Can you Help me with Gratitude? – by Ann Cecil-Sterman

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May 16, 2020

A patient emailed with a very interesting plea: “Hi Ann, Is your family okay? Sorry to write a sad sack email but I need your help. Spiraling down. They say this pause is teaching people to feel gratitude, but what I miss more than anything is the feeling of gratitude I had. That was not a problem for me. I miss feeling it, and what’s worse is that I’m consumed with resentment. First they made us stay inside and breathe in our toxic breath waste. Now they’re telling us we need fresh air and sunshine for our immune systems, which is what my grandmother told me cured her father in the 1918 pandemic. Today my father is on a respirator and we all know 87% of people on respirators die because it’s the wrong treatment for this virus. We will probably end up in bankruptcy even with a free loan. It looks like the doors to my business will never open again. I’m sad, anxious to the point of palpitations, and I have to say I’m scared to death because I can’t see my way through. Mostly I’m angry. More angry than I’ve ever been but if I voice my thoughts, I’m considered ignorant because I’m not buying the science that’s killing my father. Now the government says they can look at my browsing history. After all this is over, and the virus has run its course, they’ll make my children have a vaccine whether it’s a safe one or not, and then they’ll say that they beat it. You told me in my last session that gratitude is just as important as love. I can’t find it. Is there an acupuncture point for gratitude? Can you send a picture of that point to me asap?”

Hmmm, this is such an interesting question. There are acupuncture points to work with anger, grief, fear, sadness, anxiety, even guilt. The expression of emotions—our essential human gift— actively stimulates the movement of Yuan Qi (constitutional Qi) through the organs, keeping them enlivened and unencumbered. The acupuncture strategy is to enable the emotions to move and express, rather than suppress them. Chinese medicine is clear: if we allow emotions to accumulate or sweep them under the carpet, the internal organs will suffer and we’ll experience dis-ease.

If emotions are suppressed, the vital Qi that enervates the organs becomes stagnant, impeding function and ultimately putting the Heart at risk. The Heart is in charge of carrying out Destiny, and creating and managing relationships and communication. All the deep organs directly serve the Heart: the Lungs move Blood, the Spleen raises Qi to the Heart, the Liver stores the Blood for ascension to the Heart, the Kidneys communicate the path of destiny to the Heart and brings it Yang (moving and warming) Qi.

And so it follows that if grief is suppressed, the Lungs are harmed and blood slows down. If there is suppressed and unprocessed thought, the Spleen is impacted and the Heart doesn’t receive sufficient Qi. If there is suppressed anger, the Liver is constrained and is unable to store adequate Blood for the Heart’s use. If there is unexpressed fear, the Kidneys are kept in a state of suspense and the Heart cannot receive instruction or adequate reception and recirculation of Yang Qi, resulting in anxiety. To be healthy, we cultivate being free and honest with emotions, express them, and then relax to curb our reactivity so as not to accumulate excess emotion.

Getting back to my patient, other feelings, such as gratitude, appreciation, wonder, hope, tenderness, caring, cherishing, are not taxing but freeing, physically and emotionally. They are all shades of love, and love is the great central pillar of health. Since these feelings are not a risk to anything, there are no acupuncture points to shift them.

Love arises spontaneously because it is our intrinsic nature. (A baby is born loving without prompts, and loves itself as an inseparable part of all things.) While the five emotions mentioned above are products of reactivity, feelings of love (including gratitude along with the rest of the love spectrum) either arise spontaneously as a natural phenomenon, or if there is emotional damage, they must be cultivated. If a person has not expressed or cannot express their emotions and feels that love is blocked (in the case of my patient, they can’t “find it”) they must choose it. They summon their Will—the Will is one’s drive and resides in the Kidneys—to open their Heart (the seat of love). You cannot create love with an acupuncture point, but acupuncture has the remarkable ability to clear away the dirt on the windscreen so that love is available again. In a real sense, that’s the ultimate function of acupuncture. Acupuncture is focussed on allowing love to flourish by removing blockages. Of the entire system of over 60 acupuncture channels, a great many visit the heart, and whole classes of them—especially the Luo’s and the Divergent Channels—actively defend the Heart to maximize its chance of being able to transmit and receive love.

The Will (one’s intention) resides in the Kidneys and communicates up to the Heart (the transmitter of that intention) but for intention to reach the Heart, the Pericardium, its protective shield, must have its defenses softened—defenses it has learned to erect over a lifetime of emotions not processed. All forces in the body can be viewed ultimately as acting in concert to either protect or nourish the Heart while the Pericardium deflects challenges to the Heart’s openness. And here’s where it gets really interesting: the Pericardium has two components: the shield around the physical Heart and the physical beating Heart itself. The true Heart has no form, no weight, no shape; it is pure spirit itself. This immaterial Heart is considered the “sovereign ruler” partly because its job is to carry out the soul’s purpose, to shine light and to love, but also because nothing can truly harm it.

In my patient’s case, the constraint caused by unexpressed emotions results in the Heart starving for the Qi that fuels it. The correct point for him would be one that simply lets down the defenses built up in the Pericardium by allowing the pent up emotions to release. Blood carries the emotions, so in the office, as has been done for millennia with extraordinary success, we would nick it with a tiny needle to allow a small amount of blood to come to the surface (you can see in the photo of my wrist that I have recently been treated this way). But pressing on it is the next best thing. I sent him the photo as requested: one point to press while he closed his eyes and said “I am grateful for this breath”. The Luo point of the Pericardium Channel, PC-6, the point that expands the Qi in the chest, harmonizes reactivity and clears the constraint from crippling waves of emotion, bringing immediate clarity and relief.

An hour later he texted: “I got very emotional doing that exercise, cried for the first time in years, and I just want to tell you I’m grateful for the tree outside my window”. The Heart shines like a beacon lighting the way through.

Connecticut, USA.

Practice as though nothing else matters, because everything does.

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