"Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family, and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt." -David Whyte
"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!" -The Hulk
There are two main causes of disease in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)--external factors (infection and trauma) and internal factors (emotional imbalances). TCM puts a disproportionate amount of emphasis on the emotions' role in creating negative outcomes. If we want to live in good health, then it is imperative that we understand the interplay of our emotions and our physical bodies. This week we will look at the sources, qualities, and effects of Anger on our health.
Anger is the dominant emotion of the organ system that the Chinese call, 'Gan' (often translated as 'Liver' in English). They are called organ systems because they represent more than just an individual organ in the body. When we talk about the Liver in TCM we are referring to the function of the physical organ as well as the body's management of stress, physical activity, blood pressure, circulation of blood and energy, sleep, tendons and ligaments, vision, and Anger. All of these are components of the same system (called Liver). There are four other systems, which we will talk about in subsequent posts.
The Liver is described best by the Wood element--fast-growing, dynamic, flexible, tumultuous, and (yes) green. The season for Wood is the Spring. Things change rapidly in the Spring. It is a time of rebirth, rapid expansion, and unpredictable weather. The Liver embodies these characteristics as well. When the Liver has a task to accomplish it does so with immense haste and exactitude, however, when it hits a barrier outside of its control, pressure can rise just as quickly. This is when frustration can lead to Anger, and Anger can lead to destruction.
Anger is one of our most basic strategies for self protection and is a default emotion for many of us. It comes out as a flurry of fists, none of which are directed at the true source of the Anger. Most Anger arises from unmet expectations. In some cases Anger is righteous when people or institutions take away fundamental human rights, but for most adults Anger results from us creating unrealistic expectations of the world around us. When the fierce and over-confident energy of the Liver meets a force that is beyond its control, the usual strategy is to just fight harder. We've all been there. Sometimes this strategy works, but most often it leads to more angst. The key is to develop a healthy balance with Anger--knowing it's purpose and also it's shortcomings.
If our dominant emotion is continually one of Anger, we run the risk of developing conditions created by stagnation of the Liver (gall-stones, headaches, hypertension, neck and shoulder tension, heartburn, dysmenorrhea, etc.). Anger can affect all other organ systems negatively and it must be dutifully managed. Physical activity, time outdoors, martial arts, journaling, meditation, and a diet rich in vegetables and low in fried foods and alcohol are all Liver-promoting activities. It is also imperative that we remain flexible with our expectations. I'm not saying that we should have no standards at all, but that our core values need to be present in our expectations. My advice is to simplify your expectations so that they are simple to defend. This way you spend your energy, and Anger, on the things that matter.
This was just a snap-shot of the Liver system, so take your time to let the material settle in. Take this week to look more deeply at what expectations you hold that cause the most frustration in your life. The remaining four organ systems will shed some additional light on how our emotions interact as a whole. Stay tuned.