It still surprises me how much I learn each time I'm with another person, particularly if I am paying the kind of concentrated attention I reserve for looking at patients. Yesterday I observed something new about the way the Earth element impacts upon me. As I watched a video of a Chinese acupuncturist's interaction with one of his patients, I learnt something about this element that I had not seen before. The description that came to mind was that the patient made me feel surprisingly comfortable. He was sitting back at ease in his chair with his hands loosely clasped together on his lap, and I could sense myself relaxing in response to him. There was little of the usual feeling I have come to associate with the presence of Earth, that of something being demanded of me, a need for understanding which may have become the stereotype of my response to this element. This patient did not make me feel that he was pulling at me in any way, and I decided that he was an example of balanced Earth, with little of the neediness I had come to associate with this element.
I then asked myself how I would be feeling if the patient was one of the other four elements, and I therefore looked at each in turn, starting with Wood. I asked myself how I would feel if I was facing one of my Wood patients, and was immediately aware that I would have reacted differently, by sitting up a little straighter and leaning forward towards the patient as if to counter a slight obstacle. This tends to be my reaction to Wood since it always has a slightly challenging effect upon me, as its strong yang energy meets my own Small Intestine's yang energy. If the patient were Fire, this would also have had a different effect upon me, as our two Fire energies, both in some ways trying to enter into some kind of a relationship with each other, being such a familiar feeling for me, would have left me even more relaxed.
This is quite unlike the effect a Metal patient would have upon me, for Metal, far from wanting to enter a relationship with those it encounters, wants space between it and other people, more than either Wood, Earth or Fire do. Like all elements, though, it makes its own demands, and when I am with Metal patients I feel that I must work out carefully how to respond in an appropriate manner to what they want of me, otherwise they will withdraw into their shell. Finally, then, I am left with wondering how I would react if this patient were Water. I think I would feel slightly apprehensive, this being a reflection of Water's own fear conveying itself almost unconsciously to me, and making me uneasy. There was no such uneasiness within me as I watched this Earth patient.
It is by studying carefully the subtle differences in my responses to the different elements in this way that I have learnt to improve my diagnostic skills over the years. So I have now added this slice of fresh learning to the drawer in my filing cabinet of element examples labelled Earth.