As I write this article on a foggy Tuesday morning in Florida, innocent people are dying in Venezuela. There is literally blood in the streets. What started as a few student protests has turned into widespread civil unrest.
Why should you care? And what does this have to do with qigong, tai chi, and meditation?
Bear with me for a moment.
My wife was born in San Cristóbal, Venezuela. It’s a college town with 4 universities and a population of a half million people. It’s also where the student protests in Venezuela began.
The images coming out of Venezuela look absolutely medieval. Battle lines are being drawn in the streets between police wearing full riot gear, and citizens wearing motorcycle helmets and wielding sticks, makeshift garbage can shields, and molotov cocktails.
Meanwhile, President Maduro, the pseudo-dictator who took over after Chavez died last year, is trying to squelch all news coming out of Venezuela, repeatedly saying that everything is “absolutely calm”.
He’s full of it. I’ve got lots of friends and family in Venezuela. So I’ve got my own news sources. Trust me — things are anything but calm there.
For example, just the other day, a student was shot and killed near the house of my aunt-in-law. Venezuelans are having trouble getting basic medical supplies, not to mention food and water. Heck, many of my friends and relatives can’t even get toilet paper.
Things are absolutely not calm in Venezuela.
Here’s Why You Should Care
Okay, I’ll ask it again. Why should you care about Venezuela?
For me, the news from Venezuela hits close to home. It directly affects people that I love. I know that many of you reading this are Venezuelan. For you, it also hits close to home.
But for the rest of you, it’s different. What’s happening in Venezuela doesn’t affect you in the same way. It’s not as close to home.
Nevertheless, I’m sure that you’ve felt something similar to what my wife and I are feeling. At least, I hope that you have. I hope that, at some point in your life, something on the news has made you feel angry.
It’s okay to admit that you’ve felt angry. Contrary to popular belief, not all anger is bad. It’s only unbalanced anger that causes problems.
Anger and Goldilocks
According to ancient Eastern philosophy, anger can be out of balance in two ways. We can have too much anger, or too little. Both are unhealthy.
Balanced anger, or what the Chinese medical theory calls “righteous anger”, is not only healthy, but essential to life. This is the energy that fuels action, the energy that enables people to right wrongs, to seek justice, and to actively build a better society.
The ancient Chinese theory of anger is a bit like Goldilocks. Your anger can be the bed that’s too hard (rage), or the bed that’s too soft (numbness). But if we keep searching, we’ll eventually find a bed that’s just right (righteous anger).
Anger and the Five Elements
Chinese medical philosophy, which encompasses both qigong and acupuncture, has a fundamental theory called the Five Element Theory. According to this theory, the energy of the Wood Element is connected to anger. When the Wood Element is in balance in a human, then she will have righteous anger. When it is out of balance, she will either experience rage (excess anger) or numbness (insufficient anger).
For example, a woman who has a violently abusive husband, and yet doesn’t leave him — this woman does not have righteous anger. Her anger is out of balance. In the Goldilocks example, her anger is too soft, which leads to numbness and inaction.
Her husband, on the other hand, is an example of anger unbalanced in the other direction. He’s full of rage, and he has the potential to hurt not only himself, but the people around him.
If we were to harmonize the energy in the wife’s Wood Element, then she would quickly develop the balanced, righteous anger necessary to leave her husband. (I’ve literally seen this happen with my students.)
If we were to harmonize the energy in the husband’s Wood Element, then his anger would calm down, and he would gradually stop being verbally and physically abusive.
The Middle Path
Here’s the thing about unbalanced anger — it’s totally ineffective. In the example above, neither the husband nor the wife are effective as long as their anger remains unbalanced.
When anger is too soft, it leads to numbness and inaction. When anger is too hard, it leads to violence and rage.
Both are ineffective.
The middle path is where the magic happens, and when things change for the better. The Buddha described the middle path as being like the string of a sitar (an Indian guitar). If the string is too loose, it won’t play a song. If the string is too tight, then it will break.
Anger is the same way.
In the example above, the only way things will change for the better is if one of them takes the middle path. If she tightens her sitar string, or he loosens his, only then can anyone play a song.
How Does Bad News Affect You?
One way or another, news like we’re seeing coming out of Venezuela affects the energy of our Wood Element. And it will typically affect that energy in one of 3 ways:
- Reaction #1: The energy will be soft, leading to numbness and inaction.
- Reaction #2: The energy will be hard, leading to rage, violence and inefficient action.
- Reaction #3: The energy will be balanced, leading to appropriate and effective action.
I’ll give you some examples:
- If you’ve seen the news coming from Venezuela, and skimmed over it, then that’s Reaction #1.
- If you’re posting 30 times per day about Venezuela on Facebook or Twitter, then that’s Reaction #2.
- If you’ve signed a poorly-written petition full of typos that will never go anywhere, then that’s Reaction #2.
- If the most energy you can summon up is to share a few Venezuela-related posts on Facebook, then that’s Reaction #1.
- If you’re in Venezuela (as I know some of you reading this are), and you harm a police officer, then that’s Reaction #2.
Right now, I’m seeing a lot of Reaction #2 coming from Venezuelans. And you can hardly blame them. They are watching their own people die in the streets. It’s tempting to excuse them for this kind of reaction.
Meanwhile, we see a lot of Reaction #1 coming from the rest of the world, especially the US. Because of the complex political history with Venezuela, Americans are unsure how to feel. Even though we’re horrified by the news, many of us just don’t have the energy to get emotionally invested.
What does righteous anger look like? What does Reaction # 3 look like? Here are a few examples. (If you have more examples, then please list them below in the comments section.)
- Signing a well-written, well-designed petition on whitehouse.gov.
- Actively and regularly praying for peace in Venezuela.
- Protesting nonviolently.
- Sharing critical articles about Venezuela on Facebook, and paying a few dollars to boost it so that more people will see it.
- Writing a blog post about Venezuela.
- Connecting with Venezuelans, and asking them what you can do to help.
- Publicly speaking out, calmly and effectively, against injustice.
- Practicing meditation (including qigong, tai chi, and yoga).
How To Develop Righteous Anger
The last example may have caught you by surprise. Believe it or not, the best thing that you can do to cultivate righteous anger is to meditate. Choose whatever type of meditation you prefer, whether it is sitting meditation, qigong, tai chi, meditative prayer, or yoga.
If you don’t know how to meditate, then just breathe. Take a soft, full, and nourishing breath. Right now. Breathe in gently through the nose, and then out gently through the mouth.
According to qigong philosophy, breathing like this will help to harmonize your energy, including the energy from the Wood Element. If the energy in your Wood Element is too soft, then breathing will make it harder and more effective. If the energy in your Wood Element is too hard, then breathing will make it softer and less violent.
In other words, conscious breathing enables us to follow the Buddha’s advice. Breathing is how we tune the sitar string so that it’s neither too tight, nor too loose.
This is not woo woo. It’s not wishful thinking. Gandhi defeated the most powerful empire in the history of the world with similar advice. When our anger is in balance, when it becomes righteous, when the string is neither too loose nor too tight — that’s when the magic happens, and that’s when the world begins to change for the better.