Often without our being aware of this, we gradually build up a list of the characteristics by which we have learnt to recognise the different elements These are like our own short-cuts which lead us towards an element. We often follow along what to us is a well-trodden route towards an element without being aware we are doing it, and, more importantly, without checking at intervals to see whether our responses have become stereotyped and no longer reflect the great diversity with which the elements manifest themselves. We should always at intervals do a stock take, and throw out any worn-out clichés about an element which have passed their sell-by date.
None of the descriptions by which I attempt to define the elements can be absolutely clear-cut, any more than the distinctions between one element and another can ever be clearly defined. Like the colours of the rainbow, the elements meld into one another at their edges, so that they will share, faintly, some of each other’s characteristics. Though faint, these similarities can nonetheless confuse us, some more than others, and explain the difficulties we all have in distinguishing between the characteristics of different elements. My own greatest confusion has always come from the differences between Earth and Fire, and my least from those between Metal and Water, with the similarities I perceive between other pairings falling somewhere between these two. Other people will find it difficult to distinguish between other elements.
Each of us should remain aware of where our own particular difficulties in differentiating between the elements lie, and use them as warning signals along the path to a diagnosis. In particular we need to ask ourselves at intervals whether unconscious bias for or against an element has crept into our practice, so that without our realising it the number of patients we diagnose as being of one element seems to be surprisingly high, whilst that of another element surprisingly low. Are we perhaps tempted to avoid recognizing the characteristics of elements we find it too difficult to deal with in the practice room?