Seven Emotions, Sacred Wounds and the Illuminated Path
(Excerpts from my Masters Thesis, Part I)
Addressing mental illness and psycho-spiritual aspects of the human experience is an essential and paramount component of acupuncture and classical Chinese medicine in modern times.[i] This is of special concern, considering that mental and emotional disorders are proving to be one of today’s major health pandemics.[ii] As many diseases today become increasingly difficult to manage through western medicine, one of the greatest strengths of classical Chinese medicine is to be able to differentiate complex disease patterns and address pathologies through uncomplicated means. Treating mental-emotional disorders through Chinese medicine is a burgeoning area within the field and it is worthy of thorough investigation, innovation, and elaboration. Applying classical Chinese medicine to these conditions can address many different aspects of the human being, including the physical, mental, and emotional bodies. Working with the Qi Jing Ba Mai (eight extraordinary vessels) to address mental and emotional imbalances is a pertinent and profound application of Chinese medicine because these vessels influence the deepest aspects of our being.
This paper will examine the physical and energetic morphologies of the eight extraordinary vessels, showing how yin emotions can injure various layers of the being, preventing an individual from fully expressing their true nature. In a classical understanding, these vessels were associated with transformations of life and cycles of human development and evolution. This paper will consider what these concepts of self-cultivation, personal growth and refinement meant for scholars of early China and apply these concepts to the society of today. We will see that acupuncture can support a patient as they work their way through these major life processes.
The Neijing chapter one states that the vessels guide our development and maturation through life’s seven or eight year cycles. These pivotal moments in life inherently involve physical development, closely accompanied with transmutations in the mental-emotional realm. These life transitions can often involve excessive emotional stimuli. The seven yin emotions referenced in early Daoist and Confucian texts are said to injure a person’s spirit. These same emotions can prevent a person from living the life of a Sage, striving to live in proper relationship with their environment and their community. This paper will consider these emotions in a new light, showing that these perceived negative experiences in fact make us whole and make us simply human. The emotions can indirectly facilitate major change in a person’s life.
Emotions and traumas greatly influence our daily experience, altering the delicate balance of qi and blood flow throughout the body.[iii] This can lead to conditions of stasis. When there is ongoing stagnation or blockage, there is potential for disease. These accumulations will affect body tissues and impact the physiological functions of the jing-luo (channel systems). The eight extraordinary vessels support the balanced movements of yin and yang substances, helping to clear blockages and maintain a healthy flow of nutritive qi and blood. With this supportive nature, they allow us to carry on with our daily lives, even in moments of excessive or deficient qi and blood. Over time, these unprocessed patterns held within the body influence the psychological aspects of an individual, potentially leading to ongoing emotional distress, emotional disorders, mental illness, and possibly compounded chronic diseases.
In order to address emotional stress and traumas through the eight extraordinary vessels, we must consider the cyclic nature of a human’s life development and how a person’s life affects the physiological functions of these vessels. As humans are tested and challenged through major life experiences, they gradually accumulate a history of who they are and store these experiences within various spheres of their being - including the deeper yuan layer of the extraordinary meridians. When faced with life’s challenges, be they physical, social, or existential, potent emotions arise, which can influence a person’s character as well as their tian xing, or heavenly nature.[iv] These emotions act as an interface between one’s own consciousness and the external world; they shape and reflect our perceived reality.
As a person’s unique epic journey unfolds, emotional disturbances can arise, leading to imbalances of the spirit and possible accumulations of pathologies. These minor or major traumas are often suppressed, ignored, or left unprocessed, preventing an individual from existing as the fullest expression of who they are and who they want to become. Acupuncture, along with other modalities of collaborative care, supports a patient throughout this process of life work and healing. By working with the extraordinary vessels, a practitioner can work on a deep level to affect change in a person’s life, while addressing these mental-emotional pathologies.
The Qi Jing Ba Mai are a blueprint for our body. They exist at the core of our body, while simultaneously connecting with the outer reaches of our body. They form the greater sphere of our existence and our consciousness, providing an infrastructure for the functions of the 12 primary channels and the seraphic movements of qi and blood throughout the body. The extraordinary vessels provide a substrate from which human life is able to spring into being, allowing an individual a full expression of their heavenly nature. These primal pathways are formed at conception and continue to support our structure and physiology throughout our lives. By understanding the physiological dynamics and morphology of the extraordinary vessels, we can begin to understand how physical and psychological pathologies can accumulate at this level and how these can manifest in the body and spirit of an individual.
In this paper, chapter one will introduce the foundational concepts of the Eight Extras and the seven emotions. Chapter two will review the pathways, points and pathologies of the Eight Extras. Chapter three will include the associated psychological pathologies of the extraordinary meridians. Chapter four will provide an in-depth review of the actions of the emotions and the nature of suffering within the human experience. Chapter five will synthesize all of this and show that these emotions and accumulated traumas hold great potential to act as a catalyst for change in one’s life.
We will see that this process of self-examination and introspection is no easy task. Deeply held emotional insults are often an aspect of the self that remain hidden until we are brave enough to dig up this dirt and examine its contents. This process will play out differently for each individual. However, these aspects of self-cultivation hold great potential for integrating the inherent yin and yang aspects of our true nature. Each person must become their own master and discover their own journey, unveiling their unique story through each breath and every step along the way, forever supported by the eight extraordinary vessels. Let’s now begin with some foundational understandings of the Qi Jing Ba Mai.
[iv] Wang Feng Yi Retreat, 2012