Saturday, January 26, 2019

3. Individual approaches to diagnosing the elements

We can never be neutral observers of life.  As all scientists now acknowledge, the observer is always part of what is observed, so there is no such thing as being objective.  Our judgements are always subjective.  The important thing is to be aware of this, and to try and understand ourselves as deeply as possible so that we can understand the nature of our involvement in any human interaction.  In five element acupuncture terms, this means understanding how our own guardian element colours how we perceive all the people we meet, and in particular how this fact colours our interactions with our patients, and our diagnosis of their particular element.  The important thing is that we should try to trace and analyse the impact each element has on us, and use what we learn from this to hone our diagnostic skills.  So if the Water element does not feel as ephemeral to you as it does to me, or Earth does not feel as needy to you as it does to me, then these differences will help you work out your own personal criteria for how the elements impact on you, and this in turn must help you in your practice.

We therefore need time to home our diagnosis to a point where treatment of the chosen element has had sufficiently positive results to make us feel sure that we are on the right path.  We have to call on our observations of the many ways that the elements imprint themselves upon us to help us pinpoint the most dominant.  And these marks are in everything we do, such as the way a person walks or talks or the kind of choices they make in life.  But above all, and in my view, definitely providing the greatest level of additional information, is the nature of how an element makes us feel.  In other words, the answer to the problem of tracking an element down lies within each five element practitioner, if we are sufficiently self-aware to appreciate this.  If we can learn accurately to measure another person’s impact upon us, we can apply this information to any other new person we encounter who makes a similar kind of impression upon us, thus providing us with a way of pinpointing the guardian element.

We learn to develop our own way of recognizing the different elements, although there are some general characteristics which distinguish one element from another and which we can use as diagnostic aids.  This means that there may only be a few characteristics which we would all accept as common pointers to a particular element.  Our own element and our own life experiences will inevitably colour what we perceive in ways which may well differ.  The experiences gained from our own meetings with people of the different elements will add a particular slant to how we interpret what we see in those we meet, making it likely that we will respond to another person in our own unique way.  There will therefore always be something very personal to us about how we diagnose the characteristics our patients present us with.

Many years back when I was an acupuncture student we were told to concentrate our diagnosis upon the four sensory signals emitted by the elements, under the well-known headings of colour, sound, smell and emotion.  It does, however, require many years of hard study to develop these sensory skills to the appropriate level to give us accurate information about the elements.  Since I initially found this difficult, I soon came to see that each of us is a walking, talking manifestation of the presence of the elements, so that I gradually began to draw together all sorts of little pointers to one or other element to supplement the four sensory categories. This means that, to the acute observer, everything in a person can be seen as diagnostically pointing towards one or other element. 

My own deepest learning about the elements started soon after I qualified, when I was asked to teach some evening classes, and found myself talking to a whole range of people, from plumbers to retired people and young, unemployed mothers.  Looking back, I realise that in explaining what the elements represented for me, and trying to find examples of them in famous people the whole class were familiar with, I learnt to see the elements, not simply as a component of acupuncture treatment, but as one way of approaching the complexities of human behaviour.  I have always felt that anybody interested in understanding more about human nature in all its amazing variety can benefit from learning about the elements, whether they then wish to extend this knowledge into the field of acupuncture or not.

The subjective nature of all our interactions with the world around us is undoubtedly why I notice that my writings about the elements which I present here are not evenly spread over the five, but tend to be focussed more on Wood and Fire, with Earth a slightly more distant third.  Throughout my writing life, I appear to have written far less about Metal and Water.  I rationalize this a little by thinking of the order in which the elements are placed around the great five element circle.  Fire’s relationship to its fellow elements is closest to its mother element, Wood, and its child element, Earth, whilst it has a more distant relationship to the following two yin elements, Metal and Water.  I wonder also whether this helps explain my yang Fire’s deeper understanding of totally yang Wood and half-yang Earth, than of the two more mysterious and more hidden yin elements.  Despite myself, then, what I write is tilted slightly more towards the yang, the sunny side of the mountain and daylight, than towards the yin, the shady side of the mountain and the darkening light.


Monday, January 21, 2019

2. The qualities of the elements

Fire wants to share
Earth wants to involve
Wood wants to tell 
Metal wants to observe
Water wants to make sure

The above is my present take on the elements as I perceive them at the moment.  Over the years I have defined the elements for myself in many different ways, and will no doubt continue to add to my definitions in the years ahead.  Whilst discussing the point III (Bl) 47, Ambition Room, I remember JR Worsley saying : “Everybody must have an ambition for each day.  It doesn’t matter if what you believe you want for today changes when tomorrow comes."  I like to apply this to the definitions of the elements which I come up with from time to time.  The list above therefore represents my thoughts today.  It won’t matter if I change my mind tomorrow, for there are as many ways of describing the elements as there are people in this world.  Is not each human being a unique manifestation of their qualities?
As acupuncturists we use as our principal instrument of diagnosis, not Western medicine’s array of physical equipment, but the much less tangible, much more mysterious quality which we call qi energy.  And in direct contrast to Western diagnostic methods, which try to remove the subjective from their procedures, we are actively encouraged to take note of how we are reacting in the presence of our patients. We train ourselves to observe how the energy network within us created by our unique combination of elements responds to that of those coming to us for treatment.  We therefore have to be aware of the actions of the different elements not only within our patients, but also, and perhaps more importantly, within ourselves.
I say more importantly, because as I have written on many occasions, until we understand the balance of our own elements, and in particular the role which our Guardian Element plays in our interactions with others, we will be unable truly to understand how we may be affecting these interactions, and how this may unconsciously be distorting our relationships with our patients.  My take on the elements shown in this list is therefore inevitably shaped by my own Guardian Element, Inner Fire, and anybody reading this should accept this as a given.  They may then find it useful to use this list to draw up their own definitions of the elements based on their own element.
So on to Fire.  For me, sharing everything that is mine is more important than keeping things for myself.  I learnt this long ago when a friend told me that she thought “silence is golden”, whereas, for me “speech is golden”.  The need to communicate with those I come into contact with, either through the written or the spoken word, is as essential to me as breathing.   I need to share my thoughts in words, as I am doing in my writing here, or in my teaching.  I need to smile at people I meet in the street, smiles and laughter being just another form of the sharing that nourishes my soul.   
For Earth, on the other hand, I feel a different need dominates, that of drawing others into its orbit, reflecting the centrifugal force which Earth people exert upon all who surround them.  I remember seeing this most clearly many years ago when asked by the predominantly Earth group of my fellow acupuncture students to take part in what they called a “group hug” to celebrate our graduation.  Hugging is something which seems to me to be such a very Earth-like activity, for when you hug you enclose the other person within the circle of your arms.  And this image of Earth trying always to be at the centre of a circle is also there in its speech.   I see it as wanting to draw others into whatever it says, often circling several times around a subject in an attempt to make sure that the listener has really understood what they are trying to say.
When we move on to Wood, I feel that it is much more concerned with getting its point across, irrespective of who the listener is.  I have an image in my mind of Wood talking with a raised finger pointing at me to emphasize what it is saying, with a kind of commanding gesture.  This is why I describe it as liking to tell the world what is going on, not asking it, or sharing it.  It tells what it wants others to hear, so that it can order things as it thinks they should be ordered, and thereby stay in control.
I experience Metal as expressing itself in an almost dramatically opposite way to Wood.  Instead of Wood's emphatic speech, it gives itself time to ponder, to think things through, and then will speak quite quietly, but at the same time firmly. It stands back and observes, casting a watchful eye on what is around it.  Its speech is very measured, and it speaks only when it judges it right to do so.  Unlike other elements, it will be quite at ease with silence as it gives itself time to assess what is going on, often critically and dispassionately.
Finally, I come to Water, which somewhere deep within itself always harbours the fear that things may come to an end.  It worries that the link which it is there to establish between the end of one cycle and the start of the next might eventually break, despite all its efforts, forcing life to come to a halt.  It constantly needs the reassurance necessary to still its fears.
These are just some of my current thoughts on the different qualities of the elements.  Others reading this will have quite different opinions which will be just as valid for them as these are for me, provided that they are tested out in all our encounters with others.  By the time I draw up some future list of my take on the elements, no doubt my understanding will have deepened, and this future list may differ quite markedly from the present one.   As JR said, the important thing is that we should be flexible enough to allow space and time for tomorrow’s thoughts to build on those of today.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

1. A Five Element Companion

I find that I have written down many more of my thoughts on my five element practice that have not yet seen the light of day than I thought I had.  My old Viennese astrologer friend, Dr Oskar Adler, whom I have mentioned before in my writings, always said that each of us has a duty to pass on whatever we have learnt to the outside world.  "We never know who will read what we have written and who will learn from it," he would say.  So in the belief that the more that is written about five element acupuncture the better, I will be using this new blog to pass on my thoughts to whoever wishes to read them.  I intend to add a new post about once a week, and these individual entries taken together will form my eighth book. 

I am drawing together some of the writings about my practice as five element acupuncturist which I feel will be helpful for any of my colleagues, particularly now those in China, who want to benefit from what I have gradually learnt over the years.  I am especially keen to pass on the lessons from my own acupuncture master, JR Worsley, with whom I studied closely for several years as part of my postgraduate training.  One of the many things I remember him telling us was that we would always learn more from what we didn’t get right to start with, especially our diagnosis of guardian element, than when we got things right.  I know that the mistakes I made in my early practice have always proved to be valuable lessons for me, and I therefore hope that what I write here will give five element practitioners a little more confidence and enjoyment in their five element practice.