Bitter is the flavor of the heart. The flavor that descends the fire of the heart, a heart blazing out of control, a heart damaged by too much heat. Bitter as a flavor has many unsung hero-like qualities that I discussed in last year’s post: Bitter Is The Flavor Of The Heart…. Bitter in concept also directly impacts the heart. Bitter, along with bitterness, hatred, rage, and the ability to alienate also impacts the heart. These concepts of bitter and bitterness harm the heart.
I took a long weekend for myself and went into the woods, or actually Yellowstone National Park. I ran a half marathon, camped, ate delicious food, and had no cell service. I came out of the woods to the heartbreaking news of a gunman mass murdering and injuring innocent people at Pulse nightclub. The news was bewildering.
Bewildering because once again in our country, bitterness, hatred, rage, and alienation have allowed a man to kill good people. As the shock wears off and my heart begins to ache more deeply with grief, I feel compelled to talk more deeply about the heart, about love, about bitterness, and the dangers of ignoring hate speech, hate crimes, and the process of alienation.
In Chinese medicine, physical illness often stems from emotional or even spiritual illness. Striving for health involves our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. All of these aspects of self are interconnected in our health.
Along these lines, there are emotions that are considered pathologies. Allowing these pathologic thought processes and feelings to continue unchecked will lead to further illness. The fire organs (the heart, small intestine, triple burner, and pericardium) are associated with human connection. Each organ has a slightly different relationship to how we interact with others, but in health, the fire organs work together to share connection. In illness, the fire organs will drive us to focus on creating an ‘other’ to dehumanize, alienate, and then in the most dangerous form, it allows us to hurt this now, alien other. In my medical field, this is not just about ethics or morals, it is considered a pathology.
The heart is considered the sovereign of the body. It not only pumps the pulse of life through our veins, the heart feels every emotion and injury to the self. It houses our consciousness, and is the architect of compassion. The heart is meant to love. On a bigger picture, the heart, in health is meant to find and respect life, to find the sameness in each other regardless of our intellectual, political, religious, or cultural differences.
The small intestine is the pair of the heart. The emotional role of the small intestine is to sort and assimilate both information and life experiences. It sorts what we need to incorporate into our being, our body, and what we need to pass on to the colon to let go of as waste both physical and emotional. The small intestine helps to decipher fact from fiction, real threat from perceived threat, and it helps us to assess our own beliefs.
The triple burner and the pericardium relate strongly to our role in community. Overall, all of the fire organs strongly relate to our interpersonal connections from our intimate relationships with friends and lovers to our larger group gatherings, and our larger sense of community.
Illness in the fire organs takes many slightly different flavors, but ultimately it negatively impacts our ability to love, to connect, and to learn from one another. Illness will show up as bitterness, hatred, using speech that dehumanizes, confuses, and promotes violent behavior.
To protect the health of our heart as individuals, it is useful to practice mindfulness with our language. We do this by diligently watching for alienating language running through our inner monologues, and responding by stopping the thought and correcting it. Take care in external speech, because words have a way of rippling through a community like a pebble dropped into a pond. We can positively impact our community, or negative impact it. As individuals, if we present a united, loving front, we are allowing our heart to step into its sovereignty. This can reawaken the compassion in a heart that is confused and muddled with bitterness.
The only way to grow and heal as a nation is to speak up against hate speech, about dehumanizing language that turns people into ‘other.’ By stepping forward into our communities with a show of love, solidarity, as well as speaking out against hate speech and hate crimes, we can slowly help our country heal by demanding that we be true to our hearts, that we see people as people and seek to find the shared piece of ourselves that is the same. Our hearts are meant to love, to understand, to feel compassion, just as surely as they are meant to pump blood through our veins.