Tuesday, July 19, 2022

22 - 28 The Two Outer Fire officials

If we now look at the functions of the two Outer Fire officials, they both act as protectors of the Heart in their midst, but each with a different emphasis.  Though obviously closely associated with the Heart, they are the only officials to have functions which extend over the body as a whole, rather than being closely related to a particular organ within that body, as, for example, the Small Intestine is to the Heart.  The Three Heater acts as the body's thermostat, keeping it at an even temperature.  Its presence within the Fire element indicates its importance to the Heart, for its function is to maintain the warmth of the blood at a correct level to enable the Heart to pump it to each cell in the body.  It also works hard at maintaining an even emotional temperature so that we blow neither too hot nor too cold in our relationships to others.


Its sister yin companion, the Heart Protector, is doing what its name suggests, acting as physical protection on the ramparts encircling the Heart at Fire's centre.  I see the Heart Protector as patrolling these ramparts, sword in hand, preventing entry to those it feels might endanger the Heart.  I like to think of the Heart Protector asking the Heart, "Is this person safe for you to love?", whilst the Small Intestine asks, "Is this person the right sort of person for you to love?".


Because the two sides of Fire have such different functions, they find their expression in different characteristics which we can observe in the people around us.  Because all four officials form part of the Fire element, they have the same sensory signatures of colour, sound and smell, but I have come to see that the emotional imprint they give to those under their control differs quite markedly.  When I am with somebody who is Outer Fire I therefore feel different from when I am with those who are Inner Fire.  Perhaps I am particularly aware of this because Inner Fire, and particularly the yin Inner Fire official, the Small Intestine, is where the elements have imprinted me with their signature.  And having observed myself closely for over 40 years, ever since I first encountered the concept of the elements, I know that my approach to life differs greatly from that of my fellow Outer Fire companions.

Since each of us is intimately acquainted with one particular element, our Guardian Element and its two officials, each of us is given the gift of understanding how that element manifests itself at a deep level if we work hard at observing ourselves in our interactions with others.  In my case, I feel that I am fortunate in understanding the workings of the Fire element, and in particular of its Inner Fire aspect, the Small Intestine official, from a deeply personal point of view.  I see it as being one of the reasons why my work as a five element acupuncturist developed in the way it did, particularly in relation to my writings and my teaching.  It is the curiosity which underlies the Small Intestine's approach to life which stimulates all my thoughts, and leaves me dissatisfied until I have worked out to my satisfaction all the often puzzling dilemmas my practice confronts me with.


The Small Intestine's task is to sort through its thoughts and emotions to find solutions which it sees fit to pass through to the Heart.  One of the ways I have therefore learnt to distinguish Inner from Outer Fire is often the puzzled look which I notice on my face, and on other Inner Fire faces, as we try to work out what we should be doing or feeling or saying.  In a way, the whole of life can appear a puzzle to me, something I have all the time to unpick and piece together to make some of a  sense, some kind of a whole.  It is why, when I am writing things, as I am now doing, I am constantly correcting and amending what I have just written, draft after draft, until I am quite happy that my words describe the truth of what I am trying to say.  I go through several handwritten and then typed drafts during this process, each draft the expression of the point at which my thoughts have reached, but each beckoning me to do more, often by cutting out extraneous words, sentences or even whole paragraphs, until I am happy with the final pared-down version.


It is often tiring for those with an Inner Fire person to follow the pattern of their thoughts, as these develop by fits and starts.  For example, I often find myself correcting myself in mid-sentence and appearing to veer off sideways to express another thought.


By contrast, Outer Fire people show none of these hesitations, or stops and re-starts.  Their thinking is not hampered by the need to get things absolutely right for the Heart, for they leave this task to their Inner Fire companions.  Instead, they are much more articulate in expressing their thoughts, and therefore in many ways much easier to listen to, and certainly easier to be with.  They have none of the kind of jitteriness I associate with my own relationships to others.  Having the Three Heater as one of its officials, which has the function of maintaining warmth and harmony for the whole body, Outer Fire when in balance can be a very comfortable companion.  it is eager to put the people it meets at their ease, because maintaining warm relationships is also one of its principal functions. 


When in the presence of Outer Fire, we therefore often feel that we are at a party, happily enjoying ourselves with others.  Inner Fire will express Fire's joy in shorter bursts, interspersed with often anxious moments when it is searching around for clues as to how it should react or what it should be doing.  It is therefore not the easiest aspect of Fire to be in the presence of, often making others uneasy as they try to work out exactly how to react in Inner Fire's presence.


Over the years I have put together these useful pointers to the difference I feel between Inner and Outer Fire that five element acupuncturists may find useful in helping them develop their diagnostic skills.



Friday, July 15, 2022

22 - 27 The four officials of the Fire element: The two Inner Fire officials

In looking at the 12 officials we have to start at the one which is at the centre, the Emperor/Empress of body, mind and spirit, the Heart official.  It is given the number 1 in the numerical order of the officials, extending up to 12, indicating the importance of its role at the centre of the Fire element.  It is the only official not only protected by its yang companion, the Small Intestine, but surrounded by two other officials, the Heart Protector and the Three Heater, which form a protective bodyguard around it.   I call the Heart and Small intestine officials the two Inner Fire officials, and the others the two Outer Fire officials.


The Outer Fire officials are given different names in other branches of acupuncture, but I like to keep to the names which I was taught as a student all those many years ago, the Heart Protector and Three Heater, seeing them as part of a tradition which I feel it is important to pass on.  This is why I insist on continuing to give each official a Roman numeral (from I to XII), which places the Heart, of course, in rightful first place, not, as in other traditions, with the Lung first.


It is important to have a picture in our mind of how the four Fire officials combine their work, before we look at each one in turn.  Together they form an indissoluble unit, each with a very specific, individually defined task, but all working to one end, which is to to protect the Heart and allow it to function as it should.  In physical terms, this is uninterruptedly to pump blood around the body to nourish every cell.  But to do this it not only needs protection to ensure that it never falters, for even the briefest interruption to its work will usher in a speedy death, but that what reaches it, physically in the physical blood, and emotionally in the emotional impulses with which it controls our emotional life, remain as robust as possible.  Here each of the three officials which surround it have their individual part to play. 


It is helpful to think of the two pairs of officials as though linked together in forming the Fire element, and yet in some mysterious and significant way as separate from one another.  One characteristic that they have, which I found slightly odd when I first learned of this, is that, though so closely associated with each other, they remain at a profound level detached from one another.  When studying the concept of energy transfers between elements I learnt that it is theoretically possible to transfer energy between any one yin official and any other around the cycle of the elements, but it cannot be transferred directly within the Fire element between the Inner and Outer Fire yin officials.  It is possible, though, to do this transfer by passing energy from yin to yin of each element around the cycle until it reaches the other side of the Fire element.  In practice I have never seen this done, because the need to take from one aspect of Fire to give to the other aspect is too remote to be contemplated, since both Heart and Heart Protector need to preserve all their energy for the Heart rather than depleting themselves by passing some on.  This does, however, help me to understand that there is a barrier between the two aspects of Fire which acts as a further protection for the Heart.


I have always liked to visualize the Fire element as a fortified castle, with the Heart, a yin official, in splendid isolation at its centre, surrounded closely by its yang companion, the Small Intestine, and the two outer Fire officials manning the castle ramparts, preventing unwelcome approaches to the Heart.  The Outer Fire officials can be seen as forming a protective ring around the Heart and the Small Intestine in their midst.  


I like to call the Small Intestine the Heart's secretary, with a wastepaper basket at its feet, rather than the weapons I visualize the two Outer Fire officials holding in their hands to protect the Heart.  Its principal function is to select only what is appropriate to pass through to the Heart, and to discard the inappropriate by passing it on to the Large Intestine to expel from the body.  In physical terms it does this through its work upon the blood, but in five element acupuncture it also has what we can consider an even more important role, which is to sift for any impurities at the deeper levels of mind and spirit.  This makes it one of the busiest, if not the busiest, official of all, since it must work tirelessly at every moment of the day and night to prevent what might have passed unchallenged through the outer defences of the Heart Protector and the Three Heater from gaining direct access to the the Heart.


22 - 26 The Twelve Officials

There is one important aspect of five element acupuncture which distinguishes it from other branches of traditional acupuncture, and that is the importance it places not only upon understanding the qualities of the different elements at all levels of the human being, but also those of the organs which together create the energies of these elements.  We call these the 12 officials;  they carry out the instructions of the elements of which they form a part, always one yang and one official to each element.  The Fire element is the exception here, its dual function giving it two yang and two yin officials.  Each official has a specific function, and together they cover the complete range of human experience.  They therefore not only represent the physical organs familiar from any conventional medical textbook, but, appropriately for a system of medicine which claims to treat the whole person, they each also have additional qualities which extend to the deeper areas of human existence.  Each physical organ, as well as having its familiar physical function, also has a specific association with the different mental and emotional aspects of life represented by the element of which it forms part. 


This is something that needs to be emphasized, because it is easy to think only of an organ's physical function.  In five element acupuncture we give each official a much more important role in maintaining health than simply treating physical symptoms.  Each treatment is potentially a way of restoring physical, mental and emotional health at one and the same time, something which anybody wishing to practise five element acupuncture needs to understand.  This branch of acupuncture is one of the few systems of medicine which combines an ability to restore health to the physical body whilst at the same time addressing problems which have their cause at the deeper levels of human life.  It is, of course, possible to use acupuncture as a purely physical system of medicine, but if we do so we are doing it a disservice by ignoring its potential to help restore emotional balance.  It is surprising how easy it may be to concentrate only on the physical attributes of organs whilst forgetting that it is often their deeper functions which lead to all manner of imbalances.