Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Two more quotes about the Wood and Metal elements

Sometimes I come across very appropriate quotations about the elements in books that I read.  I like to collect these.  Here are two more, one about the Wood element and the other about the Metal element, both from a book by Helen Dunmore called The Spell in Winter:

Wood quote:

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.

Metal quote:

“You live backwards as if there’s no tomorrow.”

I think this is a very acute observation of some aspects of the way in which Metal people live their lives, looking backwards and judging a past that is behind them.  I think that Wood, on the other hand, would like always  to "live forwards as if there will be no past".

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An attempt to de-mystify the term "possession" in five element acupuncture

There is much discussion going on in China at the moment around the term used in five element acupuncture which in English we call “possession”.  I gather that the Mandarin word which has been used to translate it has all the overtones which the English word has.  I have always felt that this is an unfortunate term, but one that is so embedded in five element practice that I have been reluctant to discard it and seek another, less charged one.  But now, because of the Chinese hesitancy in continuing to use it, it seems the right time to think again whether we need to change it to make it describe more accurately and appropriately the condition patients suffer from.  
I need first to define my understanding of the condition itself before trying to come up with a suitable new term for it.  It will help by describing what is, in effect, the very simple test we use to diagnose it.  Here the practitioner looks very closely straight into one of the patient’s eyes, and assesses how the patient reacts to this strongly focussed look.  In everyday life it is rare for us to stare straight into somebody’s eyes in this way, unless in an aggressive or very loving way.  In the normal course of events such an intense stare becomes uncomfortable both for the person staring and for the person being stared it, so that both will try to break off this close eye contact as soon as possible.  As a diagnostic tool in five element acupuncture, we are looking to see whether the patient does not react as expected, but instead continues to maintain eye contact without any apparent sign of discomfort.  In a non-possessed patient, there will be an almost immediate movement to the eye, a blink or a turning away, as evidence of the natural discomfort felt at being stared at in this way.  In possessed people, however, this does not happen;  the patient continues to stare unblinkingly at the practitioner.
This is the only, I repeat only, fail-safe way to diagnose this condition.  If present, it then requires a specific treatment which will clear it if done properly.  For the actual procedure, I would refer you to my Handbook of Five Element Practice (chapter 7 in the new Singing Dragon Press edition), which describes this in detail.
I have thought a great deal about what can cause possession, and then why the term seems to me to be an inaccurate and therefore misleading description, however ingrained it is in five element practice.  Most of my learning has come from observing my patients, chief amongst which is my experience of treating a young woman many years ago.  She had come for help to enable her to overcome her inability to sit down and eat with other people, having instead always to eat on her own.  She could not tell me when this fear of eating with others had started, nor could she think of any particular reason to explain it.  A few minutes after I had carried out the possession treatment, she said suddenly:  “When my mother went blind when I was 6…”  When I expressed my amazement that she had not told me this before, she was surprised to learn that she had not, adding, “They took me away to stay with my grandmother, and I thought my mother had died.  That was when I started to refuse to eat with other people.”  I realised then that the treatment had unlocked a door to her past which had been closed since her childhood.  I have had similar experiences with many other patients, where the possession treatment opened up some past history which was hindering them from living a full life.
I have come to regard possession as a form of defence mechanism protecting a patient from reliving some overpowering previous experience, a way of shutting themselves off from continuing to experience something that originally overwhelmed them.  When I was studying many years ago, one of my tutors told us that he regarded possession simply as a more extreme form of obsession, a condition in which the patient tries to gain some control over something which has overwhelmed them, whilst, in most cases, still managing to lead an apparently normal life.  In some people, however, such experiences become so overpowering that they cannot be controlled and can lead to serious psychological conditions, such as schizophrenia.
I do not regard possession as being the result of the invasion of some external force which the term might seem to imply.  I see it instead as an internal mechanism which patients develop to help them cope with a very difficult situation which they cannot deal with in any other way.  It is as though they put up a protective glass screen behind which they can hide themselves from the world, but which is often not visible to those around them.  My young patient had been living an apparently normal life, except with regard to her eating arrangements.  Possession should always therefore be seen as an escape route taken by those subject to some intolerable inner pain.
It is not easy to think of a good replacement term which removes the connection to other uses of the term which have a religious or mystical bias.  I am thinking this through carefully, and the only alternative I can think of at the moment is the term “Internal Dragons”.   This is the name given to one of the group of seven acupuncture points used in this treatment.  I remember being told some years ago that the seven points we use could be regarded as seven dragons chasing away seven demons, an image I liked.  This may again come a little too close to the concept of possession as occurring as a result of some invasion from outside, a kind of take-over by an alien force.  However, we can think of demons in much the same way as we talk of a person being subject to the “demon drink”, something somebody brings upon themselves, not something which attacks them from outside. 
It is heart-warming to me that five element acupuncture has such a simple and profound treatment protocol for helping restore to good health people suffering from such dislocation in their lives, and one which can break down the internal barrier that life has forced them to place between themselves and the world outside.  I find the image of calling upon kindly dragons to fight the internal demons which are trying to take control of our patients’ lives strangely comforting.
If I, and others around me, can think of a better term which satisfies the Chinese objections, I will pass this on in a future blog.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How the elements cope with responsibility

Having written about the Wood element in positions of power in my last blog (posted 5 December), I feel I should turn my attention to the other elements.    Most obvious of all is a very clear representative of the Metal element, Barack Obama (with, standing at his shoulder, one of the greatest statesmen of them all, Nelson Mandela).  I can think of no greater antithesis to Donald Trump than Obama.  Where Trump is impulsive, given to displays of unco-ordinated thought and action, we have in Obama the very epitome of the opposite, somebody who thinks things through carefully, utters no unconsidered word or action, stands back, observes and only then acts or speaks. Trump’s impulsive tweeting would be anathema to Metal.

So I am left to consider the remaining three elements, Fire, Earth and Water.  As those who have read my Keepers of the Soul  (Chapter 6) already know, over the years I have always used Tony Blair as an excellent example of one aspect of the Fire element, Inner Fire (Small Intestine).   This side of Fire has a toughness coming from its need to sort things appropriately for the Heart, and will feel that it must refuse to do what it does not consider right to do, and force through what it thinks right.  Whatever our opinion of Tony Blair’s decision about the Iraq war, he was convinced, and is still convinced, that this was necessary, and would not allow public opinion, so vehemently against him at the time, to sway him.  There was, too the added pressure exerted upon him from his association with George Bush (another Wood leader to go with Donald Trump and Theresa May), who drew Tony Blair in his wake.

I think that the other side of Fire, Outer Fire, is well represented by two flamboyant politicians, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, both able to attract supporters by acting the clown and making them laugh, a very different Fire quality to that of Tony Blair.

Fire and Wood are the two strong yang, outward facing elements keen to push themselves forward.  We can contrast that here with Obama’s Metal, with its inward-turning yin qualities.

We are now left with the last two elements, Earth and Water.  Interestingly, what I consider to be the most powerful element of all, Water, does not like to push itself too strongly into the limelight, as befits its deeply yin nature, making it the most hidden of all elements, as it works away in the dark.  The most obvious politician I can think of to show Water’s characteristics is Gordon Brown, briefly a Prime Minister, and yet somebody who for many years attempted to undermine Tony Blair and usurp his position.  When faced with the first opportunity to challenge Blair, though, he hesitated and retreated, only becoming Prime Minister once Tony Blair had resigned.  And as Prime Minister, despite so desperately wanting this position for so many years, he was surprisingly hesitant and uneasy in the limelight.

Finally, Earth, for which, David Cameron, our former Prime Minister, is a good example.  Here is a man at ease with himself, and easy in the company of others, with one of those soothing Earth voices.  Once having made the fatal decision to hold the referendum, he was unable to deal with its consequences, resigning immediately rather than facing them.  Powerful when surrounded by others in power (the yang aspect of Earth), Earth’s yielding yin aspect came to the fore when he lost the referendum, and like Gordon Brown, but for other reasons, he retreated rapidly into the background.  In the last glimpse of him on the Downing Street doorstep he was, appropriately for Earth, closely surrounded by his family.

Some people reading these thoughts of mine will disagree with my conclusions, but I hope what I have written has at least made them think a little more about how the elements, in shaping all of us, shape our politicians in very specific ways.  These may often be disturbing ways, but equally often, I hope, positive ones, too.  After all, South Africa would still be under the thrall of apartheid if there had been no Nelson Mandela.  I hold fast to my thoughts of him as a good antidote to fearing what Trump may unleash upon the world.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The pitfalls of making snap diagnoses

Since all five element acupuncturists know that diagnosing a patient’s element takes much time and is certainly not done in an instant, it is obvious that trying to do the same by looking at the necessarily brief glimpses of politicians and other famous people on television or social media can at best be a rather hit and miss affair, and at worst may lead us to making completely erroneous conclusions.  I remember well that I was convinced that Julia Roberts was Fire, because this is how I interpreted her endless smiling.  I told all my students this until one day, a good few years later, when my understanding of the different qualities of the elements had obviously deepened, I noticed a different reaction in me to this smile.  It certainly did not warm me, but, instead, irritated me with what I now thought was its artificiality.  I realised suddenly that, rather than giving me something, as Fire always tries to do, it was demanding something of me.  Once I had noticed this, I changed my diagnosis from Fire to Earth, and have stuck with that ever since.  This was a good warning to me always to hedge my conclusions about elements with a few question-marks.

So, now being an older and wiser observer of my fellow human beings, I hesitate a bit in offering my thoughts on the elements of politicians much in the news at the moment, but if I don’t add my slice of knowledge to what others are trying to learn about the elements, then I think that is a bit cowardly.  Those of us who have been looking at the elements for many years (in my case over 35 years) have a duty to pass on whatever they have learnt to those with less experience.  So here goes with what I have observed in two politicians very much in the news at the moment: Theresa May, in this country, and Donald Trump, in the United States.

At such a difficult time for the world, I find it interesting and disturbing that the fate of so many people is in the hands of two people I consider to be of the Wood element.  Leaving aside their politics, what is it about the Wood element which makes me wary of this element being the guiding force in a leader of a country (and in Trump’s case in a leader of the Western world)?  I’ve thought carefully about this, and will continue to do so as I observe their words and their actions over the next crucial months.  Here I can draw on the knowledge of the Wood element I have gained through my acupuncture practice.  If we think of the cycle of the elements as describing the arc of a human life from birth to death, then after its period of gestation in the seed of all life, the Water element, life emerges into the open in the Wood element, at its point of birth, and then on to early childhood.  I ask myself whether I want my leaders to express the childlike qualities which the Wood element can often show.

What, then, are Wood’s qualities which will manifest themselves in the positions of power held by a country’s leaders?   It definitely has a lot of strength and stamina, good qualities in a leader.  Its principal emotion is a kind of forcefulness of character which demands that others do what it wants them to do, but it can express itself in outbursts of anger if those around it do not fall in with its plans.  We see this kind of anger very clearly in Donald Trump’s emotional outbursts and also the lack of control which accompanies them.  Wood does not yet have the maturity to rein in this anger if this would be a wiser course to take.  Theresa May, too, though much less overtly Wood-like than Donald Trump, shows flashes of anger if a situation does not please her.  A constituent of hers at a meeting with her said that she became very irritated when questioned too closely.  Observing her on a BBC programme, I noticed that as the camera panned back to her after I suspect she thought she was no longer on public view, she looked surprisingly cross – not at all the bland, controlled persona she had shown us during the interview itself.

So it will be very interesting to see how these two leaders deal with the inevitably difficult times which lie ahead for them.  It does not therefore surprise me that, as of this date, 5 December, Theresa May has not yet come up with any clear plans for how to proceed with Brexit.  Though planning and decision making are the prerogative of the Wood element, they can easily lead, on the one hand, to over-dogmatic statements (“Brexit means Brexit” being one of them), and, on the other, to hesitancy, if the Wood element is under stress.  And who, in the positions of power which May and Trump hold, will not be under stress in one form or other?  Rather worryingly for both of them, this sense of balance in their Wood element seems rather to be absent, in Trump’s case most obviously so, his Tweets being clear evidence of this.  Theresa May, too, certainly made some hasty, rather odd decisions soon after coming to power (reinstatement of grammar schools and delaying a decision on the Hinkley Point nuclear power station).  One of these decisions (grammar schools) has since disappeared without trace, and she rescinded the other very quickly and rather ignominiously in the light of China’s anger.  

She has said that thinking about what to do about Brexit keeps her awake at night.  Rather amusingly, I see this as a clear sign of the struggles her Wood element is undergoing to keep everything on track as it passes through its horary time between 11 pm at night and 3 am in the morning.  Angry as I am about all the unnecessary expenditure which will be spent on the Brexit negotiations and would much better be spent on care homes for the elderly or children’s playgrounds for the young, I know I will still find it fascinating to observe how what I consider to be these two clear examples of the Wood element in power will deal with that power.