In Chinese medical philosophy, which has its roots in the Taoist philosophy, diseases are caused by two factors: external and internal. External causes include viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites that invade the body from the outside. Not all of these were known as direct agents of disease in ancient times. Then, terms such as wind, cold, damp, heat, and fire toxins were used to refer to the different external causes of disease. Nowadays, there are also many new external factors such as electromagnetic radiation, chemical pollutants, and others.
The ancients were also well-versed in what we now refer to as human psychology and they recognized excessive emotions as important internal causes of disease. Sustained anger, frustration, irritability, resentment, fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, worry and even excessive joy (today this would be too much partying!) can all create states of imbalance in an individual and affect their health. More importantly, the ancients were able to understand how each emotion affected a particular organ system.
This was done through a global system of understanding the universe through the lens of the five elements (phases). These elements constitute the basis of life as we experience it: wood, fire, metal, water and earth. They not only exist in our external environment but are also represented by the different organs inside our bodies:
- Wood is represented by the liver and the gall bladder. The liver assists in long-term planning and the smooth flow of the life force through the body. It is also considered the seat of emotions. Anger, irritability, resentment, depression and frustration arise when the smooth flow of life force is impeded in our body and we can not reach our goals in life. The gall bladder correlates with our decision-making and represents our courage. Having to make too many decisions in a short time, for instance, can affect the health of the gall bladder.
- Fire is represented by the heart and the small intestine. The heart is considered the emperor organ that is served by all other organs, and is said to house our spirit. Excessive joy or having “too much fun” in an unsustainable manner negatively affects the health of the heart. The small intestine is in charge of sifting through information and retaining what is useful and discharging what is of no use. This is done on both the intellectual level and, as digestion, on a physiological level.
- Metal is represented by the lungs and the large intestine. The lungs take in what is of value to us (air/oxygen) but more importantly, let go of that which no longer serves us. Failure of this happening creates emotions of unresolved grief and sadness. The large intestine does a very similar job. Collectively these two metal organs create a shield of immunity by helping us let go. These are our primary organs of the immune system.
- Water is represented by the kidneys and bladder. The kidneys/adrenal system are considered our roots; the primordial source of our energy. Any kind of stress that taps into our deep resources (adrenals) will weaken the water element, hence weakening our willpower and making us prone to fear, anxiety and insecurities.
- Earth is represented by the spleen, pancreas and stomach. These organs collectively take in food and break it down. This starts the process of internalization and assimilation of the outside world. Digestion happens both on the physiological as well as cognitive level. If our diets are too complex and our dietary habits unsustainable for health, our earth element weakens and worry, overthinking and rumination take hold. The earth element is the centre and what holds the wheel of life turning around it.
All diseases are rooted in the Spirit
Everyone is born with weaknesses and strengths in one or more of these five elements. This constitutional makeup determines the “life lessons” of that individual; why that person has come into this world and what their mission in life is. Often, we face the challenges we are meant to in order to advance our spiritual growth and standing. The belief systems that we struggle with, or the ones that support us through our challenges, are all manifestations of this innate global system.
In the Taoist roots of Chinese Medicine, the spirit rules over the body. This means that by our conscious thought processes we are able to influence our physical health which will help with our mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. While this is a two-way relationship, ultimately, by having control over our spiritual wellbeing, we can override many health challenges. In these difficult times it is vital to maintain our physical, emotional and spiritual health in order to remain centred and grounded.
“All disease are rooted in the Spirit and all healing is done through the spirit.”