Part II: The Wood Element Within the Body/Mind/Spirit
A healthy Wood Element gives us:
• a sense of hope and vision for the future
• a sense of purpose and direction in life
• the flexibility, adaptability and vigor to carry out plans
What happens if Wood is out of balance? Someone who lacks vision and purpose might feel like nothing is worth doing, and become depressed and paralyzed. On the other hand, she might throw herself into activities willy-nilly with no clear plan in mind, so that nothing is accomplished in the long run. Or she may stick to a plan so rigidly that it can never be successfully adapted to the opportunities life presents.
Wood Energy Within: Liver and Gall Bladder Meridians
Within the human energy body, the Wood Element manifests in the acupuncture meridians of Liver and Gall Bladder. While these bear the same names as the physical organs recognized in biomedicine, the meridians are governed by energetic entities with wider functions than the corresponding physical organs. The ancient Chinese referred to these as the as the officials. The officials are like an energetic team that keeps things running in the body/mind/ spirit. As long as each official does its job, health and harmony reign within.
Ancient texts refer to the Liver official as “the general in charge of strategic planning.” A good general has to have a clear mind to see the big picture. She also needs boldness and assertiveness to take charge. These are the positive qualities of Liver energy. If Liver energy is overactive, assertiveness can spill over into unchecked aggression. Anger clouds the mind, and the general loses the ability to see the situation clearly and plan well. As Sun Zi said, in The Art of War:
“Try to anger the enemy army’s general in order to scatter his mind. Then he will be unable to see the situation clearly, and will conceive erratic plans and his army will be defeated.”
On the other hand, if the Liver official is weak, there may be no vision and no plan. The person’s life may have no sense of direction. Activities will be scattered and chaotic.
The Gall Bladder official is viewed as the Liver official’s “right hand” person. Ancient texts refer to the Gall Bladder as the “upright official in charge of judgment and decision-making.” No matter how good the plans, someone needs to make sure they are carried out properly.
The Gall Bladder official gives us the capacity for judgment. The act of living requires countless choices: what to eat for breakfast, whether or not to apply for a new job, whom to trust. Making choices requires the boldness of healthy Gall Bladder energy. A popular Mandarin expression for someone who is timid and indecisive is to say “he has a small Gall Bladder.” Such a person has difficulty moving forward, and tends to allow her life to be ruled by circumstances.
On the other hand, if Gall Bladder energy is overactive, the decision-making capacity of the Gall Bladder official may spill over into bossiness and criticism. The person may develop a harsh inner critic. When harmony is restored, the inner critic can be transformed into constructive Wood qualities of boldness, judgment, and the ability to carry out plans.
Gary Dolowich, Archetypal Acupuncture, Jade Mountain Publishing 2003.
Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée, The Seven Emotions, Monkey Press 1996.
J.R. Worsley, Classical Five Element Acupuncture, Volume III: The Five Elements and the Officials, 1998