Tag: Traditional Chinese Medicine

Everything is Revealed by Highlights and Shadows

I originally wrote this post one year ago, after the Boston Marathon bombings. This Monday, the Marathon runs again. In the intervening year, there have been, worldwide, more bombings, more acts of terrorism and aggression, more unrest. Sometimes it seems like the shadows are taking over. But the beauty of being human is that we can decide what we want to believe. And then we can believe it. I still choose to believe that a million lights of kindness will cover the darkest acts of atrocity. And I always will.

Grief is linked, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, to the lung and large intestine organs and, like anger, fear, joy/sadness and worry, it plays a fundamental role in our health. Our lungs hold and distribute the oxygen that sustains life, so our inhalation is quite literally the act of taking in life.  When we exhale, we are letting go, in the trust that our next inhalation will come. Without this exhalation––this letting go with trust­­––we can’t take in another breath; we can’t take in more life.

It is the role of grief to facilitate the letting-go process. When we grieve, we are letting go of that which no longer serves us. Grieving is the process of sifting through the loss to discover the essence that we wish to carry with us. And then allowing the rest go, so we are able to take in another breath, to continue living.

This week I am grieving the lives lost and maimed at the Boston Marathon bombings and underneath that, I am grieving the awareness that there are people so separated from the basic heart of humanity, that to maim and kill innocent lives is, to them, an acceptable act. But my grieving has unearthed an essence in the tragedy, to wit: the darkest acts of atrocity are covered by a million lights of kindness. In Boston, people ran toward the bombing scene, seconds after it happened, to help, heedless of their own safety. Social media spontaneously sprang into action to coordinate emergency information.

Everything is revealed by highlights and shadows. We are moving forward as a species defined by our immense kindnesses in the wake of our isolated evils.

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I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—

that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum

of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

excerpted from The Ponds by Mary Oliver

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The Role of Worry

We, in the west, tend to think of worry as something unproductive. “You worry too much.” “Don’t worry about it.” “Stop worrying.” The old bromides underscore our rejection of worry as something worthwhile.

Worrying, however, is very worthwhile.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the emotion of worry (and the energy it generates) is linked to the stomach and spleen/pancreas. These organs are physically responsible for a great deal of our digestive processes.  They mix our food with enzymes, and create muscular contractions to roll the food around ensuring that the enzymes are well-distributed and that the food comes into contact with lots of surface area so the nutrients can be absorbed into our physical body, keeping us healthy.

The role of the emotion of worry is to do the same thing with less tangible “food.” Ideas and experiences need to be rolled around, looked at from several angles, broken down or teased out into more distinct concepts before they can be absorbed, or discarded as the case may be. Without the worry, we would swallow ideas whole, without knowing whether they contained any nourishment for us, without knowing if they filled our needs. As we worry, we are being honest with ourselves about what our needs are, and in this way we are strengthening our integrity.

Another benefit of worrying is that as we mull our needs over, it probably doesn’t escape our notice that everyone else is doing the same thing. This commonality connects us and, aware of the connection, we possibly now start worrying about whether others’ needs are also being met. In this way, our integrity further develops, since we now respect both our own needs and others’ needs.

So go ahead and worry. It’s good for you.

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The Role of Grief

Grief is linked, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, to the lung and large intestine organs and, like anger, fear, joy/sadness and worry, it plays a fundamental role in our health.

Our lungs hold and distribute the oxygen that sustains our life, so our inhalation is quite literally the act of taking in life.  When we exhale, we are letting go, in the trust that our next inhalation will come. Without this exhalation––this letting go with trust­­––we can’t take in another breath; we can’t take in more life.

It is the role of grief to facilitate the letting go process. When we grieve, we are letting go of that which no longer serves us. Grieving is the process of sifting through the loss to discover the essence that we wish to carry with us. And then allowing the rest go, so we are able to take in another breath, to continue living.

This week I am grieving the lives lost and maimed at the Boston Marathon bombings (and newly, the MIT officer) and underneath that, I am grieving the awareness that there are people so separated from the basic heart of humanity, that to maim and kill innocent lives is, to them, an acceptable act.

But my grieving has unearthed an essence in the tragedy, to wit: the darkest acts of atrocity are covered by a million lights of kindness. In Boston, people rushed toward the scene of the bombings seconds after they occurred heedless of their own safety, in their impulse to help. Social media spontaneously sprang into action to coordinate emergency information.

Everything is revealed by highlights and shadows.  We are moving forward as a species defined by our immense kindnesses in the wake of our isolated evils.

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The Role of Anger

I’ve been thinking about the emotion of anger lately because of the ongoing debate around gun control.  Hearing the trumpeting of the Second Amendment as a justification for the slaughter of children makes me angry. And so I want to go deeper and figure out why.

A few years ago, I took a course taught by a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine that discussed the connection of emotions to health. I learned that traditional Chinese medicine identifies five emotions as integral parts of the human–Anger, Grief, Joy/Sadness, Fear and Worry–and that each of these emotions is linked to a specific organ in our body. In TCM therefore, feeling an emotion is not an unattached event, but is instead a clue–a signpost pointing us in a direction toward greater clarity and self-understanding.

The emotion anger links to the liver and its role in our lives is to set boundaries. We feel angry when a boundary within us is being violated–something we believe in is being challenged. Seen in this light then, no one makes you angry; you make yourself angry.  You have created the emotion. And that is where the empowerment lies.

When I feel angry, I try my best to rout out and examine the belief that the anger is asking me to look at. In this way, I can hope to act with clarity, rather than react. This is important, because anger is a rather pensive emotion. It is not meant to be belligerent.

In the case of gun control, the boundary within me that is being violated is the idea I have that we are all one, and that what we do to each other, we do to ourselves. Therefore in my belief system, if we think we are justified in murdering one another for ‘personal freedom’ we are not only committing violence on a physical level, we are ripping ourselves from a fundamental truth.

Now that I have ferreted out this belief, I can ask myself: do I really believe this idea the anger has pushed me to see? And in this case, yes, I do. From the moment years ago, when a damaged Vietnam vet shoved a pistol against my sixteen year old head threatening me, to the slaughter of six year olds last December by a deranged teenager, I see no value in guns. They tear rather than mend.

My anger has revealed a belief, challenged me to examine it, and asked me to affirm or reject it. In this way, our emotions are guides for our self-growth. The more we understand the role of emotions in our lives the more we can change what doesn’t enrich us. Working from inward to outward is using our emotions in the way they are meant to be used.

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