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Several decades ago, the concept of personality as a predictive factor in disease was formally introduced to the West. Appreciation of the Type-A personality, with its hostility, its hurried mindset and polyphasic thinking, drew widespread attention to emotion as a factor in the genesis of disease. Subsequently, another illness-prone personality type-Type D-was recognized by its characteristic suppressing of negative emotions. Western clinical researchers in recent years have scrutinized the relationship between emotion and illness. Can negative thinking, they ask, make a person sick? More recently they have added, in counterpoint: can positive thinking (generated by prayer and imagery) help a person heal? While these questions may pose a fairly binary approach to the matter, binary it must be, since Western clinical studies cannot be conducted on poetic or allegorical explanations of mind/matter such as we find in Traditional Chinese Medicine. For authentic practitioners of Oriental Medicine, however, the interplay of organs/emotions/spirit is inescapable.
An ancient text, the "Huang Ti Nei Ching", compares the function and position of internal organs to hierarchies found in an empire. It tells us: "The heart is like the minister of the monarch who excels through insight and understanding; the lungs are the symbol of the interpretation and conduct of the official jurisdiction and regulation; the liver has the functions of a military leader who excels in his strategic planning; the gall bladder... excels through his decisions and judgment; the middle of the thorax is like the official of the center who guides the subjects in their joys and pleasures...the kidneys are like the officials who do energetic work and they excel through their abilities...." (1)
In her translation of the "Nei Ching", Ilza Veith explains that the heart, the spleen, the lungs, liver and kidneys "determine the functions of all the other parts of the body, including the bowels, and also of the spiritual resources and emotions"(2). Logically then, we should consider involvement of these five organs when the issue of emotional problems is presented. Has the comparative weakness of certain organs, we might ask, exposed a patient to illness or to prolonged recovery? Could the illness cause depletion of specific organs, creating a self-defeating cycle? While the practitioner must be careful to leave psychology to the psychologists, he or she will nevertheless recognize patterns of behavior/illness and opportunities for therapy which have been described in ancient texts.
What is the ancient concept of emotions and how does it relate to modern Western clinical practice? In the book Emotions in Asian Thought, Chad Hansen contends the traditional Chinese concept of mind and action does not center on "a mental/intellectual world populated by mental/intellectual objects set off against an external world of physical objects or matter." Nor does this concept contain the Indo-European "distinction between cognitive and affective states. A single faculty/organ, the xin (heart-mind), guides action rather than separate faculties of heart and mind"(3).
Giovanni Maciocia, in his textbook The Fundamentals of Acupuncture, widens this premise for the purpose of clinical practice. Maciocia notes the tradition of Five Emotions: anger, joy, sorrow, fear and rumination, as well as others, and explains their significance to the practitioner. "The body-mind is not a pyramid, but a circle of interaction between the Internal Organs and their emotional aspects. Whereas Western Medicine tends to consider the influence of emotions on the organs as having a secondary or excitatory role rather than being a primary causative factor of disease, Chinese Medicine sees the emotions as an integral and inseparable part of the sphere of action of the Internal Organs.... Since the body and mind form an integrated inseparable unit, the emotions can not only cause a disharmony, but they can also be caused by it"(4). Anger, according to tradition, affects the liver; rumination taxes the spleen; sorrow depletes the lungs; excessive joy affects the heart, and fear affects the kidneys.
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