When I read that “joy injuries the heart, I was like “what?”… How can that be? Is “too much joy” a thing? I thought – yes, too much worry, too much grief, and too much anger can keep us in pain, and back from living our life fully. Too much joy? If anything, not enough joy in the world today is problematic. Right?
I thought this curious. Just as curious or perhaps even more, my reaction highlighted some mental biases that I felt I needed to explore.
In Chinese Medicine, they speak of seven basic emotions – elation, anger, sadness, grief, worry, fear, and fright. We can think of these as five, relating to the five seasons, five elements, and five meridian/organ families. It’s degrees, as Ted J Kaptchuk (2000) reminds us, that is the difference between fear and fright and between sadness and grief. These basic emotions are the internal and primary movements of qi.¹
Joy or elation relates to the fire element, season of summer, and the meridians of heart and small intestine. In the summer, we are the most active, the energy is the most yang, and the sun is the strongest. As we see the abundance of flowers and fruits, we too are blossoming. We reach out like the energy of a fire and we connect, discover what brings us joy and what makes our heart sing, and we go after what we desire. We experience it as love, laughter, and pleasure.
The heart is also where Shen, or Spirit, resides. You can see the light shining in a person’s heart, when the Shen is strong. “The Heart is responsible for appropriate behaviour, timely interactions, and being suitable to the context.”² Heart Spirit guides the big Spirit through our consciousness and awareness to connect to our world, in the right time and place. With that, there is a sense of community and purpose in life. Shen is compassion, awareness, and aliveness.
Emotions share the circular logic of Chinese medicine : the cause is also the outcome. The Chinese recognize that emotional responsiveness is a crucial component to healthy human life. But the passions also easily lose their proportion and become a “cause” and an important sign of a pattern of disharmony.Ted J. Kaptchuk, The Web That has No Weaver³
How is too much joy unhealthy?
While I think it is interesting that some people are suspicious of happy people, it is true that some do hide their pains behind their smiles. From a Bach Flower perspective, this is the Agrimony Archetype. They wear a mask that may be kept up with drug and alcohol habits. Even their close friends have no idea. We worry that this is someone we know, trying to deal and cope, alone, until they break.
Just as the heat and long hours of sunlight allow us to be outside, exploring, camping, having fun. We can also have too much heat – think, sun stroke and dehydration.
From the Chinese Medicine perspective, excessive joy or euphoria disturbs the heart and in turn, the Shen.
Excessive joy can also reflect strong cravings and desires. We can become attached to or invested in the emotion or the experience. We can also understand “too much joy” as being manic, being ungrounded.
Energy-wise, Heart qi dissipates and scatters. Life-force energy is not stored and the Shen becomes dull. Agitation of the heart disrupts peace and calm that is the natural and preferred state of the heart. Disconnected from our Spirit, we act from the level of the personality.
Signs of Too Much Joy
This overstimulation can be seen as heart palpitations, a slower pulse from slower circulation, insomnia, excessive talking, red-tipped tongue, and the inability to recognize the right time and place for our actions. The signs of a wounded Shen appear before those of a physically ill heart. ⁴
Tips for a Balanced Heart
- A Jin Shin Jyutsu teacher once said that too much water is worse than too much fire. Having said that, having imbalanced fire, without any water, is also unhealthy. Ungrounded joy can be not acknowledging the fear that is present. Perhaps this is admitting feeling lonely. Social isolation puts people at a greater risk for disease.
- An easy and effective Jin Shin Jyutsu Self-Help is holding your little finger. When we try to hard, we can imbalance the Heart organ functional energy.
- Find what you are truly passionate about. Make sure it’s your story, your life you are living, and not to fulfill anyone else’s definition or expectation of what makes you happy and what gives you pleasure. Try meditating with mica, which acts as a mirror to reflect the source within you. Thanks to Sarah for this wisdom.
- Catnip! Melanie of Psyche & Soma shares that this bitter and cooling herb that cats go wild for is a powerful remedy for stress and insomnia from an agitated heart. She recommends making a tea by steeping 2 tablespoons of catnip in 6 ounces of hot water for thirty minutes.
- Enjoy a diet with cooling and bitter foods. Bitter being the taste of the season, try endives, Swiss chard, and dark chocolate.
The Big Picture
You may have heard or read this – emotions is “energy in motion”. Yet we have all kinds of beliefs about how we feel, how we should feel, what not to show. We are hung up on our feelings, the mental labels we attach to emotions. This can be the cultural and patriarchal conditioning, the water we swim in.
All emotions are valid. It is important for our health and self-discovery to acknowledge, honour, and experience our emotions. How we feel and what we think about how we feel is very telling. It illuminates our underlying unconscious beliefs, fears, and desires.
Getting stuck emotionally happens. In addition to our mental barriers, it happens for many reasons. From being overwhelmed, stressed, and traumatized to being unskilled at emotion work. We are under-resourced and we lack modelling of constructive and healthy processing of our emotions. We may see this more with anger, the emotion we have labelled as “bad”; it is also true with joy, which some people feel guilty about.
From the Chinese Medicine perspective, emotions are both the “cause” and “effect”. Even an emotion that we feel is a good thing, like joy, too much of it for prolonged periods can injure our heart and in turn other organs. The natural state of being for the heart, where our Shen resides, is calm and peace.
Sources1 Elisa Rossi. Shen : Psycho-Emotional Aspects of Chinese Medicine. Elsevier, 2007. p17.
2 Ted J. Kaptchuk, OMD. The Web That Has No Weaver. McGraw-Hill, 2000. p.88.
3 Ibid., p157.
4 Understanding the Heart of Chinese Medicine on Epoch Times.
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