We must never be too quick to say “I know this patient’s element is obviously Fire (or Wood or Earth or Metal or Water)”. There is nothing “obvious” at all about the way in which an element presents itself to us. We may learn to recognize its presence more and more clearly with time, but we should always leave a healthy small (or large) question-mark hanging over it reminding us that elements can hide themselves so subtly behind manifestations of other elements that they still have the power to surprise us, as they do me even after all these years.
If the presence of an element were so simple to detect, we
would all be brilliant five element acupuncturists early on in our career, but
human beings are much more complex than we think. So we should never underestimate the time it
will take us to find the one element buried deep within the circle of all the
elements which gives each of us our individual stamp of uniqueness.
Pride, as they say, comes before a fall, and never is this truer
when trying to diagnose an element. We
risk much if we think our understanding of the elements is greater than it
In any case, the secret of good five element acupuncture is
not simply managing to diagnose the right element, despite this being what many
practitioners think. Instead it is
learning to respond appropriately to that particular element’s needs. Even if we diagnose the right element, do we
know how to respond to its needs in a way which makes the patient feel that
they have been heard as they want to be heard?
If that understanding is not there, treatment will rest on fallow
ground, however much it may be focused
upon the right element.
Supposing, for example, that we diagnose a patient’s
element, correctly, as Metal, but respond to it in a way which would be more
appropriate to an Earth patient, offering a kind of “Oh dear, Oh dear, you poor
thing” kind of response, we will find that our Metal patient soon backs away
and decides not to continue treatment. Our
element may be Earth and it may be natural for us, mistakenly, to offer to all our
patients what we ourselves feel most comfortable with. Unfortunately, however, we have to learn to
make ourselves at ease in the company of elements not our own. To surround Metal, for example, with a kind
of enveloping sympathy is not what it wants.
It will feel suffocated by it, its Lung unable to breathe. Instead we must learn to offer the space it
always wants to place between itself and others.
And the same holds true for how we need to approach our
interactions with the other elements. As far as possible, then, we must learn to suppress the needs of our own
element and think ourselves into those of the element we have chosen to
treat. This is not an easy task, and one
that it takes some skill and much practice to acquire.