Male and Female Energies and the Blueprint for Human Wholeness

Earth, the traditional female energy and the bearer of love, compassion, sharing and community; and Wood, the traditional male energy and the carrier of independence, self-reliance, competition, anger and self-interest, are part of everyone’s makeup.

What do all of the following patterns have in common?

1. The clash between anger and compassion, and between self-interest and concern for others, and our search for greater empathy and understanding in our relationships.

2. The longtime male dominance in society and the growing equality of men and women that we see today.

3. The sharp split in U.S. society and politics between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and the attempt to find common ground between them.

Each of these patterns represents, in its own way, the natural tension between two basic human energies — Earth, the traditional female energy and the bearer of love, compassion, sharing and community; and Wood, the traditional male energy and the carrier of independence, self-reliance, competition, anger and self-interest. Chinese medicine has taught for centuries that these energies, which are part of everyone’s makeup, exist in a natural state of tension and that good physical and emotional health depend on a healthy balance between them.

The above examples show that the Wood-Earth relationship has an importance that goes far beyond health and illness. The human body contains an energy blueprint that guides growth at every level — in the individual, in relationships and in society as a whole. In each case, the development and integration of male and female energies is a crucial part of the growth process.

We can see the overall pattern in the rise of civilization itself. As mankind has left behind the law of the jungle and embraced the social contract, Wood, the energy of force, aggressiveness and self-interest, has been gradually counterbalanced by Earth, the energy of caring, cooperation and community. Recent trends suggest that the process is accelerating and entering a new phase. The rise of women and the rapid growth of democracy and human rights around the world are signs that Earth is taking on a new prominence in human affairs. Ultimately, the energy blueprint suggests that the roles of the two energies will be reversed. Wood, rather than dominating or even stifling Earth as it did in earlier times, will assume more of a supporting role. Earth, the energy of love and human connection, will take the lead in guiding individuals and societies toward a new kind of unity and cooperation. The role of Wood and Earth in individual growth for both men and women depends on the gradual development and realignment of male and female energies.

male-and-female-energies-figure-1The Contours of the Energy Blueprint
Three simple diagrams from the teachings of Asia show the outlines of the energy blueprint. The first (Fig. 1), from traditional Chinese medicine, dates back perhaps 2,500 years and shows the five basic energies. Four of those energies — Wood, Fire, Metal and Water — correspond to the four seasons and reflect their qualities. Fire, the energy of joy and summer, gives warmth and expressiveness to the personality. Water, the energy of fear and winter, confers toughness, tenacity and the ability to survive in difficult conditions. Wood, the energy of anger and springtime, embodies growth, power and expansion. Metal, the energy of sadness and autumn, supports consolidation and restraint.

Only Earth, at the center of the diagram, has no season of its own. In the words of an ancient text, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine, Earth “nourish[es] all things in nature. It is all-encompassing. This is why it does not correspond to any particular time. It has a hand in every element.”

Earth is at the center, I offer, because Earth is the energy of the central and most important human emotions — love, empathy, caring and compassion. Earth deserves its special place because love transcends and helps integrate the emotions of the other four elements — anger, joy, sadness and fear.

Chinese medicine has always been, and remains today, reluctant to acknowledge that Earth is the energy of love. In fact, Chinese medical texts rarely if ever mention love at all. There may be cultural reasons for this. In addition, the diagram in Fig. 1 was replaced long ago by a second diagram in which the five energies are given equal status (Fig. 2). But in spite of that, there can be little doubt that Earth is the energy of love. For one thing, Earth has no other place to go — each of the other energies has its own distinctive emotion. More importantly, Earth is universally acknowledged to be the energy of bonding between mother and child. Accepting Earth as the energy of love is a long overdue step that can only make Chinese medicine a more complete and effective system.

male-and-female-energies-figure-2Earth lost its central position when, still in ancient times, Chinese sages discovered a new set of relationships among the energies. In the Nurturing and Controlling Cycles (Fig. 2), each energy naturally strengthens one of its neighbors and restrains, or controls, another. Wood, for example, nourishes Fire and controls Earth; Fire nourishes Earth and controls Metal; Earth nourishes Metal and controls Water; and so on. This system of checks and balances is the organism’s way of maintaining good overall health. The diagram in Fig. 2 grew out of long experience by Chinese practitioners in treating the meridian system, a network of energy pathways near the surface of the body. It is widely used today by acupuncturists, shiatsu therapists, Chinese physicians and other energy healers.

The arrow pointing from Wood to Earth represents the interaction of male and female energies. It illustrates Wood’s power to control Earth and symbolizes a universal human challenge. We all know the power of anger and frustration (Wood) to block out or even destroy love, empathy and compassion (Earth), and we know the harm that can do to relationships. We know, too, the temptation to place our own interests and desires (Wood) ahead of those of other people (Earth). Human growth depends, to a considerable extent, on modifying the Wood-Earth relationship shown in Fig. 2 and bringing it into harmony with Earth’s central position as shown in Fig. 1.

The Tree of Life
Because Fig. 2 was adopted as the standard for describing Five Elements relationships, Earth’s central position has been obscured and today is often forgotten. But Earth’s central role in the energy system, and in human growth, is confirmed by a second ancient energy teaching.

Kabbalah is the mystical teaching of Judaism and its Tree of Life (Fig. 3) describes the various faces or aspects of God. The Tree is made up of ten interconnected energy centers, or sfirot (sfeer-OHT), each of which has a Hebrew name that describes its qualities.

male-and-female-energies-figure-3Although the Tree has traditionally been understood as a picture of God’s attributes, recent writers have interpreted it as a diagram of the human energy system as well. Caroline Myss, in her book Anatomy of the Spirit: the Seven Stages of Power and Healing, argues that the seven vertical levels within the Tree correspond to the seven chakras. This correspondence between divine and human energies suggests that the words of Genesis 1:27 — that God created human beings in His own image — are literally true.

I agree that the Tree of Life represents the chakras, and take that idea a step further. The Tree, I suggest, traces the outlines of both the chakras and the meridians. The meridians, and the yin-yang relationship that governs them, are represented by the three pairs of opposed sfirot on either side of the central column. The names and qualities of the middle pair, Din and Hesed, leave little doubt that they are symbols of male and female energies. The Tree of Life, in incorporating the main features of both the Indian and Chinese systems, is the most complete depiction of the human energy blueprint in any major spiritual tradition.

The Tree of Life is, above all, a blueprint for wholeness. Its structure suggests that each of us is a microcosm, or tiny reflection of God’s own nature and that we have the inborn capacity to reclaim our spiritual identity. To do so we must travel two interconnected pathways of growth. The first, which I call the horizontal pathway, is the path of everyday living — the yin-yang struggle between freedom and fear, anger and compassion, self-interest and concern for others, and other conflicting feelings and values. The horizontal pathway is represented by the three pairs of sfirot on either side of the central column. When a person matures and gains the ability to resolve these everyday conflicts, he or she is ready to enter the vertical pathway — the path of higher awareness — represented by the Tree’s central column and its seven vertical levels.

“Hesed” is the Hebrew word for kindness or grace and, in traditional Kabbalah, the sfirah Hesed represents God’s unconditional love and compassion. Hesed’s counterpart, Din or Law, represents the cosmic law of cause and effect or the Law of Karma. Kabbalah teaches that, in dealing with human beings, God uses the energies of Hesed and Din to play the traditional roles of both mother and father — balancing love and compassion with a discipline that requires us to take responsibility for our actions. Din’s alternate name, Gvurah, confirms its close association with male energies. The word “gvurah” (strength or power) is derived from “gever,” the Hebrew word for male. Hesed and Din thus represent Earth and Wood in the human energy system.

Tiferet and the Heart Chakra
The path of integration for Hesed and Din leads to Tiferet (Tih-FERRET), the midpoint of the Tree of Life. Tiferet, or Beauty, occupies the fourth vertical level and corresponds to the fourth or heart chakra. When Wood and Earth are fully developed and the heart chakra opens, love truly becomes the center of one’s being. The polarities of daily life fall away, including the perennial conflict between male and female energies. Wood, rather than dominating Earth as it has in the past, assumes its natural supporting role — balancing love and compassion, not with anger or a desire for punishment or revenge, but to set limits, maintain order and encourage strong personal values. Earth thus lies at the center of both the Chinese Five Elements system and the Tree of Life.

The energy blueprint suggests that, for men who wish to become more whole, a major task is to develop their non-dominant Earth energies. That process is beginning in earnest today as more and more men take responsibility for homemaking and child care, and as they learn the value of expressing, rather than concealing, their deeper and more vulnerable feelings. In the workplace men are more often choosing to work in nursing, counseling, social work and other service occupations.

The changes in women’s roles are even more striking and have become a major social, economic and political force. Many women today use their strong and well-developed Wood energies to pursue careers as politicians, lawyers, executives, athletes and soldiers among others. In the U.S. women now run major corporations and hold senior political posts. A woman currently serves as Secretary of State and another woman is a leading candidate for her party’s nomination for president. Internationally there have been recent women heads of state in Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, the Philippines, India and Pakistan.

As their influence and power continue to grow, a major challenge for women is to use that power more wisely than men have done in the past. As the primary bearers of Earth energies, women have a unique ability to temper strength with compassion and firmness with sensitivity to address society’s more vulnerable interests.

In individual growth, the ultimate challenge for both men and women is to resolve the inherent tension between male and female energies. When that begins to happen on a large scale, society will be well on its way to realizing the promise of wholeness contained in the energy blueprint.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from A Promise of Eden: Life Energy and Personal Growth in An Age of Transformation by Alan Silverman. (Tiferet Press, Boston, 2006).