At a seminar I have just given, one of the students asked me about how much attention she should pay to what we call, in five element shorthand, “the element within”. This describes the particular colouring or modification given our guardian element by another element or elements. One way of understanding what I think is a very complex concept is to see our guardian element, modified by other elements, “the elements within”, as being in elemental terms the equivalent of a person’s genetic make-up. We each have a unique elemental imprint which consists of our principal element coloured by the unique shadings this element is given by other elements.
A Wood person, for example, will, as we know, have green as their dominant colour, shouting as their dominant voice, anger as their dominant emotion and rancid as their dominant smell. But the quality of all these sensory signs which gives this Wood person the unique qualities which distinguish him or her from every other Wood person is given the element by shadings from other elements. Thus one person’s Wood characteristics may be modified by Earth, so that their colouring is a yellowish green, the voice a sing-song shouting, their emotion anger laced with sympathy and their smell a sweetish form of rancid. Similarly, another Wood person’s Wood characteristics may have a tinge of Fire in them, so that their colouring is a pinkish green, etc.
I have always pictured this as a kind of “wheels within wheels within wheels”, since the Earth within the Wood, in the first example, will itself be modified by another element, say Metal, so that the colouring becomes a more whiteish, yellowish green, and so on. This is why no one person has exactly the same tone of voice as anybody else, thus making it possible for a unique voice-print to be picked up by a mechanism activating the opening of a door.
What is important in the student’s question is, however, how far all this is significant from a clinical point of view. And since I am, above all, a practical acupuncturist, concerned predominantly with what can help me in the practice room, I feel that spending time worrying about the elements within the guardian element may well be time better spent trying to home in on the dominant element itself, since most of us, myself definitely included, find it hard enough to find what I, rather flippantly, call “the element without”.
Interesting as it is to speculate as to which imprints other elements place upon the guardian element, the important thing is to find this element, a difficult enough task! From a clinical point of view, it has little bearing on the kind of treatment we select, for it is only in very rare cases that we modify treatment in any way to take account of the element within. It may, though, have a bearing on our perception of our patient’s needs. In other words, the Wood patient in our first example may be in need of slightly more sympathy, whereas the patient in our second example may be more receptive to a bit of laughter in the practice room.