What to do with all this anger and grief
Acupuncturists love to say “Anger resides in the Liver.”
This is, of course, utterly preposterous.
It's not totally our fault; all the old books teach it that way, as if you can fold up a feeling in half like a napkin and tuck it into a pocket, or store an emotion away in one thumb and not the other. But it's silly, particularly on a week like this. And if you think there's no anger living in my heart, you haven't spent time with me at a buffet where there are children.
It took about five years into practicing to realize that "Anger resides in the Liver" was never intended to be literal: it's a metaphor; an allegory to help us understand where anger comes from and what it can teach. (It took another five to get that actually all of acupuncture is metaphor.)
The Liver represents the Wood element–the burst of life in Spring, the vision and plan for growth–and all anger is born from that desire to grow meeting (and personalizing) the obstacles that life throws in the way of it. Anger is the byproduct of aspiration; it is Wood's frustration of watching your perspective on how things "should be" battle the world as it actually is, feeling you are in conflict with life itself. The healing is to turn that belligerence into benevolence, and trust in the order and intelligence of the universe without mistaking the need to control it.
The old books also say "Grief lives in the Lungs." Again, preposterous.
And again, an allegory: the “Lungs” are a metaphor for filtering out that which we are trying to hold onto. All grief is the pain of trying to cling too tightly to the things we love, exactly as we want them–our people, our pets, our youths and identities–while meeting the reality that we don't actually get to claim the gifts of life as our own.
The Lungs (representing the Metal element) remind us that all splendors of existing will be taken from us, and we must let them go–exhale them out–not to break our hearts but because only in doing so may we identify and refine our values, appreciate and hone that which we cherish, and transform loss into beauty and poignancy. The goal of grief is to teach us to shake the dead leaves off the tree–to let things go when its time to–to see ourselves more clearly from the vantage of our vanishing.
Now whether these allegories about anger and grief are helpful is up to you; and in dark days like these, it's so hard to find merit. But I was always told that you tend to the part of the garden you can touch, and for me that's Chinese medicine and its rich language on becoming, so I offer them either way.
I offer them here in the context of an acupuncture point protocol, which is also utterly preposterous–that hair-thin needles in skin could describe let-alone ease the pain we feel these days is, of course, deranged. But as I said, it’s also not intended to be taken literally. It's a metaphor too, a collection of metaphors. And that’s what I offer. That’s what an acupuncture point protocol is, if you didn’t already know: a poem. We are just telling poems to the body.
So, here is my offering–a poem, what I know–and you can decide if it’s helpful:
Acupuncture points to balance your rage with your grief:
LV-4 “Middle Seal”
GB-44 “Foot Hole Yin”
LU-11 “Little Merchant”
LI-3 “Third Interval”
LV-14 “Gate of Hope”
LU-1 “Central Treasury”
This poem–the Wood points on the Metal channels (Lung and Intestine) and the Metal points on the Wood (Liver and Gall Bladder)–is an instruction to fasten Anger and Grief together, to bridge the virtues between the two. It's to say: maybe your anger and your grief can heal each other, bringing Metal's grace and capacity to let things go to our fury, and offering Wood's benevolence and humility to our sense of loss.
LU-11 and LI-3 bring Wood to Metal, employing our anger as motivation to do something with our grief, so it doesn’t turn to halting despair. The Wood points remind us there is growth in having a broken heart; in fact no one has ever forged a sincere path forward without feeling the sting of loss. We can use these points like the wooden handle of a metal axe, to hack away a clear path with the power of our ambition and frustration–a furious grip for pruning out that which is in our way.
LV-4 and GB-44 bring Metal to Wood: the grief helps soften our rage, releasing our demand for "justice" or "fairness," and sloughing off the narrowness and stridence of temper. It does what grief is meant to do: remind us of how temporary life is–how fragile but expansive it is– and yank us back from our seething into a state of awe, gratitude and most of all, beauty.
It's so easy to be exasperated, but it takes courage to look up at the sky these days, and still seek for wonder, and divinity. It takes gall to look out into the world with softness, searching for something beyond itself, wanting to be moved by tenderness and feeling other than rage. This is the relationship between Wood and Metal, the deranged leap from LV-14 to LU-1: we jump blindly from the "Gate of Hope"–through frustration, despair, and resignation–and dare to be caught, once again, by the light of beauty, astonishment and inspiration.
Anger needs grief. They both want the same thing: the call to aliveness.
When I turn cold to the magnificence of life–indignant to its gifts, and pissed–grief comes in and rouses me; it softens the knots in me and chips back the chill. It’s not Fire's warmth that heals me, it’s not laughter or joy. It's not 4th of July fireworks and hotdogs on the beach that right me. It's a good cry that lifts the spell.
It’s Metal’s ache of loss that grinds down my spikes. It’s the longing and quiet of crisp Autumn nights–each darker and longer than the last–that loom a bit sad and delicate, like something is dying. Like an elegy. I go outside and look up to see the moon again and it’s so haunting but beautiful that it's hard to be angry.
I exhale, and take the deranged leap. And the world–for all its foulness and stupidity–is still and poignant, and catches me. And it’s like I’ve never seen the moon at all before.
As if this is the first time I ever saw it, as if I shed my old eyes and now I see things new, and finally clear.