Metal people have a much greater sense of stillness about them than other elements. There can be a complete absence of movement when they lie on the couch, for example, almost as though they are like those stone effigies of knights lying in their tombs in cathedrals. This is not a suppression of movement, as there might be with Water, as it tries to hold itself back, but a feeling of withdrawal and detachment from what is going on.
They make very steady and acute eye contact, and it is to the eyes that we are drawn, rather than to the mouth, as we are with Earth. Whilst looking directly at us, and obviously seeing us very keenly, they appear at the same time to be looking past and through us, as though searching for something beyond us. It is in their eyes that the sense of grief underlying this element is revealed.
Grief is an emotion which separates us from other people. We are each alone as we grieve, the very opposite of how we feel when we express Fire’s joy or Earth’s sympathy, where we welcome others to us. We might think that Metal only grieves for a death, but there are many other kinds of losses we can feel. Its grief can stem from the actual loss of a person, but it can also grieve for what can be as acute, or even more acute, than a loss, which is an absence, a person who is not there for them, either physically or emotionally, such as an emotionally distant parent. It can also mourn all that it will never have and all that was never there. It can grieve for the things it has never done and will now never do, for what it has never known and for what it will now never know, for the losses it will never make up and the joys it will now never experience. These are some of the losses which Metal, of all the elements, can experience the most profoundly.
I think the following is a beautiful description of the loneliness of grief, the feeling of isolation we all feel when we experience loss. It comes from a book by the American writer, Francine Prose, called Goldengrove, which is all about how a young girl copes with the death of her sister.
“So many of (those trying to offer comfort) said the same things that I might have thought that there was common ground, if I hadn’t known that I was alone on an iceberg split off from a glacier….. When they wept, I cried, too, and for a moment I almost believed that my iceberg might have room for another person.”
I have also been helped in my understanding of the Metal element from the time when I unexpectedly experienced the emotion grief in an intense form for one day. I woke one day feeling unutterably sad. Though I racked my brains I could find no reason for this. Nothing was then happening which could be causing me the kind of sense of deep loss I was experiencing, nor could I pin it down to any recent event which might have occurred around this time of the year. I looked at the season I was in, and it was not autumn, Metal’s season, when we might all feel a little melancholic at the imminent death of the year. Nor did the date have any particular resonance for me, as I fretted away at my memory. So where had this overwhelming, all-permeating feeling of sadness come from?
The feeling lasted just that one day. By the evening it was fading, and by the
morning it had gone completely, never to this day to re-appear. At one level it
puzzles me that I should have been so shot through with such an unfamiliar
emotion, one that even in times of deepest distress at some real loss in my
life I had so far never experienced. Its very unfamiliarity was disturbing, for
it propelled me into unfamiliar emotional territory. I felt cut off, alienated
from my surroundings, and unwilling or unable to share my thoughts with anybody
else. I felt as if I was wandering alone like a shadow amongst strangers,
unapproachable, as though nobody could reach me beneath this mantle of grief
that I was enveloped in, like a garment I could not take off.
The memory of this strange day has faded, but its significance has not, because at some time during it I found myself saying to myself, “so this is what it is like to be Metal. This is what Metal people must be feeling at every moment of their lives.” Was this realization the reason I was asked to experience such an unsettling day? Now I like to think it was, for that journey on to what I like to think is Metal’s territory and my identification, however briefly, with the emotional terrain upon which Metal lives its life, have given me deep, personal insights into this element which I think I could have gained in no other way. These have stayed with me ever since, and guide me with a surer hand to my diagnosis of Metal in other people.
When trying to work out whether a voice has the weeping tones of Metal, it is worth closing your eyes and just listening. Somehow when we listen in the ordinary way, watching the person talking, I find that we can overlook the quiet, yin, falling quality in a Metal voice. Listened to by itself without any input from our eyes, it becomes surprisingly flat and low, and draws us downwards. This is exactly the opposite of the yang, rising tones of Wood and Fire.
When trying to work out whether somebody is Metal, it is worth watching how the person is making you feel. Are you finding that you are somehow careful in what you say, as though choosing your words carefully in case you may be criticized? Metal judges; that is its role, to weigh the good and the bad, and discard the bad. It therefore cannot help itself from judging us, and we can feel this as implied criticism, although it may not be intended as such. It is, of course, above all critical of itself, but will not take lightly anybody criticizing it. You can laugh with Metal, it can laugh at itself (it can have a very acute, sharp sense of humour), but you can never laugh at it without finding that it withdraws completely from you. In the case of a patient, this may be the reason why they decide to stop treatment, because they will experience your laughing at them as you as their practitioner judging them to be in some way inadequate, and this they cannot allow.