The Five phases part 2: The Wood/Tree element

June 2nd, 2014






 I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

~J.R.R. Tolkien




Last week we began a journey through the five phases of transformation. We now emerge from those watery, winter depths and into the bright spring sunshine.



Spring represents rebirth and renewal – the youthful exuberance of a new beginning. It is the focused, goal-oriented energy of growing green shoots. It contains a violent, martial power to succeed against considerable odds and fights for its survival to be free on its own terms.


In the human being it is the wildness and idealism of youth; the angry young man/woman phase that has a clear vision of where it wants to be and the obstructions that need to be removed to get there.




Beware the Ides of March



Civilized humanity, comfortable in a controlled resource environment, views spring as a positive, celebratory time and a much welcome respite from the darkness and cold of winter.

Out in nature a harsher reality rules. After a long winter, food is scarce. New growth has only just begun and the pickings are slim. This leads to violent battles over available resources. Even the newborn are not off limits to the hungry predator.


© Robert Bateman

© Robert Bateman



In the Northern hemisphere spring is ruled by Mars, the planet of war. Historically it has been a period of renewed and often violent effort for change in the status quo. Spring uprisings, the recommencement of hostilities after winter’s icy barrier has thawed and violent coups to force change and catch the opposition unawares often happen at this time – just ask the ghost of Julius Caesar.




Physical parallels



The new, green growth of spring with its strong yet flexible roots, stems and branches has parallels in the physical body. In traditional Chinese medicine it is reflected in the connective tissue – the sinews, tendons and ligaments that connect muscle to bone (and bone to bone) and supply our true physical strength.



In health (and/or the flush of youth) the classical Wood/Tree body type is not a puffy, muscle mountain but a rangy, sinewy body that is lean and mean with a high strength to weight ratio. It is a build that equips us for fast, sharp, aggressive movement. Think boxer or gymnast more than bodybuilder or sumo wrestler; Bruce Lee more than Hulk Hogan; Clint Eastwood more than Jack Black. This is a physique that has to survive when times are tough, not just in the luxury of abundance.





The body language of the Wood type is defensive/aggressive. This is (usually) unconscious and reflects a world view of conflict, opposition and struggle.1




The true believer



The undeveloped Wood character is idealistic with a view of right and wrong that can tip into the fanatical and zealous. Like the powerful, green shoot sprouting up through the concrete its eye is on the prize, often to the exclusion of other viewpoints. Unsurprisingly, this sets up conflict with others and only reinforces their inner reality that life is struggle.



Lest one gets the idea that the Wood phase of transformation is negative it needs to be seen as question of directed energy. The organ systems relating to this phase are the liver and gallbladder. They are said to ‘maintain the free flow of chi’ in the body.



This is highly significant for health as the chi model defines health as a free flowing energy through the body and disease as a blockage or hindrance of that flow.

The liver is probably our toughest organ. It is very difficult to destroy.2 The hepatic cells of the liver can be virtually wiped out but if even the cell border remains they are capable of regenerating themselves. This warrior organ does not give up easily.







The courage of conviction



The liver and gallbladder energy systems give us our courage to stand up and defend our integrity in conflict. The weak, green tree is easily uprooted when challenged by the wind (the ‘negative climate’ for the tree energy in traditional Chinese medicine). Contrastingly, the old, gnarled tree will resist but risks breaking due to its inflexibility to change.



The balanced tree energy then is one that is flexible and accommodating of opposing forces but strong enough to remain firm in itself after the storm has passed.




A wild wind in the trees – dealing with conflict and anger



While physically strong perhaps the most tiring challenge for our wood energy is emotional conflict. The emotion (and challenge) associated with this phase of transformation is anger. While anger appears to be powerful it is really an expression of powerlessness.



It is the shout of the person dispossessed of their wealth by the thief; the tantrum rage at desire denied;the tragi-comic denial of defeat or wrong doing despite all evidence to the contrary.




‘When you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose”2



Despite this, anger is also an energy for change. It is a frequency of consciousness above the paralyzing effect of fear and supplies the catalyst to action.



Anger is the rallying call of the dispossessed; the line in the sand where our limit has been reached; the demand for respect and recognition of our right to exist. It is the defender of the Self.



How much we are worth defending however is a matter for our self-esteem. That is something we will look at in more detail in a few weeks’ time with the Earth element phase of transformation.




The Hun: the soul or our inner warrior spirit



At the spiritual level all this martial energy is striving upwards towards the fiery sun of the spirit.3 In this phase of transformation it manifests as the Hun, or warrior spirit.



All desires ultimately converge on the one desire: union. Union is the expression of unconditional love. When we feel split and separated from the Self we become restless, rootless and abandoned by ourselves. Such a feeling of alienation marks the beginning of many a spiritual quest. Sometimes we may journey outwards in search of meaning and structure to relieve our empty drifting.



This can take the form of religion, cults, the military or other rigidly defined frameworks of seeming security. I have even heard the saffron robe of the Buddhist monk described (by an ex-monk) as ‘a golden suit of armor’. That is, while it can be a spiritual refuge, we must all eventually confront our Self.



Our Hun warrior spirit is there to safeguard our integrity. If it disrespected – even by ourselves – it will take out its sword to defend the honor of the Self. This last point has very real ramifications for our health…




Immunity and Self attack



More and more diseases are being reclassified as auto-immune responses within our own body. That is, we are literally attacking ourselves. Reflect on the symbolism of that for a moment.



In traditional Chinese medicine the liver energy system is responsible for the circulation of Wei chi. Wei chi translates as the outer border guards of immune response. It circulates on the outside at the surface of the skin and in the mucosa, ensuring the integrity of the immune-globulin residing there.



We mentioned earlier that the Tree energy, while physically powerful, is vulnerable to emotional stress. When our sense of who we are is challenged we can either bend or try to fit with others view of us. We can fight or we can show a calm authority and self-belief regardless of whether we are understood and appreciated for it or not.



When we go against our self and betray our own integrity it can lead to our warrior taking its sword to us.4 Self-recrimination for perceived ‘weakness’, a sense of impotence and self-loathing not only leads to us lashing out at others in undisciplined bouts of spite and rage but ensures we become our own judge, jury and executioner in the cooler light of remorse and self-pity.



Internal self-loathing thinly disguised by aggressive self-justification to others is a recipe for a compromised immunity – as is outward ‘sweetness’ and passivity masking an inner frustration. Stress is known in many medical disciplines to lower our immune response.



Here are some possible outcomes for our health:



  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Minor infections that never totally clear up
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack and stroke (CVA)
  • Chronic muscle tightness particularly in the neck and shoulders (more on that here)
  • Headache and migraine (more on that here)
  • Aggressive skin disorders (the skin is trying to release inner ‘heat’) – strong acne, exzema, psoriasis and so on.
  • Diseases the liver itself (hepatitis, HCV, low liver enzymes)
  • Gall stones
  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Some forms of cancer – particularly primary liver cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis5




Beautiful trees



beautiful trees


So how can we become a better gardener of our tree energy? I’m so glad you asked:



  • Take time to move and stretch the body gently every day mobilizing each joint. Do not fight with yourself if you experience discomfort or limitation, just breathe and allow your body to show your limits for that day at least. It will improve.
  • If possible, spend some quality time in a tree-filled environment and partake in its strong, cleansing energy:
    • gardens
    • parks
    • forests
  • Shamen of South America used the tree energy to dispel and neutralize anger and frustration. Just like the tree neutralizes toxic gases, at the spiritual and emotional level it takes our emotional turmoil without effort and earths this negative charge. Give it a try.
  • When the emotion of conflict and anger subsides spend some time in quiet reflection to renew contact with our quiet center of strength.
  • Give our striving chi energy something to do: set simple, attainable goals and formally celebrate when they have been achieved.
    • Focus on gratitude for what we already have more than a sense of incompleteness and lacking something.
    • Do not be proud of postponing feeling good about ourselves.
  • Eat and drink plenty of fresh, green energy:
    • fresh fruits and vegetables
    • Green juices and smoothies
    • Tonics like spirulina, dandelion tea, wheat grass and stinging nettle extract.
  • If we have a big decision to make consider a short period of fasting and meditative reflection broken by only fresh juice, fruit and vegetables. Then consult the problem with new eyes. (The tree energy also controls decisiveness, strategy and vision – like all good military generals…)



The free and easy wanderer



This is the alternative title given to the Wood/tree phase of energy when it is in harmony. It is also the name of a patent herb formula for liver chi imbalance. A healthy tree energy is patient and philosophical while containing an inner strength and authority. As one client (a foreign diplomat) once described the essence of diplomacy to me: “Walk softly but carry a big stick.”



A sleeping elephant, secure in its strength does not have to show its power very often. A small chihuahua feels threatened by everything and barks all the time.



To rest in the security of our own power – to not give it away cheaply only to be frustrated and self-recriminatory later – is the best defense against the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.



After all, inner peace is nothing to shake-a-spear(e) at…




Till we are all free to wander towards the promise of another, pun-tastic Monday,





1The book ‘Mein Kampf’ (my struggle) by Adolf Hitler springs to mind.

Although plenty of us have tested that theory.

3‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Bob Dylan. 1965

4This spirit is called the Shen and exists, not surprisingly perhaps, in the Fire element of transformation. More on that next week.

5It’s an equal opportunity destroyer…

6While the CNS is under control of the Water element the fatty sheaths of myelin controlled by the liver energy system in traditional Chinese medicine provide the insulation to ensure a proper transmission of nervous impulses. At this level we can see a problem like M.S. as a meltdown of our electrical system; a fire in our tree element that lays waste our capacity for free flowing movement and co-ordination. In my experience at least I have found M.S. clients to present as outwardly sweet victims of their disease. While their sweetness is true, also true is the fire of frustration beneath it that usually surfaces when this energy moves from energy-based therapies.





© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:




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