Inner Rioting

Today the headlines in the English newspapers are all about chaos and anarchy, this because of the rioting over the last few days in London and other cities. Perhaps most of us fear few things more than we fear chaos and anarchy and the loss of order in society.

As with society at large, so with the human individual – most of us value some kind of order in our lives. Interestingly, classical Chinese medicine evolved in part by thinking of the human individual on an analogy with the wider society. The heart, for instance, is spoken of as the emperor, and the other organs compared to government officials, the liver being the general of the army for instance. The meridians which traverse the body are like the waterways of ancient China, which made possible communication and trade between the regions of that vast country. Just as unhindered waterways facilitated such exchange, so do clear meridians make possible the body’s harmonious functioning.

Some kinds of illness, in fact, are like riots, like chaos breaking out within. Internal disharmony affecting the liver, for instance, can lead to an eruption of stagnant energy, or Qi, which courses violently upwards to the head causing, for instance, migraine or even stroke. The natural functioning of the stomach if interrupted can lead to “rebellious stomach Qi”, manifesting as heartburn, acid reflux or vomiting. Notice the political metaphor. Perhaps one of the most common kinds of inner chaos is the panic attack, which in some cases is also seen as rebellious Qi, this time in a meridian called the Chong Mai.

However, whilst mob rule and anarchy may be bad, the other extreme is also to be avoided. As the German philosopher Nietzsche puts it, “one must have chaos within one to give birth to a dancing star.” Too much control and order stifles creativity. Think of totalitarian regimes. Within the individual, if afraid of inner chaos we seek to impose too much order, illness may also follow. Indeed the first example above, the migraine attack or stroke, might be due to a long-term habit of excessive control, particularly of anger. Eventually the pressure becomes too much, and too much order becomes too much chaos.

On a more subtle level, there may be an excessive controlling of what the ancient Chinese referred to as the ‘hun’, sometimes translated as ‘ethereal soul.” This ‘hun’, which is associated with the liver organ, is responsible for a sense of direction and purpose in life, inspiration, dreaming, moving towards our life’s goals. Whilst an uncontrolled ‘hun’ manifests in wild and vivid dreams (so that we wake exhausted rather than refreshed), or more seriously in manic behaviour, an over-controlled ‘hun’ leaves us depressed and apathetic, with no direction or creative spark. The hun’s relation with the liver means that liver pathologies may cause these kind of problems, one way or the other.

So just as in society there needs to be harmony and order, but not excessive control, so too in the life of the individual. Whilst achieving exactly the right balance may be nigh-on impossible, we need to avoid swinging from extremes and tread a middle path so that we have enough freedom to express ourselves and envision our future, but also a well regulated life (regular sleep and meals for instance!), so that anarchic chaos does not overwhelm us.

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