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Archetypes in Nature

lightning hitting desert floor in sunset

Nature's Eight Archetypes of the I Ching

Imagine you are writing a novel. You will need to incorporate various elements to keep the story moving forward. There will be a hero, perhaps stalked by a nemesis across emotional landscapes meant to challenge the hero into a new awareness.

The characters and thematic elements in our stories draw upon the same archetypes and motifs active during dreaming. Jung described archetypes as "the pieces of life itself—images that are integrally connected to the living individual by the bridge of the emotions.” Whether through the humor of Trickster or the release of fear called forward by meeting the Shadow, the emotion the archetype inspires will orchestrate change.

The journey always leads to a shift in awareness that ends with a resolution. Similarly, the three parts of a dream describe the conflict, cause and provide clues about how to solve it. When you dream, all characters and landscapes mirror how your inner world is changing. Like any good story, there will be an emotional impact because it is a prerequisite for change.

Since archetypes are the fundamental forms or the essence of transformation, we can observe similar processes in nature. Nature's story is centered on a theme of balance that removes any obstacles that impede its forward progress.

Although we separate the world into waves and particles, inner and outer experiences, or even into the ideas of good and bad, nature observes no boundaries and distinctions of this type. You are the physical manifestation of your DNA, proof that in the eyes of nature, the inner and outer world are one.

The I Ching was created by observing eight fundamental principles of nature. Each of the 64 hexagrams are a combination of how these elements are brought together to create various themes of change. By exploring each of the Eight primary elements as archetypes, we can observe how they take form and create in nature. We can also see how they describe the world we create for ourselves. The story of life offers a mystery to be solved where wonder is the way in which growth continues.

Yang - Ch’ien The Creative - Force

"Returning to your nature you will discover the constant.
Knowing the constant is called enlightenment."

Yang or the archetype in nature called Ch’ien is most visible at the apex of summer where it reaches its peak of creativity. Ch'ien symbolizes the power of Yang as it drives life to become, and is both the blossom and the blossoming. It is the charge of a force through a wire, coaxed forward by the Receptive fields of Yin or K'un. It is the consant drive of life to seek new life that will gestate in the womb of K'un or the Earth. This vital life energy leads the natural world toward the survival of the strong. It is like the Sun in astrology that describes the thrust of personality.

At our best, we demonstrate the strength, power and persistence of Ch'ien, although Tao coaxes us toward a power that is poised, gentle and confident, not intimidating and despotic. When we are just so, like all living things of the earth, we stop trying and find we are simply doing. To conquer the weak so we can mask our insecurities and shortcomings is not power, but an inferiority complex.

All cultures celebrated the life giving power of the sun and it was the first deity to emerge in many mythologies. Without the sun, very few things on the earth could survive. To participate with nature's flow embodied by Ch'ien we need only activate our power of expansion like the sun, and shine from the center of who we are.

Ch’ien fertilizes the seed in the same way our thoughts today are growing to become our circumstances tomorrow. If there is nothing to be taken away, “we meet with no danger,” although pruning is another aspect that keeps the life force healthy and growing. When we open to the Creative principle, we come to recognize how it ensures that no impediments block our empowerment.

Just as powerful Yang is only actualized by the receptivity of Yin, we can only succeed through win/win situations that serve all parties. Caught up in the vision of what the future may require, we may lose sight of the present and exhaust ourselves into a time of turning inward.

Yin - K’un The Receptive - Field

"In harmony with the boundless, the Receptive embraces everything."

Yin or K'un is in harmony with the boundless because it relates to the field. The charge of Yang through a wire can only flow because of the magnetic fields created, called K'un. This is nature's magnetic force that coaxes the charge forward and attracts orbiting planets as gravity. While Ch'ien gives shape to outer world events, K'un is the root of our motivation as feelings and embodies how the inner world shapes what we experience. Therefore, K’un is an archetype that offers a lesson about the mysterious power of the unseen.

In the example of force and field we are reminded that the charge to actualize our ideas are coaxed forward by the fields we create with our beliefs. Only by understanding how the inner and outer interact, as the seen and unseen, can we recognize the mysterious shape of Tao.

Modern physics shows us how we make distinctions that only capture one aspect of the story within any given measurement. From the eyes of nature there are no distinctions and life is a giant inhalation or exhalation of chaos, order and chaos again. The blending of Yin and Yang or Ch'ien and K'un is one manifestation observed in two forms.

K’un relates to a sense of retreating, turning inward, winter and conservation. We observe how rivers sustain the population in the coming year because water is conserved as ice sculptures on the hillsides. Branches that were stripped of foliage during fall are now encased in ice for added protection. All things of the earth appear to be sleeping during winter, although an incredible amount of energy is gathering below the surface gestating as Ch'ien.

K'un is life’s nurturing and regenerative energy once the spark of life has been impregnated. Like the Moon, it portrays what may be called our feminine ability to look inward to find our footing in the world. This feminine side of the psyche connects us to the natural realm of instinct. Just as Yin and Yang are dependent upon each other, we strike a balance where our creative, masculine or self-sufficient power can be effectively actualized by aligning feelings with intention. Receptive to our inner processes, we find when we conquer others we use force, but when we conquer ourselves we become strong. Let go of the 'that' and hold to the 'this.'

To activate the archetype of K'un, we become the valley. We find joy and acceptance in being lowly. In nature, the weak overcomes the strong through submission and there is great power in not reacting and judging circumstance beyond a willingness to nurture our perceptive faculties. K'un is a willingness to stand at the threshold of awareness and open ourselves to the aspect of life that is unseen. A great power grows within when there is nothing to be defended.

Li - Fire Synergy - Design

"When the whole is divided, it has names.
These names come to exist everywhere.
As soon as there are names,
you should know that it is time to stop."

The archetype of Li or Fire embodies the mechanism that will entice the seedling to push beyond the dirt and rocks to open its tiny solar panels toward the sun. All of these instructions were already within the seed, and any obstacles will simply make it stronger. Li suggests a time of clarity and intelligence, where we can detect our inborn pattern of development.

Li is dependent and attached to the illuminating energy of life's design as it guides us in our DNA and through our dreams. Often Li cannot be activated as the light within until we find ourselves in a world that has grown dark. In this way, Li is what we eventually tap during the dark night of the soul.

Fire, like passion, has a synergistic connection to whatever keeps it burning. It captures the self-actualizing principle that makes what we experience the result of our inner condition. We choose where we apply a charge to any given situation, and the charge will reveal a story about what might be acknowledged and released.

Prometheus gave Fire to humans, and Raven stole the sunlight from Manmaker. Unlike Earth, Air and Water, Fire is the one element, which re-connects us to the divine. This is the purpose of both DNA and dreams and how they connect us to a deeper purpose. We can tap the wisdom of Yang or Heaven's potential toward actualization by turning within to gather our inner vision. In Taoism it is more important to be natural so that the extent of who we are can be actualized.

When we recognize how the fire within is fundamentally connected to what unfolds, we discover our omniscient ability to see our way forward. We take personal responsibility for our condition, and the charge we place on what we experience will fade away.

Li is the Clinging or synergistic aspect of life, and reminds us to open to our inner direction. What rises 'out there' is fundamentally tied to what we are believe 'in here.' Just as energy and matter are one and without distinction, the inner and outer cannot be separated.

Approaching experience, we do not fight the very thing that gives us life and coaches our authentic nature forward. Li is a model for how we might move harmoniously with the changes, no matter where they may lead. Like the Phoenix, or mythical bird that rises from the ashes, all events coach us to renew ourselves from the residue of the past.

Like the Fire of passion, feelings make life valuable, and the archetype of Li suggests that we discover what intelligence alone, cannot reveal. To have a mind disconnected from heart is to live a life searching for meaning, when meaning is unfolding all around us. As the Fire returns light to our footsteps, we find our way forward again

Ken - The Mountain Keeping Still - Deep Time

"To be light is to lose one's root;
To be restless is to lose one's sense of stillness."

The archetype of Ken or Mountain represents an ability to remain still in our inner power. The Masters coached great leaders to establish order in ancient society by emulating how Mountains established order. Mountains draw clouds to their peaks and orchestrate the rains which flow as life sustaining rivers into the valley below. It takes a vast amount of time to create a mountain and Keeping Still allows us to be brought to the heights of what we can achieve.

Firm in our power, we can remain still, and become a model of 'tranquility in disturbance.' No matter where we are traveling, the Mountain remains stationary on the horizon. It can offer a pathway when it appears to block our way. Forced to climb upward, we have the opportunity to see life from a different perspective. Dreams of mountains embody challenges, growth and the expanded awareness each provides.

As a meditative exercise, we connect with Ken by meditating on the back of the body. This embodies both turning back and the resonation created by returning to our center. Ken teaches us to keep still to meditate, and transcend the noise of the mind in here, and life’s distractions out there. We do not negate the world; we are looking for “the doorsill where the two worlds touch.”

Our need to project past experience upon each event can cause a type of resistance, or turbulence in the great river of life. The I Ching teaches us: "when one comprehends nature and understands the transformations, one lifts the character to the level of the miraculous.” The transformations are how nature does away with blockages.

The hero is always given extraordinary power by climbing a Mountain. Moses climbs its heights to hear the words of Yahweh and Gilgamesh asks the Mountain to inspire his dreams. When we are told something over, and over, we come to believe it so strongly that hearing any opposite suggestion will fall on deaf ears. But "the Mountain is the beginning and end.” It is both a barrier and a gateway. As the air grows thinner, we are disoriented enough to become still to hear the story we tell.

The Mountain symbolizes life's evolutionary thrust that spans eons to create majestic landscapes. Ken teaches us the type of patience required to master our experiences. At the heart of Ken is the idea that by bringing composure to the inner terrain, we will discover its tranquility reflected in the outer world. If the inner life remains tumultuous, we are led to a time of K'an or the Abysmal.

K’an - The Abysmal Water- Displacement

"Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water.
Yet nothing is better than water
at overcoming the hard and strong."

The archetype of K'an is how Water demonstrates great power in its ability to overcome all obstacles in its path. When Water approaches a barrier, it appears still and yet, continues to grow in volume and energy. It takes no aggressive action but remains even, suggesting a temperament where power grows from both stillness and releasing ourselves into the flow of something greater than ourselves.

Water has always symbolized the mysterious reservoir of the unconscious that holds the treasure of human potential. Whether it is Mimir’s well where Odin finds the secrets of the future, the sea that held the coveted plant of immortality for Gilgamesh, or within the mysterious waters guarded by the Lady of the Lake, there is always a treasure to be retrieved by delving beneath the surface.

Water represents all that remains mysterious to us, and the Masters called this element the Abysmal or Profound. Symbolizing danger, within these depths are also the frightening things which remain unseen. Home of the great sea monsters, Leviathans or sea serpents, we discover ancient images that were often the deities of nearby enemies. Whenever something remains nonintegrated or opposed, it can only be given over to the dark depths of the unconscious as something to be feared.

Dreams embody integration and change, while the condition of the water always reflects how we feel about the changes. Water can overwhelm and threaten us, and how it behaves suggests the ways in which we are currently approaching change in our lives. It can be calm and smooth or turbulent and murky as a reflection of our inner landscape. Perhaps that is why the image of water continues to suggest the wellspring of what lies hidden below the depths of the unconscious. It is an extremely potent symbol of our unrecognized potential for growth and cannot be exhausted. It gives us access to the reservoir of the Collective Unconscious.

K’an the Abysmal is associated with late autumn. It reflects how nature tears down the old in preparation for the new. K’an as an archetype initiates movement toward the power of our center. We return to our root when everything around us is disintegrating to observe how fear is an illusion. Warding off change, we are sometimes swept away by the Abysmal current. We are returned to the great river of life, and go with the flow because the flow knows where to go.

K'an in dreams is the element that purges emotional blockages. All dreams seem to activate emotions with the purpose of waking us into a more fulfilling existence. Even in life, any type of change requires an emotional component.

“The town can be changed, but the Well cannot be changed.” We can build our homes anywhere, but we take our inner wellspring wherever we go. As the source of our inspiration, dreams and intuition, we access these unfathomable depths.

When we are trapped in a transformative process, inspiration rises through dreams, intuition or events to reveal the way through. Synchronicity removes the barrier separating the inner and outer landscape. Without our connection to this guiding source within, we miss the opportunity to flow in the river of life.

In the Abysmal Waters of K’an, just like the unconscious, there is a riddle or a paradox to be solved. Something vital is seeking expression and can lead to disturbing dreams that are meant to disturb a stagnating psyche. Dreaming is a type of initiation which calls us deeper into the Waters of the unknown. The idea of danger associated with the Abysmal represents crisis, only when we fail to heed life’s message that we are on the wrong path. If we are unable to release ourselves into the river, we will be Aroused through the archetype of Chen the Thunder.

Chen - The Shocking Thunder - Transformation

"The universe is like a bellows:
empty, yet quite full and never exhausted.
The more it works, the more comes out."

The archetype of Chen embodies how Thunder appears when the seasons change. It is the shocking element that arouses the Creative out of stagnation. In early spring, the Creative returns life to the sleeping Earth. During autumn, the storms strip away the last of the dying foliage. Stagnation is coaxed toward change in the same way the Trickster archetype of dreams challenges us to transcend our absolutes. Nothing can hide from nature's disruption of stagnation, and absolutes are useless in a world of change.

The Thunder Beings, Feathered Serpents and Dragons of antiquity scratch their long talons against the sky as lightning. Although the lightning illuminates the scenery of a distant horizon, we feel the reverberation of the Thunder deep within our bones. “How admirable, he who thinks not that life is fleeting, when he hears the sound of thunder!”

Lightning redistributes unbalanced energy within the atmosphere, finding its most direct pathway to the earth. When thunder and lightning emerge, nature shows us its rejuvenating power. More importantly, it is a sure sign the climate is about to change.

In virtually all myths, Thunder was personified as characters who ushered in the changing seasons. It is a time when warm and cold fronts collide, transforming the atmosphere and ultimately the landscape. Whether in the Great Hunt of Norse mythology that laid the seeds for our Yule festivals and Halloween rituals, or the Heyoka and Trickster who did outrageous things that went against tradition, the Shocking wakes us from our slumber so we can be rejuvenated.

Energy that is being depleted is always gathering somewhere else. In the discharge of lightning of a changing sky, nature always moves to redistribute unbalanced or bound up energy. Any power locked in a closet will come forward as nature strives for balance. In this way, Chen resembles both the Shadow and Trickster of dreams. Chen embodies the element in dreams that comes to purge our willful hold against necessary change.

Chen is captured in the laughing words, "Oh oh!" Like a rollercoaster ride, wherever life leads us will be nothing like we have seen before. Houses in dreams represent our paradigm and like Dorothy in her flying house, we are picked up and placed in an entirely new context. The adventure Chen inspires leads to transformation and rebirth.

Sun - the Gentle Wind - Persistance

"Most people see differences and are sharp.
I alone make no distinctions.
Calm, like the sea;
like a restless wind that never ceases."

Like the calm after the storm, the archetype of Sun is actually the Chinese element of Wind. Although the wind is invisible, it is given form in the swaying trees, and in those things supple enough to be moved by it. The Wind teaches us that we may not see the greater force that moves life, but can observe it in the shape of how events unfold.

Like bamboo, laughing and bending when the winds of change set in, the Gentle Wind is a lesson about remaining pliable enough to be led. Just as the seed pods rely on the Wind for regeneration, the idea of following life is another virtue on the pathway to actualizing one's destiny.

The Wind represents a constant and persevering element of life's small efforts over a long period that will lead to great results. All of the evolutionary archetypes bring about change but the Wind accomplishes its work slowly, but persistently. In the majestic mountains carved by the Wind, we see how what is removed reveals the core essence of who we are. “All of life will not change you; it evolves as a way to unmask you.”

In dreams, the Wind is a symbol of the movement of consciousness with the unconscious, and resembles how high and low pressure systems are brought together as Wind so nature can achieve balance. The extremes of hot and cold would destroy life without nature's attractive element that endlessly brings opposites together. All that is hidden will continue to stir within until it is given expression in the outer world.

A dream of a tornado, signifies urges and emotions that have the potential to overwhelm us. In this way, the archetype of Wind seeks to wrestle us from our need for control. We need to be overwhelmed if we are to achieve renewal. If we cannot change the direction of the wind, then we must only adjust our sails and let it guide us. When we follow, the Wind always returns us to a sense of Joy.

Tui - The Joyous Lake - Balance

"Those who know contentment are rich;
Those who persevere have purpose.
To remain still is to endure;
To die, but not to perish is immortality."

Tui is an archetype inspired by the sense of peacefulness reflected in the Joyful Lake. In nature, the Lake is another part of nature's life sustaining economy. Without the Lake, rivers would flow into the stream so quickly that forests could not grow.

Satisfaction and dissatisfaction can be observed as the surface of a lake. Satisfaction is like stagnant waters that are no longer moving, while dissatisfaction becomes the tumultuous hunger pain for change.

Both words embody a sense of neediness that is not the sense of peace describe by Tui. The Joyous Lake is peaceful because it finds balance. It is open to the moving currents that purify its waters, while leveling out after any disturbance, and economizing reaction.

One of the greatest lessons Taoism teaches is how to avoid extremes in thinking. We can imagine a ruler placed out in front of our nose as we travel back and forth, reacting to right and wrong - good and bad. What is life when we allow our attention to focus on the middle? Life is just so and this is Joyful to discover.

The Lake teaches us about the art of tranquility and remaining anchored to our depths that encourage us to even out. “Make your heart like a lake, with a calm, still surface and great depths of kindness.”

Like the path of Joy in Hindu philosophy, Tui offers a lesson about removing judgment and an attachment to a specific outcome to find the pleasure of discovering life on its own terms. We do not lead with expectation but follow with excitement, expressing wonderment in the unfolding moment.

Consumed by need, we can sometimes find ourselves in cycles of expectation and ultimate disappointment. Masking the emptiness of our lack of fulfillment, we resort to instant gratification and discover only fleeting satisfaction. Adopting the innocence of a child, we experience true joy by being open to the world we are growing into.

The Tao te Ching describes dying without perishing as immortality. By giving up our fascination for form, we can live as immortal and energetic spirit in the fulfillment of our destiny.

The various archetypes of nature are really just the measurable phenomena of one thing: Tao. Just like the archetypes of dreams, nature's archetypes drive abundant growth and balance.

"Is not the action of nature like the stretching of a bow?
The high, it pulls down, the low, it lifts up
in order to make good of what is deficient.
Who can take what they have in excess and offer it to others?"

Moving with the flowing energy of life toward abundance, we witness how we live, interact, play and learn all at the same time. We are part of the great bow that stretches across an endless space to release us like arrows into the path of our destiny. Our ability to remain pliable ensures that we stretch easily with the motion of life.