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.