Part 3: The Fire phase of transformation

June 6th, 2014







I found out that there weren’t too many limitations, if I did it my way.

—Johnny Cash


We now enter the Fire phase, the most yang of the elements. It represents the peak of the sun’s energy in our life. The expansive season of summer pushes all growth to its limits – to burning point in fact…


Everything that touches the fiery flame is trans-formed (literally: across/beyond form). In us it represents our greatest capacity for personal growth and transformation. The Fire element is our contact beyond the material world of form. We are not guided through outer proofs seen and felt with our normal senses but by the inner voice of intuition and inspiration.


This spiritual fire expands and opens our doors of perception and shows us parallel universes hidden by the distracting static of our three dimensional existence within the soul-cage of our physical body or the paralyzing effects of fear.






It is the seductive siren call luring us with mysteries beyond the veil of our illusory comfort zone. We may be torn between clinging to the mast of what we thought was solid, safe and respectable and diving overboard to strike out for the unknown shore.


Like Icarus we risk flying too close to sun but what is it that we really risk? The conservative cry of caution or the self-limiting justifications of logic have no place in the fire of this spirit. This is the call of our wild, untamed side – the one we know we will always regret not following when we had the chance.



Matters of the (physical) heart


The physical parallels of the Fire element is the heart and circulatory system. It is the fire of circulation that warms us out to our fingers and toes. The blood is its material symbol and the internal messenger of the body. There are very few places in the body it does not reach and report back to the heart center.


Many physical functions attributed to the heart in Western medicine are assigned to what is called the ‘heart constrictor’ or ‘heart protector’ energy system in traditional Chinese medicine. (For a more detailed look at this fascinating system click here )



The Emperor and the betrayal of the court


The heart is given the Confucian title of the Emperor. Emperors were considered divine in ancient China.1 They were rarely seen by the general population (and visa versa) and were considered infallible. This in turn made it difficult then for Chinese medicine to assign fallability to the heart organ.


As a result the previously mentioned Heart Protector took the fall. The heart protector rules over the blood vessels. In the analogy of the royal court the heart protector was the interface between the emporer and everyone else. This ‘Fire Minister’ kept information flowing back and forth.2 How reliable and untainted by personal agendas that information was however depended on the integrity of the heart protector.



The Huangdi Neijing is a classic of Chinese medicine based around a mythical conversation between the Yellow Emporer and six legendary ministers.3 There is a sticky moment in the conversation when the emperor, asks a seemingly innocent question (reproduced here in paraphrased form):


“And how does heart become sick?”


At this point, any minister (or the book’s authors) valuing their life would think very carefully before answering.


“Ahh, the heart does not get sick emporer. It is betrayed by the Fire Minister, the guardian of the heart. When the vessels become blocked, the heart is cut off.”



“Very true” nods the emporer. “It was ever thus. We must always maintain a watchful eye on those closest to us.”



Even in modern Western medicine problems attributed to the heart are commonly the result of occlussion (blockage) of the coronary ateries. The heart itself is usually just the victim of its supply lines. While heart defects occur they are usually congenital.4



Other factors negatively affecting the heart are:


  • Extremes of exercise leading to an enlarged but less efficient heart function
  • Growth hormone (used illegally in sports for example to increase muscle mass) which can also enlarge the organs, including the heart, with similar results
  • Chronic stress/fear states which involve prolonged peaks of cortisol and adrenaline which raise blood pressure and prematurely age the heart muscle
  • Febrile disease leading to inflammations of the heart valves or the pericardium;
  • Fatty deposits of arterial plaque linked to high fat and sugar diets in combination with other factors like stress and alcohol/drugs/some prescription medicines



The inner voice


The heart is also considered the center of the Shen or ‘Divine spirit’ – the ghost in the machine of our physical body. It supplies the inner voice to remind us of things beyond appearances.


It is also the seat of our intuition. It is this inner voice which works faster than rational thought can keep up with. It is knowing directly without the intellect’s controlling need to know why it knows. It is the source of fiery inspiration5



Repression and depression


If we shut out this voice we risk becoming disconnected to our heart energy. In its mild form this is our social repression mechanism. In civilized society we consider it a social necessity to repress some of our opinions for the sake of diplomacy and (outwardly) smoother relationships with others.


The greater risk is to create a split in ourselves. If we turn down the volume of our inner voice we may find it difficult to hear when we suddenly find the need to ask it a few important questions.


As Jeffrey Katzenberg, famously said during his time as head of Disney where he apparently fielded up to 300 phone calls a day:


“I have no inner life!”



“Upp som en sol. Ned som en pankaka.”


This is a Swedish saying (“Up like the sun. Down like a pancake.”) which describes the swings of both external and internal life. In the Fire element this is described as ‘a disturbance of the Shen’. In its extreme form it can take the form of manic depression – now known as bipolar disorder. This differs however from more classic, clinical depression in that there is a certain existential beauty to it as well. While Ulysses “naked ears were tortured by the siren sweetly singing”6 he was also entranced in beauty. The fire element teaches us that nothing is as it first appears.





This demonstrates the vulnerability of the flame. While it can burn brightly, it has little that is solid and sustaining it can cling to. If it ignores this fact for too long it risks crashing back down to earth as material reality kicks in.



This suggests a balance between reasonable caution and pushing our limits. The hard part of course is knowing what is a reasonable limit – or even if there are any. This is why, in the five phases of transformation, it is the fear/caution in the Water element that has a degree of controlling influence over the Fire.



Houses of the holy7



The emotion of joy and the state of unconditional love are attributed to the elevated state of the Shen within the fiery house of the heart. In imbalance this turns to melancholy, sadness and longing. It is this longing for a state we cannot name but knows exists; something that cannot be touched or reached by our normal senses.


It is not uncommon for those relying heavily on inspiration, a quick wit or joy and creative expression in their life or work to become susceptible to bouts of depression and melancholia. The heart problems that plague the comedian, the bouts of depression of the creative artist and the dark moments of doubt of the philospher/priest are all well documented.



Fire rituals


So what can we do to improve our relationship to this beautiful yet vulnerable energy system? As always, I’m so glad you asked…



  • Spend some time going inward in stillness to tune in to the part of us watching in the background.
    • Do not try to do anything. Just be with it.
  • Open up your heart through expression and creativity:
    • Sing (why not join a choir if you feel self conscious singing alone), paint, write, chant, dance like noone is watching.
  • If you do not have immediate access to natural surrounds organize regular intervals so you can experience it.
  • Take mild, repetitive exercise like walking, tai chi and swimming to help turn off the thinking mind because it cannot sustain a dominate focus when hypnotized by rhythmical repetition.
  • Find inspiration
    • Visit an art gallery – particularly if it features art we would not normally see. It helps us to witness other perspectives on reality and jolt us out of our comfort zone.
    • Travel (even a short distance) to somewhere you have never been.
    • Learn to play a musical instrument
    • Take a course in something creative: painting, dancing, writing or healing.
    • If you feel more daring try learning about tantric practices.
    • Read a biography or two of inspirational figures
    • Literal fire rituals like fire walks and sweat lodges can show us another side of ourselves
  • As far as formal meditation goes (if it must be formalized at all) I would recommend the meditation of loving kindness to open our heart to the beauty and unconditional love behind all things, even seemingly difficult situations. There are many versions of this practice to be found.


Well, now that we have got that off our chest, next Monday we will be settling back down with our feet firmly planted in the Earth element phase of transformation.




Till the fiery dawn of a another Monday breaks our heart one more time,




1 And also in Japan up until the short, sharp shock of atomic destruction in WW2.

2 The heart protector has many titles and faces (the pericardium being another), not all of them in the best interests of the heart/emporer as we shall see.

3 Well they would be, wouldn’t they?

4 Traditional Chinese medicine would consider this a problem of the Water element controlling reproduction (and therefore what we would call genetic inheritance) anyway.

5 Literally: to be filled with spirit.

6 ‘Tales of brave Ulysses’. Eric Clapton and Martin Sharp. 1967. Atlantic records.

7 But no ‘Stairway’…


© 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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