If the presence of an element were so simple to detect, we would all be brilliant five element acupuncturists early on in our career, but human beings are much more complex than we think. So we should never underestimate the time it will take us to find the one element buried deep within the circle of all the elements which gives each of us our individual stamp of uniqueness.
Pride, as they say, comes before a fall, and never is this truer when trying to diagnose an element. We risk much if we think our understanding of the elements is greater than it truly is.
In any case, the secret of good five element acupuncture is not simply managing to diagnose the right element, despite this being what many practitioners think. Instead it is learning to respond appropriately to that particular element’s needs. Even if we diagnose the right element, do we know how to respond to its needs in a way which makes the patient feel that they have been heard as they want to be heard? If that understanding is not there, treatment will rest on fallow ground, however much it may be focused upon the right element.
Supposing, for example, that we diagnose a patient’s element, correctly, as Metal, but respond to it in a way which would be more appropriate to an Earth patient, offering a kind of “Oh dear, Oh dear, you poor thing” kind of response, we will find that our Metal patient soon backs away and decides not to continue treatment. Our element may be Earth and it may be natural for us, mistakenly, to offer to all our patients what we ourselves feel most comfortable with. Unfortunately, however, we have to learn to feel comfortable in the company of elements not our own. To surround Metal, for example, with a kind of enveloping sympathy is not what it wants. It will feel suffocated by it, its Lung unable to breathe. Instead we must learn to offer the space it always wants to place between itself and others.
And the same holds true for how we need to approach our interactions with the other elements. As far as possible, then, we must learn to suppress the needs of our own element and think ourselves into those of the element we have chosen to treat. This is not an easy task, and one that it takes some skill and much practice to acquire.