Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Contemplating earth

Yellow Triangle - c. 2006
 I awoke this morning musing on the elemental qualities of earth. To skillfully work with this world a clear understanding of the elements and how they work helps. 
So it is not surprising that so many contemplatives have spent time observing and reflecting on the qualities of earth, water, fire, wind and space.  Indeed cultures as diverse as Chinese, Celtic, Native American and more have some system of understanding life based on these elements. 
In a world where we are less in touch with our place in nature and move at a fast pace with no time to ponder these things, it is possible to lose touch with this wisdom.

I have been studying the Tibetan Buddhist system of the Five Elements.  In that system, the elements are a mandala working on three levels of existence, the coarse or physical level; the subtle or emotional/mental/non-physical level; and the secret or awakened wisdom level.

Earth is the most solid of these forces.  Indeed it is what provides ground, solidity and structure to everything. We speak of "feeling grounded", of someone as being "down to earth" or having an earthy nature when they manifest some solidity and a sense of genuine presence.  

Life & Death - c. 2012
 There is also a quality of abundance and generosity in the bounty of earth.  Everything comes from the earth, and returns to it as in "dust to dust." Chogyam Trungpa in his book, True Perception, describes earth as like a rotten log, falling apart that has become a haven for creatures and from it sprouts new trees and mushrooms. A sense of richness and fecundity are evoked in this image of the cycle of life & death.

In our bodies, the earth quality is our bones and muscles, socially it is organizational structures.  Without these structures we could not be functional either personally or as a society. Indeed it is the structures that define the functionality of the form.  Unchanneled wind/action or water/emotion or fire/passion can be ineffective, or worse, destructive without the support and structure of earth.  Resting on earth and trusting its stability allows us to build and create what is needed from the bounty it provides. When earth is out of balance, greed or rigidity can manifest.

Ultimately the awakened quality of earth is a sense of equanimity, that everything can be borne, as the earth supports everything on its surface without discrimination.

A Delicate Balance - c. 2012

These qualities are what emerge in the images I have prepared for the upcoming exhibit, Earth, Water, Fire at Aryaloka Buddhist Center, Oct. 5-Nov. 14. 

How do you see the element of earth manifesting in the world around you?  I'd love to read your comments.

My next post will be on the element of Water.

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