It is only human to long for a time when we are so secure in our knowledge of something that we no longer need to think about it because it has become so self-evident. I think most of us would like this to be true of our understanding of the elements. We would like to be able to place each in a tightly sealed box, labelled Wood or Water, and think no more about it. It would be comforting to think that, locked in these boxes, are all the different signs, sensory and emotional, by which we recognise Wood or Water in people, and that there is nothing out there in the world at large to cast a different light upon what these boxes contain. In this way we would have built up for ourselves fixed templates by which we learn to recognise the elements: such and such a tone of voice represents Wood’s voice, such and such an emotion imprints itself upon all Water people.
Unfortunately things are not as simple as that. We cannot capture the essence of an element so easily. It will slip past such clear-cut categorizations, often surprising us by showing us characteristics we might well have thought belonged to another element, almost as though forcing us to re-adjust our thinking. This is why I say being a five element acupuncturist is not for the faint-hearted, because it requires courage to adapt to the challenges of recognising that each of us is much too complex to be boxed into the black-and-white categories traditionally ascribed to an element. Rather than being daunted by the difficulties we have in tracing the elements, we should instead be pleased with their capacity constantly to surprise us.