Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How people make us feel

Each day of my practice adds one more day of learning.  Today’s lesson came from something I observed in myself after I had been asked to look at another practitioner’s patient.  Together we agreed that she had been treating her on what I, too, considered to be the right element, which was Fire, but when I was thinking back on this patient the next morning, I remembered that I had remarked at the time, “She’s a rather passive person, isn’t she?”

Something about what I had said jarred now with my feelings around the Fire element.  Was passive a word I would ever use to describe a Fire person, I wondered?  That set me thinking of as many Fire people as I could, including of course myself.  Nobody could call me passive, but then I am Inner Fire, and the Small Intestine is the most active of all the four Fire officials.  But I could think of no Outer Fire person I knew either to whom the word “passive” would fit.  I then thought more carefully about something else which had struck me after seeing her.  I had not felt that she was trying to give me anything, far from it.  I felt instead that she was drawing me towards herself, which gave me now with hindsight the feeling I associate much more with the Earth element.  She seemed to be expressing a need, as though asking something from me, rather than wanting to give me something, so much more typical of Fire.  I told the practitioner of my doubts about Fire, and suggested that she should change her treatment to Earth and let me know how the patient was after a few Earth treatments.

It pleases me that I somehow could not leave things alone until I had traced my unease about the time I had spent with the patient to its source.  This feeling about how we experience being in the presence of a particular element becomes ever stronger with experience, and we should always take note of it.  It can be seen as a form of direct transmission to us of the essential nature of a patient’s element.  

If we interpret this information correctly by examining our own feelings and their response to what is coming from the patient we are well on the way to finding the element.

I always love it when an element declares itself so firmly in this way, even giving me only a slight, but clear hint of its presence.  It may take me a little while to see what it is trying to tell me, but then it always certainly better late than never.


Graham's groan

Today I happened to meet a young man in the street whom I hadn’t seen for a number of years.  I am calling him Graham, because it makes for a good title to this blog, but that is not his name.  We exchanged greetings, talked for a short time and then parted.  As I walked away, I found that his voice was so pronounced a groan that I laughed at myself for not having thought of him as Water before.  What was interesting to me, and what taught me a little more about the Water element, was that the sound of this voice stayed with me for so long.  I could still hear it echoing in my head many hours later.  I almost felt that I was pursued by its groans.

What it showed me about Water was that a groaning voice, unlike any other tone of voice, has the ability to make itself felt in a very persistent way that I had not noticed before.  It seems to me to be a clear reflection of Water’s ability to push through whatever obstacle is in front of it.

I must listen now to some more Water voices to help me learn to recognize this quality in their voices.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Paring away the inessential

I was thinking whether there was one word I could use to describe the essence of an element, that which lies at its very core and defines its specific quality.  And with the word essence the words “paring away the inessential” leapt to my mind, and echoed there for a long time.  I recognised this as referring to the Metal element, and saw that it was appropriate that it was given to this element to be the first to formulate its own definition of its essential quality, and to offer me this glimpse of itself so clearly and succinctly.  There can be no more condensed a definition of an element’s most fundamental nature than this. I feel that the phrase goes to the heart of what distinguishes Metal from the other elements.

It is helpful to think what the word to pare means, and why this is so true of Metal.  Interestingly, we usually add the word “away” to the verb, thus to pare away.  Again this points to a very interesting Metal characteristic, for to pare away is to discard, throw away, get rid of, and this is, after all, the function of the Large Intestine.  To pare away is to remove the outer skin of something, such as fruit, and throw it aside to expose that part which we want to eat.  This action is always done with a knife, and this is of course always a metal knife.  One of the disposable knives in wood or a kind of ecologically acceptable plastic as an alternative to metal which now litter eating places cannot do the job properly, for they are far too blunt.  Only a metal knife can peel away the outer layer sufficiently cleanly, as the element itself does in peeling away the outer, superficial surface of things to reveal the truths lying below.  That is Metal’s task, and when carried out in a balanced way this is what it does all the time.  It forms the last stage of any process, its final reckoning, just as its season, autumn, exposes the skeletons of trees, revealing their essential nature before winter comes to cover them in frost and snow.

It is to Metal people that I find myself turning when I have a difficult decision to make, for I have found that they can sum up the essence of a situation quickly and in very few words, in effect paring away what is inessential in the situation and revealing the heart of the matter.  This is always done in surprisingly few words.  A Metal person when asked for their opinion about some problem is likely to say, “Do this” or “Do that”, or “I don’t think that’s a good idea”, and leave it at that, as though for them the subject has now been dealt with and put to one side, and they want to move on.  It is as though they have removed the outer skin of whatever we are discussing, pared the inessential away, and pointed to its inner core, to what they consider its essence.  I have therefore always found Metal’s advice to be to the point (such a Metal phrase!), as if they are indeed handing over to me the heart of the fruit on the tip of the knife which they have used to pare away its outer covering.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A reason to write my books

I have just received this lovely pat on the back about my latest book, all the way from Australia:

“I just wanted to tell you how much I have loved reading "On being a five element acupuncturist". Somehow I take more in from words on paper than words online.

It's a gem - not only in terms of giving insight about diagnostic and practice skills but also I find it immensely reassuring and affirming. It's so nice to know that doubts and mistakes are normal and even useful. It can be particularly challenging over here in Australia where there are so few of us trained in five element style acupuncture.

Thank you, Nora!”

I am reprinting it here for two reasons.  The first, obviously, is because it is lovely for me to hear that what I write is of help to others.  The second is that I am delighted that I am helping five element practitioners understand that “doubts and mistakes are normal and even useful."

I have always liked to Descartes’ phrase, which is usually quoted as “I think, therefore I am (cogito, ergo sum)”.  But in fact I prefer its fuller, correct version, which is:  "I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am (dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum)”.  The ability to doubt and therefore to be humble in our thinking is a rare gift we should all cherish in ourselves.  This is particularly so, as I always say, when we are trying to track down the elements.

I could not have expressed one of the aims of why I write more succinctly and more beautifully.  So thank you, too, Lucy, for this encouragement to continue writing.