Traditional Oriental Medicine has, for at least 2000 years, acknowledged the link between mental-emotional imbalance and physical disease. Consider the following excerpt from the Huangdi Neijing, or Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, a text estimated to date from the 1st century BC:
When one is angry, then the qi rises.
When one is happy, then the qi relaxes.
When one is sad, then the qi dissipates.
When one is in fear, then the qi moves down.
In case of cold the qi collects;
in case of heat, the qi flows out.
When one is frightened, then the qi is in disorder.
When one is exhausted, then the qi is wasted.
When one is pensive, then the qi lumps together
-Suwen chapter 39, translation by Paul Unschuld (2003)
Pain and suffering in the mind and body may have as a root cause suppressed/repressed emotional energy, a form of under-expression; an example of this is muscle tension in the neck and shoulders stemming from unacknowledged worry and fear.
Pain and suffering in the body may also be directly traceable to an over-expression of emotional energy; an example of this is a hoarse voice following a fit of angry shouting.
It is also possible that a scenario exists involving both over-expression and under-expression of emotional energy. One may over-express joy in the form of partying hard as a means to distract from, and therefore under-express, a true internal state of anger.
Anger is the emotion associated with the spring season in the doctrine of the Five Phases, a system of correspondences in the natural world which have deeply influenced the theories of Oriental Medicine. Consider the following quotes on anger:
A man conquered by anger is in a mass of darkness. He takes pleasure in bad deeds as if they were good, but later, when his anger is gone, he suffers as if burned with fire. He is spoiled, blotted out, like fire enveloped in smoke.
–Kodhana Sutta, translated by Thanissaro
Great anger causes confusion and doubt and a lack of control….The kidneys, when full of rage which does not stop, can result in frequent forgetfulness of previous words. The loins and backbone can be impaired and cannot raise up, stretch, or bend over. The hair becomes haggard. The colors die young. There will be death in the long summer.
-Huangdi neijing lingshu, chapter 8 “The Roots of Spirit”, translated by Wu Jing-Nuan
Wrath springs only from thwarted desire.
–Paramahamsa Yogananda, quoting Sri Yukteswar in Autobiography of a Yogi
Some action items/points to ponder:
> we humans are designed such that we experience emotional states. Oriental Medicine posits seven emotions: anger, fear, worry, overthinking, sadness/grief, fear, fright/shock.
> if emotional imbalance contributes to increased stress states and disease, then there must be a state of emotional balance which contributes to decreased stress states and wellness
> like a set of Matryoshka nesting dolls that can appear one way on the surface and another way one layer in and yet a third way at the core, we can present one emotional state outwardly yet harbor vastly different states inwardly (whether consciously or unconsciously). An example is anger superficially and fear deep within co-occurring simultaneously
> self-mastery involves, among other things, 1) honoring the reality of emotional states, 2) creating the right space and time, the right context, for letting these be constructively expressed, 3) the daily practice of checking in with ourselves and casting the light of awareness on the depths of our psyche to bring forward emotionally charged self-levels in need of Love’s embrace, 4) unlearning the habit of creating false appearances in the name of praise, approval, non-punishment, reward, 5) discerning truth from falsehood, and consciously committing to abiding in the truth
> when pain and suffering are already present in the body, consider that there may be a component of emotional imbalance that you may not have yet consciously connected with the condition.
> when pain and suffering are not yet present in the body, cultivate the proactive habits of 1) introspective reflection that makes it possible to detect passionate emotional states in the background, or below the surface, of the mind-heart and 2) discerning what to do with that information once it’s in our awareness
> when the mind and heart are drawn into the flows of anger, ask yourself: what do/did I want and not get? what do/did I not want and am getting? Pursuing the answer to these questions in the right way brings us face-to-face with a rigidly held attachment/expectation , the surrendering of which through acts of free-will lightens the mind and heart. Lightening the mind and heart by surrendering the attachments which give rise to anger automatically uplifts the health of the body in way both obvious and subtle
> the cycles of anger and suffering comes to an end when our inner ignorance in the form of attachments, expectations, wrong conclusions surrenders to Our Inner Wisdom
> adopt practices which bring you in touch with the depths of the personal and transpersonal psyche such as journaling, meditation, counseling therapy, and/or shamanic plant medicines used in the traditional context.
To enjoy good health means, among other things, to address the root causes/conditions of disease as best as one is able. To address the root causes/conditions of disease as best as one is able means to understand the various factors which contribute to the development of imbalance. To understand the various factors means to study with those whose wisdom in these matters exceeds our own (whether in person or through books, online articles, etc.), and to dedicate time, energy, and money if necessary to apply the teachings to our own lives.
As both a practitioner of Traditional Oriental Medicine and a dude who’s working through his own anger issues toward integrity, I hope this helps you in your journey toward greater health and happiness!
If this topic interests you, check out this blog post on anger. Thanks for visiting!