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.

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