Emotions often seem to behave like the weather: somewhat unpredictable and beyond control. In the West, there has been considerable concern about the social and relationship problems associated with pent-up emotions (particularly in women) and with habitual non-expression of emotions (particularly in men), so that the very concept of "controlling" emotions is looked upon with suspicion. By contrast, keeping emotions within certain reasonable bounds is an issue at the forefront of Asian religions and healing arts; the primary concern there is adopting habits that help one to remain relatively calm. When tranquility of mind is attained, emotions do not vanish: they are still experienced and expressed, and emotions remain unpredictable, but their intensity is usually lessened and their potential impact on both physical and mental health is curtailed. The emotional equilibrium that is desired by the Asian philosophy translates to spiritual freedom and the ability to flow with nature, as described in the previous chapter. Many people today have looked to Asia for help in this area, though too frequently the simple methods advocated there are ignored, with more interest shown in those methods surrounded by mysticism.
This subject of emotional calm has been an important topic in the field of Chinese medicine. Based on a long history of seeking good health and longevity, there are specific means of attaining balance and harmony for emotions that have become incorporated into the Chinese culture, at least for those who show interest in it. An example of the Chinese approach to having a healthy emotional life is presented in The Mystery of Longevity by Liu Zheng Cai (1):
The Canon of Medicine (Nei Jing) advises, in summing the experiences of centenarians in remote times: 'Do not be weighed down by perplexing thoughts; strive to be calm and optimistic; be complacent [calm in the face of situations that can cause anger]; keep sound in body and mind. This way, one can live to the age of 100.' The Canon of Medicine recognizes that emotional and psychological factors are important causes for illness. It indicates that excessive emotion impairs the internal organs of the human body. 'Anger hurts the liver, joy hurts the heart, brooding hurts the spleen, and melancholy hurts the lungs.' Hence, it proposes regulating the emotions by 'keeping the heart calm and cheerful and the mind free of worries.' 'Where can disease come from when the emotional state maintains inner composure?' Scholars on the art of healthy living in subsequent generations set forth many specific methods of maintaining optimism in accordance with this principle.
A project of The All-China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the 1980s led to publication of the English-Chinese Encyclopedia of Practical Traditional Chinese Medicine, published as a 20 volume set. Volume 9 is dedicated to "Maintaining Your Health;" the first chapter begins with mental health care, and the first section deals with "being open minded and optimistic." The section is presented here; it represents an overview of the traditional literature on the subject (2):
As the proverb goes, 'Optimism will help you forget sorrow.' An optimistic stable mood and good mental balance will calm the vital energy and spirit, aid the circulation of blood and qi, and improve health. The ancient book Guan Zi states, 'The quality of one's life depends on maintaining a positive happy state of mind. Anxiety and anger lead to confusion of the mind. There can be no mental balance when anxiety, grief, joy, and anger exist. Thus, desire should be subdued, and disorder be checked. Happiness and luck will arrive on their own if there is no disturbance of mind.' The book Nei Jing also points out that one should strive for tranquility and happiness, remaining free from anger, resentment, and troubled thoughts. It indicates that by avoiding angry moods and a troubled state of mind and by cultivating tranquility, optimism, and happiness, one will obtain longevity with a sound body which will not be easily degenerated and with a sound mind which will not be easily distracted. The book Huai Nan Zi advocates 'happiness and cheerfulness,' which is said to be part of human nature. The book Zun Sheng Ba Jian also maintains that to tranquilize the mind one should have a happy mood. These statements indicate that good health is always based on happy and tranquil moods. To keep a happy mood, one must have a noble spirit, high ideals, an expanded outlook, a sanguine and lively disposition, and an open and broad mind. While dealing with daily affairs and people, one must not be disposed to feeling extremely depressed from personal losses. As is said in the book Ji Zhong San Ji, 'Cultivate a good temperament for the sake of mind; tranquilize the mind for the sake of life; avoid emotional extremes and adopt a care-free attitude.' If one can achieve such equanimity, he will be safe from unnecessary worries and enjoy an undisturbed mind and a sound body.
Also, to keep a happy state of mind, one should be able to tackle a problem in a composed manner. As the book Sou Shi Qing Bian says, 'Don't worry about a problem before it has actually manifested don't worry too much after it has existed, and don't cling to what has already passed; instead; one should adopt a detached attitude towards coming or going, leaving it alone and checking all emotions such as anger, fear, desire, joy, and anxiety. That is the way to health and longevity.'
Happiness lies in contentment, which is important not only for physical and mental health, but also in keeping a happy mood. The book Dao De Jing says, 'There is no sin greater than discontent, and no error greater than covetousness.' Therefore, knowing what contentment is means constant satisfaction. The book Zun Sheng Ba Jian maintains, 'Contentment will bring neither abuse nor danger.' Both statements express the ideal that lasting happiness can be achieved only through contentment. In our actual life, most anxieties and worries result from going after and coveting fame, a higher status, and material comfort. In face of such desires, one should always keep in mind: 'There are many others who have less than I' In so doing, it will be easier for one to refrain from excessive desire and competition, to remain content with what one has, and to be cheerful and open-minded, so that anxiety will be expelled, tranquility of soul obtained, and the mind maintained in an optimistic and stable state.
The self-cultivation of one's sense of morality is another important method to maintain optimism, to which the ancients paid great attention. They professed, 'The kind will enjoy longevity.' The kind here mean all those who have a well-developed sense of morality. The cultivation of morality involves devoted attention. The methods discoursed upon by the ancients, such as moderating desires, remaining content, and being tolerant, kind and courteous are all essential for that purpose. They also believed: 'A person of great morality is sure to obtain longevity.' The reason why such a person lives a long life lies in the fact that he is 'apt to cultivate the great-qi', being broad-minded and strong willed as well as having great ideals and aims; meanwhile, those who respect others will receive respect from others, and those who are content will enjoy lasting happiness…all of these factors, together with tolerance and avoidance of anxiety, contribute to a balanced mind and a cheerful mood.
One guarantee of maintaining an optimistic frame of mind is to continuously enrich one's life by cultivating a great variety of interests and hobbies, such as reading, meeting friends, traveling, fishing, playing chess, practicing calligraphy, painting, reciting poetry, singing, playing musical instruments, watering flowers, growing bamboo, etc. There are many discussions handed down from the ancients, maintaining that such activities can bring on cheerful mood and refine one's sensibility. The book Yi Qing Xiao Lu says, 'One should always enjoy simple pleasures such as sunshine in winter or shade in summer, beautiful scenes on a bright day, walking cheerfully with a stick, watching fish in a pond, listening to birds singing in the woods, drinking a cup of wine or playing a stringed musical instrument.' What is meant by this quotation is that one should relax the mind, choose and cultivate one's own hobbies, and increase continually one's interest in life so that comfortable feelings, a stability of mind and cheerfulness will result, all of which contribute to good health and longevity.
In short, open-mindedness and optimism are important principles in regulating the mind and in health care. As it has been explained in the book Nei Jing: 'That is why the sages did not concern themselves with purposeful actions. They cultivated tranquility and developed emptiness of mind. Their way of health care brought about a substantial longevity.' This points out that those competent at health care will not do anything they feel reluctant to do, remaining free from whimsical and improper thoughts, keeping a cheerful and happy mood, cherishing a rich variety of interest, leading a tranquil and undisturbed life, maintaining a mind which is relaxed, happy, open, and optimistic, this contributes to longevity.
The book continues with some additional description and advice, with a focus on being careful about desires, which cause disorder of the body and mind, both in distracting one from essential tasks by trying to fulfill them and causing one anguish if they are not fulfilled. Although not mentioned in the text, Buddhism has been one of the dominant sources of the philosophy of maintaining equanimity by controlling desires through practicing moderation in living and meditation; Buddhism arose in response to Indian practices that emphasized asceticism as an extreme method of overcoming desires.
The advice about controlling emotions by calming the mind presented in the Encyclopedia was further developed and described by Yuan Liren and Liu Xiaoming of the Beijing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine as part of their series of articles on health preservation published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine (3). They refer to the "seven emotions" (qiqing) which are first outlined here:
|Chinese Term||Typical Translation Terms|
|Xi||joy; also: happiness, excitement, pleasure, elation|
|Nu||anger; also: irritation|
|Si||anxiety; also: over-thinking, pensiveness, brooding|
|You||melancholy; also: sorrow, grief, worry, anxiety|
|Bei||grief; also: sorrow, sadness|
|Jing||fright; also: terror|
Their description of the nature of emotions and their depiction of traditional methods for dealing with the emotions is quoted here at length. It will be noted that they have simplified and reduced the meaning of shen to mind, in keeping with the modern Chinese avoidance of reference to spiritual matters:
In traditional Chinese medicine, all such concepts as consciousness, feeling, and thought are referred to as shen, meaning mind, which is considered to be stored in the heart and to govern all the activities of the organism. Regulation by the mind is necessary in all physiological functions. In fact, the so-called three treasures [shen, jing, qi] are: mind, essence (which constitutes the material basis of the human body), and qi (which is the motive force of all life activities). A sound mind is considered the basis of health and longevity; similarly, scarcity of essence, deficiency of qi, and weakness of mind are the main causes of illness and aging. Since mind plays the role of governing life and commanding all the physiological functions of the primary internal organs and those of the rest of the body as well, it is easily depleted or impaired. Hence, taking good care of the mind is particularly important.
The activities of the mind can be classified into two kinds: emotional and mental. The former refers to changes of mood, known in traditional Chinese medicine as the seven emotions, i.e., joy, anger, melancholy, anxiety, grief, fear, and terror; while mental activities refers to consciousness and thinking. Since the activities of the mind are the general responses of the organs in conforming with the outside environment under the guidance of the heart, maintenance of the mind is bound to involve many aspects, which include roughly the following: preserving the tranquil mind, easing the mind, and regulating emotions. A brief account of these methods is given below.
Preserving a tranquil mind. Tranquil here refers to the state of mind being peaceful, tranquil, free from excessive desires and distracting thoughts, unaffected by outside changes. Such a state of mind will harmonize the organs and maintain a smooth circulation of qi and blood, benefiting the health. This consists of the following aspects:
Easing the mind. Moods are the responses of people to their surroundings, and everyone experiences the seven emotions and six desires [six harmful elements, described above]. If not properly regulated, the emotions will cause stagnation of qi and blood, and disharmony between the organs, leading to illness, even early death. Those who lived a long life, according to historical records, are almost all people apt to regulate their moods, the essence of which is to cultivate the mind with virtuous and elevated ideas and mold the temperament. Various methods have been developed and described by people in the past, which can be boiled down to the following: creating a happy mood by engaging in a great variety of carefree, light, and lively activities in which spirit is heightened, intelligence is increased, muscles and tendons are exercised, and circulation of qi and blood is activated so that health preservation is achieved in the midst of amusement and sports, achieving the aim of nurturing the mind, strengthening the body, and prolonging life. Some traditional methods employed for this purpose include taking up hobbies, such as playing the piano and chess; raising flowers, plants, birds, or fish; sightseeing; and chatting with friends.
Adjusting emotions. In one's daily life, the complicated situation is bound to influence one's moods such as from joy to anger, grief, etc. When one is in a bad or abnormal mood, one should try to adjust and control it lest it go to an extreme. As a mental means of health care, the following methods are used:
This summation by Yuan and Liu shows that one should respond promptly and effectively to emotional distress rather than allowing the emotions to manifest over a period of time and thus damage the whole person, and should cultivate habits and thought patterns that help one avoid frequent experience of emotional excess.
Shi Tianji, a scholar on the art of healthy living in the Ming Dynasty, proposed 'Six Always' for maintaining a calm and cheerful state of mind, relayed in the book The Mystery of Longevity (1):
Thanks to the availability of translated books, and to documents such as those quoted here, Westerners have relatively easy access to these Oriental traditional systems of dealing with emotions; additionally, they have other means of dealing with emotions, including their own religious heritage and established psychological aids.
In modern Chinese work, doctors specializing in cancer therapies often comment about their sense that emotion contributes to the health status of the patients, affecting the outcome of treatment, which is life or death. For example, Sun Binyan writes in his book Cancer Treatment and Prevention (4):
According to our understanding of the tumor patient, most have suppression of the emotions. They tend to hold in their anger. Although some patients have good results after treatment, emotional stimulation may cause them to decline again and then the previous treatment would have been in vain. Some people have a severe phobia about cancer. Before they know the real disease, they have a lot of suspicion. Once they know they have the cancer, their whole spirit breaks down. This kind of spiritual state is very bad for the treatment.
Pan Mingji, in his book Cancer Treatment with Fu Zheng Pei Ben Principle (5), presents a section on etiology of cancer; he notes that (5):
A lot of evidence proves that those who are optimistic and undertake exercises [in China, this refers mainly to taiji and qigong, along with similar types of practices, as well as hiking in the woods] tend to have healthy and sound function of the nervous system, strong physiques, and naturally great anticancer ability and immunity. Even if those people come into contact with outside carcinogens, they will not develop cancer. On the contrary, those who have mental injury, who are disheartened, or often have a fear of cancer, and who do not undertake exercises at all or are overtired, whose daily life is irregular and unsanitary, whose spirit and nerve function is disorganized, tend to reduce their defensive ability. As a result, the rate of cancer occurrence among those people is higher.