Wood Phase from Dragon Rises Red Bird Flies
This week we take up the Wood Phase of the Wu Xing five-phase model found in Dr. Leon Hammer’s Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies that began last week with the Water Phase. The Wood Phase coincides with Spring, and as listen to the rain come down outside just now, the obvious intersection of Water nourishing Wood in the sheng cycle makes today’s article seem timely.
Wood Yin Deficiency
An inability to retreat is the line that strikes me most clearly about this ‘type’, one who can never step away, step back. Though Dr. Hammer does not describe it this way in the book explicitly, it seems to me that here again, as with the Water phase, there is an underlying fear at play in the inability to retreat, but it is not of the same mode as Water phase fear. Wood is the movement, the activity of the life-force as it orders and gives direction to being-becoming. In this person, there has been, on some level, an over-identification with some sense of “forward” momentum as the only truly acceptable movement in line with their understanding of life itself. For this person, anything that is not “forward” is death, destruction, undoing, hence the fear. Humiliation is the emotional experience of this, as some aspect of their imagined ego dies when it is shown to not match with their direct engagement with reality, as this frequently necessitates movements other than “directly ahead” in order to survive. What they are fundamentally needing is to affirm their own life-force, to feel confident and secure in that affirmation of their very “living-ness”, and when confronted with situations that require retreat, or even simply lateral movements, circular movements, dancing or gliding or leaping – anything that is not rushing headlong and fully ahead – this confrontation causes them a great deal of ego-dystonia and distress. Where a therapeutic effort can attempt to reach them is to soften – quite literally a Yin function – this rigidity of thinking that requires only forward movement to affirm life, and allow them to recognize the flexibility, the nigh-infinite adaptability and transformability, of life-force, of momentum, to allow for them to move in an increasingly creative interplay of forward, backward, up and down and laterally and circularly, until they can awaken to the more liberating notion that movement-and-stillness and all the myriad directions and velocities are each in their moment of expression beautiful and perfect manifestations of that same life-force that they, currently, can only experience as “forward.”
Wood Yin Excess
In order to dance with a partner, you must be willing to touch them, to engage with them, to feel the pressure of their momentum and the force of their intention against your own, so that these can be twined together and turned into movements with a new dynamism, an unexpected complexity. Just as a Wood Yin deficiency leads to an inability to retreat and hence a rigidity of thinking and being, Wood Yin excess leads to an inability to stand firm when steadiness is required, always pulling away, retreating, shrinking from the challenge of force or the momentum of another. Where the Wood Yin deficient person may have an inability to recognize the expression of their life-force in any direction but “forward”, the Wood Yin excess person may well have a deep fear that any opposition to their momentum in any direction will cause the cessation or annihilation of their life-force, and so withdraws before it can ever be challenged. The need they are expressing, much like the Wood Yin deficient person, is to feel secure and confident in their expression of the momentum of their own life-force, to not feel it threatened when challenged or simply, as in a dance, engaged with by another. Therapeutically it may prove beneficial to help this person to become aware that all living things have a direction, a velocity and a momentum to the becoming of their life-force, and that this is not only “okay”, but that it is their own very real right, that this is the natural state of things, the only way for life to fully express itself. In contrast to the Wood Yin deficient person who can only move forward, the Wood Yin excess person is not only capable of moving “backward”, but is in some ways incapable of moving any direction that meets with resistance. The need is to realize that resistance and challenge is not the destruction of the self, and that even streams that flow gently down hillsides still find resistance from the rocks below, gravity above, and that the virtue of “being like water” is to realize that while water adapts and may not struggle in its resistance, water also carves out canyons, and that waves crash into the shore.
Wood Yang Deficiency
An “expression of opposition” strikes me here as a salient phrase for the Wood Yang deficient person. Where the Wood Yin excess person has a difficulty in any direct engagement of momentum-against-momentum or meeting resistance, the Wood Yang deficient person is resisting, intentionally, but doing so in passive ways. The Wood Yang deficient person has had the full expression of their life-force blocked at some point, whether through intense structuring and punishment in early life or some other event or situation within which they have found themselves powerless. The blocking of this expression of their life-force has given them the experience that, even when they resist actively and attempt to assert their will, they are unable to be successful. As such, instead of continuing with active resistance, they move to more passive modes of resistance, ones that are less likely to spawn acute crises of force-against-force, but instead cause minor but innumerable obstacles and blocks for others, especially those who they perceive are also stifling their capacity to do as they will. The difficulty here is that this adaptive strategy may actually have been of great use and necessity for survival at some point in a person’s life, but it can become internalized, and as a strategy it ceases to be something wholly in the person’s awareness. Thus, even when direct confrontation would be suitable and likely successful, they are unable or unwilling to do so, and may not even consider it as a possibility, having no experience or practice with it, or a deep-seated certainty of the failure of such a strategy. The need they are expressing is to no longer feel their expression of their life-force to be stifled, to feel free to do what they experience as affirming and fulfilling. What can be useful, therapeutically, is to help the Wood Yang deficient person become aware of this pattern in their lives, to recognize that they are applying an adaptive strategy of passive-aggression in situations where it is either not warranted or not serving them, and, where the adaptive strategy may actually be their only recourse, to help them experience themselves as free enough and worthy enough to extricate themselves from situations where they cannot express the power and fulfillment of their life-force.
Wood Yang Excess
In contrast to the Wood Yin deficient person, the Wood Yang excess person is not bound by an inability to retreat so much as a complete lack of awareness or need to ever do so. There is a lack of insight, and often even the impulse to insight, into their own behaviors or to the needs or desires and intentions of others. They experience their own powerful momentum as overwhelming. Though this is not directly stated by Dr. Hammer, I have the sense in reading this and considering a few of those I have known who may have aspects of this ‘type’ informing their personality, that they are as much “pushed along” by their own momentum as others may find themselves similarly swallowed up. In rare moments of clarity, this type may well see themselves at the mercy of this inexorable drive and energy, pushed or pulled along in a current of powerful Yang force over which they have little control, compelled to drive forward, made tireless and relentless by the pressure of their own energies. Their need is, perhaps counterintuitively, to be truly and thoroughly heard and understood, to know they have been understood. Their life-force is being powerfully expressed, but their raw force drives many away, such that they do not receive the depth of understanding and connection that they are in need of, a need that is fundamental to being human. When they are heard, truly heard, and given space to be understood without judgement, by someone who simultaneously does not feel compelled to be driven along by those energies, there is a release and a relaxation of these energies, and a space is created within which it is possible for them to turn some of their overwhelming energy toward self-insight and a reflection on the needs of others. They cannot help or stop the power of the Wood Yang that moves and flows through them, and so it is not worthwhile or necessary from a more compassionate perspective to judge them as aggressive or brutish, but instead to recognize that this effulgence of energy is a gift, and is not something to shrink from, but to recognize as the reaching-out-for-connection that all life energy, ultimately, participates in. Therapeutically it is worth simply helping them to bring awareness to their own experience of that momentum, and rather than working to control it, simply learn to be at peace in it, which will give them a capacity to engage with others at different momentums and speeds, without damming or obstructing their own energetic expression of their lives.