In The Missing Element: Inspiring Compassion for the Human Condition, author Debra Silverman describes human nature in a compassionate and succinct way. We are all made of four basic elements – Water, Air, Earth, and Fire. When we’re in pain, it means these elements are out of balance in our lives. The key is to be able to discern your own personality and understand where you can strengthen the parts of your elemental nature that are out of balance.
But even more important, this book is about waking up the Observer in you, so you can experience the beauty and fullness of who you are far away from judgment. Becoming the Observer inspires your compassion and nurtures your wisdom for all of us. When we aren’t judging ourselves and others we are more loving. And when we are loving we take better care of ourselves and other people and the planet.
The Missing Element will help you understand that your life and all its stories were designed by your soul to get your attention right now. It is inviting you to seek the wisdom of the ages to help you grow. By gaining an awareness of unique behavioral tendencies under stress, you will gain an understanding and compassion for yourself and others.
The Elements in Practice
These are some of the most important concepts I use in my psychotherapy practice – and they explain why my clients experience successes that far exceed the bounds of ordinary therapy. The Elements serve us in countless ways, from the beginning (with conception and creation) and all the way to our own funny personalities and quirky styles. We are a collection of Elemental factors that find their shape within our personalities and preferences. When the Elements are out of balance, our lives can be miserable.
Some of us cry easily – we are Watery and prone to addiction or depression and weight issues – while others love to talk and think, Air. Some of us might even think and talk so much that we become too overwhelmed to make decisions or to stay in relationships. Others use Earth – money and the outer world – to feel safe and secure, or to feel frustrated that we don’t have enough, or that we’re never getting it right. And then there are the athletic, loud, and Fiery characters who push, shout, and inspire us to get into our bodies and get a life – they are bossy and full of Fire. If they get out of balance, they become obsessive athletes who need to stand out and demand to be noticed.
These qualities are as old as the hills – they have lasted and will last well beyond the dinosaurs, humans, or any other species that have come and gone. The Elements are as cosmic as they are earthy, simple as they are complex. They describe our unique energies and personality types and they teach us our life lessons. They clothe our souls and dress up our personalities. Learning about them helps us to understand where to focus our energies, how to find balance, and how to better appreciate how they affect our children, spouses, partners, and best friends.
How can we see another’s nature and bless it, love it, and celebrate it without annoyance or wishing for change? The real question is whether we can accept our own funny personality type that follows us everywhere, because to do so is wisdom. Imagine if you never had to doubt yourself – if you understood your idiosyncrasies and found them endearing and even lovable? Imagine if you looked at your sloppy child, or your perfectionist mother, and said, “Oh, that’s just their Earth imbalance.” Or when someone talks too much, you think, “There goes their Air.” And when she doesn’t talk at all, you understand it’s merely her Water side coming to the forefront. She just loves to listen.
Permission slips are my specialty. I love to watch people acknowledge the reasons for their own funny personalities – and more importantly when they understand that real acceptance of their nature is the doorway to compassion.
It’s not an excuse to say, “You talk a lot because you have Air,” but rather it’s a heightened state of the observer to know who you are and what you’re made of. The point of The Missing Element is twofold: 1) to wake up the Missing Element – the Observer in you so that you can live with more compassion for all the aspects of your personality, and 2) to help you see where you might be out of balance with your own Elemental nature – where you might have more Fire and a lot less Air, for example. So when I speak of the Missing Element, I’ll often be referring to the Observer, but I’ll also be referring to the Element you are weakest in and may need to strengthen.
Think of your parents – and before you go any further, realize that they did the best they could. My mother (Bette Midler’s look-alike) had a lot of Fire, so she had a constant need for being noticed and standing out. That was her outward personality – dressing up in bright colors, jewelry, and make-up. That was her Fire. She also had lots of Water (we are a combination of all the Elements – we cannot live without any one of them). So she was as fiery as she was emotional. Once I understood my mother’s elemental constitution, I was also able to understand that she was just being herself. It didn’t provide me with the attentive Mom I needed, nor did it nourish me with the positive emotional support I craved. When I understood her dilemma, I was at least able to let go of the unproductive story I had developed over time about the two of us. I found compassion for my mom.
And this is the gift of the Elements: to understand those closest to you and to not demand that they behave differently. I had a student, John, whose father didn’t speak much. When John realized his dad was lacking Air, John stopped trying to change him or demand that he talk. Instead, he learned to exist in silence with his father and realized that this, too, was a means of communicating.
This is the language of compassion that enables us to accept others instead of insisting they make impossible changes to accommodate our own nature. I hope to help you develop your Missing Element, or to quiet the overly active one, but truthfully you cannot change your stripes – your nature – without altering your authentic self or feeling awkward and untrue. We all can identify people who seem to have left their true natures behind and seem “fake” or “phony” – or just uncomfortable in their own skin – as opposed to those who seem naturally comfortable being and embodying their true selves.
Daily Cycle of the Elements
I want to provide you with practical tools to train your mind to have an objective view of yourself. I would love to have you fall in love with who you are and what you’ve been given as your personality.
The following are the primary properties embodying each element:
WATER – feelings
AIR – intellect
EARTH – practicality
FIRE – energy
If you have too much or too little of a particular element, your life will likely be out of balance. You’ll want to grow and cultivate that underdeveloped element (or be careful not to become too preoccupied with the one that’s overdeveloped) to put you back on an even keel. Like a car on the road, all four wheels must be balanced for smooth driving. Imagine each wheel as an element. If one of the tires is low, or over-inflated, your vehicle will rattle and shake.
Whether or not we are aware of it, we follow elemental rhythms in our lives on a daily basis. We begin every morning with a Water cycle. We go to the “water closet” (or bathroom), where we use or eliminate water, wash our faces, take a shower. Next we make ourselves a cup of tea or coffee or have a glass of juice.
Then we check our calendars, make lists, check our e-mail – and begin the Air cycle. What is on my list today? Who do I need to call? What fell through the cracks yesterday? With whom do I need to communicate?
When we finish our list, the Earth cycle begins as we start to accomplish the items we’ve checked – dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s, and making sure everything is completed. Are we making money or losing money? Are we on schedule? We do our work and we head home. Plan your work, work your plan.
In the evening, we gather in the kitchen around the stove with a glass of wine – Fire water – to share our day. The Fire cycle continues as we sit together at the hearth, with the fire burning, and this manifests either as joy, enthusiasm, sharing, and celebration, or as frustration, anger, fighting, or complaining.
Each day we revolve around these cycles without even noticing them. They touch our lives constantly. But with language that acknowledges these cycles, we are able to move through our rhythms with more ease and consciousness.
Reprinted from The Missing Element by Debra Silverman. Copyright © 2016 by Debra Silverman.