The Four Elements

All of life and all of nature is comprised of some unique combination of fire, earth, water and air. A tiny seed germinates and bursts forth, pushed by the fire within it. It grows from the rich earth, nourished by water and sunlight and the air around it, and becomes part of the rich kaleidoscope of earth’s flora. Depending on what type of seed it is, the plant may carry more or less water and air.

The four elements are thus interwoven, forming and feeding the cycle of life. When we work intentionally with the four elements, we step into an ancient awareness of our world and access new language and tools for healing.

As explained by a vibrant Brazilian spiritual tradition rooted in indigenous Guaraní and West African belief systems:

  • Fire corresponds to the passion, creativity, and movement that propels us through life and helps us bring our unique dreams and gifts to the world.
  • Earth is the domain of physical form, where everything manifests according to the laws of physics and the continual cycles of life and death.
  • Water represents our emotions – free flowing like the river or vast as the ocean – that lead to our relationships meandering or flourishing.
  • Air is our consciousness, the space of ideas and understanding, where we can ultimately find illumination.

The cycle of life begins in fire with the spark, and runs its course through the energies of earth, water, and air, moving to the next level as we expand our consciousness. For example an idea occurs to us (the spark) which we feed with continued reflection and planning (fire) and then bring it into being (earth), work through the emotions that arise as part of its manifestation (water) and finally gain new insights and understanding (air). Then the cycle starts anew, from a higher place of awareness.

As we move through this cycle many of us find ourselves getting stuck in one or more aspects of fire, earth, water or air – creating blockages that can manifest in our relationships, health, work or other domains of life.

Healing comes when we are in balance with the four elements and the flow of life. When we let the fire of creativity flow effortlessly through us, happily do the mundane daily work of the physical world, allow our emotions to find natural expression, and seek to continually expand our understanding or consciousness, life manifests positively around us.

We work with four energies in each of fire, earth, water and air, to bring awareness to the areas where we’re stuck, and shift or release old patterns. Each of the sixteen total energies of the life cycle play an important role in our reflection and healing.

Four Elements Workshops

To experience the healing power of the four elements firsthand, join us for four elements workshops this fall. You can attend any or all of the events that call to you:

Healing through Nature

Most of us have experienced a feeling of relaxation or revitalization after spending time in nature. But how can nature help us heal? What are we referring to when we talk about healing through nature?

We can feel nature’s healing effects from subtle to profound ways, on a physical level or on an emotional or even spiritual level. Here are three ways nature can help us heal:

1. Healing the Body

We know that herbal remedies and plant-based diets can accelerate healing and keep our bodies strong. Most pharmaceuticals are based on healing compounds originally found in plants. Nature clearly provides us with a wide array of medicines to heal our bodies, but simply immersing ourselves in nature can also be healing.

Scientists have found that evergreen trees secrete natural chemicals known collectively as phytoncide, which help boost our immune system. The air in forests and near rivers has a high concentration of negative ions that increase serotonin levels and reduce depression, fatigue and stress. Multiple studies have shown that levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline decrease when people spend time in nature, and blood pressure drops too. Learn more.

Forest bathing or forest therapy is a wonderful way to experience the forest with all five senses, and reap the health benefits that the forest has to offer. At Ewassa we also host Art in the Forest sessions, which offer the same benefits as forest therapy but are fun for all ages to participate in. Explore upcoming forest therapy events at Ewassa here.  

Laying on the ground, leaning against a tree, or taking off your shoes when out walking in nature can accelerate the process of balancing through grounding. I recommend spending at least 10 minutes every morning and afternoon/evening outside, with your body directly touching the earth in some way. Just this simple practice can significantly increase your overall feeling of well-being.

2. Providing Life Perspective

As we slow down to watch a bird soar gracefully and weightlessly across the sky, listen to squirrels chatter in the trees, or observe the ants busily working together, we glimpse the continuous flow of life that extends beyond our selves.

The trees, the flowers, the birds, the insects and the animals share the same vitality and life force that flows through us. We’re all bound by the same cycles of birth, fragile infancy, growth, strength, survival, procreation, maturation, decline, and eventually death. We all prepare the world in some way for the life that will follow us. Realizing this can create a deep sense of connection to the rest of the world that is both anchoring and uplifting.

Spending time in nature can help us release the rigidity of “should’s” and “must’s” and fixed notions of how things should be, to soften to embrace a world of beautiful imperfection. Relaxing our perspective on life can help reduce stress and perceive new paths or options.

One of my favorite lines from a movie comes from The Power of One, when Morgan Freeman’s character says “The answer to every question you have can be found in nature.” This struck a deep chord when I heard it many years ago, and over time I’ve found it to be true. When I spend time in nature meditating on a question about my life, I almost always find some sort of clarity or an insightful shift in perspective. I simply need to open my eyes and mind so that I can perceive the metaphors in the cycles of nature, and there I find my answer.

3. Emotional and Psychological Healing

Nature can also offer opportunities for emotional or psychological healing. The reminder of our own eventual death as a tiny piece of the majestic and continuous ebb and flow of life can help us push past our pain or trauma and strive to make the most of the short time we have here.

As we delve deeper into the cycles of nature, the four elements and how they are mirrored in our own lives and psychological landscape, we find powerful tools for positive transformation. For example if your inner fire and creativity is weak, we can perform a fire ritual to re-ignite the spark of inspiration that propels and keeps you moving forward. If you’re having issues with finances or finding work we can examine your situation and work with the energies of the element earth to regain balance. If the waters of your emotions are stagnant or stuck, we can create a ceremony or ritual using pure river water or sea water to help release them.

When we engage elements of nature as part of a ritual of release or rebalancing, it amplifies our intentions and brings potent results.

If you’re interested in learning more about how we work with the four elements or incorporate nature into healing rituals, please explore our services, nature energies and upcoming events.

Nature healing offers something for everyone, wherever you are at in your life. You can seek out nature for relaxation and rebalancing, to help gain insight and perspective on your life, or to create powerful rituals that work on a deeper emotional or psychological level.

If you’d like to experience the healing power of nature, please visit our events page and sign up for any event that calls to you.

Restoring the Soul

Restoring the soul through immersion in nature is an ancient concept. We are reminded of this in Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd

I shall not want

He makes me to lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside the still waters

He restores my soul…

We’ve lived in harmony with nature for the vast majority of time that we as humanity have been present on the earth. We revered the Sun, celebrating its appearance each morning and singing it to sleep in the evening as its light disappeared in a brilliant display of color.

We contemplated the beauty of the heavens, studied and named the stars and their patterns. As women we menstruated with the Moon, who marked our cycles and the passing of time.

We bathed in rivers, made pilgrimages to waterfalls, rejoiced at the shores of the ocean, and held in awe the humbling power of the volcanoes.

35822222_ml

We felt the natural world every day. We were immersed in it, exchanging air with the trees, attuned to the weather changes and the natural ebb and flow of life.

We are of nature. We are an integral part of the natural world, and it lives and breathes and flows through us.

When we live our lives separate from nature, when we no longer see the stars, take walks in the forest or follow the moon cycles, we often feel a sense of disconnection or imbalance.

I suspect that many of our present challenges can be traced to our disharmony with nature. When we are no longer conscious of the timeless flow of the natural world that lives within us, we lose access to a part of our own true nature and disconnect from key parts of our selves.

IMG_3251

I hold a vision of a space and path where we can each, in our own way, reconnect with nature and rediscover those parts of our soul that we have forgotten. As we return to nature we bring awareness to the storms and droughts that appear in our lives, and find the paths that lead to the green pastures and still waters where we can restore our soul.

Each little flower that opens, each bird that sings, each eagle that soars high in the sky contemplating the beauty of God’s creation, and each of our own lives is an expression of our Creator.

37201257 - red-tail hawk flying in a blue sky

Our lives are like threads that run through the majestic tapestry of life, just like the lives of the fox, the possum, the pine tree or the magpie. These interwoven threads create an immensely beautiful place that is our earthly home.

When we remember our small place within the tapestry, a part of our soul awakens. When we let the energy of life flow through us, untamed or unfettered, it strengthens. Nature feeds a part of us like few things can, bringing peace and calm to the soul.

The Power of Pilgrimage

Years ago while living in New Mexico, I witnessed the curious site of people walking by the side of the road (including along Interstate I-25). It was the week before Easter, and some carried heavy crosses. When I started asking around about who these people were, I was told that they were among the tens of thousands of people that embark on pilgrimages to Northern New Mexico each year.

The destination of most of these pilgrims was El Santuario de Chimayo, located about 30 miles north of Santa Fe. This old Spanish church (see below) has been the site of many miracles over the years and is reputed for the healing qualities of the earth beneath it.

IMG_2640

According to the Santuario de Chimayo website, “In some cases the pilgrims walk for hundreds of miles, sometimes bare-footed, sometimes carrying crosses which are often left on the grounds of El Santuario. Some walk as an expression of their culture and beliefs. Some walk to give thanks for prayers answered. Some walk to pray for divine intercession, healing for themselves or their loved ones, or for enlightenment.”

Last Spring I brought my family to visit the Santuario. As we approached this holy place we felt a special energy radiating from it and could see the signs of faith everywhere. There were crosses placed around the fence along the property, photos and prayers posted outside the chapel, children’s shoes left by the faithful, and hundreds of candles burning with hopes and prayers. The photos here are all from our visit.

IMG_2630

All of us are on a pilgrimage of some sort as we journey through life. Each step we take, each decision we make, is part of our journey of faith and discovery.

In the words of Father Julio Gonzalez, pastor of the Santuario de Chimayo: “To be a pilgrim means that we let God guide our footsteps…”

When we begin a pilgrimage we always start with a prayer and voice our intention for the pilgrimage. We then walk humbly, feeling the earth beneath our feet. We can ask our Creator to guide our feet, guide our thoughts, and guide our hearts.

Many people choose to fast while on a pilgrimage, drinking nothing but water. This increases the physical challenge and strengthens our resolve. During the pilgrimage we can then offer our tiredness, our hunger, our pain, as a show of our commitment to our prayer or intention.

IMG_2627

While living in Mexico, Argentina and Haiti I witnessed crowds of pilgrims approaching sacred chapels or sacred sites in nature. The power of their faith was palpable and their devotion evident as they reached their destination. In Mexico, hundreds of pilgrims chose to approach the chapel on their knees, making their final steps even more challenging. In Haiti too, they moved closer to the ground before plunging into the mud surrounding the sacred site.

Regardless of the chosen destination the pilgrim experiences a profound sense of relief and satisfaction when he or she arrives, as if the prayers have already been answered.

The Purpose of a Pilgrimage

There are many motivations for undertaking a pilgrimage, and I find that the Santuario de Chimayo website does a wonderful job of explaining them:

“A pilgrimage is a journey of the body and soul. Regardless of our religion, it is an effort to become closer to our God. A pilgrimage is sometimes undertaken to pray for God’s intercession in our lives or as thanks for an intercession that has been granted. Often, though, a pilgrimage represents nothing more (or less) than our desire to let God guide our footsteps and nourish our souls.

A pilgrimage should not be undertaken lightly but neither should it be undertaken in fear. It is intended to be a journey of joy and fulfillment.”

IMG_2632

Indigenous peoples have been walking in pilgrimage to sacred sites in the mountains and plains, to caves or waterfalls or sources of the river for thousands of years.

You can easily transform your next hike into a pilgrimage if there is something you would like to give thanks for or pray for. Find a destination that is meaningful for you, say a prayer and set your intention before you embark, then walk in silent contemplation and ask God to guide your feet. When you arrive at your destination, offer a gift of flowers or a special stone or something meaningful from nature, and take time once again to pray.

If you are interested in walking a pilgrimage with a group of companions in prayer, song and meditation, join our summer pilgrimages in the Rocky Mountains.

A Walk in the Sacred Forest

The elaborate and textured beauty of the forest stands beckoning me to join it. I remove my shoes in respect and step forward into this sacred space.

The forest floor welcomes my feet, cushioning them with soft pine needles and leaves, brown and decomposing amidst the tiny blades of grass and shoots of plants just reborn.

Beneath my feet a divine and timeless process of death and rebirth is taking place. Life is decaying and decomposing to give way to new life. What once was glorious and full of life now lays on the forest floor, disintegrating and making way for what is yet to come.

I give thanks for my life and my breath, and my time that is here and now. It will be over in the blink of an eye when compared with the timeline of the earth.

Overhead the piercing call from a hidden squirrel breaks the silence, calling out a warning for all the forest to hear. Is it me that triggered the warning? Or a fox? I continue to walk, the watchful eyes of the sentinel surveying my every move. I am not alone in this sacred forest.

The wind whips through my hair, nudging my mind to release the thoughts I’ve been grasping onto since the morning. The leaves rustle, branches wave in the wind. Another gust and one breaks and falls to the ground.

The wind. Unseen power that can only be felt, shaking off what is not attached or not needed, whipping us around until we shift as needed. Molding us, extracting what isn’t essential – sometimes gently and sometimes violently. The magical wind who keeps life moving and evolving. Thanks to her, nothing becomes stagnant. I let down my hair so she can blow it wild and clear out the forest of my mind.

I press on, breaking small branches beneath my feet, changing the composition of the forest with my humble presence.

I kneel down to observe a wildflower. Soft and delicate, beautiful and persistent. Tiny petals burst from a tiny stem, pushed forth from a tiny seed by the miraculous desire for life. Or the need to simply exist within this space. Thanking her for her presence, I move on.

A large boulder appears, stately and regal in the midst of the trees. His presence is breathtaking. Strong and powerful, he brings a balance to the forest. It seems as if he’s holding court among the trees, ready to impart justice.

I stop and rest in his presence, asking for balance in my own live and divine justice to play out in our world. He reminds me that it always does if we’re patient.

Moving deeper into the forest, as silently and gracefully as my steps will allow, my eyes open wide in anticipation of what might appear next.

A stream. A small, gurgling stream, courtesy of the recent rains. Fresh life-giving water is flowing through the forest. It feels like an exquisite blessing, cleansing the path she follows and fertilizing the ground where she passes. I feel the presence of a grandmotherly energy, of tenderness and compassion. I bend down to fill my hands with her water, washing my face and crown.

Gratefulness fills my heart. Deep appreciation for the life all around us, held in balance by our Creator, washes over me. The ever-present force of life that flows through us all, continually renewing itself through the death and rebirth of millions of living things, diverse and interdependent.

I’m grateful to share the beauty of this space, if only for a short while. I feel comforted by the assurance that it is always here, regardless of where I am. The life in this forest is timeless and will continue long after my own leaves have withered and fallen to the ground.

I make my way back to my starting point, slip on my shoes, and humbly bow before the grandeur of this sacred forest. Then I return to my daily life, energized and grateful.

What Is “Grounding”?

One morning this past summer I had a migraine so intense I could barely stand up without being sick. After hours of nausea and my head feeling it was about to explode I was so desperate that I found a blanket and dragged myself outside to the lawn in front of my house. I laid down flat on my back on the ground and covered up with the blanket, shivering.

Within 30 minutes my migraine was gone, reduced to a slight, barely perceptible headache. It felt like a miracle.

What Is Grounding?

Apparently the result I experienced wasn’t a miracle – it was simply a natural process of grounding or “earthing” that happens when we touch the earth directly.

This process helps reduce pain and keep our bodies in balance, and has been validated in more than 20 scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals. See the video below for a more in-depth explanation of how it works.

 

How to Take Advantage of Grounding?

When walking in the forest I usually remove my shoes. The forest floor is surprisingly soft and welcoming if you avoid the pine cones. If it has recently rained the ground feels almost like a carpet and the pine needles are soft. If it’s dry it may feel slightly more prickly but not uncomfortable.

I can feel a difference in how relaxed I am after a forest walk if I’ve had my shoes on or off. When walking barefoot, I feel much more relaxed and lighter – and more connected to the forest. A walk in shoes is also wonderful but it’s almost as if a layer of distance still remains between myself and the forest.

Next time you’re out in nature, a park or even just in your backyard, try removing your shoes and feeling your feet connecting with the earth. Doing this daily, even for 5-10 minutes can make a significant difference in your overall mood and give your health a palpable boost. The best thing? It doesn’t cost a thing and anyone can do it!

Sea Ritual for the New Year

Every year in Brazil, thousands of people flock to the oceans to celebrate Yemanja, release the past, and set their intentions for the New Year.

Iemanya playa-2

The ocean is the original source of life. Her salty waters are like the waters of the uterus, in which we can immerse ourselves as part of a process of annual rebirth.

The rituals at the sea are simple yet powerful. They help us release difficult emotions or situations from the past and focus our intent for the future.

If you’d like to do a ritual to bring in the New Year or are simply ready to enter a new phase in your life, here is a simple ritual inspired by Brazilian traditions that you can do on your own.

Ritual at the Sea

You will need a white candle, some white roses, white clothes, and a beach where you can safely immerse yourself in the ocean water.

  1. Begin with a meditation in a quite place. Light a white candle and place a clear glass of water in front of it on your altar or on a table. All four elements are contained within the candle and water (fire of the flame, earth in the wax, water, and air circulating between them). Sit in front of the candle and glass of water. Breathe deeply and center yourself.
  2. Once you’ve taken many deep breaths and are feeling centered, take one of the white roses. Begin reflecting on those emotions, situations or qualities that you’d like to release. Pull a petal from the rose. Rub it between your fingers. Think of something specific you’d like to release. When ready to release it, place the petal on your altar. Pull another petal and repeat with another thing you are ready to release and place it next to the first. Form a circle around the candle and water with the petals. You may continue until all of the petals from the rose are gone. I often find that as I continue with this process, things bubble up from my subconscious when I get to the innermost petals of the rose and I become aware of much deeper layers that also need release.
  3. Say a prayer of gratitude for those things you are releasing and the wisdom they have brought to you. Move the petals to a bag or bowl that you can carry with you to the sea. Set them aside.
  4. Now take another rose and repeat the exercise, but this time with your prayers. At first, each petal represents something you are grateful for. Rub the petal and feel your gratitude deeply. Continue placing the petals in a circle. As you move deeper into the innermost petals of the rose, place your prayers for the future and clarify your intentions with each petal. Sit with these and continue praying until you feel that your intentions are very clear. Collect the petals and place them in a separate bag or container to take to the sea. You may add other flowers or roses to these prayer petals, as an offering to the sea.
  5. Dress in white and go to the sea, to a safe and quiet place. Take the petals that represent everything you’d like to release and walk slowly into the ocean. After releasing the petals you will submerge your whole body, including your crown, three times. If there are waves at your part of the beach you will do this when a wave comes so that it can wash your crown. Drop the petals into the water, and release everything you intend to let go of from your heart. Submerge yourself three times (submerge your whole body and head each time a wave comes) with the intention of each wave washing those things from your heart and your mind. Walk backwards out of the ocean, showing her respect.
  6. Now collect the petals and flowers that represent your prayers of gratitude and your intentions for the New Year. When ready, throw them into the water. Say a prayer of thanks. Know that your prayers will be answered.
  7. Leave the ocean walking backwards. Leave the spot on the beach where you made your offerings and released your past. That spot has now become sacred to you. If you intend to swim or sunbathe, move to a different spot on the beach.

postRemember that the most important part of any ritual is your focus and intention. If you perform this ritual from the heart and with clarity, you are sure to feel lighter and energized when you are done.