Air. Fire. Water. Earth.
The four primordial elements not only inform our physical lives, they are potent symbols for aspects of our inner selves. When we learn to harness their power correctly, they can lead us toward radical personal transformation, or what best-selling author HeatherAsh Amara refers to as Big Freedom.
Drawing on her extensive background in European and Toltec shamanism, Amara deftly explores each of the four elements and explains how they relate to your inner world:
- Air: The art of seeing yourself and the world with clarity
- Fire: The art of cleansing what no longer serves you
- Water: The art of being open and creating space for change
- Earth: The art of nourishment and self-care
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About the Author
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A New Dream, a New Path
We are the living links in a life force that moves and plays around and through us, binding the deepest soils with the farthest stars.
— Alan Chadwick
Air, fire, water, and earth are the cornerstones of life. From the air you breathe to the earth you walk on, from the water you drink to the warmth you feel from the sun, your very existence depends on each of the elements. Without any one of them, all life on the planet would cease to exist.
Indigenous peoples around the world have always honored the four elements as ever-present allies. From shamanic traditions in the Americas to the roots of Buddhism in the East, from African ritual to the Greek and Roman mystery schools of Europe, the elements of air, fire, water, and earth are present in every one of these spiritual traditions. By opening to the wisdom passed down through these lineages, we can learn how to use the elements as tools for personal transformation.
The four elements are powerful guides for how to live in alignment with your true self. Every breath of air can bring more spaciousness into your being. Fire invites you to burn away what no longer serves you. Water shows you how to be fluid and open to what life brings. The earth beneath your feet reminds you to nourish and sustain yourself always and in all ways. Each element offers a tool for transformation, and together they represent a path to Big Freedom.
At some time or another, each of us has felt a deep sense of connectedness to nature. We know it is our home, and we long to return to it. This begs the question: What secret, ancient teachings are waiting for us in the elemental building blocks of nature? How do they inspire a deeper understanding of ourselves and guide us through the increasingly complex world in which we live? The answers to these questions form the framework for this book.
As I mentioned, the power of the four elements and their particular gifts came to me in a dream I had several years ago. Shamanic cultures, Eastern spiritual traditions, and even some secular communities in the West recognize the power of dreams. To begin our journey together, I will share my dream with you now.
The Dream of the Elders
I stand in a vast, soft, green meadow. I realize I am at the center of a circle of elders, who face me. Beyond them, I see that we are surrounded by a wide, violet-blue sky.
One of the elders looks deep into my eyes and says, "At any moment, you have the capacity to merge fully and completely into your center."
"This takes a tremendous amount of focus, for it means stepping through your limiting beliefs," another shares, looking beyond my eyes into my very soul. "As individuals and in community, humans are at the cusp of a great change. The four elements of air, fire, water, and earth will guide people to embody their authentic selves."
A woman steps forward, then leads me toward a smaller circle of stones I hadn't noticed before. "Feel the tremendous love and clarity that arises from living out of your true center," she counsels, inviting me to step inside and sit in the center of the circle. "Honor each element — air, fire, water, and earth — and it will share its wisdom with you."
As I lower myself and sit on the warm earth, I offer a prayer of welcome, appealing to the elements to share their wisdom. I suddenly feel a presence in front of me and open my eyes to see a being dressed in flowing layers of soft yellows and gold. With a gentle push aloft, she transforms into a golden eagle and soars above my head. I realize she is the representation of the air element. She flies lower and lands on my shoulder, and I discover I can see through her eyes. I feel great peace, and a vastness of vision enlarges all my senses.
"Air represents your power to see clearly," she whispers.
I feel a shift within me that allows me to witness things in clarity and quiet. Through the bird's eyes, my mind is a place of vision. My mind rests, witnessing all that occurs around us and within me. But as the eagle flaps her wings, the clarity dissolves in an instant, and I see my mind out of balance. Everything becomes disordered and loud. Strident internal voices compete for my attention. My mind judges everything it sees. Clear vision is replaced by confusion. I feel fearful and alone.
"The gift of air is clear perception," I hear, and suddenly I can witness my mind again without being drowned by its fears. "See with the eyes of the eagle. Align your mind with your center. Let the mind be supported by all of your being."
As the eagle dissolves, I allow her words to filter into my core and rest there. A few moments later, I feel another being enter the circle. I turn to my right and find myself facing the light and heat of a massive, fiery panther.
"The gift of fire is cleansing," the panther says, arching its back. "Burn away all the beliefs, ideas, judgments, and fears that do not serve your highest good." Then, the panther stretches out a paw and softly brushes my hand, and my body floods with light. I can see the places where an inner belief, past traumatic experience, or recurring fear blocks my energy from flowing freely. My body tingles as fire rushes through and around these old, outdated ideas, burning them all as it goes.
"Use the fire to cleanse what does not serve you," the panther purrs. I watch as the panther dissolves into pure flame, burning away the rest of my old beliefs with it.
Next, another being emerges in the circle to my right. A man made of water greets me. Inside him, I can see the steady flow of water's many forms: rain and snow, waterfalls, rivers, the oceans, and the lightest mist. "Water represents your emotions," he declares. "The gift of water is openness."
Within my body, I feel every place that has ever been closed suddenly burst wide open. I become pure flow, pure emotion. There is no difference between grief and joy. I welcome everything that comes my way and feel enormous space in my body and mind as water flows around and through me.
"When you open to life, you create space for great change to occur," he says. The water inside me becomes a raging river, a gentle stream, and finally a clear bowl of pure crystalline water. As I drink from the bowl, pure emotion settles into my center.
I now turn to face the last element, that of earth. A snake emerges and beckons me down a hole, deep into the soil. "It is from here that you nourish the seed of your true self," the snake whispers. "The gift of earth is nourishment."
As the snake speaks, I become a tree with roots deep in the earth. I can suddenly feel my body and mind embrace a new kind of perception. I can sense the difference between those things in my world that can nourish me and those that will poison me.
The snake seems to know what I am experiencing. "Choose wisely," the snake cautions.
As I transform from the tree back into my human body, I feel a deep sense of wonder. I can sense all four elements illuminating my center. They create a new structure that surrounds and holds me. I no longer feel alone or confused.
Once again, I find that am standing in the circle in the meadow with the elders. Together, they speak to me of the journey of change: "To become the butterfly, the caterpillar needs a cocoon. Inside the stability of this temporary home, the creature enjoys a safety that allows for massive changes — indeed, total transformation. Use the four elements as your cocoon, as your new home, while you dismantle the old. This is the way forward."
"The four elements will be your guides on your path to free your true self," one of the elders continues, opening his arms wide. "Come into balance with the elements of life, as each one represents a part of your being. When you bring the four elements into harmony, you will be in alignment with your center."
I feel the blessing of the elders surround me as they slowly dissolve. I stand alone in the meadow, embodying the qualities of air, fire, water, and earth. Drawing in a calm, full breath, I gaze at the vastness of the sky and smile.
The Four Elements of Transformation
As you recreate yourself, the four elements of air, fire, water, and earth will become the building blocks of a new foundation for a life that is based in Big Freedom. As my dream foretold, each of us can use them as a guide to become the person we want to be rather than the person we were told to be. Each element represents a way to approach transforming your being. Taken together, the four elements can be seen as tools to balance all parts of yourself and naturally live from your center.
Each of the elements has a complementary action — an art — for you to learn. Like all art, you can build skills and expand your vision of what's possible by putting these actions into practice each and every day. These practices are also unique to every individual. So your implementation of these tools will express slightly differently than mine. In this book, we begin with air, but working with the four elements is an integrated process that builds on itself as you go. The elements and their actions blend and support one another to create a container for change.
Air represents the art of seeing clearly. The first element of change focuses on clear perception. Allowing your compassionate and supportive mind to emerge is key on your journey to center. Since you have probably spent a lot of time in fear-based and judgmental thinking, the mind may want to remain stuck, resistant to change. However, with patience and practice and a conscious shift in attitude, you can move from the heaviness of a fearful, disruptive mind to the lightness of a clear, curious mind.
Fire represents the art of cleansing. The second element in your new structure, fire, will teach you about the power of cleansing in the broadest sense. The fire element is about action. After you witness through the eyes of air, you move into burning away what is no longer true for you. Cleansing is not something you do just once in your life, then it's over — you gain deeper peace and clarity only through repetition and practice.
Water represents the art of opening. The gift of water is learning to open. It is easy to stay opento things you like or that feel good; it's more difficult to stay open to things you dislike or that feel bad. To open means to accept all that life brings while simultaneously choosing to work for positive change. Opening is not a passive, discouraged acceptance of your inner world or outer reality. It is a courageous internal movement of trust into the new life that is unfolding.
Earth represents the art of nourishing. This beautiful planet is our reminder of the importance of nourishing yourself from the inside out. Self-nourishment is about learning which actions deplete you and which vitalize you (from what you eat and how many hours you sleep to which people you spend time with). When you feed your center consciously, you will support your physical body in growing as vibrant and healthy as possible.
As you read the following chapters, each dedicated to one element, choose one or more of the corresponding practice exercises that feel most relevant to you. These exercises will help you integrate the qualities of each element into your daily life.CHAPTER 2
Air: The Art of Clear Perception
Regaining Your Clarity and Vision
If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.
— William Blake
Our modern society values the mind far more than the spiritual, emotional, and physical aspects of self. But when the mind falls out of balance with the rest of our being, we find ourselves in a state of fear and confusion, especially during times of change or upheaval. During these difficult times, the mind grasps at external validation, substances, and other people to feel supported, instead of going within to tap into the resources of spirit, emotions, and body. Whatever you find outside yourself to help you feel whole and secure — whether it is a relationship, a job, how you look, or your material possessions — it can only bring a temporary sense of stability. The truth is that any of this can disappear at any time. Putting faith in these things can never lead the way to Big Freedom.
To compound matters, we live in a time of incredible change in social, economic, political, and personal structures. Now more than ever, it is vital to learn how to shift our mental attention away from fear and dread and toward clarity, trust, and possibility, regardless of the changes that are happening around us. It is time to tap a deeper sense of faith and cultivate a mind that supports your growth and the unfolding of your greatest potential.
The mind is good at keeping us in prison, and as we saw in the introduction, one way it does so is by spinning exaggerated stories of scarcity and danger. When the mind goes into overdrive in this way, I call it "disaster mind." Also known as worst-case scenario and negative mind, disaster mind is constantly scanning for what could go wrong. It thrives on judgment, comparison, fear, and scarcity. When you see through the eyes of disaster mind, you often bounce between the past and the future, rarely showing up in the present moment, which is the only place true transformation can happen. Let's break that cycle with the help of the first element: air.
Air invites us to learn the art of clear perception. Your path of transformation is greatly sped up by a compassionate and present mind. Imagine what it would be like to have a supportive, creative mind when challenges arise! Changing the workings of your mind isn't easy. It will require patience, practice, and a conscious shift in attitude, but moving from a fearful mind to a clear mind is possible.
The Mind in Action
Many years ago, I experienced the incredible chaos that the mind can create when I decided to commit to remaining in complete silence for forty days for Lent. My intent for going into silence was to connect more deeply with my center. I wanted to give myself time off from interacting verbally and focus on my own inner sense of peace.
The first few days of silence were glorious. But silence and I had a short honeymoon. The next two weeks were a perfect hell. I say perfect, because what arose was exactly what I needed to see. My extended silence gave me the distance I needed to see the workings of my mind in action. It was during this time that I gave my mind the new nickname "disaster mind" because of the immense drama and judgment that were overwhelming my thoughts.
Here's my story of meeting and transforming my disaster mind.
When I first began my silence, I lived in a tiny cabin in the woods, forty-five minutes outside town. The road to work was winding and steep and ran along a deep river ravine.
As I drove to town one morning, I was startled by the loudness of my mind. "You're late for work!" it screamed at me. "You are going to get fired!" Then my mind created a whole inner movie for me to watch: getting fired, losing my house, losing all my friends, and ending up destitute.
As soon as that vision ran to its bitter end, another one started. "You're going too fast; you're going to go over the edge of the road!" I envisioned myself running through the guardrail and plunging over the edge to the river below. I saw myself dying and then, even worse, immediately envisioned being trapped in the car, still alive but badly mangled and with no one to help me.
What is my mind doing? I asked myself. I felt split in two: one part of me was watching a completely separate part of me as it created chaos with words and images.
As the disaster scenarios of my mind unfolded one after another and the voices of fear proved impossible to ignore, I was shocked. Was this really my everyday reality? Yes. It was an even bigger shock to admit to myself that the disaster voices had always been there, chattering away. Deciding to spend time in silence had allowed me to quiet down enough so that I could hear what was previously below my consciousness. But could I learn to shift my mind from disaster to clarity?
Silence forced me to simply witness my thoughts and my reaction to them. I noticed that as I paid attention to my disaster thoughts they got louder, as if they knew they had an audience. One moment, I would be comparing myself to someone else and making up a story about how I was failing. The next moment, my mind was judging the very person I had idolized. I started losing faith that my mind always acted in my best interest. In my normal state, I mostly believed what my mind was telling me. However, as I became more conscious of the dramas playing out in silence, I could see that my thoughts were often not the truth at all.
Over the next few weeks, I practiced witnessing with compassion, rather than being caught up in the fear and worry of my own mind. When I put my attention elsewhere without denying the existence of my chattering mind, the voices seemed to quiet a bit.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Little Book on Big Freedom"
Copyright © 2019 HeatherAsh Amara.
Excerpted by permission of Hierophant Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. A New Dream, a New Path,
2. Air: The Art of Clear Perception,
3. Fire: The Art of Cleansing,
4. Water: The Art of Opening,
5. Earth: The Art of Nourishing,