It is in small differences, and in our ability to pick them up, that much of the secret of our capacity to understand the distinctions between the characteristics of the different elements lies. When we realise this, we can use this knowledge to test ourselves and widen our understanding.
I will give an example of this from my practice today. An Earth patient told me of the feeling of mental confusion she often experiences. As she did so, she lifted her hand and pressed it close to her head as if trying to still the thoughts she said churned around inside her. I asked myself whether this gesture could be considered significant as pointing to something particular to Earth. Would I, of the Fire element, ever make a similar movement with my hand? I tried to mimic this movement and realised that I was using a gesture which was totally alien to me. I wondered why this was, and came to the conclusion that, even if my thoughts become confused, which they often do, I clear my mind by talking, as if translating them into a verbal form is what I need to do before I can develop my thinking.* (See footnote added on 24 July 2010 below) By contrast, what my Earth patient apparently cannot do when she is out of balance is put her thoughts into words. Her hand movement was in effect telling me that her thoughts had somehow got stuck inside her head, and the movement could therefore be seen as an attempt to dislodge them.
When I translated this into the kind of treatment that might help her, I came up with the lovely point, St 8 (Head Tied!), located on her head exactly where she had placed her hand, and with a function we could say perfectly fitted what she needed, which was to disentangle the thoughts tied up in her head. Whereas these thoughts of hers had not yet been processed sufficiently to emerge as words, mine, by contrast, never seem to need this kind of help. Rather it is the words themselves which I speak which have to act as sieves for my thoughts, a completely different process, which highlights one of the differences between Fire and Earth.
Such distinctions may seem very slight, but they are significant as pointing to one element or another, as everything is that we do. And one of the best things to do is to mimic the words or the movements of another person to see how far the feeling this mimicry evokes in us can lead us to some new discovery about a particular element. Certainly my experience with my Earth patient today has taught me something both about her and about myself, and thus at a subtle level helped me to a deeper understanding of the contrasting thought processes employed by Earth and Fire.
*Footnote to this, posted on 24 July 2010
I have just read the obituary to Edna Healey in the Guardian of 23 July 2010. They quote her as saying. "Somehow the thing that's in my head is never matched by what's on paper....If only I could write what's in my head I might never have wanted to do anything else. But sometimes, it seems, I only really know what I think when I've heard what I've said."