In our holistic healthcare practices, we’ve seen many people over the years whose challenges didn’t fall within the range of what a doctor would typically treat. For example: a sense that one’s life is always out of balance, difficulty setting and achieving goals, feeling that one’s work isn’t aligned with their life purpose or doesn’t enable them to use their talents.
As we addressed these issues within the bigger picture of each client’s overall health and environment, we recognized the need for an expanded definition of health. Whole health implies something more than just a functional mind and body. To us, it includes…
- The ability to successfully bring our potential to the world
- The ability to balance our many activities and obligations
- The ability to access an experience of lightness even when we’re working hard
- The ability to forge supportive and loving relationships
- The ability to set and achieve goals
Over the years, we’ve developed a number of approaches—some scientific, others more poetic—for teaching people how to hone these abilities and bring wellness into every facet of their lives. Peter’s background is in traditional Chinese medicine and Briana’s is in Ayurveda—two systems with a strong foundation in the elements and metaphors of the natural world. As we guide our clients through this process, we often draw on these metaphors because we believe it’s a language that everyone innately understands.
When it comes to setting and achieving goals, it’s often helpful to look how plants do it. In Chinese Five Element philosophy, all plant life is encompassed in the concept of the wood element. Each element has a connection with a certain sense organ; wood relates to the eyes and the vision that’s instrumental in setting a goal and making a plan.
If you’re interested in becoming more effective at making your goals a reality, first develop a clear vision of how you’d like your life to look. It needs to be a vision that hasn’t been dictated by your family or community, but comes instead from your own values and purpose, from what inspires and delights you.
In terms of the wood metaphor, this vision is something like the phenomenon of phototropism: the ability of plants to sense light and grow toward it. And it’s the vision born in every seed knowing where it’s headed (the sun) and the plan to get there. Plants are rooted in the earth and grow upward toward the sun; their lives abide by this plan and never waver. Human lives aren’t much different: We’re grounded in our bodies, our tangible surroundings and our material needs. And yet we grow and aspire toward something less tangible, toward our own source of light and accomplishment. That’s our version of following the plan.
Each element is also associated with a certain internal organ—in the case of wood, it’s the liver—and each organ has a position among the society of all our organs. The liver is considered the General. The General should be an expert planner and strategist, possessing keen vision and the ability to efficiently lead a campaign to victory. Your inner General can best serve you in achieving goals if you possess the virtues of healthy wood, such as tenacity, flexibility and perspective.
When a plant is healthy and strong, it can break through frozen soil. It can get trampled, nibbled, even chopped to the ground and still rise up with new shoots. It knows where it wants to go and it’s determined to get there. When it encounters an obstacle, a healthy plant doesn’t break down and get upset about how the obstacle shouldn’t be there. It finds a way to grow around it. Don’t see obstacles as injustices; see them as a reason to grow. Perspective and flexibility make this easier.
The vision associated with the wood element provides the perspective to see clearly where we are, our destination and what’s in the way. Eventually it’s like the perspective from the top of the tallest, oldest tree in the forest. This noble view, achieved through years of experience, lets us see our obstacles as part of the big picture of our life path, and helps us avoid needless suffering and confusion. It also shows us that our plan and everyone else’s can all coexist harmoniously.
The wind might blow it and snow might weigh on its branches, but a healthy plant bends without snapping, and in this way it preserves its ability to pursue its plan. If you’re rigid around every detail, you become brittle and more apt to snap under life’s demands. Likewise, fixed attitudes and resistance are a clear indication that you’re fighting the organic nature of life rather than dancing with it. Flexibility around your plan allows you to stay light and loose, open to new possibilities and novel solutions.
© Briana Borten and Dr. Peter Borten, authors of The Well Life
Dr. Peter Borten is the co-author of The Well Life: How to Use Structure, Sweetness, and Space to Create Balance, Happiness, and Peace. Peter, a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and certified Qi Gong instructor, has taught extensively, and has authored hundreds of articles on psychological and physical health.
Dr. Peter Borten and his wife Briana Borten have made it their mission to create a more peaceful world by helping individuals reestablish a sense of inner peace and balance. They are the founders of The Dragontree, a wellness organization with holistic spas in Portland and Boulder, online courses, natural body care products, and resources for vibrant living.