Sunday, March 10, 2019

9. Why it helps to know about the elements

Knowing something about the elements can help explain our own behaviour, the behaviour of other people and in particular our behaviour in relation to other people.  We do not exist in isolation.  Everything we do impinges on those around us, as they impinge upon us.  The well-worn cliché about raising a finger here on earth and thereby altering the movement of the most distant star is just as valid in the purely human sphere of our relationships to one another.  Nothing I do can leave another close to me untouched, just as they in turn cannot fail to influence me.  Often these influences may be too subtle for us to notice, but they are nonetheless there.  Sometimes, of course, they are so obviously powerful that some encounters knock us off-balance.  We may like to think that we live our lives cocooned in a bubble of self-sufficiency, but we all have growing out from us soft antennae, like tendrils, which touch those passing by us, and these touches shift something in us and change our shape in small or large ways.

If we are to smooth the path to better understanding and greater tolerance, we must not forget how different we are from one another, despite all our many similarities, and, I would say, that we are necessarily different, for this creates the amazing variety of human thought and behaviour.  It is surprisingly difficult to understand how others view the world.  And to those who differ from us we often react with irritation or perhaps even downright dislike, since our inability to understand their way of thinking makes us judge them harshly.  We tend to criticize what is unfamiliar to us, and herein lies the root of so many of our prejudices.  If, then, our understanding of the elements helps us to see where these differences are coming from, then we are well on the way to engaging in more harmonious interactions with those around us.   And, however basic may initially be our understanding of the elements, even the tiniest bit of knowledge will contribute to greater tolerance, a quality sadly much lacking in the world around us, and therefore all the more to be cherished.

Often without our being aware of this, we gradually build up our own list of the characteristics by which we have learnt to recognise each element.  These are like our own aide-mémoires, our short-cuts which lead us to an element.  It is worth our while to think a little more about this, as we often follow along what to us is a well-trodden route towards an element without being aware we are doing it, and, more importantly, without checking at intervals to see whether our responses have become stereotyped and no longer reflect the great diversity with which the elements manifest themselves.  We should always at intervals do a kind of a stock-take, and discard worn-out clichés about what an element represents for us which have gone past their sell-by date.

None of the descriptions by which I attempt to define the elements can be absolutely clear-cut, any more than the distinctions between one element and another can ever be clearly defined.  Like the colours of the rainbow, the elements meld into one another at their edges, so that they will share, faintly, some of each other’s characteristics.   Though slight, these similarities can nonetheless confuse us, some more than others, and explain the difficulties we all have in distinguishing between the characteristics of different elements.  My own greatest confusion has always come from the differences between Earth and Fire, and my least from those between Metal and Water, with the similarities I perceive between other pairings falling somewhere between these two.  Other people will find it difficult to distinguish between other elements.

Each of us should remain aware of where our own particular difficulties in differentiating between the elements lie, and use them as warning signals along the path to a diagnosis.  In particular we need to ask ourselves at intervals whether unconscious bias for or against an element has crept into our practice, so that without our realising it the number of patients we diagnose as being of one element seems to be surprisingly high, whilst that of another element surprisingly low.  Are we perhaps tempted to avoid recognizing the characteristics of elements we find too difficult to deal with in the practice room, or in life in general?

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