Saturday, May 4, 2019

17. Diagnostic pointers to the different elements: Part 1: Wood and Fire

When I first started my studies, I think I was very optimistic about how easily I would perceive the sensory signatures which we learnt were the main pointers to diagnosing the elements.  I, imagined that by the end of our three-year course I would be well on the way to assessing these accurately.  I was to find, however, that this was far from the case, so far, indeed, that it was only after quite a few years of practice that I at long last began to understand what Wood’s rancid smell was, or honed my  assessment of Earth’s colour.  And just when I thought I had “got” one manifestation, I would find all my previous learning confounded by discovering that my patient’s rather bright red face was nothing at all to do with Fire, but was either Wood or Earth out of balance.  In the case of Wood, I eventually worked out that it was its imbalance which was throwing its child, Fire, out of balance and creating the red colour, and in the case of Earth, the red was coming from problems handed down to it by its mother.  Fire, I have found, never imprints a constant high red colour on those of its element.  Its reddish tinges come and go, as it flickers, but they never remain a steady imprint.

Now that I have recognised for myself how difficult it is accurately to perceive the elements’ sensory signals, I realise how important it is for those new to five element acupuncture not to rely too heavily on sensory impressions which may well be leading them astray.  Instead, I try to emphasize all the many other ways the elements reveal themselves, and share with them the observations I have accumulated over the years to help fill out what I lack in sensory awareness.  For example, I have now developed for myself a list of the small variations in facial expression which help me pinpoint an element more clearly.  I give these below as an aide for others.

I have become increasingly aware of the importance of the face as a whole in helping us diagnose the significance of different elements.  It is the part of the body upon which all the elements with their numerous meridians trace their passage, and it therefore has the greatest concentration of elemental influences of any part of the body.  The head, of course, also houses that important part of us, our brain, which controls all our actions and all our thoughts. This small segment of the body therefore shows most obviously about how the different elements shape us than any other part.

It is likely that it will be the eyes, the face’s most significant moving feature, which we look at first, since it through eye-contact that we usually greet each other.  And it is through our eyes that we allow ourselves to reveal who we really are, recognized by us when we call them the windows of the soul.  They will show the nature of the contact we wish to make with the world outside us.  For five element acupuncturists it is therefore important to learn to differentiate the ways in which the different elements look at us.  Conversely, the first moment when we, as practitioners, look at our patient becomes very important, because it will also reveal who we are to our patients.  The expressions on our faces will help define the nature of the future relationship between us, and particularly how much empathy and understanding the patient feels we show them, and how far they feel they can trust us.  The glances we exchange can then be seen as the first step both in a five element diagnosis and in setting up a good patient-practitioner relationship.   

The nature of the different needs of each element will express itself in the way our patients look at us and what their look appears to be demanding of us.  Over the years I have made many observations about the different forms of eye-contact the elements make. Each element sends out different signals when it looks at another person, and the very marked differences from element to element are useful aids in helping with our diagnosis.  We will also see that with some elements it is not only the eyes to which we seem to be paying the most attention, but other parts of the face may be emphasized as well, such as the mouth or the jaw.

It is good to remind ourselves here of what each element wants from its contacts with others.  There are many ways of defining these differences, but in very general terms I see Wood as wanting to shape things, Fire as wanting to share things, Earth as wanting to involve others, Metal as wanting to observe and Water as wanting to make sure.

If we take the Wood element first, we can see that its need to shape things represents an attempt to give everything a structure.  It is as though it tries to enclose things within some kind of a box, a container, and its way of talking reflects this.  I have many times described Wood’s speech as telling, informing us of something rather than communicating.  Telling can be seen as an attempt to impose a fixed point of view upon the person or persons being talked to, or, more pertinently, being talked at.  It is another way of describing speech which boxes words in, giving them a fixed structure.  It does not represent a discussion about what that view might be, but is a firm conclusion, an emphatic statement that “this is so”.  At some level it brooks no disagreement, with little or no attempt by the speaker to remain open to argument.  The succinct phrase “Brexit means Brexit”, declared by Britain’s current Prime Minister, Theresa May, I think definitely a Wood person, is a famous illustration of this level of rigid thinking.  This is very much Wood’s way.  Speech, emerging as it does from deep within us, from our soul if you like, must inevitably colour the way in which these windows of our soul, our eyes, look out at us.  Wood’s eyes will be mirroring the firmness of speech, looking very directly at us, as though trying to convince us by the fixedness of their expression that we should accept the world just as it sees it.  Indeed, Wood’s eyes may look so piercingly at us that we may be inclined to look away.  They have a direct, often challenging look as though demanding a response from us.  Later, we will contrast this with Water’s so different look, which tells us quite the reverse, for it constantly asks a question, often a fearful one, its eyes, more uneasy than Wood’s, fixed anxiously upon us or darting here and there.

Wood also very clearly shapes other parts of the face, lending firm outlines to areas like the jaw and the neck and tightness to the mouth.  To help us with a diagnosis, I have found that it is always good to try and replicate an element’s particular expression or movement.  So here, with Wood, we should try to tighten our own jaw and neck muscles, and feel how our mouth starts to be pulled down out of shape.  Such tightness is not natural to me, and if I do this it makes me feel very odd, as if at any moment I might burst out with anger.  “Goodness,” I think to myself, “Is this how Wood often feels?  And, if so, how much pent-up emotion there must be which is forcing the facial muscles to adopt such a rigid mask.”

Fire’s eyes, on the other hand, are not trying to impose a view of the world upon those it looks at.  Instead, they try to engage in a two-way process;  in effect with each person looked at they are attempting to set up a relationship, an offering to the other person.  This is the need behind Fire’s frequent attempts to break into a smile, for smiling at somebody is one of the simplest ways of drawing a person towards you.  The eyes will make very direct contact, as Fire tries to assess whether the person looked at is, put very crudely, friend or foe.  If friend, and it feels safe with them (remember the Heart Protector forms part of Fire and is there to guard the Heart), it will very quickly allow its mouth to break into an easy smile.  If foe, then Fire’s eyes will become more wary and anxious as it tries to work out why the warmth it is offering is being rejected, and even if it feels it has to smile, this will only be a hesitant and tentative shadow of its normally warm smile.  And rejection, for Fire, is the worst thing for the Heart buried in its midst to bear.
With Wood, we saw that the lips may clamp shut, causing the jaw and neck muscles to tighten.  Here with Fire, something like the opposite will happen.  If Fire feels safe enough to smile warmly at somebody, its mouth will relax and the lips will curl up at the side.  At the same time, the smiling eyes will form quite clear creases at the side.  These smile lines are one of the most distinctive features of Fire’s face, and will persist long after the need for smiling has passed.  I have checked this out on myself and then on many other Fire faces.  From myself I know that I so enjoy the sensation of being able to smile at somebody, and the glow and warmth this gives to my Heart, that I want this to continue as long as possible.  It is as though I allow myself to go on smiling, long after the need for the smile has passed, because it makes me feel so good.  Having observed this in all Fire people to a greater or lesser extent, and incidentally also having decided that I am rather an extreme example because of my rather selfish enjoyment in smiling, it has become, for me, one of the most reliable indicators to help me diagnose the Fire element.  All elements smile when they are happy, or want to pretend they are happy, but only in Fire do the smile lines around the eyes stay in place long after the smile has faded.   I love warming my own Heart up by smiling, often doing this when I am on my own as my own personal comfort blanket.
In my next blog I will look at Earth, Metal and Water.




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