By Angelica Mordecai
I have had a lifelong interest in human suffering. In the presence of relative peace, abundance and stability in modern society, I have yearned to understand why pain, longing and anxiety are nevertheless so prolific, and what I can do about it, both for myself and for others. This curiosity led me to my work as a practitioner of Chinese medicine which regularly connects me to individuals who feel so overwhelmed, isolated and scared that they are disconnected from their innate capacity to experience joy and to be empowered authors of their lives.
Chinese medicine is a millennia-old wisdom tradition that offers a unique perspective on healing from trauma and living with meaning and purpose. The medicine recognizes that in the face of both physical and emotional traumas, the Heart is the epicenter of impact. It understands “the Heart” as both the organ in charge of our literal circulation and a wider functional framework that animates us, allows for our unique expression, and drives us toward self- knowledge and understanding. The classical texts referred to the Heart as the Emperor or Empress in the kingdom of our being.
We know that the Heart bears the impact of trauma. When we experience an unexpected shock or trauma (whether physical or emotional), the body contracts, blood vessels constrict, and resources are redirected inwards to preserve organ function. If this occurs in an already weakened state, the body can stay frozen in this moment of impact and the consequences can be long-lasting. Over time, circulation is impaired and prevents blood from properly nourishing other organ systems and extremities; it also leads to increased taxation on the Heart as it attempts to compensate for the limited circulation by working harder.
We call this syndrome Heart Shock and see symptoms such as pain, insomnia and other sleep disorders, emotional lability, hypervigilance, anxiety, depression, panic, obsessive thinking, worry and overall mental confusion. Additionally, presentations of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and other unexplained illnesses often have their root in an earlier trauma that caused shock to the Heart. In Western medicine, if extreme manifestations of these symptoms occur, it is sometimes diagnosed as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). But Chinese medicine can come to a clear diagnosis of Heart dysfunction much sooner and in the presence of more subtlety. It offers the perspective that trauma occurs at different levels of intensity, and causes different degrees of impact depending on the force of the trauma and on the strength of the individual’s constitution at the time of injury. Ultimately, this can support individuals in moving towards healing more effectively and efficiently.
As a practitioner who regularly interacts with students and professionals experiencing overwhelm, anxiety and depression, I have come to believe that the phenomenon of Heart Shock is insidious. Most people are living in some degree of Heart Shock, and it is creating myriad signs of suffering and instability. Luckily, Chinese medicine also gives practitioners ways to diagnose the condition, assess the degree of impact and evaluate which organ systems have been affected. It offers a series of medical principles to remedy the injuries and their consequences. In my practice, I use acupuncture channel theory and herbal medicine to design treatments that strengthen the Heart, revitalize the circulation, and create a foundation for the ecosystem of the kingdom to reorient to stability. Over time, all of this serves to “put the Emperor back on the throne,” calm and ground the nervous system, re-establish vital organ function, and allow the body-mind to reconnect with its fundamental capacity to embody an expanded experience of joy, peace and self-authorship.
Heart Shock by Ross Rosen
The Clinical Practice of Chinese Medicine by Lonny Jarrett