So I got several hundred words into this evenings post when I realized that it wasn’t a blog post, it was a PAPER. Like, the kind of thing you get published in the Journal of Chinese Medicine. I’m going to blame this on time spent reading “Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies” lately.
Anyway, I would like to make a few points here in, well, significantly less stultified tone, and I might as well borrow from the aforementioned work to do so. I’ve been asked to talk about the emotions in Chinese medicine this week, so I’ll do that.
In my opinion, you absolutely cannot get anywhere with the modern patient (at least here in America) without addressing their psychological “physique” in some way. Now unfortunately the brand of standardized professional Chinese medicine that is currently in vogue in this country really doesn’t get much further along than stress, nebulous concepts of depression, and “shen disturbance”. The truth of the matter is that modern patients are so screwed up that they don’t even realize how bad they’re screwed up. To top that off, even when their problems aren’t due to the Five Emotions being completely out of control, their relatively minor physical complaints are obstructed by the lack of communication outward from the Heart so that if you go directly at their shoulder pain, nothing happens, no matter how correct your treatment would otherwise have been.
The oft-quoted here Heiner Fruehauf has stated numerous times that in the very ancient Chinese medical writings the Heart was considered to be an Earth organ in the Five Phase model, and that it contained the Fire of the Shen,the Shen being the Thing that must not be disturbed, the Imperial Fire, the Emperor of the entire being. Daoist traditions (everything from scholarly to medical to martial) harp on the need to empty the Heart of all desires so that the Shen may reside there undisturbed. The primary role of the emperor in ancient China (apart from being seen to be on the throne and in control) was, as a sort of high priest for the entire Earth, to enter the Temple of Heaven at the prescribed times and perform the appropriate rituals and offer the correct sacrifices in order to keep Earth in harmony with the will of Heaven. Some medical intuitive traditions teach that your best source of information will not be relying upon the chakra of the third Eye but rather the Heart and Wisdom chakras in the solar plexus and stomach. In our society we uses phrases like “getting to the heart of the matter” and knowing something in your “heart of hearts” or getting a feeling “in your gut”.
Our society in its very existence seems to go out of its way to espouse behaviors that disturb the Shen from its necessary perch in the Heart. When, really, are we ever calm, quiet, and stable? Despite being someone who supposedly knows better, as I type this I’m listening to music, clicking back and forth between web pages and applications to keep up on sports news and what my friends are doing, thinking about my patient schedule for tomorrow and who needs what, contemplating potential tactics for my strategy game of the moment, and so on. Throughout my life my state has been to be going in several directions at once, something that is far from the natural or preferred state of being. We are ALL like this and so are our patients. So many of our patients are afflicted with this need to be doing more than they did yesterday, to achieve more, to accomplish more or…what, exactly? Everyone has their own demons, I suppose. Our patients overwork to keep up with their bills then overexercise to keep up with the current standard of appearance and to offset the stagnation of the previously mentioned overwork. We overplan, overconsume,overindulge, overspend, and generally multitask ourselves into insanity. Insanity is the word here. If you were to talk to 25 people today, how many of them would seem to you to be calm, contented, healthy, of sound mind and sound body? Not many.
We need to remember that the Five Emotions (or seven, depending on your source) when excessive or deficient (meaning not exactly right) become known as the Internal Pathogens, and since not as many of us have our life-forces frittered away because of exposure to a harsh outdoor environment we can look at them (along with environmental toxicity) as the primary cause of disease in our age. Our minor emotional difficulties are forever getting in our way, causing minor illnesses in the short term and adding up to much worse things in the long term. Our major emotional difficulties (meaning traumas) set us up for extremely difficult lives emotionally and physically and make us vulnerable to all the worst sorts of diseases, from mental instabilities all the way up to autoimmune disease and cancer. We also have the difficulty of past emotional trauma blocking the Heart from receiving the Shen properly, or from expressing the mandate of the Shen so that things become almost impossible for us to treat until these traumas are dealt with. All too frequently our patients have no idea what the real trouble is. As I tell my students, any time someone comes in with shoulder pain (especially if it centers at LI-15) I immediately have them turn around so that I can find the massive knot at UB-14 or 15, the Back Shu points of the Heart and Pericardium, which is always there.
I have honestly reached the point where almost all of my acupuncture efforts are aimed at dealing with psychological and emotional issues and leaving any denser and more material issues to an accompanying herbal formula (which is not to say that I don’t use those for psychological treatment too).
Our job increasingly involves creating awareness in the patient of their particular plight and encouraging them to take an active interest in achieving proper balance in their lives. As one first century text puts it, “emotion is that which is meant to be kept quiet while nature is that which is meant to be active and to unfold.” A kingdom in which the Emperor is out of control has no chance whatsoever of peace and instead finds itself in civil war. The bulk of our job currently is getting the Emperor back on the throne. Until that happens, there’s really not a great deal of use obsessing over crop prices or tinkering with delivery of goods to outlying provinces.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.