Anyone having a basic knowledge of the history of philosophical thought will be familiar with the ‘quaint notion’ that the world is made of a mixture of four ‘elements’ – Earth, Air, Fire and Water; with possibly a fifth, the Quintessence.
Given to us by the Greeks, from probably older sources, this idea was seen to be displaced by the advance of science into the composition of matter – specifically the discover of atoms.
From an objective perspective, this is correct; but the ancient minds, lacking our science, built a system to explain the world that relied upon the ‘laboratory of the subjective’ – more specifically the retort of the ‘self’. Sympathetic insight and logic were two of the tools employed.
Modern psychology has given us accurate behavioural maps of the psychological self. Where, then, is the fit between the ‘elements’ and the parts of the ‘me’?
The artful science of Yoga may provide some clues…because, surprisingly, Yoga makes use of the ‘elements’, too.
Yoga means simply union. Yoga’s origins can be traced to northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in ancient sacred texts called the Rig Veda. In the yogic view of reality, the elements are types of energy that blend, in a divine union of the physical and emotional natures of us all. Surprisingly, yoga devotes little time to what we view as the psychological self, viewing it (to paraphrase in my own terms) as like being in a market full of the freshest fruit and vegetables, yet hearing only the competing voices of the owners of the stalls, as they vie for our attention.
The desired state of attention is one where we are only present to the beauty of the produce, in all its natural splendour; yet capable of switching ‘back on’ a stall-holder or two, in the event we find a new vegetable we don’t know how to prepare, or whose cost we have to ascertain.
I’ve referred to this mixture of intention and attention in previous posts.
So how does this level of intention relate to the four elements that make up our ‘energetic being’?
Yoga views everything real within the human vehicle as a body. These ‘bodies’ are like sheaths of increasingly fine experience. The idea of this is mirrored in the ‘temples of the mysteries’ of the Western Mystery Tradition (WMT), which assigns one of four (compass) quarters to the traditional four elements.
Uniting the two reveals some of the keys to this schema of the human. The East, the place of the officiating priest, is allocated to Air (intellect). The West, the place of the priestess, is allocated to Water (Emotions); the North (Physicality) to Earth; and the South to Fire (the Transformative force, the summer sun at noon).
An intrinsic part of yoga’s teaching is that the four energy types that comprise our real self are responsive to our intention. They are there to respond to our will, and can, with a little consistency on our part, transform our lives.
The basic Hatha Yoga teaching that promotes this is called ‘Bhuta Shuddhi’ – the cleansing of the five elements. It is traditionally taught in small classes, but we can glean some if it’s benefits by combining our knowledge of Yoga with the WMT, making a ‘temple’ of the space around us.
The fifth element is Akasha, translated as space. This needs to be explained, separately, and represents a higher perspective on the whole.
In next week’s post, we will describe one method to create this ‘space of the personal temple’, and describe how you can, using your own words and symbols, make interaction with your four energy bodies a more conscious part of your life.
[Recent posts related to intention and attention:
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.