Understanding Your Whole Self

~ by Sherry Jean Olander, DEI Trainer & Consultant ~

If you’ve taken any courses or workshops here at Empathy Academy, you may have heard the term Elemental Balance or reference to “your elements.” Let’s take a closer look at what this means.

The foundation of this concept is the understanding that human beings are multi-faceted. One way to look at ourselves is through the lens of the four natural elements of earth, air, fire, and water. In this model, earth represents body, air represents intellect, fire represents spirit or visionary self, and water represents our emotions.

An important piece to understand about this elemental theory is that each of these aspects of a whole human self – your body, your intellect, your vision/spirit, and your emotions – all have an intelligence unto themselves. Just as each emotion has its own specific gifts and wisdom that it brings to you, each of your elements has a specific intelligence it can bring to your life.

Discovering Your True Self

To be whole, a person needs to have access to all four of these elements, yet sadly most people strongly favor one or two, even to the point of completely dismissing the importance of the others. Yet when they can learn to acknowledge and listen to all these different parts of themselves, they become more vibrantly able to be powerfully authentic in this ever-changing and challenging world.

Sounds great, right? So how do you start?

There are many ways to shift your awareness to make space for your whole self. Perhaps the easiest is to just take a piece of paper and divide it into four sections. (You can do this in a circle or a square, for example).

Next, write things that come to mind when you think about each of your elements. Here are some examples, but write what is true for you:

4-quadrants with elements reading: Earth (Body), Good sleep, Movement, Nourishing food; Air (Intellect), Research, Logic/math, Games and puzzles; Fire (Vision/Spirit), Dreams, Ancestors, Community; Water (Emotions), Connection, Expression, Going with the flow


When you’ve written down several things in each section that represent that element, then review what you’ve written and consider how much energy and/or time you spend on each of these things.

You can also color in the sections to indicate how fully you feel connected to each element, and this will give you a visual idea of where your emotions are in relation to each other and yourself.

How to Find Balance

Once you get an idea of what role each of your elements plays in your life, you can then choose how to adjust your elemental balance if you want.

Note: there is no need to strive to have each of your elements perfectly balanced with each other! Remember humans are dynamic, multi-faceted beings. The idea is that when you have access to all four of these unique intelligences of your whole self, it will help you find balance in a bigger way.

In fact, when you can welcome all four of these elements, a fifth type of meta-element can arise, which is easiest explained with the phrase: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

For example, if your job is taxing you intellectually (air), you may find support in the simple awareness that this is only one quarter of your whole self. If you have a good connection to your body and earth element, it can help support the whole of you until you get past the current challenge. This applies to all other situations too.

When you’re struggling physically (earth element), you may be able to support yourself with puzzles or learning something new (air/intellect) and/or connecting with friends in a meaningful way (water/emotions). The possibilities are endless, now that you have access to your whole self.

The Elements of Good Decisions

Another way this theory can be supportive (and my personal favorite) is when you’re struggling to make a decision. I’ve found that often the decisions that I’m having the most difficulty with are ones in which I’m disconnected from at least one aspect of myself.

If something is really stumping me, I make space to check in with each of my elements in turn: How does my body feel about this decision? What do my emotions have to say? What input can I get from my spirit?

Many interesting and helpful insights can arise from allowing all of your elements to weigh in on big and important choices that you’re called to make.

How do you welcome in all of your elements? Just as all of our elements can support our whole human self, so can all of us work together to support our whole human community.

Share your ideas and questions in the comments below!


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