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Grief in Chinese Medicine

I lost my father to a traumatic event two months ago.  I feel the wave of grief, coming and going.  Some days more intense, some days less.  As if giving me a break to be able to live life and gain some energy for the process. Walking in nature and running helps.  Also taking deep breaths and doing yoga, talking to my family and close friends.  Being part of group ceremonies, which I had to create here since I was not able to go to my home town.  I started thinking about the meaning of the words.  My teacher told me one day the roots of grief are actually the same word we use in Farsi for crying "gerye", and the root of sorrow, the same as "soog," or grief in Farsi.

The word Grief has its roots in the word “gwere” from Proto-Indo-European languages, meaning heavy, or lifting a heavy stone.  I looked for the characters in Chinese, grief is composed of two characters: the first one is a heart and what seems like a dagger on top of it, literally “heart wound”, and crying looks like a person shedding a drop of tear.  

Digging in deeper into the functions of the organs from the Chinese Medicine perspective, the main organ that relates to grief is actually not the heart, but the lungs.  That has always been intriguing for me.  The heart is affected of course, being the Emperor of all organs, by all the emotions and all the organs.  The heart channel was considered too precious to even have any points on it for a long time. It was the last acupuncture meridian to be given points. To this day many acupuncture traditions don't needle the heart channel. Instead we go to the pericardium or the heart protector. I always understood the function of the pericardium to be similar to the inner voice that helps one jusify and go on with the daily life in the aftermath of a traumatic event. "I know this is really bad, but I'm still breathing, I'll be ok."

The Lung organ and channel on the other hand, works on the more physical and immediate aspect of survival. On the lung channel, the point most relevant to processing grief is Lung 3, or the Celestial Storehouse.  This point is on the arm, on the lung meridian, which is the border of the white and dark skin, at the level of the top of the breasts.  According to the Spiritual Axis, “from the waist up is celestial, and from the waist down is earthly.”  The lungs receive the energy of the heavens and they store up the lightness of the skies in our body.  This point on the lung channel has a specific spirit function.  It connects the physical lung organs to their spirit component the Po.  After we are born, the Po descends to our body and activates our physical body in the moment we take in our first breath.  Po is the most animalistic spirit in our body, what connects us to all the living creatures on earth.  It also helps a mother conceive a baby.  It’s the breath of life.     

The lung organ also relates to the Large intestine and the spleen.  Here I will examine the work of the lung and how it relates to its other pair organs. 

Lungs: In breath and out breath.  One of the most important rhythms of our being.  Taking in what we need and letting go of what does not serve us any longer.  The lung and the large intestine are the metal pair organs of the body in the five element system.  They are in charge of purification.  Metal is shiny and pure and associated with the color white in the five element theory.  Metal is also in charge of getting rid of what has died in our body. Therefore the metal is the force that keeps purifying life, and disgarding death. It's the knife that chops off what is no longer serving the living body.

The second point on the lung channel is called Cloud Gate, on the very top outside edge of the lungs.  A good qi gong practice for breathing is to fold the arms on the chest and press on the top of the chest right under the clavicles with the opposite fingers to massage them as you take a deep breath.  The lungs are like white fluffy clouds, with the perfect amount of moisture.  If they get too soggy or too dry we are sick.  Like a damp sponge, they have elasticity.  They can expand and take in breath, move the diaphragm down, which also helps with the function of the intestines and digestion.  In my practice I have noticed that people who tend to hold their breath, most often also suffer from constipation.  

The lungs need to get empty in order to get full again.  The same with large intestine.  They are both in charge of detoxing the body.  A good habit according to the Ayurvedic tradition is not to eat unless you have emptied your bowels first.  The empty window of time that you give your body before you fill it back is a prescious moment where the body gets a chance to repair and heal.  The same in breathing meditation, becoming aware of the moment after the exhalation is key to attain a calm and focused mind.  Physiologically if we are not able to have a good exhalation the stale air builds up and there is not enough room for more oxygen to enter.  

When we take a deep breath we also relax our body, we need to relax our shoulders in order to take a deep breath.  If we tense up our shoulders or try to lift them up in order to get more air in, we just restrict our rib cage and prevent our lungs from expanding.  We all have heard the term belly breathing.  There is no air in the belly, it’s just the movement of the diaphragm that pushes the belly organs out when the lungs expand.  

A new breath is also a new though.  We breathe in fresh air, to let the oxygen get to our brain and sharpen our mind.  We breathe out the fogginess.  Grief or sadness drains the energy of the lungs.  The days that I’m sad or crying I notice no one hears me.  Even when I go to the grocery store, I have to repeat myself a few times.  I don't have enrgy in my voice. All trained singers know that the first step in training the voice is to strengthen the lungs. Also you need a clear mind to communicate your thoughts through your voice.

In Chinese medicine the lungs and the spleen have a direct relationship.  The spleen is really the name for all the digestive organs except stomach and intestines.  That includes the pancreas, the duodenum and the digestive glands and enzymes.  They are the Tai Yin, or the Greater Yin meridian pair which deals with distribution of thin fluids in the body.  When their work is impaired, there could be dryness in the digestive tract or lungs, too much heat, manifesting as acid, or dry cough, or in the more extreme cases stagnation of fluids and thickening them into phlegm.  All of these imbalances can occur in the digestion and also in the lungs.  

If there is dampness, or just mild stagnation of energy in the Lung and Spleen organs, the brain feels foggy.  That’s why when our lungs are burdened by grief, our digestion and eventually mental state gets affected.  As if we are drained of all the energy to move the fog out, thus the heaviness and the slowdown.  

As I go through this greiving process, I am reminded of our human condition, and the feeling of grief that we all experience sooner or later in our own personal ways. The only certainty in life is change and death of our forms. I am reminded of the words of the Hopi elder at the begining of the milenium to become neutral and letting go of the known past, being in the present and embracing the unknown.  

"This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt."

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