The Four Elements

I've often noticed how water can inspire moments of creative problem solving and inspiration.

Some people "plant" a problem to be solved under their pillow before sleep. Similarly, when I need inspiration about a project or situation I’m facing, I’ll sometimes, "plant" it before I engage in a water activity such as taking a shower or doing the dishes.

I simply minimize all other sounds by turning off the television or music, and then I gently let competing thoughts of other issues float away and bring my attention back to the situation I'd like to deal with.

This phenomenon got me thinking about the other three elements – fire, earth and air, and their role in the creative cycle.

The Creative Cycle

It's important to recognize which phase of the creative process you're in. Be there while you're there, enjoy it, play with it and revel in your creative gifts.

And you can also start to notice some common roadblocks or pitfalls that show up when you're in each phase. For instance, one of my coaches, Andrea Lee, reminded me lately in her newsletter that it's important not to confuse our idea pile with our action pile.

In other words, when an exciting new idea floats into my head, it's doesn't get shunted immediately onto my to-do list with action steps attached. It might, instead, go at the top of a blank sheet of paper, that space below it signifying my openness to further inspiration.

As with any cycle, remember that there's rarely a predictable or straightforward journey through it. You might be working on simultaneous creative projects and at a difference phase of the cycle for each one. You might jump over one phase completely. Or you might go back to an earlier phase one or more times.

Let's go through the individual phases of the creative cycle, and look at which of the four elements are most active in each cycle.

Phase One - Rejuvenation and Origination

Instead of beginning with the beginning, we're going to begin with the end. Before you even think about your NEXT creative project, your LAST creative project is still a part of you.

Rejuvenation is the sometimes peaceful and celebratory and sometimes anti-climactic phase of dormancy after a large creative project is finished.

Then, moving into your next project, you step into “origination”. Origination is the sometimes exciting and sometimes terrifying phase of summoning the courage to enter the studio. It’s stepping into unknown territory with the willingness to move forward without knowing exactly where you'll end up.

The element that we need to call on in both the rejuvenation and origination phases is fire. In rejuvenation, fire is about burnout. It's how we sometimes feel when a project is done, and it's what we sometimes need to do in order to regenerate and grow something new.

Suzanne Falter-Barns recently wrote in her blog about this connection between fire and creative rejuvenation.

In origination, fire is all about passion, action, danger, risk and confrontation. Think about running across hot coals. Haven't there been times you'd rather do that than face an empty canvas, stage, computer screen or page?

What are some ways that make you feel connected with your fiery self? What gets your heart rate up? For some it's exercise, for some it's drumming, for others it's sitting down to a spicy meal.

Phase Two – Inspiration

Inspiration is the sometimes thrilling and sometimes overwhelming phase of receiving ideas, images, words, materials and other sensory messages.

The element that we engage in this phase is air. Air is about receiving, breath, stillness, light and surrender.

To connect with the air element, try the breathing exercises in my article, "Breathing Out Your Stage Fright" (see link below).

Phase Three – Synthesis

Synthesis is the sometimes inspiring and sometimes confusing phase of determining how to bring all of this material together in your own unique way.

Water is the element that swirls through this phase. Water is all about "dancing in the moment", being in the flow and connection. Water lubricates our ideas and is constant and self-replenishing.

Connect to the water element by visiting sites with live running water like streams, lakes or (if you're lucky enough) waterfalls or oceans. You can bring water indoors with fountains or with audio recordings of rain, waterfalls or the beach.

"Plant" a question that needs a creative answer, and then treat yourself to a bath or shower (or see if doing the dishes inspires you creatively like it does for me).

Phase Four – Implementation and Engagement

Implementation is the sometimes invigorating and sometimes plodding task of producing the work and getting it ready to present to the world.

Here is where we summon the element of earth. Earth is about solidity, being grounded, calm and predictable. It's about consistency and routine.

Connect to the earth element by settling into your favorite chair with both feet flat on the floor. Or move around the room and explore the sensation of lifting and dropping your feet, always returning them to the ground.

"Freedom is found along the guiding lines of discipline." - Yehudi Menuhin

The second part of this phase, engagement, is the sometimes exhilarating and sometimes turbulent phase when you're performing on a stage, showing in a gallery, launching in a bookstore or broadcasting over the Internet.

This is where you're engaging fully with your work and with your audience.

Here, in engagement, is where all of the elements come together:

You're definitely on fire, right in the moment and calling on your courage.

Your conduits are wide open, and through the air you receive the energy of others and constant feedback and sensory information.

You're connected to one and all, in water's flow.

And yet there's a still a sense of having both feet on the earth, as you stand solidly in the joy of doing what you were meant to do.


To read my article "Breathing Out Stage Fright," visit:

For more information about the four elements and which one is most prevalent in you, consult this article and quiz on the Beliefnet website at:

To receive "A Letter From Andrea" from coach Andrea Lee, sign-up at:

To read Suzanne Falter-Barns' blog post about re-growth after a forest fire, visit:

(c) Linda Dessau, 2006.

Author's Bio: 

Linda Dessau, the Self-Care Coach, helps artists enhance their creativity by addressing their unique self-care issues. Feel like your creativity is blocked? Sign-up for the free e-course, "Roadblocks to Creativity" by visiting