Pierre, a French acupuncturist, has asked me an interesting question, which has prompted this blog. He wants to know whether I think the guardian element (CF or dominant element) can be regarded as the weakest link in the chain of the elements, something he finds puzzling. If a five element acupuncturist's attention is focused on strengthening the patient's element does this mean that it is this element which in reality represents the weak link in the chain of the elements rather than the strongest link, as it might be considered to be in view of its dominant position? I have been thinking deeply about this for all the years that I have practised five element acupuncture, because I realise that we have to try to reconcile the concept of a dominant element with the picture of the elements circling harmoniously around all things, and in human beings creating each of our organs.
We have somehow to add to this picture another image, which accentuates one particular element for each of us, and then try to reconcile the two. Five element acupuncture is based on the understanding that one element appears to have been singled out to put its stamp upon us, marking us with its imprint, a lifetime's branding which it seems we can never obliterate, however balanced we are. In a more fanciful moment I like to visualize this as though the universe, in its endless circling, allows the tiniest hitch to appear in the unbroken chain of the elements, through which each of us slips into life at the moment of our birth. This is the point in the circle where we are marked with the characteristics of that element, emphasizing its role in shaping our life. It then becomes the place where we can grow and develop, but also, if we deny it its role, the place where we can wither and fade, and therefore also of course where illness can creep in.
When JR Worsley called this element the element of the causative factor of disease (CF), it was certainly an accurate description of how ill-health can occur when a patient's element is under too much stress. But I also remember JR telling us that we should always ask, "What does this patient need to do to live the most productive life possible?" The aim of treatment is then to help our patients achieve this aim. I have always seen this as evidence that he saw a person's element as the point of the greatest potential development, a threshold for change, whilst only if is denied the right to flourish can it become the cause of ill-health.
I have been intrigued by the fact that the Western world, too, in days long gone had a similar approach to understanding how illness developed as the Chinese have. There was a time when the concept of the humors dominated Western medical thought, each of the four humors being associated with its own organ of the body and its own emotional approach to life. If we look at a list of the characteristics of these humors there is a definite similarity to those shared by the elements, although the seasons to which both are assigned, as well as other qualities, differ. The similarity is in their understanding that illness is the result of a combination of both physical and emotional factors. At a time when orthodox medicine is gradually starting to accept that the physical and the emotional may be inextricably linked it is also perhaps time to start resurrecting the concept of the humors, taking it down from the shelves of medical libraries where it has gathered dust over the centuries. We may now see some value in determining how far our inner life may be contributing to the onset of illness, and what types of illness this makes us susceptible to.
Both these systems, that of the humors and that of the elements, try to offer an explanation for our individuality by listing specific features relating to each humor/element. I believe there lies a profound truth behind both concepts, and, in the case of five element acupuncture, I have had this truth confirmed by the results of many years of treating my patients. I have seen their lives transformed, their physical ailments helped and their emotional well-being enhanced when my treatment has been focused on one particular element. I have not seen the same results if my treatment has not been addressed at the right element.
In answer to Pierre's query, therefore, I do not think that the guardian element is a weak link in the chain of the elements. I think it should be viewed, instead, as the place of our greatest potential.