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March 27, 2009

Reflection On The Elements

Recently, I went on an outing with some students from Fukuoka into an area just outside the city known as Itoshima. It is a beautiful area with both coastal areas (beautiful beaches!) and incredible low-lying mountains.

We first went to a small shrine with an artesian spring to harvest some sacred spring water. I was surprised how close the area and the spring was to my home, which is in the center of a city of 1.5 million people. I was also taken aback at how beautiful the area just outside the city is. There are so many places that have this kind of natural power and beauty around many urban centers. All we need is the imagination and initiative to visit them.

The water from the spring is amazing. Not only does it taste incredible, but it has high mineral content and medicinal qualities as well. All that and it was free for the taking! Once you get used to drinking this kind of water, it makes it harder and harder to drink poor quality water that comes from who knows where and is stored in cheap, plastic bottles. The fact that the spring was so easy to get to made the experience all the more amazing.

Also, just spending time out in nature with joyful, truth seeking people was unforgettable. These are the kinds of experiences that create a natural kind of joy and sense of community that can bring deep power to one's life. So much of our suffering in this world comes from not being connected to the natural world and to each other. When we spend time together in these ways, we can give to each other and care for one another that usually are not so easy in the midst of a busy, urban life.

After we went to small local shrine with the spring, we headed up further into the mountains to visit a very famous temple known as Sennyo-Ji Temple http://sennyoji.or.jp/. The drive up to the temple was beautiful. There were terraced rice fields surrounded by old growth forests. I had the sense that I was traveling back in time. There was an energy to the area that was both noble and deeply spirited.

The temple and the grounds encompassing the temple were truly magnificent. Every shrub and plant was manicured to perfection. The traditional temple architecture was some of the most beautiful I have seen in all the temples and shrines I have visited all over the world. A light snow covered the surrounding mountaintops. I really felt like I was walking through a kind of a dream. Additionally, these old temples (the original temple is said to have been opened in the year 178 A.D.) are designed according to principles of sacred geometry and are aligned with the natural lay lines in the earth, which creates amazing energy and power. Needless to say, visiting this temple is like entering into an entirely different kind of world. And, again, so close to a major city!

Between the harvest of the sacred spring water, the company of loving and joyful people and the immense power of the ancient temple, I was filled with deep gratitude and joy.

This particular outing caused me to reflect on the importance of the balance of the elements in each of our lives. Commonly, there are 5 basic elements that are referred to. They are Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Ether.

In many sacred and spiritual traditions these elements are referred to as a reference for balance, healing and wholeness.

It is important to have good, strong contact with all the elements in our lives both literally and symbolically, both internally and externally.

Let us breath the best quality air as much as we can. Few people would dispute the difference that it makes to breath fresh, clean air, especially from powerfully natural places like the mountains and seashores. Air is also symbolic of wisdom and intelligence. Let us continually strive to build greater wisdom and spiritual discrimination in our lives through study and actual experience. Daily habits and practices make a huge difference in this regard.

Let us drink the best quality water available. Those that have followed my writings of late know how I feel about this topic. Highly structured and pure water has the power to change the very essence of how our bodies and minds work. Water is also symbolic of devotion and emotion. Let us surrender to what is true and what is right in our lives. Let us develop emotional lives that are both balanced and pure. Our intimate relationships with our selves and with others are tremendously important in this regard.

Let us keep the fire alive in us in as many ways as possible. Fire in our hearts is symbolic of love and passion. It is important to keep our deepest and most heartfelt passions alive and continually manifesting. It is important to keep the fire of our love alive in our hearts for the people and issues that matter most to us. Fire in the nervous system is all about ensuring maximum flow of prana and vitality. When we practice asana each morning it keeps the prana, or life force flowing in a balanced way through both our upper bodies and lower bodies. Fire in the belly is related both to an active and vital capacity of digesting both food and the truths that can be faced each day, each moment. Fire is the motivating power that keeps us participating in noble, skillful, non-attached action that is so vital to the process of liberation.

Earth is the symbol of that which keeps us grounded. It is the element that ensures that we have a loving and care filled relationship with all aspects of the material and manifest plane. Earth is the part of us that connects the spiritual realms with the material realms. It is the part of us that maintains order and practicality. Some of the most spiritual people on the planet, like the Dalai Lama, are also the most practical people are earth, working tirelessly to relieve the suffering of all. Earth is the element that makes sure that we don’t get lost in our fantasies and take each moment of our lives with perspective and sensitivity.

Ether is the element that represents all that is transcendent and beyond the reach of the physical senses, of even the mind and the emotions. Even though we cannot see, feel, smell or touch ether, we must take care to continually build our awareness of it. We must learn to become intrinsically aware of its presence and learn to be come more and more intimate with this aspect of our selves and of reality. Ether is that which is the fundamental source of everything. It pervades everything and animates everything. If we do not remember to care for that part of life that is ether, we lose all touch with meaning, the ability to dream and to have visions. Ether is the source of our imagination and creativity. It is the source of our deepest intuitions and instincts.

Take time to reflect on the different aspects of the elements in your life. Ask yourself which elements do you naturally take good care of and which elements do you have a tendency to neglect. Balance of care of the different elements in your life is a great lens to view your own capacity for integration and for the cultivation of true health and personal power.

It is great to get out into the natural world to reflect on the elements in your life. Where nature is the most intense and untamed is where the elements tend to maintain a natural order and balance. That is why, for me, to visit the mountains and forests, especially with those that I love is the one of the ultimate forms of education and meditation there is.

Hari OM!




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Action and Karma
Reflection On The Elements
Reading from "Words of My Perfect Teacher", Part 2
Reading from "Words of My Perfect Teacher", Part 1
The Power and Beauty of an Awareness of Impermanence
Steve Jobs Commencement Address at Standford in 2005
Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" Speech
After The Steam Baths
A Walk Down To The Steam Baths
Natural Volcanic Steam Bath, Big Island, Hawaii


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