The Nei Jing is the oldest medical record in China. Here’s a section from it:
“It is known that all diseases arise out of the upset of Qi.
Anger pushes the Qi up,
Joy makes the Qi slack,
Grief scatters the Qi,
Fear drops the Qi down,
and Anxiety stagnates the Qi.”
Of course we can see the etiology of disease in other terms, such as the germ theory. But let’s consider this ancient approach for a minute. We know, for example, that fear can make someone pee in his pants (down), or that anxiety locks up the whole person (stagnates). We recognize that strong emotions can affect the entire metabolic system and, in this case, we regard Qi in its funciton of representing the whole human being, not just a fuzzy energy floating around inside body.
The idea of strong emotions affecting people isn’t new. But the concept of the benefits of nothing in excess, a basic attitude not only of Chinese medicine but of Chinese culture, can be a little confusing to over-reved modern man.
Let’s take a telling example: Joy. How can you have too much joy (other than knowing it has all got to end sometime)? Well, let’s push the idea a little and see if it pushes back. Imagine someone on drugs or drunk who has begun to feel “real good” and starts to jump around, dance wildly, annoying people in a friendly way, spilling drinks, etc. in his ebullience. Well of course the first negative result might very well be a punch in the mouth. On another level the part of the character which “holds us together” is so weak that the over-joyed (think about that word) person stars going off in ten directions at once. Waiting for a fall? Of course. What about joy at that new relationship that just took you over by storm? Heartache in the morning? Scattered so much by that inheritance that you ignore your friends? Definitely hidden shoals ahead. Joy can be as dangerous as other emotions- in excess. Remember all those lottery ticket winners who fall over with heart attacks. And, as the medical sages always said, joy attacks the heart.
A good, rational look at the emotions convinces us that the developers of the ancient medical theory had at least something right in their observations. As we explore the uses and meaning of Qi we might be surprised at just how right they were.
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