I have often baulked at using the words “right” and “wrong” when talking about the elements, because these terms hide within them just this feeling I had in the class of not being good enough, or at least of not being as good as other people. But there is definitely a “right” element, which is the patient’s element, and eventually “wrong” elements, which are the four other elements which are not this patient’s element. We have to learn to accept, though, that discovering the right element always takes a lot of time and a lot of experience, but does not come as a result of a flash of insight in a few moments. It helps, though, to know that the cumulative experience of years of practice undoubtedly speeds this process up.
I have tried to think of better ways of describing an element as being either the “right” or the ”wrong” one, but have not yet come up with any satisfactory alternative. So these descriptions may have to stay, despite making us feel just as inadequate as we felt at school when we got an answer in class wrong. “Not yet the right element” is the nearest I have come to a possible solution, but, although it is an accurate description of the step-by-step process of diagnosis, it does not slip easily from the tongue. Perhaps with more frequent use, though, it will gradually start to supersede the phrase “the wrong element” with all its unhappy associations.
I have often thought that this is one of the reasons why people hesitate to venture into five element acupuncture. Other branches of acupuncture seem to display their diagnostic choices in less black and white terms, and can therefore seem to expose their practitioners less to public displays of what they may wrongly feel as their ignorance.
Significantly, though, this, to me, embarrassing lesson in not recognizing the Earth element taught me the most about Earth in the shortest time that I have ever learnt. As JR would tell us: “You don’t learn anything if you get the element right. It’s when you get it wrong that you learn the most.”