In many of our jobs or personal relationships we encounter negativity in many forms. Recently I worked for an organisation where that negativity took the form of ‘bitching’. People complained about others regularly, for not doing something fast enough, well enough, ‘right’ enough. It wound me up. So what did I do when I was no longer around these people whose negativity was wearing me out? I bitched. Oh the irony. So I thought I’d write a post about how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help us deal with frustration and how being a nice person is good for you.
The Chinese cosmology thinks of the universe in terms of 5 Elements (as opposed to Western systems which tends to think in terms of 4). They are: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each of the 5 Elements in Chinese Medicine ‘govern’ other categories (amongst others): an Organ, an emotion, a season, and a virtue. Organs in TCM are not just ‘things’. The Organ is also its function and its relationships as well as simply its physical form. Each Organ is also considered to have a psychological/emotional aspect (called its shen or spirit). Certain psycho-emotional conditions show when an Organ or organ-relationship is out of balance.
So let’s take the element of Wood as an example. Wood’s Organ is the Liver. The season it is associated with is Spring which is a time of assertiveness and growth. Wood is ‘selfish’ or ‘self-centred’ in the way that plants and children must be self-centred in order to reach a secure stage of development. When our outward movement is blocked, assertiveness can turn to frustration and aggression; it is for this reason that Wood’s associated, pathological, emotion is Anger. As well as a pathological reaction when out of balance the Liver also has an associated virtue that is spontaneously generated when our mind and body are in balance. That virtue is Kindness.
So in a moment of anger how can we bring relief to our squashed and overheated Liver s? The energetic action of the liver is ‘up and out’. Activities that mimic this form of energy (e.g. kick boxing, sprinting, dance) will bring temporary relief to the Liver. Substances that utilise the Liver’s functions e.g. alcohol and recreational drugs also bring temporary relief but at the highly likely cost of long term damage. The other way to calm the Liver is not to give it more of what it likes (explosive activity) but the opposite. Stillness and expansiveness. These are much rarer commodities in our high-paced lifestyle but have a more profound and long lasting positive effect on the Liver. As an example, the Liver benefits from swinging movements and the colour green. In other words go for an unencumbered walk through a forest.
Likewise, in our relationships, creating an explosive resolution of the conflict may make us feel better short term. However in relationships the ‘having out’ of an argument may make one person feel better but is likely to leave the other feeling mauled and in the mood for retribution. The emotional equivalent therefore of the walk in the forest is responding with Kindness. Kindness also mimics the up and out energy of the Liver. In this case, we move up of our self-regard and out towards others. Kindness may appear like passivity but extending kindness to others (and to ourselves) can restore a feeling of being in control rather than victimised by the strong negative feelings of others.
What follows is a meditation used to generate kindness to others by building on the qualities we have already generated for the sake of our loved ones. I hope that using it brings you peace, happiness and balance.
[I think this is a Metta Bhavana meditation used in the Buddhist tradition, but not being a practising Buddhist I have no idea if this is case or not. Comments and corrections welcome].
To practice this technique, it helps to have someone in your life that you love. It also helps if you have someone in your life that you strongly dislike, or feel any other negative emotion like jealousy or disgust towards.
1. After sitting quietly for a minute or two imagine a person for whom you feel love or any other strong positive emotion: admiration, respect, etc.
2. Become aware of the tangible feelings thinking about this person causes to arise in your body; where are you feeling them (chest, head, throat, etc.)? and what is the nature of that feeling (warm, tingly, soothing, etc.)?
3. Now imagine a person for whom you feel negative emotions. Without self-judgement become aware of the sensations arising (as in point 2. above) - what do you feel and where do you feel it in your body.
4. Return now to the person you ‘love’ and the positive sensations they cause to arise. Imagine transmitting those feelings to the person you ‘dislike’ - an aid to imagining this can be visualising that person sitting in your heart, or sending a colour of light towards that person (one that represents peace or harmony to you).