Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Paring away the inessential

I was thinking whether there was one word I could use to describe the essence of an element, that which lies at its very core and defines its specific quality.  And with the word essence the words “paring away the inessential” leapt to my mind, and echoed there for a long time.  I recognised this as referring to the Metal element, and saw that it was appropriate that it was given to this element to be the first to formulate its own definition of its essential quality, and to offer me this glimpse of itself so clearly and succinctly.  There can be no more condensed a definition of an element’s most fundamental nature than this. I feel that the phrase goes to the heart of what distinguishes Metal from the other elements.

It is helpful to think what the word to pare means, and why this is so true of Metal.  Interestingly, we usually add the word “away” to the verb, thus to pare away.  Again this points to a very interesting Metal characteristic, for to pare away is to discard, throw away, get rid of, and this is, after all, the function of the Large Intestine.  To pare away is to remove the outer skin of something, such as fruit, and throw it aside to expose that part which we want to eat.  This action is always done with a knife, and this is of course always a metal knife.  One of the disposable knives in wood or a kind of ecologically acceptable plastic as an alternative to metal which now litter eating places cannot do the job properly, for they are far too blunt.  Only a metal knife can peel away the outer layer sufficiently cleanly, as the element itself does in peeling away the outer, superficial surface of things to reveal the truths lying below.  That is Metal’s task, and when carried out in a balanced way this is what it does all the time.  It forms the last stage of any process, its final reckoning, just as its season, autumn, exposes the skeletons of trees, revealing their essential nature before winter comes to cover them in frost and snow.

It is to Metal people that I find myself turning when I have a difficult decision to make, for I have found that they can sum up the essence of a situation quickly and in very few words, in effect paring away what is inessential in the situation and revealing the heart of the matter.  This is always done in surprisingly few words.  A Metal person when asked for their opinion about some problem is likely to say, “Do this” or “Do that”, or “I don’t think that’s a good idea”, and leave it at that, as though for them the subject has now been dealt with and put to one side, and they want to move on.  It is as though they have removed the outer skin of whatever we are discussing, pared the inessential away, and pointed to its inner core, to what they consider its essence.  I have therefore always found Metal’s advice to be to the point (such a Metal phrase!), as if they are indeed handing over to me the heart of the fruit on the tip of the knife which they have used to pare away its outer covering.

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