In Chinese medicine, each organ is associated with a particular emotional trait that is related to the health and expression of the organ. In simple terms, an imbalance of the energetics or pathology of an organ can create an associated emotional response in the body. However, this can also happen in reverse such that, a long-standing emotional imbalance can injure or weaken the organ involved, energetically and pathologically in time. In this discussion we look at long-standing grief (a sense of loss) and how it may trigger hyperactivity and anger, and at times rage, mania and perhaps bipolar conditions and ultimately to freedom. The organs involved here would be the lung (grief) and the liver (anger).
It is at this point that some credit must go to that fact that we are still humans and when it comes to losing family and friends and close ones, there is always going to be sadness and grief (a normal physiological coping mechanism but that which can be argued). This coping mechanism is not something that I’m trying to take away, but merely give a different perspective (perception) for individuals on how to best handle such devastating and tough situations.
The first thing I want to address is that although grief is a normal coping mechanism, it can in time, weaken the individual and cause further feelings of withdrawal, helplessness, anger, depression and resignation if prolonged. To some, grief or a sense of loss can be perceived slightly differently. Thought leaders often say that a master (one who is self-actualized) lives in a world of transformation and change while the masses (those not self-actualized) live in a world of gain and loss.
So to a master, grief or the sense of loss can be perceived as a transformation of form, to that which you are attached too, not loss. If we believe we are governed by something that is greater than us (the universe to some, god to others), then we must have faith in what is and what will be. We can’t control faith but we can surely control our reactions and emotions and learn to become creators in life so that we may master our destiny. We have been given this right from the time of our conception. The right to fulfill our purpose and maximize our core potential in life and therefore to master our life! It’s just a matter of finding your purpose (your WHY) in life. If you can’t, at least find your passion and that will guide you.
It’s not what happens to us but rather our attitude toward what happens that makes the difference between the elite and the weak. Again weak is only a perception and a problem with attitude not a problem with character.
Let’s go back to understanding the implications of prolonged grief. As grief is related to the lungs in Chinese Medicine, this implies that the lungs will eventually suffer. The common symptoms of long-term grief being shortness of breath, sinusitis, cough, hay fever, bronchial congestion just to name a few. In extreme cases, you may know of people who have lost a long-term partner (especially in long-term marriages), and within a very short period of time, the other partner develops lung cancer. This is not a statement of fact but an observation in my own clinical practice.
We should take time to understand the attachment or the connection or the bond that develops between people that causes the grief or sense of loss after this bond is broken. Like everything else in the body and the universe, there are two polarities that make up everything and these are well described in Chinese Medicine as the yin and yang properties. The lung yin property or energy is what makes up the initial interaction of bonding between people in way of their “auras, which engage each other through threads of energy” (Leon Hammer, Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies, 1990). This can be seen as the same term often implied to the meaning of such a bond between people called chemistry (Leon Hammer, Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies, 1990). This is the yin aspect of the lung. Your ability to develop a bond and connection primarily starts here, as there is an exchange of intrinsic values between one and another. At least the values you perceive that are supportive to your own. And the heart (or fire energy) plays a role in igniting the passion and connection.
In Chinese Medicine, the lungs can also be seen to relate to our animal nature. Before we discuss the lung yang aspect (the other side of the polarity), I want to bring your attention to this instinctive animal nature within us.
It is this animal nature that is more active when we focus on the attachment to others (or even things such as a job or hobby) and we develop a dopamine fix on them or on things. Anything or anyone that has the ability to create such a fixation or bond without our awareness truly seeing the other side of the polarity to bring it (or them) back to balance, will eventually build symptoms or emotions in the body to help them drop or break the attachment or fixation (addiction). This happens because you are innately programmed to see the balance of everything in the universe in order for you not to become addicted (attached) to the infatuation that eludes you away from true love.
There is a difference between true love, which comprises of mutual support and challenge, and the love that people create based on that which caters for a particular fix that is not yet owned within themselves and so they must project that fix (perceived emptiness) on others. So attachment becomes evident because you see and feel an illusion of emptiness that’s within you, in others. It’s like you’re dating a version of yourself. Because if the partner challenges your core values you react and defend and if they serve your core values you attract and contain. The containment or binding quality here is seen in Chinese Medicine as represented by the earth element (Spleen and Stomach). This element comes to help us feel content and grounded with others but also ourselves.
So when this attachment is taken away, you feel loss. The sense of loss is because you believe you lost something or someone you thought you owned. You didn’t lose, but more so you didn’t own! What you perceive you lost, simply transformed. The transformation can be observed and experienced in many ways. If there is death, then there is a transformation of spirit and soul. If there is loss, there is transformation of something new awaiting you until you are ready to see it and accept it. You may have heard the statement when one door closes, another opens. It takes a wise person to accept the loss and see the blessing at the same time. But the challenge for us all is to accept and show patience to an energy force that is beyond us, the universe, god, that which governs us! But that which will also provide if you’re ready to accept.
Now the lung yang aspect jumps in on this occasion to help you more than you know. But before I talk about the lung yang, which tries to rescue you and help you look beyond the loss and move forward, I must address the crucial topic of anger and why it settles in after grief. So we all know, that there are generally 5 stages of dealing with grief and they are Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Although not everyone feels each one in this specific order, it does give people a guide to evaluate themselves and their own feelings of mortality (at least in the case of a death). Remember this discussion, is not solely focused on loss of another human but also attachment to things, which could be animals, career, job, long-term hobby and in some cases ageing which can cause exceptional distress in those who cannot let go of their youth.
So taking into account the above discussion on attachment and our sense of loss (or perception rather) in relation to fulfilling a particular feeling within ourselves (also referred to as a void) this is where anger is established.
Firstly, our feelings toward grief should be an awareness that allows us to evaluate our own sense of self and belonging and our own conscious evolution (growth). If part of the discussion is about attachment then that would open the door to understanding why people can easily get attached to a point where if that attachment is taken away, they lose themselves and become completely helpless.
Anger is raised during this time not solely as a coping mechanism in the evolution of the different stages of grief but because people often have no connection to their own inner purpose (self-awareness). And also because people often feel angry that they are left behind. When you are living on purpose, accomplishment becomes possible in every situation. Why? Because you always see the bigger picture! Failure becomes a stepping-stone not a rock. In business, this is called the vision of the company. In individuals, this is called your legacy. It’s what you want to be remembered for upon leaving this life. You see most people live day to day with no real intention in where they are going or where they want to end up. You can be lost for a while, but it’s best you know where it is you are going and more importantly, why?.
In Chinese Medicine philosophy, it is said that you are here for two reasons that is a) to find your gift (your purpose) and b) to then give it away (share it with humanity) – all in the cause (your why) of evolving your consciousness and that of humanity.
Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why”.
Having a purpose provides innate inspiration and movement. And when you are more attached to your purpose than you are to others (or things), there is no immediate attachment, no perception of loss but only transformation and change. Anger is the result of being lost and consumed within yourself when what you were so attached too is taken away from you. Leaving you lost and misdirected. Remember, this is the attachment to that which you did not own. However, those with purpose and direction, still feel the pain but are not thrown off track but rather re-directed. The statement goes (I believe it was Zig Ziglar who said) – ‘if you come across an obstacle, don’t change your decision to get there, change your direction’. The pain will still be evident and inevitable, but long-term suffering will be a choice!
Being consumed and lost for long periods of time and suffering will eventually stir up the anger and create rage and consequently symptoms of bipolar. And although to medicine, this would label you with the notion of illness, it is rather your body signaling you to make you aware that your perceived sense of loss and attachment is taking you off track (off purpose). The bipolar kicks in to actually let you know that you are becoming a by-product of being too mono-polar (one-sided). Why? Because you are seeing one side of the event, the loss! And not the blessing, which is the lesson and the opportunity to grow and of course the love you once shared. This was the blessing.
And this is where the yang aspect of the lung energy comes in to play. This energy has a centrifugal force that serves your ability to expand, be inspired from within, release and let go of what no longer serves you (paraphrasing Leon Hammer from (Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies, 1990). Stop for a moment and have a look at the lung organ itself and see what it does. It breathes in (oxygen) and breathes out (carbon dioxide). In other words, it breathes in that which serves you and gives you life, and it breathes out that which no longer serves you and is expired life.
The yang energy of the lung is about experiencing the excitement of what lies ahead (life) and your innate ability to move on to a new outlook that is the joy of life needing and awaiting your embracement. Tying this together is your strength of character in forgiving (yourself more than anything or anyone else) and surrendering to the beauty and awe of what is life and what it has to offer…freedom!
Yours in good health,
(Doctor of TCM)
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Reference: Leon Hammer, Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies, 1990.