full circle

The Five Elements by Louis Parsons

During times in our life when we feel stuck or uncertain, there is a practice called “Full Circle” that can be used to navigate and guide us. This simple practice is inspired by nature’s cycle of the seasons and offers a universal way to reflect and explore new possibilities.

The Full Circle practice allows us to complete our understanding of where we are and where we want to be.  This practice can be applied during any season of our life – at times of letting go, in celebration of a milestone, as a guide when we are feeling lost, and more. It can inspire creativity in the face of adversity, love in the face of anger, action in the face of stagnation.

When we think of the cycle of the seasons, there is a universal rhythm we can all relate to: The full sun and passion of summer, ripening in the harvest of late summer, letting go and returning to the earth in autumn, slipping into the stillness of winter, then starting fresh again as new life blossoms in spring.  These five seasons represent nature’s natural rymthm of life – the great turning. In fact, life itself is movement and the turning of seasons brings balance. Full Circle is a practice that offers an opportunity to reflect and restore balance in your life.

The beauty of this practice lies in its simplicity: asking yourself five questions, each inspired by one of the five seasons. Detailed below is a set of questions for each season. Feel free to write your own as well. Ask yourself these questions and complete the cycle from summer to spring. Journaling or having a partner to ask questions can also be helpful. In the end, spend some time reflecting on how you feel after completing the cycle of questions. That’s it!

Before we begin with a guide for this practice, let’s start with an example. Perhaps you are feeling uncertain about a business or a new project at work. As part of the Full Circle practice, here are five questions you could use to reflect and move through the uncertainty you’re facing:

  • What gives you joy in the work you are doing? (joy of summer)
  • What have you accomplished so far that you are grateful for? (fruits of late summer‘s harvest)
  • What do you need to let go of so this work can thrive? (letting go in autumn)
  • What is still unknown? (reflection of winter)
  • What would you like to do next? (new growth in spring)

The “Full Circle” Practice Guide

How does it work? When we are stuck, wanting to reflect on life, uncertain of the future, or even looking to make a big decision, we can find insight by reflecting on the qualities and questions that represent each of the five seasons. Reflecting on each season will allow you to come full circle, revealing new possibilities and epiphanies, and leaving you feeling whole.

How is it used? This practice has been used in business boardrooms of fortune 500 companies, in the classroom with our children, or even used to commemorate special events like birthdays, anniversaries or death. In eastern cultures like China, it is deeply engrained in culture and a tool frequently used for analyzing changes, promoting health, guiding business decisions, military strategy, describing astrology, and promoting wisdom in daily interactions. In other words, this practice can be applied to any facet of life.

Getting Started Start by identifying something you’d like to explore.  You can use the circle to reflect on any aspect of your life, whether that is an area where you seek guidance, a milestone in your life, or a loved one you want to honor. Pick 1 question from each of the five seasons that resonates with you. Begin with a question from Summer, then move on to Late Summer, then Autumn, and so on, until you arrive again at Summer. Observe how your body feels as you move from one season to the other (does it change?). Observe what new feelings arise in your body (lightness in your head, pressure in your chest?).

When you have walked the full circle, write down and reflect on how you feel. Did you learn something about yourself or the other person you did not know? Is there a deeper understanding or new ideas arising in you?

SUMMER

In Summer, the sun sits highest in the sky and all around things are growing and ripening. The heat and light of Summer allow Nature to mature. The warmth of the sun burns inside us like the radiant glow of a campfire.  Fire illuminates and permeates everything bringing passion and joy to our life, but too much fire will burn out and leave us scorched.

The wisdom Summer has to offer us can be found in the gifts of warmth, laughter, joy, passion, lightheartedness, love, intimacy, lightness, opening up, laughter, shining, smiling, vulnerability, and spontaneity.

For summer, the questions you ask can be inspired by the joy and passion of the season:
What are you passionate about?
Where do you feel you are really able to make a difference?
When do you experience true and unfiltered joy?
What are you doing when you find yourself being playful?
Where do you feel most at ease in your life?
When do you allow yourself to be vulnerable, to reveal your tender side?

LATE SUMMER

The halfway point between summer and autumn is like a well-ripened piece of fruit. With the harvest now at its peak, the fruits of the earth are coming of age and hanging heavy with abundance. Growth slows almost to a stop and Nature takes a pause. With the harvest now complete, we can now take a moment to take in and be generous with the gifts we have been given.

The essence of late summer is found in nourishment, abundance, thoughtfulness, self-care, giving/receiving, transformation, supporting, savoring, concentration and gratitude.

For late summer, your question can be inspired by the gratitude that comes with the bounty and gifts of harvest time:
What aspects of your life are deeply fulfilling?
What is the one thing you are most proud of?
What gifts have you been given?
What are others thankful for about you?
How do you tend and nourish yourself? Are there areas you could do more of this?
What do you need from others at this time?
How are you transforming?

AUTUMN

Autumn ushers in a season of letting go as the leaves and seeds begin to fall back to the earth. The growing season has come to an end and the land, once alive with teeming life, is settling down and inward. The sap in the trees has dropped to the roots and leaves begin to fall. This is a natural time of decline, a time where pruning and death make room for new life. The air is fresh and crisp and the trees are bare. Deeper breath, inspiration and a wider worldview all come at this pivotal time of year.

The gifts of Autumn are found in letting go of what is no longer needed, deep breath, inspiration, honoring, sacredness, acknowledgment, grace, dignity, structure, and loss.

In autumn, it is about letting go and being inspired by clarity that comes with simplifying or loss:
When are you most inspired and in awe of life?
What is most important to you above all else?
What story about yourself could you let go of in order to truly thrive? What would help you let that go?
How do you acknowledge the gifts and skills of others?
What resistances, resentments, anger, and jealousy could you acknowledge and let go of for the sake of a larger vision?
Is there grieving to be done before moving on?

WINTER

During this time of year, the daylight hours grow shorter until Winter Solstice when the cycle of the sun shifts and the days grow increasingly brighter again. Temperatures fall and Nature begins her period of hibernation, a time of great stillness and regeneration. It is an opportunity to gather our reserves of energy and power, full of unknowing and potential. At a time of year filled with celebration and activity, the gifts of winter stand in contrast with religious and secular calendars. Instead, the peacefulness of winter calls us to pause and listen for the wisdom buried deep inside us. It is a time to be gentle with ourselves, a time for rest and reflection. Knowing how to do this is essential to the health and well being of all living systems.

Winter symbolizes our reservoirs of power, strength, commitment, courage, wisdom, reflection, patience, listening, potential, hibernation and determination.

In winter, questions come from the stillness and quiet reflection of the season:
Do you give yourself sufficient time to rest and be still?
What is still unknown?
What are you looking forward to?
Do you have the resources you need?
In what ways can you access the depths of yourself — through writing, drawing, journaling, meditation?
What are the sources of your power? Where do you find yourself giving your power away?
Who do you consider mentors in your personal and professional life?

SPRING

As winter begins to melt away, Spring marks the time of year when the living world is resurrected and stirring with new life. Crocuses and daffodils burst out of the once frozen ground. Trees burst with new buds, growing and taking on a new form. Spring is the time of new life, rebirth, and rapid growth. Teeming with new life, we begin fresh and full of new possibilities. After the stillness of winter, Spring’s pace of change and growth beckons us to take swift action and grow.

Spring’s wisdom allows us to reflect on ways we can be bold, take quick and decisive action, create a shared sense of vision and direction, hold your ground, feel anger, adapt, organize, be creative, open to new possibilities, strategize, and have hope.

Completing the circle with spring, questions are inspired by new growth and fresh possibilities that are born that time of year:
What new things are emerging in your life?
What are the goals and dreams for your life, your family, and business?
What are you doing to achieve your goals?
What else is possible?
What would you like to do next?
Where in your life do you take a stand, hold your ground?
In what ways are you flexible and resilient?

Walking the Circle, Wu Hsing
Diagram of Five Element Theory: Based on observations of the natural world, ancient Chinese people recognized continuous patterns of transformation and change in the universe. These paterns are diagramed above and referred to as The Five Element Theory. Today, this theory remains deeply woven into society and used as a tool for analyzing changes, promoting health, guiding business decisions, military strategy, describing astrology, and promoting wisdom in daily interactions. The “Full Circle” practice described here provides a practical application inspired by this theory.

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The above wisdom from each of the five seasons has been compiled by members of the Maryland University of Integrative Health class of 2015 (Angela Hodge-Jones (KoKo), Amy Loder, Ayanna Holcomb, Gale Poore, Jacque Hammond, Jim White, Osunmuyiwa Olosun (Ayo), Suane Loomis) with the guidance of our professor, Tom Balles.

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