Development of Elemental Awareness

Preliminary Work: The Basic Sensory Qualities

Before beginning the formal training process, preliminary work is aimed at developing awareness of the sensations associated with the basic qualities of the Elements, in isolation. The essence of the method is simple: as often as possible each day, take a few minutes to sit quietly, relax,and think about one expression of one dimension of one of the basic qualities: hotness, coldness, dryness, or wetness. Choose a different quality to explore each day, cycling through each quality in any order that you choose This process should not be rushed. While the criteria for moving on to the formal training that follows is mastery of the preliminary techniques described below. That notwithstanding, this preliminary work should be rehearsed daily for a minimum of three months. 

  • As you contemplate hotness (or coldness or whichever), consider what it does to things, what sorts of things it affects and conversely what sorts of things it doesn't affect, what promotes or discourages it, what it promotes or discourages, when it likely occurs, why it likely occurs, etc. This first step addresses the literal level of analysis.
  • At the end of each session, after considering issues such as those listed above, take specific aim at how the poetic level of analysis, the concept of hotness (or coldness or whichever) as it relates to human experience. For example, expressions like "heated discussion," or "hot under the collar," "cold and calculating" or "the cold shoulder," "a dry sense of humor" or "being drained dry," "still waters run deep" or "braving the waters" each employ the labels we use to name these basic qualities as a metaphor for certain kinds of human temperament, interactions, feelings, motivations, etc. At a time outside of your contemplation sessions, you may want to make lists of all the metaphors that you can find referring to each of the basic qualities in this manner, to ensure comprehensive contemplation experiences.
    • When contemplating the metaphorical applications of the quality labels, try to imagine yourself participating in scenarios to which the metaphor applies. Strive to be in the scenario as much as you possibly can, and pay particular attention to how you feel. Early on, you may find that you are imagining how you would probably feel if you faced a given situation, and that is perfectly fine. Over time and with practice, however, you will notice that you're not really imagining anymore, you're actually feeling those feelings. When that circumstance becomes more than occasional, rather becoming the norm for you for each of the 4 basic qualities, you are ready to begin formal Elemental Training.

Formal Elemental Training

Following from the preliminary work, formal work continues with a similar contemplation, but now instead of considering each of the sensory qualities in isolation, begin to contemplate the unique combinations of sensory qualities that define each of the Elements. While the pacing of this work is rightfully self-determined, the original online class used the Zodiac as a pace maker, in the following manner. The Elemental Contemplation began on the Spring Equinox with Elemental Air, transitioning to Elemental Fire at the Summer Solstice, then to Elemental Water at the Autumnal Equinox, and Elemental Earth from the Winter Solstice, providing for three months of work on each individual Element. However the aspirant paces their work, a minimum of three months per Element, which amounts to one year of dedicated Elemental work is advised. 

Contemplative Memory Search

  • Set some time aside each day for your Elemental work; 20-30 minutes/day is reasonable. Begin the session with a few minutes of bringing the feelings of the sensory qualities of the Element into awareness individually (as you did during the preliminary work). When satisfied that the sensations are active, focus your attention on sensing both qualities at once. As much as you can, do this with a meditative mindset, which roughly means to develop a singular focus on the work at hand, expressly without internal chatter/thought about what you're doing, or about anything else. The meditative mindset takes some effort and practice to develop, but the basic method is simple: focus all of our attention on the feelings in question (which you should now be able to bring up with ease due to the preliminary work), and if/when you notice that your mind has wondered off target or that your narrating your experience in your mind, etc., don't beat yourself up over it. Simply re-raise the target feelings, re-establish the singular focus, and continue. Be gentle with yourself as you're learning to do this, and don't push too hard or try too long. Go for a minute or two then take a minute break, then go at it again for another short spurt, etc. The meditative mindset will grow more natural and your singular focus times will naturally increase with practice. Spend about half of your total session on this exercise.
  • Spend some of the second half of your session contemplating when such feelings as you've just been experiencing are likely to arise, what sort of situations might trigger feelings like that etc. Let your imagine run on that theme for as long as you like.
  • Spend the rest of your session searching your memory for times and situations when you felt feelings that are somewhat reminiscent of the way you felt during the meditative exercise. Don't expect the feelings you recall this way to be a perfect match with the relatively "pure" sensations of the meditative exercise. In real life, all of the Elements and their qualities are naturally acting and interacting in every situation, and each experience can be understood as a particular combination of all of them. However, most of the time, one Element will dominate the situation, so the feelings that you remember, though inherently complex, are likely to be more reminiscent of your meditative experience of one Element than of the others. The first few times you do this, feel free to search your entire memory for examples. Thereafter, keep your memory searches focused on the current and/or previous day or two, mentally examining every situation you can recall, assessing each for the degree to which the relevant Elemental feelings were a part of the experience.
  • Once you can maintain a meditative mindset around a single Element for several minutes without it feeling effortful, add the next exercise to your daily routine.

Elemental Breathing

Elemental Breathing should be practiced daily prior to your contemplative memory searches. 

  • Start by bringing the feelings of the sensory qualities of the target Element into awareness individually (as you did during the preliminary work). When satisfied that the sensations are active, focus your attention on sensing both qualities at once. With your body flush with the feelings of the unique sensory quality combination that defines the Element, take in a few deep breaths, keeping the feelings as salient as you can. Imagine that as you inhale you are gathering all of those sensations into your chest region. As you exhale, imagine that a cloud of Elemental "energy" is forming in front of you. When you inhale, draw the cloud back into your chest and add sensations from the rest of your body to it as you go, intensifying the sensations in your chest with each inhalation, and the density of the "energy" cloud with each exhalation.
  • Continue Elemental breathing for 10-20 cycles as you're learning, then for as long as you like until you feel satisfied thereafter. To end the breathing exercise, after your last exhalation, imagine the energy cloud in front of you, and inhale without drawing it back into your chest (you may turn your head slightly when you inhale if you like). After a few cleansing breaths, with the cloud still in front of you, gently blow at it and allow it to dissipate into the atmosphere all around. Don't worry about developing a visual experience of this exercise. You don't have to "see" an "energy" cloud in front of you, and if you don't "see" it, in your mind's eye, acting as if it's there is fine. The sensations in your body, and particularly in your chest as you inhale and exhale are what really matter here.
  • After ending the breathing exercise go on to the contemplative memory search exercise, imagining situations that might cause the feelings you were just working with, and searching your memory of the last day or two for situations you experienced where you felt similar feelings. 

The Minor Qualities

In addition to the main quality combinations that defines each Element, there are some number of minor qualities. For example, Earth is dense, heavy, and dark, while Air is sparse, light, and bright. The traditional list of minor qualities includes:

  1. Relative density (i.e.. very dense, dense, moderately sparse, very sparse)
  2. Relative weight
  3. Opacity
  4. Speed/Motion
  5. Activity/Passivity (assertive/receptive)

The aspirant is encouraged to consider and incorporate the dimensions of some of these or other qualities into their daily work as inspiration dictates. However, bear in mind that the unique combination of the two domains of each of the two primary qualities are the defining characteristics of the Elements, so as one contemplates these minor qualities, one should consider of seek out how each of them is in fact a result of the primary qualities of the Element.

Previous Article: This is the First Article of the Practicum Section.

Next Article: Elemental Awareness Continued: The Inner and Outer Cycles


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