When the dominating element is Wood:
Bring in the Controlling element of Metal,
Highlight with Earth and Fire,
Refine as needed with touches of Water.
When the dominant element is Fire:
Bring in the Controlling element of Water,
Highlight with Metal and Earth,
Refine as needed with touches of Wood.
When the dominant element is Earth:
Bring in the Controlling element of Wood,
Highlight with Metal and Water,
Refine as needed with touches of Fire.
When the dominant element is Metal:
Bring in the Controlling element of Fire,
Highlight with Water and Wood,
Refine as needed with touches of Earth.
When the dominant element is Water:
Bring in the Controlling element of Earth,
Highlight with Wood and Fire,
Refine as needed with touches of Metal.
In the Controlling Cycle, we see how the elements dominate and control each other. In this cycle, Wood consumes Earth; Earth dams Water; Water extinguishes Fire; Fire melts Metal; and Metal cuts Wood. The Controlling Cycle is regarded as a powerful guide for establishing elemental harmony, and is present in many of the places we consider the most beautiful. A palm tree oasis in the desert is a perfect example of Wood consuming Earth, while a tropical island in crystal-clear water is essentially Earth damming Water. Nature constantly provides us with examples of how the Controlling Cycle of the elements can create harmony and beauty.
It’s also very useful to be aware of the Controlling Cycle when you’re balancing the elements in your home. When one element is especially dominant, the Controlling Cycle will show you the element that can quickly balance the Ch’i. Once you have balanced the dominant element with its controlling partner, you can turn to the Nourishing Cycle and further refine your elemental work.
I worked with a home where the living room was dominated by Earth. The decor included square tile floors, stucco walls, dark beige-checked couches, brown chairs, small square area rugs in various earthtones, and many small earthenware accessories. The furniture was arranged in a tight square around a large rectangular table made up of ceramic tiles. On the wall behind the sofa hung a painting of the desert. So much Earth gave the space a heavy, boxed-in feeling, which matched the way the owners felt in their home.
To balance the Earth, they needed to first introduce the element that controlled Earth, which is Wood. They added turquoise pillows to the sofa, a large textured rug in blues and greens beneath the coffee table, and several large plants. Turning to the Nourishing Cycle, they fed the Wood element with Water by replacing their desert painting with a large mirror and adding a small tabletop waterfall. They also introduced the Metal element by framing that mirror in a gilt frame and arranging the plants in round metal pots. Lamplight, natural light, and touches of coral painted on their ceramics brought in plenty of Fire, which by nature strengthens Earth.
They also opened up the boxy “Earthy” furniture arrangement by turning the two brown chairs at a diagonal, giving them a peripheral view of the door. As a finishing touch, they ran a turquoise table runner diagonally across the coffee table to soften two of the corners. With these changes, their once-constricted living room became very comfortable, inviting a more spontaneous and enjoyable lifestyle.
Elemental extremes abound in our architecture and rooms. Monochromatic motifs, and the constant repeating of one shape, are two things I often see in people’s homes. Although the effect may be perceived as quite trendy or dramatic, most people will not find comfort there, because on the elemental level, one is dominating while the others are missing. Remember, your ultimate goal is to bring all Five Elements into balance in every room. It’s remarkable to witness the difference this makes in the perceived comfort of a room.
When you bring the Five Elements into a room, you are tapping into their Nourishing Cycle, where each element feeds and sustains the other in perfect harmony. Water sustains Wood; Wood feeds Fire; Fire makes Earth; Earth creates Metal; and Metal holds Water. The Nourishing Cycle shows us how the elements strengthen and nurture each other in an endless regenerating sequence. When all five are present in an environment, a natural balance is achieved.
To determine the elemental balance of a room, use the following Five Elements list of associations in order to take an overall reading. Note the things made out of the elements themselves, such as wooden or metal furnishings. Find those items that are associated with an element such as a marble tabletop (Metal), a mirror (Water), or plants (Wood). Look for colors associated with each element, such as red (Fire), blues and greens (Wood), or yellow (Earth). Note that the darker a color gets, the more “Watery” it becomes, such as black, navy blue, and dark brown; while the lighter a color gets, the more it becomes associated with Metal. Look at your artwork to see what element it portrays, such as a “Fiery” sunset painting or a “Watery” oceanscape. Take an overall reading, and note whether there are elements that dominate, are barely represented, or are missing entirely from the room.
One of my clients lives in a beautiful home near the ocean. As I looked at her living room, I could see that all the elements except Earth were perfectly represented. Unlike most rooms, there were no square furnishings or decorations. Except for a book, and picture frames here and there, everything was soft and rounded, with no yellow or earthtones in sight. I asked her if she had a piece of yellow cloth. She produced a golden yellow T‑shirt and we draped it around a sofa pillow. The effect was stunning. The whole room suddenly had a center, a place from which everything else pivoted and flowed. All the room needed was one simple addition to bring it into perfect balance.
Practice identifying the Five Elements, and study their interplay in your home, your friends’ homes, restaurants, stores, and in your workplace. As you do, you are learning an important part of Feng Shui alchemy. There is a magical moment when you realize that you have become fluent in a language that benefits you and everyone around you. And from that point forward, you’ll be able to create environments that are balanced and vibrant in every way.
In Feng Shui, the elements Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water are considered the basic building blocks of everything physical on the planet. They manifest in countless ways and combinations all around us. Feng Shui observes that human beings are made up of all Five Elements, and therefore, we are most comfortable when they’re all present in our homes. The fastest way to learn how to work with the elements is to observe them in your home.
Although many people can sense when an environment is out of balance, they often don’t know exactly how to fix it. Would red or blue be good here? Should the table be round or rectangular? Is a mirror or artwork best there? Questions such as these are easily answered when you know how to read the elements, making them one of your most intriguing Feng Shui tools. Learn how to recognize and combine the Five Elements, and you’ll be able to see exactly what each room needs to bring it into perfect balance.
Five Element arrangements can be made in any room and can be any size that’s appropriate for the space. I often suggest that people put together an elemental arrangement of objects in areas that need energizing, such as a garage, spare bedroom, or basement. This positive action marks the beginning of change and stimulates the Ch’i so that it’s easier for people to organize these areas.