Saturday, June 29, 2019

25. Feelings the elements evoke in us

Over the years I have accumulated many ways of recognizing the characteristics of the different elements, and have described how the feelings the elements evoke in me have become an important factor in this to which I must pay attention.  One of the reasons for this may well be that in the immediacy of experiencing that feeling there is no time for my mind to be involved.  I receive the impact of an impression, almost as though something is hitting me, which can be the effect of one person upon another.  It is as though I am struck by something in the person I am engaging with which is conveying itself to me quite forcefully.  The elements in this person, dominated by their guardian element, exert a kind of power which we can grow increasingly sensitive to the more aware we become.  

Of course each of us will react to the presence of others in our unique way, which is essentially a function of our own element and also of how we have learnt to accommodate ourselves to the people we meet.  What happens to us and the nature of our encounters with other people who have made lasting impressions upon us, whether good or bad, will also strongly affect the way we as practitioners respond to the energies of our patients.  Our response to others is dictated by our own life experiences.  As five element acupuncturists working all the time with the elements we may like to think that our response to the action upon us of our patients’ elements will be a balanced one, but this may not be so.  We delude ourselves if we think that we can remain neutral observers at any point in our life.   We are all products of our past life experiences.  If, for example, we have been bullied at home, and this has given us a deep fear of anger, we may well shy away from diagnosing the anger in our patients for fear of provoking a situation which reminds us of painful times when we were young.  Or if we have suffered some previous great loss, such as the death of a parent, we may find a patient’s expressions of grief too raw for us to deal with, and then do what we all do when confronted with the pain of some past experience, which is to attempt to deal with it by suppressing it and denying its existence in some situation in the practice room.  This is why all practitioners have a duty to continue to work hard on their own self-development at all stages of their career so as to prevent their personal histories distorting the stories our patients tell us.

We are all unique combinations of the elements, and since there are so many different permutations of the elements within each of us, it is not surprising that it requires hard work, and, in particular, much time, for us eventually to home in on the right element.  There is no hurry, because nature is kind to us and will not punish us if at first we do not diagnose the core element, the guardian element, correctly. 

Treatment directed at any element which is indicating that it would benefit from some attention will therefore help, even if the element we are directing this treatment at is a subsidiary element.  I like to think that the family of the elements try to help each other, as all good family members should, and in spreading good energy round the circle of the elements treatment will also include in these benefits the guardian element, perhaps without our knowing it.  Doing this gives us time to hone our diagnosis more carefully until we eventually point our treatment in the right direction.





Sunday, June 23, 2019

24. A comparison of the thought processes of the different elements

A further method to be used to help in diagnosing which element we are dealing with is to watch carefully the way in which a patient formulates what he/she wants to say or responds to our questioning.  Both are evidence of how their mind works, and since mental processes, like everything else, are under the control of our particular element, they provide another pointer to direct us towards that element. 

Here the element which stands out most clearly when we think of thought processes is Earth.  It can be considered to be the most thoughtful of all elements, or at least the element for which the processing and formulation of thoughts plays such an important role.  Thoughtfulness is after all one of the descriptions given to its emotion.  What eventually results in speech is the end result of mental processing.  Earth’s qualities are often described as acting somewhat like a cement mixer turning things around and around until its thoughts have coalesced and been fully processed.  This explains one of its characteristics through which we learn to recognize its balance or imbalance.  We need to assess whether it is able smoothly to carry out this processing function and bring its thoughts to a satisfactory conclusion so that they emerge as coherent speech, or whether, instead, these processing activities, like an engine churning around without engaging in any gear, circle endlessly around in Earth’s mind. 
Earth people often express the feeling this gives them by saying that things are “going round and round” in their head.  This can be reflected in speech which repetitively goes over the same story, often in exactly the same words, almost as if they have not spoken the first time, or, more crucially, feel that they have not been heard properly by their listeners.  Even when interrupted, Earth people often cannot be deflected from continuing with what they want to say.  Indeed if we do try to interrupt, they often revert immediately to where they were forced to break off, with words such as “As I was saying….”, and then set off at exactly the point in their story which they had reached before, as if the interruption had not taken place.  The mental cement mixer continues to churn, whatever else is going on around it.

I had a concrete illustration of this one day in my clinic.   An Earth patient was totally absorbed in telling me some troubles he was having at work, something he brought up at each treatment, often in exactly the same terms.  It was as though his thoughts were stuck at one stage of the narrative.  I could almost repeat each time what he was going to tell me before he settled in to what he wanted to say.  There is a lovely point on the Earth element, St 4, called Earth Granary, at the corner of the mouth.  I felt that this was a good point to choose because it would open up to the patient a granary, a storehouse for food, which the patient could draw upon.  As I needled this point, the patient suddenly fell silent in mid-speech, as though the thoughts which had been endlessly, almost obsessively, revolving in his mind could now at last be swallowed and finally digested.  The point had given his Earth element sufficient mental food to enable him to do this and therefore to process its thoughts satisfactorily.  This proved to be the last time this patient needed to spend so much time telling me about his work problems.  In feeding his Earth element by giving it the nourishment this point offered, he was able at last to complete the mental processing, the sudden silence which fell in the practice room being clear evidence of this.

Each element will think in its own particular way.  Metal will speedily resolve issues in its mind, cutting its way through thickets of thought which may hold up two other elements, Fire and Water.  It will think things through at a measured pace, ensuring that its conclusion and the verbal expression of this conclusion have only been made after careful consideration, with none of the sense of haste which Wood can show.  This is so unlike the long dwelling upon things which Earth will need to indulge in if it is to fulfil its role as the profound processor of all thought.  Wood, on the other hand, will want to reach a conclusion rapidly, making its mind up quickly, perhaps too quickly, and sticking to its conclusion often despite evidence to the contrary.   Water will be reluctant to allow anything to impede its need for its thoughts to flow, but may be hesitant in expressing these thoughts, perhaps often preferring to keep its thoughts to itself.  Fire, particularly Inner Fire, with its concentrated attention to the needs of the Heart, will try to ensure that any decisions it takes are appropriate for the Heart, and are made as quickly as possible to ensure that the protective cover it gives the Heart is maintained.  Outer Fire will be more considered in its thinking, needing to give itself more time to reach a decision about what to say, and once having reached that decision, being more articulate about expressing itself in speech than the more hesitant thinking processes of the Small Intestine as it pauses constantly to sort out what it thinks and what it should say.

A clear difference between the thought processes of Earth and Metal was revealed to me to me on a day when I happened to treat an Earth patient followed immediately by a Metal patient.  I became aware that I was moving from a room in which a patient was almost obsessively concerned with repeating a story she had already told me several times to a room with a totally silent patient, who left it to me to start the verbal interaction between us.  The comparison between the two was very stark and very illuminating, and probably gave me some of the most memorable insights into the differing qualities of the two elements.  I could see that Earth needed me to listen and understand.  It wanted to be heard, and would not be satisfied with simply telling me of an incident in its life, but had to repeat it several times in case I did not hear it properly.  Earth, after all, wants above all to be heard and understood.  Metal, on the other hand, far from wanting me to hear the processes by which it had reached a conclusion, only wanted to impart the conclusion it had come to quietly by itself in the least number of words possible.  It presented me with a complete episode, leaving unspoken the process by which it had reached this conclusion.  It was interested only in the finished product.  One could say it allowed its mother element, Earth, to do the preliminary processing work, whilst it waited to complete the action, to finalize the thought.  In each case, the speaker, here my patient, was demanding different things from me, the listener, and since these different demands reflected characteristics typical of each element, this could be used as another helpful pointer to a patient’s element. 

Of course these individual characteristics can become exaggerated the more out of balance a patient is, and less obvious the more balanced a patient is.







Saturday, June 15, 2019

23. Developing our sense of smell

Each person will probably have one or several of their senses more finely attuned than the others, and it is good for all budding five element acupuncturists to find out which of their senses responds the most directly to the presence of other people, and will therefore give them the most sensory information in the quickest time.  For example, I remember that there was a young man in our undergraduate class at Leamington who we all envied for his highly developed sense of smell, which led him unerringly to one of the five elements.  It has taken me much longer to develop my own sense of smell sufficiently to be able to pinpoint one of the elements.  But I have found that it is smells which have for me an immediacy which makes me respond to them often more quickly than I respond to messages conveyed to me from my other senses, such as hearing or sight.  This may be because each breath I take is accompanied by an intake of the smells which surround us, so that as we breathe our senses are already made aware of signals coming from the world outside and in particular from the people around us..  The secret, of course, for a five element acupuncturist is to learn to distinguish from this plethora of smells the one coming directly from a patient’s body.

I had my first experience of the power of smell when driving a patient to my college for treatment in the college clinic.  This was early on in my training and with the arrogance of all beginners I was sure that this patient was Fire.  I gradually became aware of a strong smell coming from my patient next to me in the car.  Almost without my thinking too much it set off all sorts of confusing question marks off in my mind, which I tried to dismiss in all the stress of getting my patient to the college in time and preparing myself to treat her.  We had to present our patients to the rest of the class, and after confidently saying that I thought she was Fire, I was very surprised to hear most of the class saying that from the way I described her I seemed to be pointing towards Metal.   The tutor confirmed this and I realised with a shock that almost unconsciously I had been rejecting the patient’s smell as being the scorched of Fire which I thought it was, and had started to smell instead the Metal smell which became increasingly strong as her nervousness increased.  This was a very big lesson for me in really allowing my senses to tell me something which my mind, so fixed on another element, was trying to reject.

As a student, too, I was also made aware of the power of smells, and their ability to point me straight towards one element, when I was standing next to a fellow student as we lined up for an anatomy viva.  I did not know who was standing behind me until my nose was assaulted, and this is not too fanciful a description, by a sudden overpowering smell coming from behind me which reminded me strongly of the sharp smell of urine, which we were told was that of the Water element.  Without turning round I suddenly realised who must be behind me, because there was only one Water person amongst my fellow students.  This was another time in my early training that a smell had so strongly pointed me towards a particular element.  I realised that one of the reasons why it was so overpowering a smell was because my fellow student was obviously very nervous, and the strength of the smell coming from him reflected his high state of anxiety.

I have since learnt to recognize Water’s smell in other ways.  Sometimes I am suddenly made aware that I sense a source of water in the practice room, and have caught myself looking around to see whether there is a basin of water somewhere or water running from a tap.  It is as though the patient from which this watery smell is coming seems almost to be floating in a bath.

A Fire smell, which we call appropriately scorched, is the one with which I am most familiar, because it is my own smell, and we were always encouraged to use our own bodies to familiarize ourselves with our element’s smell.  We were told not to use deodorants, and feel under our armpits after some exercise. The familiarity of this smell is what often helps me confirm the diagnosis of the Fire element in a patient.  The smell definitely makes me think of something hot.   

I have learnt, too, to associate the Wood smell we call rancid with my mother, and in particular with one episode in my early life when she and I had a cabin together as we made our way on a boat to the States (those were the days when boat travel was more frequent than flying!).  I remember being very conscious of her smell then, and to my surprise must have retained that memory for all the years since, until a Wood patient reminded me of it again, and for a few moments transported me back to my childhood, so strong are the sensory messages the elements leave with us.

Smells move around us in different ways.  A Wood smell rises up towards me quite actively, as though it has an energy within it.  On the other hand an Earth smell, which we call fragrant, has a very different effect upon me, making me feel nostalgic, as though returning me to a much earlier time in my life.  Its smell is very sweet, like sweetened milk I like to think, and I have always wondered whether there is in me a long-forgotten memory of a time when I was at my mother’s breast drawing milk from her.  It is a smell I have often noticed around nursing mothers.

That leaves Metal, the element most concerned about personal hygiene and least likely to relish the unhappy name of rotten which its smell has been given.  Metal is always a conundrum.  It seeks the highest and the purest, and yet its yang meridian, the Colon, is constantly occupied in ridding the body of all the accumulated rubbish which it no longer needs.  The remaining impurities can be reflected in its smell, which comes from all the waste material the body has been unable to rid itself of.  Metal people are often very sensitive to their own smell, and I had a very good example of this.  A young patient rather ashamedly admitted to me that she felt “like shit inside”, a true description of the effect of an unbalanced Colon.  Each time she came for treatment I noticed that she was wearing what was obviously a completely new set of pristine white underwear.  I interpreted this as an attempt by her to ensure that she would smell as clean as possible on the outside to mask what she experienced as her inner dirt.  It was with some amusement that I noticed after some treatment of her Metal element, that her Colon must have been sufficiently strengthened to be able to dispose of all the rubbish inside her, so that this now allowed her to wear more worn items, as though she was no longer so worried about her body’s smell.

The important thing with learning to develop our senses is that doesn’t just happen by itself but requires practice.  We have to train our sense of smell to a greater degree of sensitivity, and the only way to do this is consciously to set out to smell as many things as we can.  That means smelling anything and everything, but above all training ourselves deliberately to smell the people we come into contact with, which is not something which is usually considered socially acceptable.  When we lean forward to kiss somebody, as more and more people do automatically now, I think we tend deliberately to hold ourselves back from smelling them, as though to do that is to invade their personal space.  Of course most people now wear deodorants, as well as often adding to these a distinct perfume.  The deodorants are presumably intended to hide a person’s actual smell, and perfumes are meant in some way to complement this smell.  I have always assumed that the reason we like certain perfumes is because they unconsciously have a special relationship to our own natural smell, however hidden this relationship may be. 

-We were told as students to ask our patients not to use deodorants or perfume before coming for treatment, as this would help us in our diagnosis, but even if our patients are reluctant to do this, a person’s natural smell comes through, particularly when released from under a blanket.  This is one of the reasons why it is always good to ask our patients to remove their outer clothing, and I always encourage students to go back into the practice room after a patient has left, crumple up the paper sheet on which the patient lay and then smell it carefully.  It is amazing how strongly a person’s smell will adhere to the paper long after the patient has left.  This would be good practice for every practitioner to do, and would definitely help keep our sensory organs finely tuned.

A walk in the garden or the country also provides so much opportunity to hone our sense of smell, particularly if you walk round a rose-garden in which strong-smelling roses have just come into bloom.  And since the changing seasons are so marked in nature, there is nothing like the smell of rotten leaves and humus underfoot on an autumn day to remind us of the Metal element’s so similar smell.






Sunday, June 9, 2019

22. What do the different elements get angry about?

I always like looking at the ways the elements express their different emotions, and  that has made me think about how each expresses its anger.
When we express emotions other than the one our particular element imprints us with, these other emotions will always be coloured a little by the specific emotion which has our guardian element’s stamp upon it.  If I take the example of Metal, then Metal’s expression of anger will always be tinged with Metal’s own emotional needs, one of which is it demand for others to respect it.  What makes Metal most angry, therefore, are likely to be those things which impact negatively upon its sense of self-respect, or, by extension, upon the self-respect of others around it.  I have seen Metal people becoming extremely angry, and to me quite frighteningly so, when somebody has ridiculed them openly in front of other people.
Earth can show its anger when it feels that somebody is not paying enough attention to what it wants to say, or interrupts it in mid-sentence.  Its need is not so much a craving for sympathy, but a craving for understanding in its widest sense.  It wants to be given the space and time to express exactly how it feels, and becomes irritated if it is not allowed to do this.  This is something that I, as a rather over-hasty Fire person, have sometimes been guilty of doing, at my Earth patients’ cost.  
I have found Water’s expression of anger to be more hidden, but like Metal’s it can be quite frightening to witness.  It can appear out of the blue (what a Water-like phrase!), like a tornado erupting suddenly out of a clear sky.  Water needs to be constantly on the move, and its sudden expression of anger can be its response to feeling that something is blocking its path.  Behind this outburst of anger lies all the power which Water exerts on all it does.

There is then the Wood element’s own expression of anger.  This is an element most at ease within a given structure and with order in its life.  It is when structure and order are under threat that its dominant emotion of anger will show its stress.   It is easy for us to see an exaggerated example of this in the shouting and fighting to be observed in drunken people on the streets at night.  There is, however, the flipside to this, which is often forgotten, and which often leads us to misdiagnose the Wood element.  This is the suppressed expression of this emotion which we call lack of anger.  Here the voice can speak in an exaggerated whisper instead of a shout, and there may be a marked inability to express anger where anger would be a balanced reaction to some external event. 

Lastly, how do I think Fire tends to express its anger?  I should know, because I am, after all, Fire, but there is always the complication with Fire that, unlike any other element, it has two sides to it, which I have called Inner and Outer Fire.  I have always felt that in some ways this double-sided element could really be described as harbouring two elements, making a total of six in all.  I remember saying this to JR Worsley one day, and was rather delighted when he nodded.  Of course the two sides share Fire’s sensory signatures of colour, sound and smell, but their emotional approach to life is very different.  I can really only speak at first-hand for Inner Fire, although having observed Outer Fire for many years I have learnt to understand some of its qualities as I have those of the other elements.

I know what makes me angry, and that is any injustice meted out to other people, not so much injustice of which I am the object.  I like to fight my battles more on behalf of others than on behalf of myself, and feel deeply, and thus become very angry, when others are wronged.  In my experience Outer Fire’s anger is more directed at feeling that they have been the victim of some injustice.  Both sides of Fire, though, will not harbour grudges for long for they tend to feel that difficulties in any of their relationships with others may somehow be their fault.  Their anger is therefore likely to simmer down quite quickly, once they acknowledge their own role in whatever initially angered them. 

These are my thoughts on the different expressions of anger which each of the five elements may show.    


Saturday, June 1, 2019

21. The spaces the different elements occupy

I first became aware of the significance of the different shapes our facial expressions can take on whilst watching Princess Diana’s famous TV interview all those years ago.  I can still picture her appealing eyes looking beseechingly at the camera, and the half-open mouth, with its equally appealing look, as though saying, “Please give me something”.  The look in the eyes and the demanding pout of the mouth have remained for me since then as symbols for what a needy Earth element will demand of others.  And I see both eyes and mouth as giving the impression of something round, confirming for me that there is always something circular about Earth’s actions.  Its speech, too, tends to go round and round a topic, as though enclosing it in a ring of words.  I have therefore come to visualize Earth’s outline in all its manifestations, both physical and emotional, as creating a circle around itself, in the centre of which it tries to nestle “as snug as a bug in a rug”, as the saying goes.   Its body shape, too, often gives an impression of comfortably roundness, with yielding flesh, giving me the sense that I am somehow being enclosed within soft arms, as a mother encloses her child.  Earth is, after all, the mother element, and can never discard this role.

This has led me to compare Earth’s outlines with those of the other elements.  When I think of Wood, I immediately have a picture of straight lines, to contrast with Earth’s rounded contours.  Wood seems to me to move directly towards its goal, physically and in its speech.  Its body has firm contours, with none of Earth’s softness of flesh.  I feel that whenever I touch a Wood person, I would tend to feel firm, hard flesh, which does not yield to the touch as Earth’s does.  Its words, too, are direct and to the point, and come straight at me, pinning me down with their force.  In all that it does Wood offers clear boundaries.  I have no doubt where it is, unlike one or two of the other elements, particularly, as we will see later, Water.

Fire in nature burns strongly and at the same time flickers.  To me its outline, reflecting this, is more fluid than Wood’s, whilst it still has much of the directness and strength associated with being the most yang of all the elements.  I know where Fire is, as I do with Wood, our two yang elements, and see it as having strong contours.  Its speech is less forthright and can be more hesitant than Wood’s, but I see the element as a whole still moving in a straight line towards me, unlike that of its child, Earth.

By the time we reach Metal, in autumn, when yin now firmly takes control, although it has firm outlines, somehow I feel that I cannot grasp it in quite the same way as I can the other three elements I have discussed.  Metal eludes me, slips past me, does not want to be tied down by me.  It tends to walk very lightly, almost as though floating a little, with quiet steps.  We do not hear its feet firmly hitting the ground as we do Wood’s, or walking briskly as we do Fire’s, nor do we think of its feet as somehow embracing the ground, almost unwilling to let go of their contact with what is beneath them, as we often do with Earth’s.  I always remember a Metal patient telling me that he felt he could “go up in a puff of smoke”, and somehow this slightly ethereal feeling is there in everything Metal does, including its movements.

Finally, as always, we reach the most potentially hidden element of them all, Water, where, even more than in the case of Metal, I feel that my grasp on it is the weakest of all the elements.  It seems to slip through my fingers, so that I cannot really catch it.  For me it has the most ephemeral and fluid outline of all the elements.  I often know that I am in the presence of Water when I find myself puzzled, as though on uncertain ground, and unsure of myself, as though if I turned suddenly it will no longer be there, will have disappeared, hidden itself somewhere.