I always find it strange writing about Fire, because it is my guardian element, and I often think that I may be too close to it, too familiar with all its weaknesses and strengths, to look at it as objectively as I do the other elements. On the other hand, the very fact that it has been my close companion from birth means that I have had plenty of time to study it in myself, and as five element acupuncturists we must always use ourselves as providing the most revealing examples of the workings of the elements.
Each element has its own burdens. Fire’s are associated with its overwhelming need to relate to others. I share Fire’s burden of always needing to communicate with other people wherever I am. I can do this through speech, of course, but communicating through our eyes is just as, if not more, powerful. Yesterday the phrase “I wear people down with my smile” occurred to me after I had passed another person in the street, and, yet again flashing a smile at them, realised that they were reluctant to engage with me, indeed looked a bit dismayed at being asked to respond to my invitation.
When I look at myself I am aware of some dominant characteristics which overshadow all the others. I list them here in no particular order, although, as with all my writings, an order may later emerge as I think more deeply about what I am writing. The first characteristic of mine which I regard as very typical of the Fire element in all its manifestations is what can almost become at times a rather desperate need to make everybody around me as happy as I believe they should be. Locked into this is the odd assumption that it is I who know exactly where another person’s happiness lies, a quality which could be said to verge upon arrogance. I notice this particularly when I feel compelled to give people things, as I all too often do, and this is when I realise that I have often not considered whether these gifts of mine may be welcome to the person to whom I give them. Recently I came across a saying which is very pertinent to this, implying that the burden of being given something always weighs heavily upon the person receiving the gift, and can make them angry or resentful rather than delighted or grateful, which is how I hope my gifts will be received. The gifts Fire likes to extend to others may indeed breed resentment in those they are giving them to.
The smiles Fire likes to give, too, are offerings as much as physical gifts are, and, if not encountering responding smiles, will be experienced as rebuffs. Very often, then, rather than judging the lack of response as simply an indication that the other person does not want to engage in any closer relationship, Fire may rather unwisely redouble its efforts in an attempt to draw something from the person they are trying to interact with. We have always been told that one of the fundamental characteristics of Fire is its need to relate. It likes to think that it is acting unselfishly in its offerings to other people, but in effect it is no more unselfish in this respect than are the other elements, for the process of giving feeds its own need, just as much as the processes of standing back and observing feed those of Metal. In offering the gifts of love it is at the same time feeding its own Heart.
Being unselfish, therefore, has its flip-side, which all Fire people have to beware of. The giver can be so intent on giving that he or she remains unaware of how these gifts are being received, and, even if aware, must be sufficiently balanced to withhold them when it sees they are unwanted. There are two aspects of an element involved in every interaction with others. The one is the emotional expression of that element coming from the person and the other is its reception in the other person. This applies to all the elements, but the scope for a conflict between these two aspects, the one relating to the giver and the other relating to the receiver, can seem particularly stark in the case of the Fire element, which more than any other element, needs to foster mutually satisfying relationships to maintain its balance.
I have noticed increasingly, in a way that I did not do before, the energy the Fire element shows in all it does, as though a spring within it is always coiled and ready to be released at each new encounter with the world. It is even there in its smile, an outpouring of warmth towards others, very unlike the timid, passive or more withdrawn smiles of other elements. I don’t think I had realised until now quite how much yang energy is contained in this most yang of all elements, whose season, after all is high summer, the yang high-point of the year.
I think we often regard Fire as being a gentle element, perhaps because we believe that the love that it brings to bear on all things is a gentle emotion, which it so rarely is, just as Fire is far from being as gentle as the impression it likes to give of itself. I have recently been looking at videos on YouTube of famous Chinese people to take as examples close to home for when I teach in China, and this is when I was struck, so unexpectedly, by the weight of energy pouring out in all Fire’s movements. Watching yet again the Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, a very clear example of Fire, it is so vividly clear in the way he plays. Through his playing he reaches out forcefully to the conductor in front of him, the orchestra around him and the audience beyond him, almost as though trying to capture them with his joy. I compared this with other pianists I know, some of whom will sit quite still and withdrawn at the piano, so yin-like, as though communing silently with the music and apparently, during these moments of their playing, unaware of the world beyond them.
So if you are a five element acupuncturist and are trying to work out ways of recognising Fire, watch out for the energy you feel coming towards you. And then learn to compare this with the very different energies of those other two powerful elements, Wood and Water. Wood does not try to share anything with you in the way Fire so ardently would like to do, but wants more to force itself on to you. Water’s energetic thrust is much more elusive, being apparently so gentle at one moment, and then, like flood water, sweeping you aside in its rush to survive.
I am always delighted to discover yet again the elements’ ability to surprise me with the variety of ways in which they reveal their differences.