Saturday, June 15, 2019

23. Developing our sense of smell

Each person will probably have one or several of their senses more finely attuned than the others, and it is good for all budding five element acupuncturists to find out which of their senses responds the most directly to the presence of other people, and will therefore give them the most sensory information in the quickest time.  For example, I remember that there was a young man in our undergraduate class at Leamington who we all envied for his highly developed sense of smell, which led him unerringly to one of the five elements.  It has taken me much longer to develop my own sense of smell sufficiently to be able to pinpoint one of the elements.  But I have found that it is smells which have for me an immediacy which makes me respond to them often more quickly than I respond to messages conveyed to me from my other senses, such as hearing or sight.  This may be because each breath I take is accompanied by an intake of the smells which surround us, so that as we breathe our senses are already made aware of signals coming from the world outside and in particular from the people around us..  The secret, of course, for a five element acupuncturist is to learn to distinguish from this plethora of smells the one coming directly from a patient’s body.

I had my first experience of the power of smell when driving a patient to my college for treatment in the college clinic.  This was early on in my training and with the arrogance of all beginners I was sure that this patient was Fire.  I gradually became aware of a strong smell coming from my patient next to me in the car.  Almost without my thinking too much it set off all sorts of confusing question marks off in my mind, which I tried to dismiss in all the stress of getting my patient to the college in time and preparing myself to treat her.  We had to present our patients to the rest of the class, and after confidently saying that I thought she was Fire, I was very surprised to hear most of the class saying that from the way I described her I seemed to be pointing towards Metal.   The tutor confirmed this and I realised with a shock that almost unconsciously I had been rejecting the patient’s smell as being the scorched of Fire which I thought it was, and had started to smell instead the Metal smell which became increasingly strong as her nervousness increased.  This was a very big lesson for me in really allowing my senses to tell me something which my mind, so fixed on another element, was trying to reject.

As a student, too, I was also made aware of the power of smells, and their ability to point me straight towards one element, when I was standing next to a fellow student as we lined up for an anatomy viva.  I did not know who was standing behind me until my nose was assaulted, and this is not too fanciful a description, by a sudden overpowering smell coming from behind me which reminded me strongly of the sharp smell of urine, which we were told was that of the Water element.  Without turning round I suddenly realised who must be behind me, because there was only one Water person amongst my fellow students.  This was another time in my early training that a smell had so strongly pointed me towards a particular element.  I realised that one of the reasons why it was so overpowering a smell was because my fellow student was obviously very nervous, and the strength of the smell coming from him reflected his high state of anxiety.

I have since learnt to recognize Water’s smell in other ways.  Sometimes I am suddenly made aware that I sense a source of water in the practice room, and have caught myself looking around to see whether there is a basin of water somewhere or water running from a tap.  It is as though the patient from which this watery smell is coming seems almost to be floating in a bath.

A Fire smell, which we call appropriately scorched, is the one with which I am most familiar, because it is my own smell, and we were always encouraged to use our own bodies to familiarize ourselves with our element’s smell.  We were told not to use deodorants, and feel under our armpits after some exercise. The familiarity of this smell is what often helps me confirm the diagnosis of the Fire element in a patient.  The smell definitely makes me think of something hot.   

I have learnt, too, to associate the Wood smell we call rancid with my mother, and in particular with one episode in my early life when she and I had a cabin together as we made our way on a boat to the States (those were the days when boat travel was more frequent than flying!).  I remember being very conscious of her smell then, and to my surprise must have retained that memory for all the years since, until a Wood patient reminded me of it again, and for a few moments transported me back to my childhood, so strong are the sensory messages the elements leave with us.

Smells move around us in different ways.  A Wood smell rises up towards me quite actively, as though it has an energy within it.  On the other hand an Earth smell, which we call fragrant, has a very different effect upon me, making me feel nostalgic, as though returning me to a much earlier time in my life.  Its smell is very sweet, like sweetened milk I like to think, and I have always wondered whether there is in me a long-forgotten memory of a time when I was at my mother’s breast drawing milk from her.  It is a smell I have often noticed around nursing mothers.

That leaves Metal, the element most concerned about personal hygiene and least likely to relish the unhappy name of rotten which its smell has been given.  Metal is always a conundrum.  It seeks the highest and the purest, and yet its yang meridian, the Colon, is constantly occupied in ridding the body of all the accumulated rubbish which it no longer needs.  The remaining impurities can be reflected in its smell, which comes from all the waste material the body has been unable to rid itself of.  Metal people are often very sensitive to their own smell, and I had a very good example of this.  A young patient rather ashamedly admitted to me that she felt “like shit inside”, a true description of the effect of an unbalanced Colon.  Each time she came for treatment I noticed that she was wearing what was obviously a completely new set of pristine white underwear.  I interpreted this as an attempt by her to ensure that she would smell as clean as possible on the outside to mask what she experienced as her inner dirt.  It was with some amusement that I noticed after some treatment of her Metal element, that her Colon must have been sufficiently strengthened to be able to dispose of all the rubbish inside her, so that this now allowed her to wear more worn items, as though she was no longer so worried about her body’s smell.

The important thing with learning to develop our senses is that doesn’t just happen by itself but requires practice.  We have to train our sense of smell to a greater degree of sensitivity, and the only way to do this is consciously to set out to smell as many things as we can.  That means smelling anything and everything, but above all training ourselves deliberately to smell the people we come into contact with, which is not something which is usually considered socially acceptable.  When we lean forward to kiss somebody, as more and more people do automatically now, I think we tend deliberately to hold ourselves back from smelling them, as though to do that is to invade their personal space.  Of course most people now wear deodorants, as well as often adding to these a distinct perfume.  The deodorants are presumably intended to hide a person’s actual smell, and perfumes are meant in some way to complement this smell.  I have always assumed that the reason we like certain perfumes is because they unconsciously have a special relationship to our own natural smell, however hidden this relationship may be. 

-We were told as students to ask our patients not to use deodorants or perfume before coming for treatment, as this would help us in our diagnosis, but even if our patients are reluctant to do this, a person’s natural smell comes through, particularly when released from under a blanket.  This is one of the reasons why it is always good to ask our patients to remove their outer clothing, and I always encourage students to go back into the practice room after a patient has left, crumple up the paper sheet on which the patient lay and then smell it carefully.  It is amazing how strongly a person’s smell will adhere to the paper long after the patient has left.  This would be good practice for every practitioner to do, and would definitely help keep our sensory organs finely tuned.

A walk in the garden or the country also provides so much opportunity to hone our sense of smell, particularly if you walk round a rose-garden in which strong-smelling roses have just come into bloom.  And since the changing seasons are so marked in nature, there is nothing like the smell of rotten leaves and humus underfoot on an autumn day to remind us of the Metal element’s so similar smell.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

22. What do the different elements get angry about?

I always like looking at the ways the elements express their different emotions, and  that has made me think about how each expresses its anger.
 
When we express emotions other than the one our particular element imprints us with, these other emotions will always be coloured a little by the specific emotion which has our guardian element’s stamp upon it.  If I take the example of Metal, then Metal’s expression of anger will always be tinged with Metal’s own emotional needs, one of which is it demand for others to respect it.  What makes Metal most angry, therefore, are likely to be those things which impact negatively upon its sense of self-respect, or, by extension, upon the self-respect of others around it.  I have seen Metal people becoming extremely angry, and to me quite frighteningly so, when somebody has ridiculed them openly in front of other people.
 
Earth can show its anger when it feels that somebody is not paying enough attention to what it wants to say, or interrupts it in mid-sentence.  Its need is not so much a craving for sympathy, but a craving for understanding in its widest sense.  It wants to be given the space and time to express exactly how it feels, and becomes irritated if it is not allowed to do this.  This is something that I, as a rather over-hasty Fire person, have sometimes been guilty of doing, at my Earth patients’ cost.  
 
I have found Water’s expression of anger to be more hidden, but like Metal’s it can be quite frightening to witness.  It can appear out of the blue (what a Water-like phrase!), like a tornado erupting suddenly out of a clear sky.  Water needs to be constantly on the move, and its sudden expression of anger can be its response to feeling that something is blocking its path.  Behind this outburst of anger lies all the power which Water exerts on all it does.

There is then the Wood element’s own expression of anger.  This is an element most at ease within a given structure and with order in its life.  It is when structure and order are under threat that its dominant emotion of anger will show its stress.   It is easy for us to see an exaggerated example of this in the shouting and fighting to be observed in drunken people on the streets at night.  There is, however, the flipside to this, which is often forgotten, and which often leads us to misdiagnose the Wood element.  This is the suppressed expression of this emotion which we call lack of anger.  Here the voice can speak in an exaggerated whisper instead of a shout, and there may be a marked inability to express anger where anger would be a balanced reaction to some external event. 

Lastly, how do I think Fire tends to express its anger?  I should know, because I am, after all, Fire, but there is always the complication with Fire that, unlike any other element, it has two sides to it, which I have called Inner and Outer Fire.  I have always felt that in some ways this double-sided element could really be described as harbouring two elements, making a total of six in all.  I remember saying this to JR Worsley one day, and was rather delighted when he nodded.  Of course the two sides share Fire’s sensory signatures of colour, sound and smell, but their emotional approach to life is very different.  I can really only speak at first-hand for Inner Fire, although having observed Outer Fire for many years I have learnt to understand some of its qualities as I have those of the other elements.

I know what makes me angry, and that is any injustice meted out to other people, not so much injustice of which I am the object.  I like to fight my battles more on behalf of others than on behalf of myself, and feel deeply, and thus become very angry, when others are wronged.  In my experience Outer Fire’s anger is more directed at feeling that they have been the victim of some injustice.  Both sides of Fire, though, will not harbour grudges for long for they tend to feel that difficulties in any of their relationships with others may somehow be their fault.  Their anger is therefore likely to simmer down quite quickly, once they acknowledge their own role in whatever initially angered them. 

These are my thoughts on the different expressions of anger which each of the five elements may show.    

 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

21. The spaces the different elements occupy

I first became aware of the significance of the different shapes our facial expressions can take on whilst watching Princess Diana’s famous TV interview all those years ago.  I can still picture her appealing eyes looking beseechingly at the camera, and the half-open mouth, with its equally appealing look, as though saying, “Please give me something”.  The look in the eyes and the demanding pout of the mouth have remained for me since then as symbols for what a needy Earth element will demand of others.  And I see both eyes and mouth as giving the impression of something round, confirming for me that there is always something circular about Earth’s actions.  Its speech, too, tends to go round and round a topic, as though enclosing it in a ring of words.  I have therefore come to visualize Earth’s outline in all its manifestations, both physical and emotional, as creating a circle around itself, in the centre of which it tries to nestle “as snug as a bug in a rug”, as the saying goes.   Its body shape, too, often gives an impression of comfortably roundness, with yielding flesh, giving me the sense that I am somehow being enclosed within soft arms, as a mother encloses her child.  Earth is, after all, the mother element, and can never discard this role.

This has led me to compare Earth’s outlines with those of the other elements.  When I think of Wood, I immediately have a picture of straight lines, to contrast with Earth’s rounded contours.  Wood seems to me to move directly towards its goal, physically and in its speech.  Its body has firm contours, with none of Earth’s softness of flesh.  I feel that whenever I touch a Wood person, I would tend to feel firm, hard flesh, which does not yield to the touch as Earth’s does.  Its words, too, are direct and to the point, and come straight at me, pinning me down with their force.  In all that it does Wood offers clear boundaries.  I have no doubt where it is, unlike one or two of the other elements, particularly, as we will see later, Water.

Fire in nature burns strongly and at the same time flickers.  To me its outline, reflecting this, is more fluid than Wood’s, whilst it still has much of the directness and strength associated with being the most yang of all the elements.  I know where Fire is, as I do with Wood, our two yang elements, and see it as having strong contours.  Its speech is less forthright and can be more hesitant than Wood’s, but I see the element as a whole still moving in a straight line towards me, unlike that of its child, Earth.

By the time we reach Metal, in autumn, when yin now firmly takes control, although it has firm outlines, somehow I feel that I cannot grasp it in quite the same way as I can the other three elements I have discussed.  Metal eludes me, slips past me, does not want to be tied down by me.  It tends to walk very lightly, almost as though floating a little, with quiet steps.  We do not hear its feet firmly hitting the ground as we do Wood’s, or walking briskly as we do Fire’s, nor do we think of its feet as somehow embracing the ground, almost unwilling to let go of their contact with what is beneath them, as we often do with Earth’s.  I always remember a Metal patient telling me that he felt he could “go up in a puff of smoke”, and somehow this slightly ethereal feeling is there in everything Metal does, including its movements.

Finally, as always, we reach the most potentially hidden element of them all, Water, where, even more than in the case of Metal, I feel that my grasp on it is the weakest of all the elements.  It seems to slip through my fingers, so that I cannot really catch it.  For me it has the most ephemeral and fluid outline of all the elements.  I often know that I am in the presence of Water when I find myself puzzled, as though on uncertain ground, and unsure of myself, as though if I turned suddenly it will no longer be there, will have disappeared, hidden itself somewhere.  

Sunday, May 26, 2019

20. The elements' different relationships to other people

It is good to use any opportunity we have when there may be several people of a
particular element together to ask them whether they agree or not with some of the characteristics we have come to associate with that element.  This is a good way to reinforce our understanding of an element.  It is also another way of avoiding one of the pitfalls which face five element acupuncturists, and that is of finding it all too easy to start thinking of the elements in terms of rigidly fixed stereotypes (“All Metal people are….), rather than continuing constantly to test our assumptions so as to ensure that they do indeed still hold good.  Since we are composed of all the elements in different combinations and with different levels of importance to us, the unique interactions with each of the elements within us will vary and therefore colour the dominant element in different ways.  Nevertheless, as we know, there are qualities which people of one element have in common, and it is useful to gain a good idea of these qualities as a way of helping us navigate through what can be regarded as being the often dense elemental undergrowth.

Some time ago I had the opportunity to ask several practitioners who were all of the Wood element what was important to them in terms of their interactions with others.  After some discussion amongst themselves they all agreed that what they always wanted was to “engage” with people. Interestingly, two of the definitions given in the dictionary for the word are “to interlock” and “to bring troops into battle”.  Engagement is making some kind of direct contact with another person, and also implies some kind of physical contact, like boxers engaging in a fight.  It represents to me quite the reverse of somebody “walking on by”, which is more the action I associate with the Metal element’s desire to avoid just the kind of close encounter which the word “to engage” seems to describe.  In their description of what they feel most comfortable with, this group of Wood people gave proof of their element’s enjoyment of face-to-face encounters.  They are at ease with meetings with other people which contain some quality of a contest.  Again, we can contrast this with another element, Fire’s encounters, which lack this sense of competitiveness.

What Fire wants of its interactions with others is instead not a contest, but to set up relationships, gifts which the Heart, buried within this element, wants to offer all it encounters.  The challenges which Wood offers those it meets become in Fire’s hands offerings it hopes to give others, ultimately of course the gift of love.  The warm smile with which Fire greets everybody is in itself such an offering, and if this is not responded to warmly in return it will be viewed as a rebuff, a rejection of this gift.  Often we will see Fire people persist again and again with their offerings of smiles and laughter in an attempt to draw some reaction of warmth from the other person.  Wood, in the same position of being denied the engagement it looks for from another person, will simply metaphorically shrug its shoulders and move on, something Fire will find difficult to do, as it will judge the lack of response to its approaches to be a reproach to itself and will therefore try even harder to extract a response.

It is not a response of any kind which Metal wishes for.  Far from this.  It will view all encounters with other people as a test of its judgement.  They are still challenges, as in some respects all meetings with other people are, because they demand responses from each person’s elements, and in particular responses with which a guardian element feels at ease.  Metal’s challenge lies in the area of how accurately it assesses the value of any encounter.  This assessment will also consist in evaluating its own reactions, for all that Metal does includes a high level of self-evaluation, its task being to weigh up all things, itself included, on the scales of some value they assign to them. 

Metal judges itself as harshly, if not more harshly, than others.  And to judge you have to stand back and observe as impartially as you can.  So there is nothing here of the close involvement of one person with another that Fire strives for, or the challenging encounters Wood enjoys.  Instead, there is always a space around Metal which it builds for itself so that it can give itself some distance from which it hopes to view things in as detached a way as possible.  Of course, the degree of detachment and the amount of space depends upon the level of balance within a Metal person.  The more unbalanced the Metal element is, the less it can stand back and observe as impartially as it should, and the more its judgement will then be affected.

And what about Earth and Water, then? There is some similarity between what these two elements want to experience in their encounters with other people, and in each case they express more of a need than we have seen with the other three elements.  Both of these elements enjoy being in the midst of a group, Earth liking to be at its centre with others around it, and Water melding more into the group, each Water person like a drop of water absorbed into the great oceans of life.  Earth will demand more individual attention, whereas Water is most comfortable with safety in numbers.

This picture of Earth surrounded by other people, preferably at their centre, metaphorically echoes the original five element diagram in which the other four elements circle around Earth in their midst.  Water likes to float as one with the rest of the world, which gives it a different quality from that of Earth.  It helps us understand that each will want different things from their relationships with the people around them.

With Earth the most important thing is that those surrounding it face towards it so that they can take careful note of what it wishes to say.  It is not enough, as it is with Water, for it to disappear into the group, for then its words will not be heard and understood as they should be, an understanding which is a necessary part of its need to process its own thoughts properly.  Processing is, after all, one of Earth’s most important functions.  It takes in, digests and then processes all that comes to it, both physically in the shape of food and mentally in the shape of thoughts.  It then has to pass on what it has processed as physical food worked on by the stomach, and as mental food in terms of thoughts and words worked on by its mind, which it then invites others to hear.

I have always found it interesting to note the somewhat confusing messages Water seems always to be transmitting.  On the one hand it has this need in some way to be swallowed up in the whole, to merge itself with those around it, and on the other, it has the quite contrasting, but less overtly obvious need to rise above the masses around it, and thus to rise to the top.  It is known to be the element of ambition and will-power, and just as water in nature exerts by far the strongest force when it is unleashed in storms and tsunamis, so a Water person will tend to achieve whatever it sets its mind to, often pushing aside those who stand in its way, as storm waters submerge all in their path.  Its relationship to others can therefore often seem somewhat ambiguous.  Appearing at ease in the company of others, it can then surprise them by pushing them aside, determinedly and often unobtrusively, in its fight to get to the top.  A Water person might well be the one in an office who, perhaps to others’ surprise, is offered the promotion these others had wanted and expected to be theirs.

And yet, despite this focused struggle to succeed, with little concern for how this affects others and often at their expense, it constantly seeks reassurance from those around it, to still the fears it always has, fear being its dominant emotion.   

 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

19. The elements and their emotions

I have written about the elements in each of my books.  The different observations made in each come from different periods of my life and are therefore based on different levels of this understanding as it deepens year on year.  Inevitably there will be a considerable overlap between what I write here and what I have written elsewhere, but also, inevitably, a different emphasis which my increased understanding gives me. 

As practitioners we each bring into the practice room our own perceptions of how the elements manifest, insights which we have gained from however many years of practice we had had.  Each of us will also have a particular affinity with one or other element, not necessarily, as some people assume, always our own.  Our lives may, for example, have been affected by people of one element, whose influence then colours our perception of that particular element for all time.  We should use the insights this gives us to help us when we encounter that particular element in our patients.   It is also always significant which elements members of our family represent.  And how we select our friends, as well as telling us a lot about ourselves and the needs we are satisfying by these selections, can also turn into a further lesson in the different elements and their interactions with one another upon which we can draw for our practice.

We make all sorts of assumptions about other people, since we usually see them from our own perspective.  It requires great insight and humility to try to step out from under the shadows each of us cast around ourselves and try to move into the sphere of another person.  Unfortunately we often delude ourselves that we understand another’s viewpoint whereas we are simply using our own viewpoint from which to judge theirs.  We must learn never to assume that we know anything about anybody else until we have proof from them that they are as we think they are.  This is the secret of being a good therapist, and also, of course, of being a good parent, partner or friend.  

It is the elements with which we have no particular affinity which can cause us the most trouble, and these we have to work hard at understanding if we are not to let this handicap our work.  We have to learn ways of bridging the gulf this places between ourselves and people of this element, for bridge it in some way we must.  This is where the hardest work for us lies, because we have to try and shed as much of our emotional clothing as we can, and then attempt to put on that of the other elements.  Experience obviously helps us here, because each time we encounter another element we add a little something to our understanding, like another little piece of cloth to this element’s coat which we try to put on, so that it begins to fit us a little better and we feel a little bit more at ease in wearing it.  It is worth thinking in these terms, as we add each experience of another element to our stock, because the aim is to start experiencing an element from the inside, rather than looking at it from the outside, as though we are looking at animals in the zoo.

Of course, since we are made of all the elements, there is always a part of us which resonates with each element we encounter, even though we may not be aware of it or pay it much attention.  The work we have to do here is to track this part down in ourselves and observe each element in action in us as a way of understanding it more from within ourselves.  We must take every opportunity to study them in others and then try to see how far our understanding of them resonates with something inside ourselves.  The easiest way to do this is to think of times in our life when we have experienced the emotions of another element.

Here we immediately encounter a problem, for the words with which we label an emotion, which we know in five element terms as anger, joy, sympathy, grief and fear, are so much more limited than the wide range of emotional attributes they are intended to convey.  The whole spectrum of human emotions, with all their variety and depth, has to be contained within the five simple words we give to these five emotional groupings, and this gives each a far wider and deeper meaning than the words as we use them every day.  In addition, they may well have taken on meanings in common speech which can be very narrow, or have been loaded with all kinds of connotations which may not be helpful in an acupuncture context.

If we look at these everyday descriptions of the five emotions, two, those of joy and sympathy, appear to evoke positive responses within us, one, anger, tends to evoke a negative response and two, fear and grief, evoke more puzzling responses.  Joy and sympathy appear to describe attributes we would all like to be able to express.  We may well think that these are expressions of positive aspects of human behaviour, the one that of being a vehicle for happiness, the other that of showing an ability to support our fellow human beings.  Anger, on the other hand, has a bad press, more often than not being regarded as something reprehensible, an emotion to which we should not allow free rein within ourselves, with connotations of something out of control.  Grief comes out more on the positive side, as being an appropriate expression of loss, if there has been loss, but can develop negative overtones if it persists beyond the point at which others think we should have come to terms with our loss or even when there is no feeling of loss at all, where some expression would be considered only natural.

Fear, too, appears to look both ways, its positive side appearing when it is an appropriate response to danger, its negative side when it persists even when the person experiencing it is not exposed to risk.  The common denominator in the last two cases, those of grief and fear, is that they appear to have a more clearly perceptible appropriate and inappropriate aspect to them which are fairly evenly balanced so that neither has attained the pariah status of anger, which appears to lean too heavily towards the inappropriate, nor the apparently favoured positions of joy and sympathy. 

All these perceptions are misleading in acupuncture terms, and have to be revised if we are to view the five emotional categories in their proper contexts.  Each emotional category has to be seen in neutral terms so that we do not load it with any preconceptions such as those I have mentioned.   Joy and sympathy can therefore be understood to be just as much expressions of inappropriate as appropriate emotions depending upon the context, and we must not shy away from seeing their negative overtones nor from seeing the correspondingly positive overtones of anger.  All emotions have to be viewed as ranging over the widest gamut of human expression, from the most unbalanced to the most balanced.  Thus to express joy where joy is inappropriate is just as much an expression of imbalance as to express anger or fear where there is no occasion for either.  To forget this is to distort our perception of balance or imbalance and thus our interpretation of the aspect of a patient which may be calling out for treatment.  It is unfortunately an understandable human reaction for a practitioner to respond to a patient’s smile more positively than to a patient’s frown, though both may be evidence of imbalance.

When thinking about the different emotions the elements display, we also need to understand that since each of us is composed of a unique combination of all the five elements, and each element expresses every one of the five emotions, there are in effect 25 possible expressions of the different emotions.  The five principal categories which tradition associates with a particular element, which are joy for Fire, sympathy for Earth, grief for Metal, fear for Water and anger for Wood, are therefore modified when it is not a Fire person expressing joy or a Water person expressing fear.  When a Metal person expresses joy or fear, those expressions of joy or fear will be shaded by grief, Metal’s dominant emotion, and therefore will express themselves in a different way from a Wood person expressing joy or fear, or a Fire or Water person expressing joy or fear.

It is therefore not simply a matter of observing joy or fear expressed to their fullest in Fire or Water people, but of having experience of observing these emotions in people who are not Fire or Water.  We have to begin to differentiate the type of joy or fear being shown, however much this may be buried beneath the dominant emotion of another element.  Fire or Water will show these two emotions in their purest form, since they pour out straight from the organs controlled by these two elements, whereas joy shown by an Earth person or fear shown by a Metal person will be modified by the patina of sympathy or thoughtfulness Earth throws over all it does and the patina of grief which Metal shows in all it does.  In other words they will show an Earth- or Metal-type joy or fear, which will be quite different from joy or fear expressed in pure form by Fire or Water.

In trying to gain a foothold in the tricky world of interpreting the emotional signatures of an element, we therefore have to look carefully at all the different possible nuances of emotional expression.  We have to bring to this all the knowledge of the elements we have accumulated so far to help point us in one of the five directions.  We can do this in retrospect, as it were, by looking carefully at a person whose element we are sure of, and observing how they express the emotions of the other four elements, not just their own.  How, for example, does a Metal person express their anger or their sympathy, or a Wood person their grief or their fear?  Such an exercise is a very useful way of expanding our library of pointers to the different elements.

 

 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

18. Diagnostic pointers to the different elements: Part 2: Earth, Metal and Water

I have said that Earth wants to involve other people.  We must always think of this element as needing to be at the centre of things, of drawing things, particularly people, towards it, its favourite position being that of being surrounded by others.  Earth’s eyes present us with an appeal, they ask us for something, they beseech to be looked after in some way.  Translated into the needs of one of its officials, the Stomach, we see that all Earth people demand to be fed at all levels, and only when they have been given the physical or emotional food they want can they turn their attention to feeding others.  At the physical level it is when Earth has opened its mouth to guide food into it that it has enough energy to feed others.  Apart from Earth’s appealing eyes, the mouth is therefore where this element imprints itself most strongly upon the face.  A very good example of this is what I call the Marilyn Monroe pout, with the lips slightly open, a mouth demanding to be fed, almost like a baby bird’s. Something of the neediness which lies behind this look is there, too, in Princess Diana’s appealing expression during her famous TV interview.  Earth’s eyes and mouth together therefore demand something of the people Earth comes into contact with. 

Again it is worth trying to mimic Marilyn Monroe’s mouth.  If I do this, I feel as though my face is saying, “gimme, gimme, please”, a kind of pleading to be looked after.  Obviously Marilyn Monroe exaggerated this trademark expression of hers, for this was where her charm and her marketability lay, so it is emphasized to a greater extent than would occur in a more everyday world, rather than that of a film-star’s, but if properly observed on our part, this will lead us surprisingly unerringly to a five element diagnosis.

When we move on to Metal, the facial movements of eye and mouth grow much calmer and are stilled.  Metal stands back, observes and judges.  Its eyes and mouth demand nothing of us;  they are not primarily concerned with trying to set up a relationship with us.  The eyes do not appeal, but remain detached, requiring space from which to watch the world and weigh up how it judges it.  Our eyes are therefore not drawn to Metal’s mouth, as we might be with Wood or Earth, for it is not asking anything of us.  Instead we focus strongly on the eyes, the most observant of all the elements’ eyes. They observe, but they also have an added quality which is as though in looking at us they are at the same time looking past us, or perhaps, more accurately, looking beyond us.  They echo Metal’s emotion, grief, a longing for what it has not been given, for what it has not achieved or failed to achieve, as though in that look there lies buried all Metal’s longing for those aspects of life towards which it tries to reach out, but which, sadly, often elude it.  Being the element most acquainted with the transitory nature of things, Metal has the most serious eyes of all.

With Water we move from the comparative stillness of Metal’s face to a more mobile expression, as Water’s face reflects all the anxious messages this element sends out in its quest to survive.  It wants to reassure itself that it is safe, that it will survive the harshness of winter come what may. Its eyes have none of the stillness of Metal’s eyes or the forcefulness behind Wood’s gaze.  Instead they seem to flicker and dart around, as though constantly on the move, ready to perceive danger and avoid it.  When we are unsure of what is going on, we will all tend to look nervously around.  This is Water’s fall-back position, and the anxious look which their eyes often take on can express itself in the different ways Water has learnt to protect itself.  One look is the rather unsettled and unsettling one akin to that of a rather frightened animal, with the eyes darting from side to side.  The converse can also be true of Water.  It can take on a very fixed stare, but not the challenging, direct look with which Wood may look at us, but a more rigid gaze, as if the face has become a frozen mask.  If we draw in our breath as though in fear and hold ourselves still for a few moments, we can feel our whole body, including our face, becoming rigid, until we let our breath out and relax.  This is how I imagine Water must react whenever it feels trapped in what is to it a frightening situation.  And Water will find frightening some situations which other elements allow to pass harmlessly by.

It is the nature of each element to have an exaggerated relationship with the emotional sphere which is its home ground.  For Water, here, it is any situation which might cause it anxiety or fear, for Earth any situation in which it feels it has lost its comforting position at the centre of things, for Metal any situation in which it it not given the space or time to detach itself and observe from afar, and finally for Fire, any situation in which its desire to relate warmly to other is threatened.  It is one of the ironies of life that what causes distress to one element, as does uncertainty here for the Water element, may instead be stimulating for another.  Fire, for example, might respond enthusiastically to some uncertain situations, enjoying the freedom to explore them which they present.  Thus each element has specific challenges and specific fears which another element will be indifferent to.  This, of course, is what makes for the rich diversity of human interactions.

It therefore helps us in our efforts to diagnose our patients’ elements to note how different parts of the face are emphasized for different elements.  If we find that our eyes appear to be drawn to the mouth, this may be one way of perceiving Earth. The lips of a Wood mouth may remain firmly, if not tightly, closed until they open to talk. And it is to the eyes rather than the mouths of Fire, Metal and Water that we appear to look more closely, Fire’s eyes because they are trying to draw us into a relationship with them, Metal’s eyes because they seem to be looking beyond us and we wonder what they see, and Water’s eyes because they can constantly dart around as though startled. 

If all else fails, therefore, and we are not at all sure which element our patient is, then we should see whether the rather basic signposts I have listed above help us in our diagnosis.  I have found them to be a remarkably accurate way of supplementing what my senses are unable to tell me.  Each practitioner will of course add their own pointers to this list.  Maybe they will notice a characteristic way of walking, talking, holding a hand out for pulses to be taken or settling on the treatment couch.  Since everything we do is the work of the elements within us, every part of body and soul will be showing characteristic pointers to our guardian element.  We just need to be patient enough and give ourselves the time needed to develop our own individual stock of these diagnostic pointers.