Each element has a distinctive way of speaking, and as five element acupuncturists we are taught to listen for tone of voice as one of the sensory signs by which we recognise the elements. As with the other three sensory signs, smell, colour and emotion, we tend to think that we recognise a sensory signal merely by using the appropriate sense organ, in this case by listening. But there is more to speech than the mere sounds we utter as words. In addition to the tone of voice in which we hear the words, we need to look at how the words are spoken, as well as the body language which accompanies them and expresses their meaning. No diagnosis of the element behind the words can be complete unless all these factors are taken into consideration.
There is an additional important factor here. When we feel we have to rely simply on the sharpness of our hearing, we may feel helpless if we cannot yet distinguish the different tones of voice, something which it takes many years to master (so students, take heart – we have all had to learn this the hard way!). If we can add to this some visual input, by looking at how the words are spoken and watching the body language, we have more in our sensory armoury to call upon. This is something that is particularly important for me as I am now very hard of hearing and don’t trust my ears as I once did. I have therefore started to develop additional distinguishing marks which I can add to tone of voice to help me recognize the elements. I noted, for example, that Fire people tended to lean forwards towards the person they are talking to it, making me wonder whether this was indeed a characteristic peculiar to all Fire. I then started to observe myself talking, and noticed that I, too, move forward towards my listener, as though trying to engage more closely with them and add something personal to the communication.
I have now started to look more closely at the movements the other elements make as they speak, and have so far discovered the following, though I have still much work to do to define these characteristics further and with greater reliability. Metal, as is to be expected, tends to remain remarkably still as it talks. Earth enunciates its words very clearly and obviously enjoys the process of speaking as though, I like to think, it enjoys the moment at which a word is uttered, then swallowed, and the thought behind it digested, much in the way we enjoy the taste of food as we digest it. Its way of talking is comfortable and soothing, reflecting the singsong quality characteristic of its speech. This can make it the easiest on the ear.
Water’s speech, on the other hand, tends to be more rapid and jerky. Its body moves as it speaks, with none of the stillness behind Metal’s words or the comfortable feeling underlying Earth’s. Its characteristic tone of voice gives it a droning-like quality of speech which can be difficult to listen to and unsettling to the listener, without their knowing quite why, a characteristic typical of Water. Finally, there is Wood, where the emphasis behind the words, that of telling somebody something with a kind of internal punch, can be spoken through tight lips, as though the words are being restrained from bursting forth.
These represent some early observations of mine, and reflect only half-formed ideas. As I go on, of course, I may find some Fire people who never move as they talk, and Metal people who do, just to throw the cat among the pigeons! But that is the nature of things, and I offer the observations above as food for thought and as another illustration of how we try to learn to hone our diagnostic techniques as patient succeeds patient, and as I hope I will continue to do as long as I practise.