Emotional difficulties and Virtues

Chinese Medicine (CM) has an incredible beautiful and deep way of understanding the correlation between our emotional states and the effect they have on our everyday life.
Cultivating Virtues is a way to counteract and relieve emotional difficulties that has taken charge of our lives.

One of the central ideas in CM is the Five Phases (5F) (Five Elements, Wu Xing). Which is a representative system used to understand the human experience. The weather, personal abilities and tendencies, our health and much more.

Without going into details (into this vast subject of) the 5F represent our 5 main internal organs. Which also have a natural correlation to 5 emotions, depicted below.

Now it is important to understand that ancient healers and cultivators of Asia understood that Emotions are natural. They are messengers between the body and the mind. They both express our needs, our weakness, when our desires are met and when our boundaries are crossed. You could see them as a system of neurons. A pathway transmitting information in a certain way.

Emotions are a manifestation of our inner being (internal organs). However they also have an effect on those organs in return.

Feelings are the shortest lived informational packages, which most people often miss or decide to discount and avoid to deal with.
Emotions often develop from feelings that are more persistent and stronger in nature.
Moods however, are always pathological. As they are a chronic representation of specific emotions that we have not been able to part with.

Healthy emotions are short-lived.

This is a major point that I wish more people understood. Yes emotions are essential. However they are meant to disappear, to fade away once their message has been received.

In Daoism, just as in Chinese Medicine the Heart is seen as the Ruler, Emperor/Empress of the Empire that is our being (body, mind, soul). It has been seen as a corner stone for the Empress to be centered, grounded person whose heart is Empty like a cup. So emotions, feelings, sensations can fill it and empty out from it. The Heart is also depicted as a Lake which is calm and smooth on the surface. It is natural to find ripples in the lake, however too much movement will disturb the whole ecosystem of the lake and create turbidity.

Tao is being Empty,
it seems one who uses it will lack solidity (as in presence in the world).

An abyss,
it seems something like the ancestors of the thousand things.

It dampens the passion
it unties the tangles
it makes the flashing things harmonious
it makes the dust merge together.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 4 (Michale Lafargue translation)

This chapter explains the nature of the Tao/Way, that is the way of people cultivating, improving themselves by embracing emptiness. Which in return will provide the person with peace and the ability to respond to life events appropriately.

People are not only born with the innate ability to experience emotions but also the choice to express and experience the pure manifestations of the 5F, the Five Virtues.

A column explaining the mutual representations of the 5 organs, 5 phases and 5 virtues.

As it can be understood by looking at the pictures above, all of the 5 phases has an association with the five organs, five emotions, five emotional poisons and five Virtues.

What does this mean in practice?

Lets suppose:
Someone has crossed your boundary thus you are feeling quite angry with them. You may have not found the correct way to express your emotion thus it keeps growing and stifling inside you.

Remember that emotions are just messengers. Thus emotions has to be expressed in a healthy way.
If you look at the five virtues, you will notice that the virtue (opposite) of Anger is Compassion.

Practicing compassion can help you to express your anger in a healthy way. As you consider the other person’s point of you and experience, you can develop some compassion towards them. Thus it should help to shoot your anger.

Compassion also allows as to prevent the development of strong, volatile pathological emotions and moods. Thinking of others in a compassionate way, as well as treating yourself with compassion will allow to get rid of judgement, irritation and anger.

Of course as it is not so simple to develop virtue. Just as alleviating and healing from anxiety takes time, so does practicing and developing said Virtues.

If we take anxiety for example, one will have little ability to practice propriety of the Fire phase (doing the appropriate thing at the appropriate time) from the get go. However one may be able to nourish the Wood phase (mother phase, the one before Fire) by practicing compassion. Likewise one may use the Water and Earth phase to cut back on the excess fire in the Heart by practicing Awareness and Commitment.

You can read more about the 5 Virtues from Heiner Freuhauf. Who did an exceptional translation on a classical text dedicated to the subject.


Dealing with our emotions is not an easy talk. However making an effort to process them and express them is essential. Working with the Five Phases and the Five Virtues can be a useful guide in that.

Tai chi is an embodiment of the Eastern teachings. Thus it can also be extremely helpful in developing and practicing such virtues. Understanding them in the practice and transforming not only our bodies but also our minds in terms of how we react to everyday life. Do not hesitate to try out some classes if you are located nearby.

It is not a coincidence that I have started practicing Tai chi and Qigong many years ago.
I was suffering from depression.

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