Monday, May 23, 2011

The effect we have on others

None of us really knows the effect we have on others, for the spheres of influence we spread around ourselves are much more extensive than we think. Many is the time that somebody has said to me, “I remember what you told me…”, when I could not remember saying it, or even, sometimes, the person who came up to tell me that I had said it.

And just as many are the times when I have said, either silently to myself or to the other person, “I remember what you said”, and how far those words had spread their effects on me and around me down the years. One example of this is particularly vivid to me. Many years ago a friend of mine said, “I would never let anybody talk to me like that”, and I looked at her and saw that nobody would indeed dare talk to her like that. The signals she was sending out were telling those that approached her to beware. This was when I realised for the first time how a person’s aura (I would now say that this is a reflection of their element) envelops them so powerfully that it dictates the actions of those they encounter.

This realisation has been a profound lesson for me, for it means that the stronger and healthier a person’s elements become, the more they will be able to withstand the onslaughts of life and thus act as protection. This is a particularly valuable lesson for a five element acupuncturist, for it confirms that strengthening the guardian element enables the patient eventually to deal appropriately with stresses which before may have overwhelmed them. When in balance, a person’s element will be sending out messages to those we encounter telling them that they can go so far and no further. (This is why I like to call it our guardian element, for it does indeed, in balance, protect us from harm.) The protection it places around us may signal its presence often in very subtle ways, a look in the eyes, a firmness in the mouth, but it is so unmistakable that a person who may be minded to criticize may, as my friend showed me, decide instead to keep quiet. This is the way in which balanced elements show their power, and thus does nature, in balance, protect us.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Everybody, and not just acupuncturists, should learn about the elements

A former student of mine has just told me that she is no longer practising acupuncture, but writes that what she learnt whilst studying with us “yet remains a profound education and absolute awakening such that it has imprinted my being for a lifetime. I am deeply grateful to you and those years studying at SOFEA.”

This reinforced what I have been thinking for some time now. A desire to learn about the elements should not be confined to those wanting to use them to study acupuncture or a similar discipline, although this is predominantly how they are studied now. To understand how the elements manifest in each one of us helps us become more aware of our own and others’ strengths and weaknesses, and thus develop greater tolerance both of ourselves and others. This goes way beyond a concentration upon the needle and where to place it.

If I were to start my life again, (and who knows, perhaps I will in another time and another place, and perhaps, too, on another planet!), I would want to found a school of the five elements, with only a small offshoot dedicated to acupuncture, to which all the world would be invited, young and old, and from any walk of life. It still pleases me that one of my graduates who understands the elements most profoundly was a builder with little education but enormous insight. I still remember his brief essay on the elements in which, in the simplest terms, he captured quite perfectly the essence of each element. Here’s to you, Errol, and to our years together studying the elements, from evening class to graduation and beyond.

I would love to be able to offer the elements to many more Errols in another life.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The love of words

I love words, as all who read my books and this blog will have realised by now, so I was delighted to come across this lovely passage in an autobiography of an Irish writer, Dermot Healy, with whom I have only just become acquainted:

“I disappeared from Ireland and my family. I sat by the back window of Healy’s and read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. Then I moved on to Dylan’s poems. The words shimmered on the paper and released themselves from the prison of the sentences they were in. They became things in themselves. A single word collected a myriad of meanings. Verbs bounded in open spaces. A noun was like a bowl of cream. It contained vast worlds. An adjective made an image infinite.”
                        (p. 58: Dermot Healy, The Bend for Home, The Harvill Press, London, 1996)

Apart from this autobiography I have read just two books by him, his latest Long Time, No See. Both are wonderfully strange and poetic. Why has he not won one of the major literary prizes yet?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The “if only’s” and “what if’s” of life

I have been giving a lot of thought to how each element experiences regret. We feel regret at doing or not doing something that we wish now that we had done or not done. Each element has its own special relationship to the past, none more so than Metal, where the past is its special domain. It is here that it gets its most important work done, for it is its task to weigh up and evaluate past actions. The burden of regret will therefore weigh heaviest upon it, for Metal people want to be able to say to themselves, “I have done this well”. It is not surprising to note how often a Metal person will say, “if only I had done this…” or “what if I had done that”.

Other elements will feel the weight of regret less keenly, because for them what is past and gone will represent something different. Wood must plan for a hopeful future, and will have the least time to regret what is past. Fire experiences regret most strongly where it involves hurt it may have done to others, and will try to use this to make the present better. Earth is turned more towards itself, and may not have time to indulge in the luxury of going over the past. Water, the great survivor, may have the least interest of all in thinking of its past in its struggles to stay afloat in the present. For Metal, as we have seen, the past represents the place where it must do its work. The “if only’s” and “what if’s” of life will therefore place upon it the deepest cuts.

We can find a helpful pointer to these different approaches if we listen carefully to the tense in which we describe the most important events in our lives. I have found that whether somebody talks most in the present, future or past tense is therefore a simple, but often effective, way of helping me reach a diagnosis, to be added to all the many other little signs by which an element reveals itself. The present tense is about things happening now, the future about things to come and the past about things that have already happened, the tense in which Metal often expresses itself. Wood will be happiest saying, “I will be doing this”, Fire, “I am doing this”, and Metal “if only I had done this”. Somewhere in between lie Earth and Water.

Our guardian element leaves traces of itself in all that we do and say. I have found different modes of speech to be another simple way of tracking its footprints.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The classical pianist Lang Lang – an excellent example of Fire!

For all the people who read this blog in China (and elsewhere round the world), I am happy to be able to point them to one of their compatriots, the classical pianist, Lang Lang, who is definitely (in my view) of the Fire element. You can see that he is trying to stop himself from smiling even as he plays, and is just waiting to burst into laughter as soon as he has finished.

I’ve just seen him on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on BBC 1, so you may be able to catch him on BBC i-player.

Have a look at him there or on U-Tube, and smile at his enjoyment of his music-making and of life.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Don’t always think a red face is a sign of the Fire element

One of the most frequent mistakes we have all made is to see a very red face on a patient, and immediately diagnose them as Fire. A flushed face, with an even red spread over the whole of the face is, I have found, never Fire, but either Wood or Earth.

Fire’s red tends to appear in blotches, interspersed with a much paler colour, particularly around the mouth and eyes. Its red also tends to come and go, as happens when we flush, one minute making the face very red and then dying away so that the face looks pale and drained of colour. I always see this as the Heart, and particularly its devoted servant, the Heart Protector, pumping away to try and bring a good blood supply to the face, but not having enough energy to keep the blood flow consistent.

Both Wood and Earth can have very red faces when they are out of balance, but their red does not come and go in flushes, but stays there all the time, placing a layer of red over the whole face which almost submerges the elemental colour of green or yellow beneath it. In the case of Wood, the red is a result of the weakness of the mother (Wood) causing distress in the child (Fire). In the case of Earth, the reverse is true, even though there is the same effect of flushing. Here Fire, the mother, is unable to pass on sufficient energy to its child (Earth), causing a build-up of Fire in the mother.

The red of a Wood imbalance comes from its child crying out for help, and the red of an Earth imbalance comes from its mother showing distress. The kind of red which appears will obviously be very different in either case, but will, misleadingly, appear to be the dominant colour. So beware of any snap decision about Fire when you see red!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Political power and the elements

I have always been fascinated by observing the political scene from the point of view of the interaction of the elements in politicians. This country, now, is offering me fascinating insights into the different forms of power-play the elements of its leaders engage in. And of all the elements on show in our politicians, the one which engages me most is the Water element.

It is important to remember here that Water likes to do most of its work in a hidden way, like the powerful surges of the tide which leave the surface of the ocean unruffled. In my view, we have or have had three examples of Water in those in power. First, Gordon Brown, an ex-Prime Minister, who fought a deadly, often concealed battle with Tony Blair over 10 years to try and gain the ultimate prize. Then George Osborne, now Chancellor, and somebody, as I heard one political commentator say on TV last night, who always stays behind the scenes and only reluctantly comes out into the daylight. And finally, to complete my trio, Ed Milliband, the leader of the Labour Party, again a hidden man, disappearing in the past behind the obvious charisma of his brother, but stealing power by means of what appeared to be a series of hidden manoeuvres, truly a Cain and Abel story.

All three, Gordon Brown, George Osborne and Ed Milliband, show what are to me unmistakable signs of the Water element, a bluish-black colour, on TV at least, groaning, forceful voices with an inexorable push behind the words, and those fearful eyes which show Water’s ever-present fear. All three, too, are proof of the Water element’s all-devouring ambition to get to the top, allied with an unfortunate capacity to cause unease in those it encounters. None of these people exhibit the ease Tony Blair (Fire) or David Cameron (Earth) are able to draw on in their interactions with the public. Perhaps it is Water’s misfortune, that, though the likeliest of all elements to force its way to the top, it can never for a moment rest easily there, as Blair and Cameron did and can, for “uneasy sits the crown”, and its own unease and fearfulness in the relationships it tries to develop with its political colleagues and the public sow the seeds for what may be its inevitable downfall, as it did so spectacularly with Gordon Brown. We have yet to await George Osborne’s public fate, and perhaps David Cameron will shield him better and oppose him less than Tony Blair did Gordon Brown. Ed Milliband, still surprisingly so unknown a quantity, appears to be very awkward in his role, making many people already yearn for the days when his brother David, so very much more charismatic and at ease with himself  (Metal?), charmed Hilary Clinton.

Lest you think that Water’s power only shows itself in men¸ I must add to this trio Cherie Blair, the ever-present, watchful presence behind Tony Blair’s throne.

And finally, as I have often said, my diagnosis can only be tentative, as I have never met any of the famous people I write about face to face.

Who ever thought that understanding about the elements was only of benefit to acupuncturists?