Four Temperaments: Fire, Earth, Air, and
Nearly all the classical systems
of medicine and healing used a system of four or five elements.
The common denominator of the different interpretations of
the elements is that the elements are the substance out of
which the form world is built. So, just as we are discovering
that humans and other species have DNA that is 98% identical,
the ancients believed that we are made of fire, earth, air,
and water. The differences between substances are due to variations
in the proportions of the elements and how they are aggregated
by the force of love or separated by hate. Ether was the matrix
in which the dense elements are shaped. The elemental theory
was associated with the humors and hence also with psychosomatic
theories of illness and astrology. It thus became unfashionable
during the reign of the germ theory of disease, but its tenets
were preserved by traditional cultures such found to this day
in India, Tibet, China, and Native American traditions; but
the theory had been upheld in the West since Greek times when
Empedocles, c. 490-430 BC, described them as the substance
out of which the world is built.
Metaphysicians, such as Rudolf
Steiner, kept alive the theories and added their own interpretations
to the phenomena associated with the elements, but with the increasing
acceptance of acupuncture, the concepts are sneaking back into
medicine, albeit usually through such esoteric branches of medicine
as psychoneuroimmunology and other disciplines in which the effects
of meditation and other practices are studied with the idea that
chi, prayer, and bliss may actually play a role in the health
or lack thereof in patients.
The crux of the elemental theory
is that for health to exist, the elements must be in balance
or adequately managed. Imbalance leads to symptoms, usually minor
at first but serious over time.
Many reputable psychologists have
been interested in the elements and/or types. Carl G. Jung, a
profound student of astrology, described four basic types and
William Sheldon (1898-1977) had a system of three somatotypes.
Ayurveda teaches that each person is born with a basic constitutional
type, called prakriti, which is then modified by everything
we eat, think, and do. When the harmony of the elements is disturbed, "faults" arise.
These are called doshas and they can be determined from
the pulse or deduced from the medical history and observations
of the patient.
Based, I believe, mainly on the
Moon at birth, I have found that each person has a tendency to
prefer a particular element and to suffer from the excitement
or depression of that element. In most cases, it
"feels" good when one's favorite element is active;
and it feels "bad" when that element is unsupported
or suppressed. Moreover, the areas of experience associated with
other elements do not give rise to the same level of fulfillment
as one's "own"
Fire types thrive on enthusiasm
and suffer when that enthusiasm is dampened by detractors who
want to point out the shortcomings of half-baked notions. Ayurveda
teaches that one should do nothing to polarize a fire type because
his/her natural tendency is to defend itself so this energy will
be directed at the healer or "other enemy" if fire
is agitated by unsympathetic approaches. When such happens, the
symptoms worsen because the fire is elevated by opposition and
calmed by concurrence. In short, the idea that opposites attract
was not conceived by a fire type.
Earth types need a high measure
of certainty and predictability in order to function well. Even
when gambles may work out in the long run, risk taking is stressful
and therefore physically and psychological harmful to these types.
Earth types want facts and a large measure of control over what
is being done to them in the name of cure; but they can be very
compliant and responsible if they are given the tools to direct
their own processes.
Air types need information and
communication. They become nervous when a doctor says, "hum" and
leaves the room. They want to be recognized first as human beings
and only secondarily as patients. Generally, they do not like
being left alone nor treated as unintelligent or unequal. Most
important is that therapists should avoid saying and doing anything
that would raise the level of pain or anxiety or uncertainty.
Water types usually lack discipline
and need to be guided through their processes with a sort of
parental firmness. They need to feel nurtured and protected and
become quite hysterical if they feel unsafe. They are often rather
psychic so saying something encouraging while thinking something
more drastic is generally ineffective. It is therefore better
to trust that these people have the inner resources to handle
bad news if it is the truth.
Constitutional Types and Temperament
I discuss these issues in great deal
on my audio tape set. Here, it might suffice to say that each
person receives and heals in a different way; however, every
patient's feelings need validation, acceptance, and healing.