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:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!