Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Six Element Meditation

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The Earth Element

First we call to mind the Earth element within ourselves. The Earth element is everything solid and resistant, everything that gives us form. When I’m teaching this practice I encourage students to notice first of all those aspects of the body that they can directly experience: the physical presence and weight of the body, the feeling of the sitting bones pressing into the cushion or bench, the hands resting on the lap, the knees on the floor, the teeth. We simply notice these experiences of solidness.

But as well as noticing those sensations we enter into an imaginative exploration of the rest of the body. Even though we can’t experience them directly, the sutta encourages us to call to mind the flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, and every other conceivable solid matter in the body, right down to the feces in our intestines. We don’t think about these things but simply call them to mind, knowing they are there and experiencing them in the mind’s eye.

Having reflected on the Earth element within, we now call to mind the Earth element externally — everything that is solid and resistant outside of ourselves — starting with the floor upon which we sit, then expanding outward to recall buildings, vehicles, roads, mountains, rocks, pebbles, soil, the bodies of other beings, trees, wild plants and crops growing in fields. Again we don’t aim to start trains of thought, but simply aim to evoke memories in the form of sensory impressions, letting images, sounds, and tactile sensations come to mind.

Then we reflect that everything solid within the body and everything solid externally is the same Earth element. There’s really no “me” Earth element or “other” Earth element — it’s all the same stuff. We normally think of our form, our body, as being us, as being ourselves, but here we recollect how everything of the Earth element that is within us comes from outside and returns to the outside.
Being of a scientific bent — and I think the Buddha was too — I often call to mind the process of conception. My body started with the creation of one cell from the fusion of a sperm and an egg from my parents, who are not me. The fertilized ovum divided and grew into an embryo as it absorbed nutrients from the world outside — from my mother’s bloodstream, but ultimately from the plants and animals she ate. And from that point on in my life, every molecule that has contributed to the earth element in this body similarly has come from outside. We can visualize the flow of the Earth element from fields and soil into the body. There’s not a single molecule of solid matter within this body that is self-originated. It’s all borrowed.

And we have to give it back. In fact we constantly are giving it back, every moment of our lives. The Earth element within us is constantly returning to the outside world. We shed hairs and skin cells, and we go to the bathroom and defecate. Solid matter is combusting within the body and being exhaled. Even our bones, which we may think of as the most solid and enduring part of the body, are involved in never-ending process of being dissolved and rebuilt. There are cells in your body that have no other function than to dissolve the surrounding bone, while other cells are involved in building it back up again. Even your bones are processes rather than things.

So the Earth element within is borrowed, and it’s always returning to the outside world, flowing through us like a river. And as we recollect the Earth element flowing in this way, we can reflect: “This is not me, not mine, I am not this.” There’s not really even any question of “letting go.” The earth element never was “us.” It never was “ours.” We never were holding on to it because how can we cling to something that’s flowing?

The Earth element provides the paradigm for the remaining physical elements, which are all treated in the same way — recollecting the element within us, recollecting the element outside of us, reflecting that everything that is “us” is really just borrowed from the outside world and constantly returning to it, and finally noting, as we contemplate the element flowing through us that this is not me, not mine, that I am not this.

Comments

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Comment from monty duvall
Time: July 24, 2008, 4:43 am

The earth element seems to be the most impotant thing to keep in mind.It gives me the pleasure of knowing I am not a thing but part of the whole.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 24, 2008, 7:24 am

It’s absolutely true, Monty, that reflecting on the earth element reminds us that we are not static and separate things, but ever-changing parts of a greater whole. That’s true of course not just of the earth element but of the other elements as well.

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Comment from Ben Shoulders
Time: November 14, 2008, 2:39 pm

Really useful information. I study astrology and through understanding the elements I have come to realise the underpinning importance importance of the earth element. It turns the airy and watery aspects of thought and emotion into solid material form.

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Comment from Rukiya Faizah
Time: April 15, 2009, 10:57 pm

Very interesting read. This will be my first time practicing the Six Elements and the simplicity of how you have related this information has served to further intrigue me. Everything is related and “separate parts of a greater whole” is a wonderful way to put it. The more I read, the more I experience, the more I flow – the more I realize how everything comes together to form this ever-changing universal dance.

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Comment from Mask
Time: August 13, 2010, 12:24 am

Really useful information .The world surrounding with superb energy which care us with lovely elements friends. we need appreciate and thanks for the form we are now .:)

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Comment from Rose
Time: October 13, 2011, 11:33 am

Have a question observation about earth element. If earth is ever flowing why can it not protect itself from the destruction caused by the human. Does not the element contain a self defense gene or mechanism. Is it so much like the creator that it will not protect itself and prefer to be destroyed than defend itself. The earth is being destroyed day by day as humans deforest, pollute, and destroy. It’s time the earth woke up and defend itself.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 13, 2011, 12:24 pm

Just because solid matter changes doesn’t mean that the earth element is a conscious entity that has any ability to “wake up” or “defend itself.” The closest we can get to that is having human beings, who are the earth element become aware of itself, develop more awareness of the consequences of their actions.

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Comment from Petra
Time: May 21, 2012, 12:50 pm

thank you! I have been stumped with the idea that the self I am constantly defending does not really exist at all. I think I have had my first inkling of what this really means and how much sense it makes.

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Pingback from Portrait of a Character – Melissa Madden | Barking up the Muse Tree
Time: March 23, 2013, 8:14 pm

[...] the six main characters (everyone but Pamela Hudson) is associated with an element. Melissa is the earth element, even though she’s a pilot. A part of this is her earthiness, another part is her hunting and [...]

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Comment from Julia
Time: November 2, 2013, 11:40 am

Is it necessary to work your way through all 6 elements in one sitting or can you just focus on one? And does it matter in what order? I get the sense that the 6 elements echo the metaphysical representations of the chakras in turn (as you move up the body from the base and in the direction of the crown). So could I be creative and practise earth element meditation with a client prior to energy healing work associated with feelings of being secure and grounded, having basic needs met. Or would this be a unthinkable deviation from the teachings! Tks as ever. Julia

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 2, 2013, 12:21 pm

The Meditation Police would come and drag you away, kicking and screaming :)

No, you can focus on one element, and there are also variations of the practice with just the first four or five elements. The order is traditional and roughly progresses from the slowest and most stable elements (e.g. the solid matter in your body is on average seven years old, 50% of the liquid in your body is replaced every 7 to 14 days, etc.) There’s a certain kind of sense to it, but it wouldn’t be disastrous to do them in a non-traditional order, although it might be odd.

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Comment from Nina Jordan / Embracing Heart
Time: November 10, 2013, 3:24 pm

I am reminded of Denise, mother of Rose, who suggested I ask the anesthesiologist to recite something while I was in surgery. He was not happy with that but I decided on the phrase, “I am one with the universe”, to be recited when I fear illness and death. Thank you so much for this meditation!

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Pingback from Portrait of a Character – Doug Beckett | Barking up the Muse Tree
Time: April 11, 2014, 3:04 pm

[…] of an air element. As Leonora is communication, Lili is fire, Malcolm is water and Melissa is the earth, Doug is the […]

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