I asked myself why this had thrown me as much as it obviously did, because there I was half a day later still slightly disturbed. Mulling this over, as I always do when something happens which throws me off-balance, I realised that the strong certainty with which she talked about things had caught me on the hop by highlighting what I felt were my own uncertainties and making them look like weaknesses.
If I look carefully at the times when I think of myself as uncertain, it is not in fact the result of weakness, rather the reverse. It represents merely the necessary time my Inner Fire (Small Intestine) needs to weigh up possible alternatives, because I always have to allow myself to see two sides of every situation. In contrast to Wood I am asking myself: “It may be like this, but I must also consider whether it may on the other hand be like this.” And then my Inner Fire carries on with its ceaseless work of sorting what it is right for the Heart to do.
The Wood element, on the other hand, has other priorities. Wood does not have the luxury of weighing up pros and cons. It is there to get on with things, and its decisions have to be rapid and taken in a “no turning back” kind of spirit. Once made, these decisions have to be put into effect as soon as possible, and once it has decided what its opinion about anything is, that fixes it, if not for all time, then certainly for the immediate future. During the time I spent with my Wood friend, I heard many statements of fact which sounded as though they were my friend’s firm opinions. With each of her emphatic statements I could feel any confidence in my own certainties fading a little, as my Small Intestine tried to take on board what was being so firmly offered as fact. It often felt itself swayed by these dogmatic statements because it couldn’t give itself enough time to assess whether at heart it agreed with them or not.
This was another important lesson for me on the differences between Wood’s ability to make decision and my own, and also gave me further insights into Inner Fire’s potential weaknesses, as well as its potential strengths. These are related to its need always to see the other side of the question and therefore to evaluate the relative merits of the arguments being presented to it. I feel that Wood has no such hesitations. Once having made up its mind, that is it. And as I put it myself, it can’t afford to have doubts, because doubts will hold it back from acting, and action is above all what Wood wants.
I learned a further lesson about the Wood element from one of my Wood patients who told me, rather aggressively, that he found my presence challenging, and, being also an acupuncturist, he attributed this to my being, he thought by mistake, of the Wood element. Although I have learnt over the years never to show that I am taken aback by personal comments from patients, I found that I reacted inside myself with quite a vehement desire to answer back sharply, and had to hold myself back from doing so. Afterwards I found that the episode had disturbed my inner equilibrium, and I tried to work out why this was. By dint of some careful self-examination, I realised that this patient had projected on to me his own dislike of being challenged and had in effect made me angry, often the effect Wood can have when the Wood person or I are out of balance. I then analysed my feelings to see what they told me about anger in myself and how far my reaction had been unbalanced, before finally using what I learned from this as a way of understanding not only the Wood element better, but other elements within me, such as Water (my fear of the anger) and Fire (my own element’s reaction to stress). An interaction of just a few minutes therefore became through this a valuable lesson about the part of me which reacted to the Wood element, as well as about Wood and other elements in general.
Sometimes I come across very appropriate quotations about the elements in books that I read which I like to collect. Here is one about the Wood element in a book by Helen Dunmore called The Spell in Winter
“I was bad at anger; I’d always been bad at anger. There was something pitiful in Miss Gallagher which muddled me.”
I, too, have always been "bad at anger". That doesn't mean that I don't get angry. I certainly do. But my anger leaves a strong aftertaste in me which it takes me a long time to get rid of. It is as though I am ashamed of feeling this emotion. The "something pitiful" which the protagonist in this book feels is something which resonates with me, because I also tend to find quite legitimate excuses for the behaviour in people that has provoked my anger.
Thus do I learn a little more each day about myself, about my Inner Fire and about my relationship to the Wood element.
Finally, here is a lovely illustration of Wood’s sensitivity to the effects of acupuncture treatment. It would help us in corroborating some of the principles according to which we work if patients were able to report precise effects when feeding back on the outcome of any particular treatment, but it is rare for patients’ assessment of improvement (or otherwise) to be so precise as to enable us to relate this to any particular treatment rather than to a combination of treatments. To encourage us, however, it does, occasionally happen that a patient may say something like, “whatever you did last time made me feel marvellous (made my backache better, helped me cope better)”.
On rare occasions, feedback can be even more specific. I treasure still, like some beacon in this particular wilderness, the memory of a Wood patient who, when I needled Gall Bladder 40, described immediately in perfect detail the pathway of part of the Gall Bladder meridian. He traced the movement of energy down to the toe and back up along the outer leg, where with great accuracy he showed me the odd lateral dip the Gall Bladder is said to take at mid-calf, and then continued to draw a path up over his knee to his abdomen, finally arriving at his head, where he said, “I seem to feel something up here at the side of my eye.” I have had other Wood patients describe the line of some movement of energy along a Gall Bladder pathway in this way, but none so precisely as this. It may well be that Wood, the element which structures us, can feel the structure of its own shape reasserting itself as more energy, like sap in a plant, courses through its pathways as a result of treatment. I have not had such detailed descriptions of the passage of energy from patients of other elements.