Even though spring is all but over—I am posting this because I think it applies to a lot of us, regardless of the season. A lot of people feel aggravated and agitated year-round, and for many, it gets worse in the spring. Concurrently, spring symptoms flare: allergies worsen, headaches increase, symptoms having to do with the head, eyes, and ears often emerge.
Like the tulips and daffodils, the energy in our bodies naturally wants to rise up. A lot of my patients report feeling an underlying sense of unease. This is actually a natural part of the seasonal rhythm.
In Chinese medicine, spring is associated with the Liver and the wood element. The emotion associated with the Liver is anger, and even though there can be actual anger associated with the Liver, the real meaning of the word in this context has to do with how energy moves in the spring.
Each of the elements is related to a phase of the life cycle, and the wood element (spring) is associated with birth. The energy of birth has to be very strong! Those who have given birth know what I’m talking about. But even for those who haven’t, it’s not hard to understand that the energy of spring must be very forceful in order to get its job done. In order for a tiny bud on a tree to turn into an apple, or a daffodil bulb to push through cold earth and make it into the world, it has to be tenacious.
One of my teachers in school often said that the energy of wood, the “anger” that we learn about, is the energy it takes for one blade of grass to poke through a sidewalk. You’ve probably seen grass do this. It takes extraordinary power for that tiny blade to make it through the concrete.
That’s the kind of force needed to get out of the depth of winter. You may have noticed the sudden change this year or in the past: all of a sudden everything is moving, even when it’s still cold. We go from the stillness of frozen winter to the frenetic movement of spring, and it can be jarring to our bodies and emotions.
This strong, sometimes violent changing energy, is what is described by the word “anger”—and in many ways, it is a really good thing! If this energy didn’t exist, we would stay in the quiet stillness of winter forever!
In this sense, anger is a virtue. We need it. If we can start to recognize this type of energy inside ourselves as a signal that things need to change, rather than an un-wanted and difficult emotion, then we might be happier, healthier, and more productive.
The flip side of anger in Chinese Medicine is creativity. When we aren’t able to fully express our creative goals—whether it’s a song we want to write, a difficult communication with a loved one, or our true passion getting lost as we struggle to make ends meet, anger and resentment can build.
Seeing anger and creativity as two sides of the same coin, we can see how, in many ways, we need anger to realize our full potential. The forceful drive of the wood element is so necessary as we move forward in our lives. Without it we are stuck, stagnant, and eventually become sick!
So- next time you feel yourself aggravated or agitated—see if there’s anything you can shift—whether it’s a circumstance or perspective—to better realize your creative goals and passions. This can be on a large or small scale. Sometimes there will be changes we can make, and sometimes things are out of our control. But, knowing the root of the agitation can help get the ball rolling.
I always tell patients change is rarely, if ever, comfortable, especially when we are changing deeply ingrained patterns. But usually, it is totally worth it!