Emotions and the Heart in Chinese Medicine
In classical Chinese medicine the harmony of the heart is of primary significance to physical health and longevity. There is no separation between body and mind. “If the spirit is at peace, the heart is in harmony; when the heart is in harmony, the body is whole ... if one seeks to heal the physical body, therefore, one needs to regulate the spirit first.” 1
The heart (xin) is used as a concept to describe our inner self with all our thoughts, feelings, emotions, likes and dislikes. At the core of it - at its Centre (zhong) - there is our True Nature (xing), the innate goodness.
"Centre is the place from which emotions have not been discharged yet... When an emotional discharge is regulated by the Centre, harmony ensues." 2
Excessive emotions, destructive behaviour, negative thoughts, selfish desires, insatiable needs - are all signs that the heart has lost the connection to the True Nature. All philosophies that form the basis of Chinese medicine (Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism) offer practical approaches to reestablish this connection which becomes the one and only way to fulfil our destiny (ming3).
Chinese medicine diagnosis will neither be accurate nor complete without assessing the patient’s heart. Since we always treat a whole person, a specially designed herbal formula and/or acupuncture treatment will have a positive impact on emotional wellbeing as well, especially if the heart issues resulted from physical imbalances. Often, though, additional methods are required to guide the patient on a path to recovering the True Nature. Needless to say, it is a tremendous responsibility that requires a great deal of self-cultivation from the physician.
The harmonious heart is an achievable ideal. “… If one follows the Dao of the Great Learning4, removes selfishness and reaches the root of becoming clear, firstly making intentions sincere, guarding against evil, promoting goodness, and then stopping only at ultimate goodness, then in this way one quietly nurtures heaven’s True Nature.” 5
The application of these words has not lost its relevance today. What they mean is that cultivation of virtues does not require some special lofty ways; the way to nurturing the True Nature is presented to us at all times, in our day-to-day life. Whatever the situation we find ourselves in, we have to remember that we always have the choice: what we think, feel, say or do will either benefit Life or take away from Life. It takes conscious effort, self-reflection and perseverance to “reach the root of becoming clear” what’s beneficial for Life and what’s not, and to respond accordingly to the moment at hand. If we achieve this, not only can we secure our physical health; “creating harmony under Heaven” is the best we can do in return for the gift of being alive!
1 Liu Zhou, a 6th century philosopher. Source: “All Disease Comes from the Heart: The Pivotal Role of Emotions in Classical Chinese Medicine” article by Heiner Fruehauf, Journal of Chinese Medicine, Number 90, June 2009
2 Confucius, Zhong Yong (Common Center). Translated by Yaron Seidman
3 Destiny (ming) can be interpreted as Heaven’s decree, the “lifespan” granted to us at birth, but also our unique purpose and life story
4 Great Learning is one of the seminal Confucian texts
5 Huan Xuan Collection: Customary Words, Liu Yuan, translation and commentary Yaron Seidman, 2016, p.105