The Emotions of the Metal Element

lungs metal element book excerpt

In this contentious election season, there are going to be winners and there are going to be losers. Whenever you lose something, whether it’s a friend, loved one or your team or candidate is not victorious, then you can experience grief.

In Chinese medicine, traditionally, it is believed that emotions impact different parts of our bodies more than others and the metal element (which includes the lung and large intestine) is thought to be vulnerable to the impact of grief.

The Nei Jing, or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, a classic text that dates back 2,200 years, describes the lungs as minister and chancellor. It helps the heart to regulate the body’s qi or energy.

The lungs govern the wei qi, which guards our outer most boundary, and prevents all that doesn’t match our true self from getting inside to our core.

Grief is the negative emotion of the lung, and grief can weaken them.

My father died when I was nine. The next year I got pneumonia. Maybe it was a coincidence or maybe there is some connection.

The lungs are very vulnerable to dryness, as well. If this boundary to self becomes too dry, then finding our true self can become more difficult.

If the lungs become too moist, then phlegm builds up and blocks our connection to the essence of life.

In health the lungs are thought to empower us to stay connected to the essence of life even after the material things disappear.

For example, after the loss of a loved one, a healthy lung can empower a connection to the spirit of that person.

But if the lung is weak, you could become fixated on the loss, become lost in that grief, and lose appreciation of the present moment.

This grief can become manifest as phlegm, a chronic cough, constant dripping sinus, like internal tears.

Phlegm is a very important thing in Chinese medicine. Like qi, it has a number of different definitions.

Good phlegm clears pathogens; it’s the first line of defense. Bad phlegm, (“Bad Phlegm!”), accumulates in the joints, the kidneys, the brain, and the thyroid in the form of nodules.

In the Chinese character of phlegm, we see the character that means inflammation. Phlegm can also represent the antibody response to pathogens that cross react to healthy tissues.

This kind of phlegm impairs cellular immune function leading to chronic disease.

Understanding the Large Intestine’s Role

The large intestine is the yang partner to the lung. According to the Nei Jing, the large intestine is responsible for transit. All waste products go through this organ.

This is true of waste moving through the large intestine, which returns to the earth. It’s also true metaphorically.

The large intestine constructs a barrier between self and non-self by sorting out the things we take in and then determining which acquired influences need to be kept and which need to be let go.

With autoimmune disease, so much of which begins and is perpetuated in the intestines, the barrier between self and non-self, is lost.

We lose self tolerance. And a lot of this happens in the intestines.

Failing to respond in a balanced way to loss in life (and not just loss of a loved one—any loss: a job, a relationship, a pet, an election), the large intestine reacts to the presence of grief and longing.

This grief can become distorted and it can be difficult to let go in that you keep holding on to things that no longer serve you. And what happens?

Diarrhea—where you loose important minerals, or constipation where you are literally holding onto things that no longer serve you.

This condition can make you pessimistic, cynical, and generally negative. It can make you judgmental of others.

Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is caused by a breakdown of the intestinal lining and cell walls.

Many researchers believe that it is one of the root causes of autoimmunity and the loss of self tolerance. (We will explore this in depth in the section on the Earth Element )

Leaky gut may also have an emotional root. It can make you feel not properly valued by others.

You see how this is all connected?

The ancient Chinese believed that emotions are not just things that we feel, they have real physical consequences and can profoundly impact our health and well being.

This is also why cultivating practices like meditation can be so valuable. You learn to not be ruled by your emotions and by observing them instead, you can also learn how to separate them from your physical body.

That can be a very valuable skill.

As always, we appreciate your comments, shares and insights.

About the Author Marc Ryan

So now, not only is it my profession, it’s my passion, and it’s personal. I’ve been joking with people lately saying it’s a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I really get it, and a curse because I really got it! ?

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