It is one of the ironies relating to the different skills the elements show that often those functions which each is most responsible for, in Wood’s case, those of planning and decision-making, often prove to be problematic because of their importance for people of that particular element. Since the focus of Wood’s life is to look ahead, plan properly for the future which it sees for itself, and make good decisions based upon these plans, then if any of the processes by which this planning and decision-making take place come unstuck however slightly, the effect upon a Wood person will be proportionately greater than if the same problems occur in a person of another element. The more essential to the smooth functioning of a Wood person’s life is their ability to plan and decide in a balanced way, the more any impairment of this function will impact upon their balance and well-being.
I have always found it slightly sad to think that because each of us has the characteristics of a particular element we are therefore vulnerable to specific weaknesses in this area if things become unbalanced. Thus a Fire person, focusing much of their life on creating successful relationships with all around them, will be disproportionately thrown by any problems in these relationships. The same is therefore true of a Wood person’s approach to making decisions. If their ability to do so becomes weaker, the resulting failure to plan and make appropriate decisions will have a greater effect upon them than it would have for a person of another element, say Metal or Earth.
The extent to which the other elements are capable of making good decisions will also depend upon the level of balance of the Wood officials within them. If, for example, a Metal person finds themselves in a situation which makes them angry, perhaps a colleague belittling them at work, then the anger this will evoke in them will also affect the balance of their Wood element, perhaps causing it to make some untypical decisions which it would normally avoid making. In this way, imbalance in the guardian element spreads its effect over all the other elements. And each element’s Wood element will react slightly differently because Wood remains a subsidiary element, and will always be influenced by the dominant element.
Let us then look at each element in turn to see how the decision-making their Wood element tries to make will be modified by that element’s own needs. I have already written a little about how my own Inner Fire is affected by contact with the certainties the Wood element likes to express (see “Wood can’t afford to have doubts”). With both aspects of Fire, Inner and Outer, the Wood element has a particularly strong relationship because we must not forget that Wood is the mother of Fire, and remains locked in the mother-child relationship throughout Fire’s life. It could be that this close relationship places Wood’s function of planning and decision-making in a very strong position throughout Fire’s lifetime. Equally, when Fire weakens for some reason, Wood may take on too powerful a role, unbalancing Fire’s ability to absorb the Wood functions properly.
I always find it fascinating to think that by trying to bring balance between mother and child by the simple means of needling Fire’s tonification points, Fire will immediately strengthen sufficiently to regain control and thereby firmly put Wood back in its place. This is after all what happens when we decide on the basis of a pulse reading that Wood’s energy is relatively too strong and its child, Fire’s, is relatively weaker. Taking the excess energy from Wood and giving it to Fire will therefore have the effect of tamping down any over-exuberance of Wood and allowing a Fire person to use the function of their Wood element in a more balanced, more appropriate way. It still amazes me that this is done simply by needling the two tonification points on the Fire element’s yin and yang officials (four points in all), and on both sides of the body, making a total of eight points.
Earth’s decision-making is of a different order from that of Fire. Earth has a slightly more distant relationship to Wood than Fire, being at one further remove, with Wood now a grandmother to its Earth grandchild. Perhaps this makes it a little more understandable that Wood’s influence upon its grandchild is a little weaker, and that this might help explain why of all the elements Earth has always seemed to me to be the one that takes the longest to make up its mind. It is always worth recalling here the original diagram of the circle of the elements, the one with earth at its centre and the other elements circling around it. One way of seeing this symbolically is by representing Earth’s position as a gate through which all the other elements have to pass, a kind of staging post rather than a destination in itself.
It is significant that Earth does not really have a season of its own, in one system being allocated the final part of each season, a midway point between one season and the next, and in another, the one I inherited as a five element acupuncturist, being allocated a kind of a non-season, a half-way house between the predominantly yang seasons of spring and summer and the predominantly yin seasons of the dying of the year in autumn and winter. This tallies with our understanding of the Earth element as being a constant intermediary between these two aspects of all things, their yin and their yang aspect, illustrated physically by the fact that the Earth’s yang official, the Stomach is the only yang meridian to run almost parallel with its yin sister, the Spleen down the front of the body. its most yin part. The meridians only divide into the customary positions of yin on the inside and yang on the outside as they pass down to the lower part of the body. I always find it significant that what is surely the most yin part of the body, the breast, is fed at the nipple by a yang meridian, the Stomach, as though emphasizing the dual nature of the Earth’s officials.
In response to my request through my blog for some information about how the different elements make their decisions, I received the following comments from Earth people: “I would try to understand the situation from the perspective of the others involved.” And another comment: “I would take time to process all the ins and out of the situation and try to see it from each person’s perspective, in an effort to engage and connect with them. I would hate the thought of upsetting one person and would empathise with how they might be feeling.”
I interpret these interesting comments as meaning that Earth has to wait until it has absorbed information from the other elements, before it is able finally to make a decision, to give out something in return. In effect Earth has to process what is coming to it from other people before being able to transform this into a decision of its own. It has to work on something that is given it, rather as the Stomach would have to churn along on empty if it had no food to process.
In this context, I always recall my surprise when an Earth patient of mine took a whole year to decide whether she wanted to study acupuncture, as it were “chewing the decision over” for all that time. I know that I had to hold myself back from becoming irritated at what I considered her indecision, particularly as each time I saw her she would go over and over the reasons why she was not yet sure. With hindsight I now recognize it as proof that she needed to wait until she had absorbed all the input into this question from all the other elements within her before deciding that now was finally the right time. It was also interesting to me to note that she was so intent on thinking things through from every angle that she was surprisingly unaware of what was going on in the treatment room, to the point where, after almost two years of treatment including many back points, one day, on my asking her to turn round so that I could treat her back, she remarked with surprise, “You’ve never needled my back before”, and was amazed to discover that I certainly had. As she put it, “I don’t really notice what you are doing”.
In some sense I always feel that this is evidence of Earth’s capacity to be so involved in processing its thoughts, that it remains surprisingly unaware of the world around it. Symbolically I see this as Earth safely cocooned within the sheltering arms of the other elements, “as snug as a bug in a rug” as it would always like to be. This is likely to affect its ability to make quick decisions, because it is reliant on information coming from the other elements, almost as though it has no access to the outside world except through them, but instead lives at one remove.
That leaves me only with the Water element’s decision-making to consider. Here I have comments made by several Water people to guide me. The first told me that she tries to get an understanding of the whole picture as quickly as possible, “so that I am able to move on to working out a possible solution to getting past (or out of) a tricky situation.” The second said that if she had time to think, she would encounter fear or hesitation, wondering if she would be able to navigate her way through without sinking, but if she was plunged into a difficult situation, she would, as she said, “give it all I had.” Finally a third Water person told me that she would need to research the question properly, but that “deep down it’s clear what the right decision will be. You just have to wait for it to rise to the surface”, a very Water-like description indeed.