March 19, 2020 Coronavirus, Isolation, and the Five Elements
Dear Readers: I’ve had several questions this week regarding challenges people are facing while isolating and/or practicing social distancing given the rapid spread of the coronavirus around the globe. Of special import is how to help children who are used to socializing at school and are now confined to a much smaller universe of interaction, oftentimes just their homes. And for adults here in the U.S., many of the places we usually socialize, like our workplaces or restaurants, are also temporarily closed. That leaves us working at home, often surrounded by the children who aren’t going to the closed schools. How do we manage to stay productive, upbeat, and sane?
It won’t surprise you that I believe how we manage to make it work will depend on our elemental personalities and the elemental personalities of the people who are at home with us. Each of the five elemental personalities handles isolation and confinement differently. With a basic understanding of what does and doesn’t work for each elemental personality, I believe it is possible to create scenarios where we not only make it through these difficult times, but cherish some of the precious moments made possible by our time in isolation.
It goes without saying that we are already doing everything in our power to stay physically healthy (right?), so let’s look at ways to help each of us stay emotionally and mentally healthy as more and more of us “shelter in place.” But before we do, we will need to make sure we’re all on the same page regarding our understanding of the Five Elements personalities, so please bear with me as I quickly review key points regarding the Five Elements model and the elemental personalities associated with that model. If you already know this material, just skip down to the Managing Confinement and Isolation section.
The Five Elements Model
Like any useable model, the Five Elements model from Chinese medicine takes a grandiose idea and reduces it to a simple design. At its core, the Five Elements model is used to describe phases and interactions found in the natural world. The phases are represented by Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal and can be used to describe anything in the world, including people. Actually, they are especially useful when describing people. Here is a simple visual depiction of this model:
We each have the energy of all five elements in our wiring, but based on that wiring, we’ll have a natural affinity for one of the elements. It’s like we’re born into a secret club and our club membership affects everything in our life: the colors we like, the foods we crave, the roles we take on, and how we relate to each other. Yes, it’s that significant. Knowing what our elemental personality is — what club we belong to — instantly helps us better understand ourselves, and others. It can also help us understand how best to help each other during difficult times.
The Elemental Personalities
The Water element corresponds to winter, when most of the activity is below the surface. People with Water as their primary elemental personality are like that. Almost nonchalant outside, inside Water people are a flurry of thoughts, ideas, and creativity. Unlimited potential, hope, and trust sit in the Water element, which gives us a sense of how Water people approach the world when they are balanced. Under stress, the Water personality can become hopeless, empty, narcissistic, or intolerant.
The Wood element corresponds to spring, a time of manifestation, growth, and expansion. “Bigger, better, more” typifies the way people with Wood as their primary elemental personality interact with the world. Wood is where accomplishment sits, and when balanced, Wood people excel at getting things done. Under stress, the Wood personality can become indecisive, frustrated, impatient, or angry.
The Fire element corresponds to summer, the most energetically active season of the cycle. Fun, celebration, visibility, and enthusiasm all typify people with Fire as their primary elemental personality. Fire is where fun, excitement and celebration sit, and when balanced, Fire people are fun, charismatic, and spontaneous. Under stress, the Fire personality can become scattered, overwhelmed, anxious, or panicky.
The Earth element represents times of balance, neutrality, and transition. It’s associated with both Indian Summer, the pivot point between spring/summer and autumn/winter, and the transition times of the solstices and equinoxes. People with Earth as their primary elemental personality value connections and when balanced, they are caring, compassionate, and love anything having to do with people and home. Under stress, the Earth personality can become needy, clingy, worried, or meddling.
The Metal element corresponds to autumn, the time for letting go of what’s no longer necessary and moving forward with what is important. People with Metal as their primary elemental personality are able to synthesize the wisdom from any experience and create form and protocol that they believe must be followed. Under stress, the Metal personality can become sad, critical, inflexible, or controlling.
It’s important to remember that we all have all five of the elemental personalities in our energetic wiring. This means we can call on the traits of any elemental personality when the need arises. If we want ideas and inspiration, we can seek out our Water energy. If we need to plan and accomplish something, we can seek out our Wood energy. The desire to celebrate an event puts us in our Fire energy. Time at home with loved ones certainly activates our Earth energy. And endings of any kind will use Metal energy to process and synthesize the experience.
Managing Confinement and Isolation
And this brings us to our discussion of the confinement brought on by the current spread of the coronavirus. As more and more schools and workplaces close their doors and ask people to work and study from home, it means more and more people – adults and children alike – are being forced away from their normal lives and into some degree of isolation. What can we do to help ourselves and others manage this well?
Here is how we might expect each of the elemental personalities to respond to sheltering in place and what can be done to enhance the experience for them.
Water in Isolation: Water personalities thrive on ideas, creativity, philosophic beliefs, and ultimately being part of something larger than themselves. However, they need lots of time alone to be creative and inspired, so this is one elemental personality that will probably not mind a little isolation. In fact, they will probably love it! If you or someone in your family is a primary Water personality, grab that book or sketch pad and enjoy! The biggest problem Water people will probably have with isolation is that, if they are expected to work from home or homeschool their children, they will need to be structured enough to make sure that happens. The best way to do that is to tap into the Wood or Metal parts of their personality (remember, we all have all five in our personality make-up) and use the abundant structure of the Wood and Metal personalities to make, and stick to, schedules and plans. If you have Water personality children at home, first and foremost thank your lucky stars: Water children are usually happy to entertain themselves alone in their rooms. Make sure you have creative projects and favorite books available for when their schoolwork is done, and all should be well.
Wood in Isolation: Wood personalities thrive on accomplishment and success. They are wired to manifest, be that a plan, a building, a corporation, or a new world. Being acknowledged for success also really matters. Wood people will do fine in isolation if they have ways to keep things moving forward in a managed way – chaos takes down all Wood people. For most adult Wood personalities, almost anything needed to be productive can be done remotely from a computer unless their occupation is in the service industry, which is pretty much closed down in most places these days. If that’s the case, remember that Wood people excel at planning (their focus is on the future), so use the confinement time to plan for what will need to be done once things re-open. For Wood personality children, a structured schedule similar to the one they had at school will help them feel comfortable and productive and assured that things aren’t out of control. And because Wood people young and old need movement, make sure you plan times for physical activity, inside or out. The biggest problem Wood personalities could face in isolation is no one to compliment them on how well they’re doing. So, if you are homeschooling a Wood child, keep the praise coming. Oh, and if you are a Wood person yourself and are sheltering in place alone, make sure you don’t work 24/7. Use your structure to schedule some down and/or fun time.
Fire in Isolation: Fire personalities are usually passionate people who thrive on laughter, activity, and fun. They are wired for interaction and celebration; the more the merrier. Quick to laugh, they are usually the life of the party wherever they go. And they loveto go! This means that the Fire elemental personality is one of the personalities most likely to find it hard to remain in some form of isolation. Because Fire people thrive on social engagement, the worst thing that can happen for a Fire personality is to spend too much time alone. Check in on your Fire friends often because aloneness will take them down. To avoid feeling too alone, it will be important for isolated Fire people to stay engaged with friends via social media, Facetime, Skype, or any other digital means. Also, because the Fire personality loves to laugh, make sure you watch funny shows or movies to help keep things light. And if you have Fire children at home, it will be important to have lots of activities to keep them engaged. Remember that the Fire personality likes and needs movement, so create obstacle courses at home after their schoolwork is done. And have lots of active games available, too. The key with Fire children is to keep them occupied and laughing. And if you have access to a yard where they can play and still practice social distance, so much the better.
Earth in Isolation: Earth personalities care deeply about lasting connections, family, house, and home. They love animals, gardening, helping others and are generally very inclusive. In many ways, Earth personalities are defined by the people in their lives, so isolation away from people who matter to them will affect Earth people more deeply than any of the other elemental personalities. If you or your children are Earth personalities, it will be important to provide a sense of continued connection with family and friends even if this is done via the internet, phone, or social media. Earth people often process life though their close relationships, so make sure these stay intact during any confinement. A wonderful aspect of the Earth personality is that they usually enjoy crafts and hobbies. For Earth children at home, have plenty of projects available for them to sink into, whether cooking, baking, sewing, model construction, etc. Also, for Earth personalities of any age, time outside in nature is very soothing. A simple walk in an uncrowded park will make time in confinement that much easier to manage for the Earth personality, as will the ability to enjoy good food, so keep that fridge stocked.
Metal in Isolation: Metal personalities are studious people who are wired to look to the past, synthesize the lessons, release what is no longer needed, then take what is needed forward. Metal people also excel at compartmentalizing the many different aspects of their lives. For the average Metal personality, isolation will likely be no big deal. They have their projects, studies, articles, and research to keep them company. They will easily work from home. In fact, they probably already have some form of home office set up. And as the most structured of the elemental personalities, they will probably easily keep to their normal business hours and routines. Left to their own devices, Metal people can tend to be loners, so being alone will likely not faze them too much. For Metal children at home, it will help to compartmentalize their time and make a clear distinction between school time and non-school time. The biggest issue for most Metal personalities, old or young, is a need to feel in control of their life and environment. This will be especially important during the coronavirus outbreak because it can feel rather out of control these days. For all Metal personalities, create an environment of calm, rational, and routine existence so that a sense of what is right and expected can be maintained. This will help every Metal personality feel safe and comfortable regardless of what form their isolation takes.
Well, this has been a longer than normal post, but I hope it gives you a sense of how to help each of the elemental personalities manage whatever degree of isolation or confinement they might experience. Blessings to all as we face this coronavirus challenge together. And an extra special blessing of gratitude to all doctors, nurses, first responders, government officials, and everyone else involved in keeping us safe during these times. Thank you!
May our isolation keep us well!