Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Don't shut the elements up into too small boxes

In our attempt to pin down some of the characteristics of the five elements to help us with our diagnostic skills, there is always a danger that we apply the very broad definitions we have learnt for each element in too rigid a way.  General descriptions, such as that Fire’s emotion is joy, or Earth’s colour is yellow, are all well and good as starting points to help us understand the differences between the elements, but we have to be careful not to regard them as fixed categories.  Instead we should see them as providing us with broad outlines into which we will gradually learn to fit our growing understanding of the elements.  In each of us as unique human beings they meld together to form something far less clear-cut.

Of the four sensory signatures of colour, sound, smell and emotion I always think the most accessible initially are the emotional signs.  The others are likely to be more difficult for us to detect, since our senses tend to become blunted as we grow.  Our emotional sensitivity, however, has to continue to be sufficiently acute throughout life to guide us through the intricacies of human relationships, and this is why we may often concentrate our diagnostic antennae more upon how a patient makes us feel emotionally than upon whether we can detect a specific smell or colour.  With time, of course, our other senses grow sharp enough to help us with our diagnosis, but even now, after 40 years of practice, I find that my first impression of a patient is based upon their emotional impact upon me.  Subsequently, I will draw upon information my other senses give me to add to this. 

At least that is true for me, but may not of course be the same for other five element practitioners.  One of my fellow students at our Leamington College, for example, had a very acute sense of smell, and used his ability to pinpoint a five element smell as the basis for his diagnosis.  Presumably painters must have an acute ability to see colour, and musicians an equally highly-developed sensitivity to sound.  I am neither a painter nor a musician, so I tend to fall back on what I feel is my most developed sensory skill, which is that of recognizing the emotional signals directed at me by my patients. 

Here, too, though, we must beware of relying too heavily upon boxing the elements into too rigid categories.  Something like this is always likely to happen as a result of being told that a particular emotion is assigned to each element.  If we take Wood, for example, whose emotion is described as anger, it becomes all too easy to think that any expression of anger must point to this element, whereas experience will gradually help us understand that each element can express anger in its own way, since every person, whatever their element, has a liver and a gall-bladder, which are Wood’s organs within us.  For example, I am of the Fire element, but can all too often explode with anger, but for very different reasons from those which my Wood or Water friends will express.  Earth’s sense of fear differs from that of Water, Wood, Metal or Fire, just as Metal’s expression of joy differs from that of each of the other elements.

These thoughts have been stimulated by another email from my very “curious” French acupuncture friend, Pierre.  Here are his latest questions to me:

“Which element is the most connected with curiosity? And particularly in the sense of discovery and novelty?
Which one wants to look for efficiency first? Wood?
Do Earth people have trouble moving, i.e. travelling, exploring?”
Based on what I have written above, I think that Pierre’s problem is that he still tends to think that any human characteristic, such as curiosity or efficiency, must be a quality of a particular element, rather than being a common human quality which each different element will express in its own particular way.  My answer to Pierre is therefore that all elements can be “connected with curiosity”, or “a sense of discovery and novelty”, just as all can “want to look for efficiency” in addition to the Wood element, (I, as Fire, certainly do!), and not only Earth people have “trouble moving”.  The crucial thing for us five element acupuncturists is to determine the specific way in which they are expressing these general human tendencies.

1 comment:

  1. I've just received the following email from Pierre who prompted this blog. So I am adding this here:

    "I have carefully read your blog, and I realize that each feature I wonder about to deepen my understanding of the elements is not a good way. For each characteristic of human behavior there will always be the same answer behind :"each element can do, think or say that, but each one in a different way, in its own way". And more than an element way, we can say : it is in an unique person way. Thus, we don't use them to diagnose any CF, and we just have to explore which one of our senses is the best to find our patient's CF, and slowly consolidate the others to build a better report on the CSOE.
    Thank you Nora for your lights, I will stop focusing my reflections on all these human characteristics now, to let me just feel, see, listen, and smell. Indeed, like JR said, even in the same element, there is an infinity of kinds of greens, yellows etc...."


    And my reply to him was: "You are absolutely right, Pierre."