Two Sides of the Same Coin

As we discussed in our previous post, the Liver / Wood element is associated with compassion, patience, and kindness. These are the virtues we are born with. When our Liver is in balance, we manifest these virtues in the world. When our Liver is out of balance, we may experience anger or frustration, impatience, or rage.

In addition, the Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of blood (and therefore Qi). And it is said that the blood in turn influences our Shen or spirit. Whatever is going on in the Liver has a direct and significant impact on us physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I want to talk a little bit more about anger and its impact on us. When we purge and release stagnation, we not only enhance the patient’s physical health, but we also release excess anger that has built up. We can then regulate and balance the Liver’s energy.

But why is anger so bad for the Liver? Is anger always bad? Can’t it sometimes serve us?

Well, no emotion is completely “good” or “bad”, “positive” or “negative”. I try not to use those terms when explaining the Yin – Yang dynamics and inter-relationships between things, as it results in a value judgement that is not helpful. Rather, we should think in terms of continuums and whether being on the extreme range of a continuum is beneficial…or too much.

For example, the Heart is associated with joy and excitement. However, too much joy and excitement can manifest as manic behavior, anxiety, or ADD. As the saying goes, “It’s the dosage that makes the medicine or the poison”.

We observe the same continuum with anger. A certain amount of anger or frustration can serve to motivate us to make changes or work harder to overcome the obstacles in our way. However, the motivational power of anger usually does not last long. And excessive anger can become rage.

The most insidious aspect of anger – especially in terms of its effect on the Liver – is that it is usually directed inwardly at ourselves. This kind of sustained, self-directed anger and frustration is the root cause of many illnesses. It unbalances the Liver energy, resulting in either excess – and the Liver overpowering the Heart or Spleen – or in deficiency, with the Liver pulling more energy, more Jing, from the Kidneys.

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it stands than to anything on which it is poured

Mahatma gandhi

In their ancient wisdom, the early classical Chinese medical doctors paired anger and compassion as the acquired and congenital emotions or virtues associated with the Liver. They really are two sides of the same coin. Anger, whether directed inwardly or at others, is a destructive emotion. When we treat others – and ourselves – with compassion, we acknowledge the good, the divine spark, in each of us, and we propagate kindness, empathy, and grace into the world. We build up rather than tear down. We move forward with forgiveness and understanding, rather than allow ourselves to remain mired in the muck of anger and rage.

Anger may spark us to act – sometimes in a helpful way – but it can also be potentially destructive. On the other hand, compassion involves not only sympathy or empathy, but also a strong drive to alleviate the suffering of others.

One of the phrases I like to use – and often remind myself of – is by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, who developed Psycho-Cybernetics back in the 1950s and 1960s. One of his simplest but most profound teachings is, “See yourself – and others – with kind eyes”.

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