Thinking about love pt 2: the elements


Of all the gifts this past year has given me, perhaps the most helpful has been the relational language of elements: earth, fire, air, and water. I came to it via astrology, but I’ve found these fundamental life forces to be incredibly helpful all on their own when describing not just the energy we carry in life, but in love. In particular, what we are able to give to each other, why we need each other so, and why no relationship is an island.

In addition to the fact that we are made of the same stuff the rest of the universe it made up, most of us are a mix of elements, astrologically speaking. As above, so below. For whatever reason, most of us manifest certain elemental energy—even if they aren’t the most dominant in their birth charts—in a palpable way. My therapist exudes an earthy, practical, helpfulness that can handle all sorts of weird stuff that comes out of my mouth. Paige, the energy healer, is pure air that expands the space inside and around you in a way that feels both dizzying and peaceful.

I hadn’t put a lot of stock in the elements until I was trying to describe the way I felt after spending time with intimate friends, family, and, naturally, my partner.

The elements are described in astrology this way: earth is our material self, our bodies, our shelters. Water is our emotions, our ability to be feel with others. Air is our intellect, our big connection to humanity or community. Fire is our drive, our desire, our instincts. Different interpretations will push harder on one aspect or the other of this, but that’s the general understanding.

As I think about the elements in relationship, I think about my loved ones who embody that energy most potently, and how it feels to love them and let them love me.

I’m just going to give you a heads up. This post waxes REAL poetic. I don’t indulge this kind of writing as often as I do the more wry, ironic voice or intense, persuasive, intellectual voice. But we all know what that’s about. To be poetic is to be vulnerable, to show that you feel, to risk bumping up against the armor of those unready to be soft. Today I feel soft.

I think about my airy Lewis, the night sky of my life whose constellations are both mystery and guide. When I put too much on him, too much expectation, too many timelines, too specific goals, he begins to deflate. He once believed he needed to be unchanging, but nothing else moves quite like air, and I knew that to love him was to make room for him to think less about “the plan” and more about the possibility in our life. To applaud the dreams and creations, affirming that this is the process that will carry humanity forward. And then the stars began to twinkle and the breeze blew through. Loving air means helping it circulate, letting it carry the scents and shivers it gathers without demanding they be put to use, and give it space to flow in and out of “maybe” without having to say “yes” or “no” right this second.

And to be loved by air is to be inspired. To have breath in your lungs. To stay up late sharing ideas and dreams and walking to the edge of what is possible. It is contemplating the mysteries and being dazzled by the unorthodox. Air subtly surrounds with love.

I think about my fiery children. The blazes of urgent merry-making and indomitable mischief. There is no warmer heart than my son’s hand on my cheek as he sleeps. No more valiant friend and brother. There is no more ambitious plan for shared adventures or ways to possibly break ones leg. My daughter’s fire is a the bonfire of invitation, the magnanimous dominance that says “I can make room for you.” It is her crackling mind that never, ever, ever, stops because it is not fueled by ideas but by her need to share her passion with us. It’s tempting to be afraid of the fire, and yes, in a child it needs to be trained. But when we try to stamp it out, their brightness and warmth go too. Fire it is what keeps our family from growing cool and complacent. It is demanding more of us, making us better. To love fire, you simply have to dance around it. Your loving feet will beat a burn line to keep it from consuming itself, and your joy will let it know that it is never too much.

To be loved by fire is to be desired. To be always sought, always and pursued. Fire loves to spread. Fire love will lend you a candle when your match is lit so that whatever purpose your own fire serves, it can serve longer and brighter. Fire enlivens with love.

I think about my water friends. The ones who can carry any emotion from its depth of ineffability to the shores of growth. I think about how they move effortlessly between the inscrutable trenches to the sustainable surface, delighting in both, sometimes with no demarcation to say where one stopped and the other started. I think water feels the most shame, because it does not stay orderly or invisible. It is present and, sometimes, messy. To love water is to be sometimes a container and sometimes a surfer—but never to cower away for the sake of staying dry. Sometimes offering to dive into the waves, and sometimes being the shore where the waves can crash—but never avoiding a little sea spray. Water loves for love to be spoken. You have to tell your water people that you love them, and let them tell you wild and wonderful feelings, even if it makes you feel weird.

Water washes away the boundaries of who we are allowed to be, and tells us that we are all “the ocean in a drop.” It loosens our own emotions so that they don’t get stuck. It meets us where we are, and carries us to where we need to be. Water moves with love.

And finally earth. I am mostly earth, and so learning how earth loves has helped me know how to ask for love, how to receive it, and what not to shun. I thought I was shallow and vain for loving gifts. Thought I was needy for wanting time. But both of those are just a longing for something that feels real. Loving my earthy loved ones is about presence. It’s about being as there as there can be. Hugging. Feasting. Making the effort. Earth loves meaningful rituals and to know what’s next, not because it’s anxious (okay maybe a little), but because it needs to know you’re willing to manifest, prioritize, and stay long enough to absorb the gifts they try so hard to give, but gifts that soak in slowly. While it seem like they value the instant gratification of a gift, or a touch, or a shared meal, earth wants to hold that tangible thing until they can feel you moving through it and into their soul. They want you to do the same with the gifts and time they give you.

Earth lends you roots to absorb all the blessings of the soil through their shades and cradles. Earth takes all feelings and the longings and the pain and says, “how do we grow from this?” It can feel like being weighed down, but really earth just wants to make it real so that you can be nourished by it. It knows eventually we all need shelter. Earth holds in love.

While we all have dominant elements, we also all have days when the other elements come forward. I have friends who can say “it’s a water day” to explain that the emotions are flowing in unruly ways. We honor it. I can say to others “I need a little earth” when I need somewhere to gather my scattered energy, to help me make a plan. We can carry the fire for friends whose anger grows unbearable in loneliness. We can lift each others faces to the sky when we are stuck.

The elements themselves, in nature, also give us this love. Leaning into the tree. Floating in the water. Breathing deeply. Sitting by a fire. All of that is available to us when the people aren’t available. And, I’ve come to believe, that while nothing can be as potent as the human connection, if we are quiet and still enough, the presence we are longing for is there in the natural elements themselves. It’s more subtle, but some who have lost loved ones know what I mean. We are made of this stuff.

And God is in all of these elements, loving us completely in the oneness at the center of them all, the totality that they compose. God’s presence in each of our unique compositions is potent, and so is God’s presence in the love between our elements, how we nurture each other.