I have always found Metal people to be the easiest patients to treat, provided (and this is an important proviso) that I am quick to diagnose that Metal is really their element. I have therefore had to work out my own ways of pinpointing specific Metal characteristics which help me with my diagnosis. A person’s first impression upon us is always very revealing, particularly if we can catch a glimpse of some similarity with how we have previously reacted to somebody else, and perhaps revealingly so if the person we are reminded of is a patient whose element we are sure of. This makes life much easier for us, of course. A very clear comparison of the similarities between our reactions to the two people is very helpful. Less helpful is what happens more often, which is that some little quirk in appearance or behaviour, something like the way they move their mouth as they smile or talk, or the way they look at us, sets off a vague memory of somebody else we know who smiles, talks or moves in a similar way. We may not immediately track back to work out who this is, and it may take us a few hours or even longer to pinpoint the person we are thinking of, but once traced this is a nearly infallible way of finding an elemental signature to help us.
There is an added factor to making a diagnosis when we treat a Metal patient, which is that the relationship between patient and practitioner is always a very delicate one, but with Metal it is especially so. I have sometimes described it as one where I have to tread lightly, as though on glass. Metal is the most sensitive of all elements in detecting a slight of any kind directed towards it, and will harbour the memory of it for a long time. It regards anything as a slight as something which implies some criticism of its behaviour. Buried deep within Metal is a search for perfection, and this is what lies behind all that it does, as it tries to weigh up what is right and good and to discard what is wrong. This, of course, includes judging its own actions. It is prepared to do this itself, but allows no-one else the right to do this. Any criticism will therefore imply a negative judgement and will be resisted. No element wants to be taken as seriously as Metal. To mock it or make it feel unworthy in any way is to lose any respect it has for us as a person and even more so for us as its practitioner. This is why the first interactions with a Metal patient are so crucial, and can be very tricky if we do not pick up on a patient’s need to be allowed to do things their own way with as little interference as possible from others, and thus from us as their practitioner.
One of the pointers to the Metal element is the strong feeling that I have to tread warily in what I do and say. This is my particular reaction to sensing the space that Metal people like to keep between themselves and others, even between those to whom they are emotionally most closely related. I feel under inspection, being observed almost dispassionately, as though I am being assessed from a distance. This is something Metal is likely to do to everybody who approaches it, and also does to itself, since it is the harshest self-critic of any element, constantly judging its own actions. If it feels that I am not offering it what it thinks I should, I will be dismissed as having no further use. This will translate itself into a Metal patient abruptly deciding to discontinue treatment. On the other hand, once it has accepted that what I am offering as a practitioner is something it can value, it will be remarkably easy to treat. It is no coincidence, I feel, that when I was palpating the wrist of one of my Metal patients to locate the position of the Metal source points, he told me quietly, “That feels very pertinent to me,” as though such a sensitive response to my touch had activated some reaction which he recognized as profound even before the point was needled.
I have noted over the years that many practitioners including myself fail to recognize the signatures of the Metal element for some reason which I have found difficult to decipher. It may well be associated with its yin qualities, which it shares with the other yin element, Water, for what is yin is inward-looking, unwilling to reveal itself, quite unlike the outward-looking qualities of the two very yang elements, Wood and Fire. Neither of these hesitates to express openly what it feels, whereas the two purely yin elements tend to be more comfortable keeping their feelings in the shadows, as though unwilling to reveal their true nature. In other words we are always slightly uncertain where Metal and Water people are positioning themselves, unlike Wood and Fire who are so unmistakably there in front of us. Earth, of course, being a combination of both yin and yang, can be both very visible, as though partly living life above-ground and partly more hidden, as though below-ground, as befits the rather ambiguous intermediate position it takes up.
It is therefore all too easy to mistake the face Metal turns towards the world as revealing what is truly going on below the surface, which I feel helps explain why practitioners may find Metal difficult to diagnose. We are not quite sure whether what we are seeing is revealing how Metal really feels and acts. One of the ways I have learnt to deal with this is by understanding that Metal, whose function is to assess the true nature of things, must rely on itself to do this, not ask for help from others. Metal people may listen to what others advise, but will then take this advice quietly away inside themselves to mull over it, and decide whether it is sufficiently or insufficiently valid to take or reject.
I learnt this lesson quite early on in my practice, when I happened to be treating a Metal patient immediately after an Earth patient. The Earth patient was very happy to discuss openly what she was concerned about. This was something which had been occupying her during many of our previous sessions, and was continuing to do so now. On the other hand, when I afterwards went in to see the Metal patient, who had told me at the last session that he had some difficult decisions to take in his life, he said without prompting, “I’ve decided what I will do,”, and that was that. I felt that he had come to this decision by himself, presumably, I hoped, after feeling the benefit of the treatment which he had just received, and there was now no further need to discuss it. Nor did I feel he would welcome my questioning him further. He had moved on in that quiet but determined way that Metal has.