I was musing with a friend and colleague recently about our different styles – we decided she was like water and I was like lava – a combination of fire and earth. Fire is transformative, explosive, quick-moving, but can burn out quickly without the right nourishment. Earth is grounded, practical, always there. Lava is a combination of qualities, molten, fast-moving, but it also flows like water. Sometimes it explodes from a volcano, other times it simmers underground as magma for long periods of time.
Water is also transformative, but in an entirely different way. It gets into the nooks and crannies of things and gently dissolves them. It wears rock smooth over time. Water is a common metaphor for the Tao – it “flows in places men reject” and supports all of life. Water also cools into ice and heats up into steam.
Being able to describe ourselves in this way, we could see our various strengths and differences as unique and wonderful, and shift out of comparison and competition. All the elements of nature co-exist and support each other in a dynamic system.
Metaphor gives us a way to name ourselves, to tell our stories, to describe who we are in symbolic ways that can be deeply nourishing. Recognizing some essential element of yourself can validate the way you are in the world, and how you are uniquely different and wonderful. It can also relieve you from trying to be someone you are not. Can water be fire? Not likely! Yet fire and water can influence each other: fire heats up water, water cools fire. They can transform and enliven each other without seeking to change each others essential nature.
Try it: what element describes you? Air, earth, fire, water? Some combination like lava (earth + fire, but flows like water), mist (air + water), steam (air + water + fire), mud (earth + water)? What is that like? Mud sounds unappealing, but mud is primordial, nourishing, and rich. In what way does your element interact with the other elements?
Now think about your business partner, a friend or colleague, or someone you chafe with. What element(s) are they like? How do they effect you? What ways are you similar, different? How can you honor each others essential nature while also honoring your own? How can you frame your interaction as a natural and dynamic process?