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Don’t Be Afraid of Fear

By Sara Calabro

It’s been a scary few days on the east coast. Heading into the weekend, forecasts for Hurricane Irene gripped people with fear of the unknown. And the storm’s eventual landfall left many afraid of the damage, albeit less devastating than early reports predicted.

Hurricanes and other natural disasters are bound to instill fear. Being scared is a normal reaction to events that threaten our survival or livelihood. However, when fear is excessive—it pervades a person’s experience of the world, regardless of circumstances—it may be a sign of imbalance.

In acupuncture theory, emotional expression is a key indicator of overall health. Whether someone displays excessive or insufficient amounts of a certain emotion helps direct acupuncture diagnosis and treatment.

For instance, Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold, in their book Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, paint a vivid portrait of a person whose inner landscape is controlled by fear:

A man who is in the grip of Fear [sic] can think only of escape. His life is dominated by the expectation of threat, so he isolates himself and hides from the world. He becomes furtive and suspicious, relies on no one and prefers to be left alone. He is the hermit, drifter, and loner. He anticipates the worst, imagining calamity and disaster lurking around every corner. He lives under a cloud of doom and gloom. Critical and cynical, he believes the world is fundamentally harsh, unsafe, and unfriendly. Among other people he remains aloof. His isolation may eventually cut him off from life, leaving him cold and hard like stone, impenetrable and devoid of spirit.

When treating someone with this emotional profile, an acupuncturist also would look at physical symptoms. Emotions are inextricably linked to physical health, so emotional imbalances can cause or be the result of physical illness.

Acupuncturists think in terms of five primary emotions: joy, anger, worry, grief and fear. Each emotion is associated with an organ/meridian system, functional quality, and season. Fear affects the Kidneys and causes things to descend; it is constricting and hardening like its associated season of winter.

Low back pain, knee pain, hearing problems, erectile dysfunction and infertility—all symptoms associated with the Kidneys—are common in people who are excessively or insufficiently fearful. The descending quality of fear can cause bedwetting in children and incontinence in adults, diarrhea, and vaginal discharge. The constricting quality can lead to arthritis.

By looking comprehensively at all symptoms, even those that may seem unrelated to the person’s emotional difficulties, the acupuncturist seeks to determine a root pattern of disharmony. The goal of acupuncture treatment is not to rid a person of fear but rather to identify fear as one of many symptoms that give insight into what’s really going on with someone.

Although too much fear can send us down a dicey path, in the right amount, fear is a natural and necessary part of staying healthy.

“Fear detects the unknown,” says Ted Kaptchuk in The Web That Has No Weaver, “but it has the same energetic quality that is sensitive to and can embrace Wisdom [sic] and the trust of faith.”

During Hurricane Irene, fear prepared us for the worst—but reminded us that somehow we’d be okay.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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