phenomena.

(+) The word is borrowed from J.S. Bell, physicist who for the first time putted forward a testable theorem for the non-locality of Nature at its quantum level. However, the meaning of be-able in this post goes beyond Bell’s meaning (read the reference below if interested).

Further readings

  • Loizzo, J. J. (2016). The subtle body: an interoceptive map of central nervous system function and meditative mind–brain–body integration. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 78–95.
  • Liao, S. J. (1992). The origin of the five elements in the traditional theorem of acupuncture: A preliminary brief historic enquiry. Acupuncture and Electro-Therapeutics Research, 17(1), 7–14.
  • Chung, S., Cha, S., Lee, S.-Y., Park, J.-H., & Lee, S. (2017). The five elements of the cell. Integrative Medicine Research, 6(4), 452.
  • Lin, H., & Han, J. (2020). Analysis of Dynamic Five-Element Model. Chinese Control Conference, CCC, 2020-July, 777–781.
  • Chung, S. J., & Chung, S. J. (2016). The Science of the Five Elements in the Evolution of Humanity: Primo Vascular System (Bonghan Circulatory System). Open Journal of Philosophy, 6(1), 68–85.
  • Sarris, J., de Manincor, M., Hargraves, F., & Tsonis, J. (2019). Harnessing the four elements for mental health. In Frontiers in Psychiatry (Vol. 10, Issue APR, p. 256). Frontiers Media SA.
  • Samuel, G. (2019). Unbalanced Flows in the Subtle Body: Tibetan Understandings of Psychiatric Illness and How to Deal With It. Journal of Religion and Health, 58(3), 770–794.
  • Zhang, H. I. (2020). A possible representation of Yin Yang five elements (Yin Yang Wu Xing): Hypothesis of Dual Five-Body-Coordination. Integrative Medicine Research, 9(4), 100462.
  • Tognoli, E., Zhang, M., Fuchs, A., Beetle, C., & Kelso, J. A. S. (2020). Coordination Dynamics: A Foundation for Understanding Social Behavior. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 14, 14.
  • Celka, P. (2023). Wisdom of the Heart and Breath. SATHeart internal report.
  • Celka, P. (2023). Immortal Memories. SATHeart internal report.
  • J.S. Bell. (1975). The theory of local beables. Presented at the sixth GIFT Seminar.

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