Sunday, April 14, 2019

14. The impact an element makes upon us

I like to think of the impact an element makes on me to help me gauge its individual characteristics better.  Each has a different impact.  I think of the word “impact” as a good description of my reaction to a physical force.  We know that everything is formed of force fields.  You only have to move your hands slowly together with your eyes shut to feel the point at which the force field of one hand engages with that of the other, well before the hands physically touch.  In acupuncture terms, we call this force “qi”.  It is that which creates all life and which we manipulate with our needles to help restore health and balance.  It is therefore entirely appropriate that we should experience the approach and presence of another person each time as a kind of physical impact upon us.  If we add to this that extra dimension, that of the qi at the deeper, emotional and spiritual level, then the total impact a person makes upon us can be very striking, and, from a five element acupuncture point of view, very revealing indeed.

The following are some of my observations on how the different elements affect me, and some of the ways I have learnt to help me recognize their signatures, and use these as a help to diagnosis.

When I asked some Wood people what they want of their interaction with others, they all agreed that what they wanted was to “engage” with them.  This is an interesting word.   My dictionary gives it a very active meaning, which includes the sense of battling and grappling with, and is much used in military terminology.  It implies more than just interacting, for there is the sense within it of some kind of a struggle, or, at the very least, pressure from one side against the other.

Impact is a good word to use for the Wood element, because it has to do everything it does with a kind of a push behind it to get itself and all around it going.  To do this requires some effort.  It is not just the result of some smooth transition from a state of quiescence in winter moving towards the full-blow energy of nature at its height in summer.  The impetus necessary to get things moving in spring comes with a kind of a jerk, like the movement in the body requiring a push to set it in motion.

The way such a jolt makes itself felt in us when we are in the presence of Wood is a little like a blow to the solar plexus, slight to strong depending on what action Wood wants to take, and what emphasis it wishes to give any action.  It has taken me a long time to work out a way of dealing with its strong needs.  I tend to go through an initial period of wanting to step away, as though shrinking from the push I feel coming towards me, then I experience a flicker, or more than a flicker, of irritation at feeling that I am being outmanoeuvred in some way, before I finally reach a more balanced stage of understanding, where I know that to help my Wood patient I have to stand firm and, as it were, counter-punch, however gently.  The force I feel behind Wood’s approach to me is far greater than I feel with all the other elements, except in a slightly different way for Water, and is totally absent in one element, Metal. 

Fire, maybe because it is my element, tends to make me relax since I am on familiar terrain and therefore no longer feel under any pressure to react.  It is as though I do not have to put on a mask of any kind, and can be who I really am.  As a practitioner this runs the risk of making things a little too cosy, with a tendency to overlook inevitable areas of tension, in case these disturb the comfortable atmosphere I and my patient are hoping to create for ourselves.  On the other hand, it may be just this atmosphere which makes it easier for a Fire patient to open up to their practitioner in the knowledge that what they reveal will not be misunderstood. 

As I know from my own experience, Fire needs to avoid by any means possible making other people feel vulnerable and judged.  It is also the element which will most quickly assume that any troubles it encounters are its own fault and the result of something it has done wrong.  Because I feel at ease with Fire, I am not as aware as people of other elements might be of the pressure it puts upon me, which makes me feel warm and comfortable.  I welcome its familiar impact, whilst this may well not be the case for people of other elements.  Because this is a very personal reaction I have to think hard and watch carefully how Fire’s interactions with other people unfold.

Earth, on the other hand, exerts strong pressure upon me, but this pressure is more in the nature of a counter-movement.  I am drawn towards Earth as though sucked in by some centrifugal force which I find difficult to resist.  I see this as an expression of Earth’s need to surround itself with others, as though cocooning itself within their protection.  Earth can exert a strong pull, akin to a sucking movement, as though gravity takes hold of me and I cannot escape its grasp.  I became aware for the first time of the pressure exerted by gravity on my body one day as I lay in the bath waiting for the bathwater to drain away.  I could feel my flesh being sucked down to the bottom of the bath, and I could hardly resist this sufficiently to stand up.  It was only through this experience that I understood the strength of gravity’s downwards pull, and by extension, the strength of the Earth element’s pull on those around it.  Where the impact for Wood is very much yang in nature, pushing hard at us away from itself, that of Earth, by contrast, is very much yin in nature, pulling hard at us but towards itself.

With Metal, though, we move almost into a vacuum, reflecting the space which Metal people seek to keep around them and without which they feel threatened and uneasy.  I feel something more insubstantial than a physical pull from Metal.  Instead what I feel is my own unease at being observed almost neutrally.  When we judge people we do this most successfully from a distance, as we stand back and watch.  Metal’s impact upon me is therefore not so much a physical one, as with the other elements, but rather an emotional one, often bringing with it the uneasy feeling that Metal knows something about me which may be to my detriment.  I feel that I am being observed with a cool and clinical eye.  And if I misread the signals Metal is sending me, and step too firmly into its space, it will cut off all connection with me and retreat out of sight.

Water, too, knows how to retreat if it feels under threat, but it retreats not, as Metal does, because its privacy and its need for solitude are being invaded, but because it feels threatened and endangered.  Again, unlike Metal, though, it will not only retreat and try to move away, but it may feel the need to do more to counter whatever is threatening it, and will gather its forces together to counterattack.  Then the apparent passivity which people may attribute to it may turn at the slightest hint of real danger into a truly terrifying attacking force, making the impact Water will have over us the fiercest, most overwhelming of all the elements, as though the placid waters of a pond are transformed within minutes into a devastating tsunami.  Often the onslaught which Water can unleash so suddenly may be ignored until it is too late to counter, which makes it all the deadlier for its very suddenness.  This gives to any attack by Water such a different quality from that of Wood, which comes full force towards us with no attempt at hiding its nature.  Water instead rears its head unexpectedly, and often, as with a tusunami, is only gradually perceived as it silently gathers its strength before inundating us.

Some of the images of the effect of the elements upon me may be difficult to reconcile with the apparently less extreme examples of civilized human behaviour which we encounter in our social interactions, but hidden within even the most apparently harmless human activities lie traces of what I have described above, though probably often well-disguised behind behaviour which is considered socially more acceptable.  Nature “raw in tooth and claw” is a true description of much that goes on under the surface of what would be considered normal, everyday behaviour.




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