PERTURBATIONS OF THE MIND AND EMOTIONS
The ancient Greeks considered the health of the mind to be just as important as the health of the body. Their ideal of health was expressed in the maxim, Mens sana in corpore sano, or, "A sound mind in a healthy body." Greek Medicine is holistic in that it views the mind and body as being interconnected, and essentially one.
This last of the Six Hygienic Factors can be seen as the psychological counterpart of Exercise and Rest; it's sometimes called Psychic Activity and Rest. Although it's subtle and invisible, the activity or life of the mind and Psychic Faculty is just as important to our health and vitality as our physical activities and lifestyle.
The ancient Greeks saw the life of the mind and psyche in terms of the Four Elements and their associated temperaments. For mental and emotional health, moderation and balance, or a good mixture of all the temperaments and their associated emotions was essential. No emotion is inherently good or evil, but it can become negative and destructive if overly indulged in. Each person, according to his/her constitutional nature and temperament, is predisposed to emotional excesses of his/her dominant temperament.
Proper management of the mind and emotions comes from self knowledge and from understanding the underlying psychological dynamics of one's prevailing nature. Each of the Four Temperaments has its own inherent strengths, as well as its own weaknesses, or shadow side.
FIRE: Managing the Choleric Emotions
The negative Choleric emotions are anger, rage, impatience, irritability, frustration, envy, jealousy, criticalness, contentiousness and treachery. Fire can be very destructive, as can be these negative Choleric emotions; either they explode, causing sudden chaos and violent destruction, or they slowly eat away at one's guts, like a festering tumor or ulcer.
Properly channeled and directed, Fire can be very powerful, dynamic and transformative. The positive Choleric emotions are those that motivate and inspire us to take action, fight the good fight, and achieve great things: courage, boldness, fearlessness, valor and ambition. Yet even these need to be tempered by reason and reflection, otherwise they can become too reckless and impulsive: discretion is the better part of valor.
When positive, constructive outlets for Fire's energy and dynamism are blocked or obstructed, we run into the negative Choleric emotions. If the obstruction is acute, we get explosions of anger and rage. These paroxysms of excess gall and biliousness explode from the liver into the head, causing headaches, migraines, apoplexy and sore, bloodshot eyes. The more chronic negative Choleric emotions like envy and jealousy are held in the epigastrium, and slowly eat away at our guts and vitals.
The positive Choleric emotions like courage and fearlessness are held in the heart, and serve to strengthen and expand the Vital Spirits. They spur us on to victory, and strengthen our energy, determination and resolve.
In between the resignation of defeat and the exaltation of victory lies the anger band, a critical zone that can go either way, depending on how we handle it. Being able to successfully rechannel one's anger and aggression into victory requires considerable detachment, mental clarity and resourcefulness, but it can be done.
Often. anger can be a violent reaction against something that subliminally frightens or terrifies us, or paralyzes us with fear, hopelessness and resignation. We must put our finger on these hidden fears before we can take steps to resolve them positively.
Whether positive or negative, powerful Choleric emotions involve great stress and struggle, and can be quite draining energetically. We need to find ways of chilling out, disengaging from it all, and recharging our energies. The negative Choleric emotions, whether acute or chronic, can be very disturbing and destructive of inner peace and tranquility.
Perhaps the most pernicious threat of the negative Choleric emotions is that, if denied an outlet, they will turn inwards to "implode", or destroy the individual himself. Cholerics tend to be contentious, critical and often unforgiving; they must learn how to be more tolerant and accepting, and to forgive themselves, as well as others.
AIR: Managing the Sanguine Emotions
The Sanguine temperament is the most desirable of them all. Similarly, the Sanguine emotions like joy, euphoria, expansiveness, exaltation and all forms of pleasure are what we all live for. Many of us can't get enough of these emotions, and may even feel shortchanged in their fulfillment.
But even these most desirable Sanguine emotions have their shadow side, which results from their excess, perversion, or abuse. These include lust, gluttony, indulgence, debauchery and jaded appetites. One can even lose oneself in too much joy.
The desirable Sanguine emotions are all exhilarating and expansive, but overexpansion can dissipate and weaken the character. We all know of the spoiled brat who has never had to endure any deprivation, discipline or hardship.
How do we maintain a sense of self, character and integrity, and not lose ourselves when great joys or pleasures come our way? This is precisely why Greek Medicine considers moderation and the Golden Mean to be so important. So enjoy pleasures responsibly, and always with a sense of equanimity and self-respect.
To keep the Sanguine joys and indulgences within their proper bounds, Greek Medicine advocates temperance. Temperance means tempering or balancing something with its complementary opposite - in this case, a pragmatic, prudent sense of duty, responsibility and the necessities of life. These limitations and restrictions must be voluntary and self-imposed.
With the ancient Greeks, temperance wasn't driven by a prudish moralism, or fear of eternal hell fire and damnation - that was a later perversion and abuse of the concept. Rather, temperance was motivated by more pragmatic concerns for the greater dignity, integrity, self-control and happiness of the individual over the long term.
Another philosophical approach to keeping the Sanguine indulgences within the proper bounds is epicureanism. Instead of mindless, compulsive indulgence, epicureans advocate becoming a conoisseur, or knower. The epicurean ideal is to savor life's pleasures mindfully, by cultivating a sense of knowledge, appreciation and gratitude for them.
Epicureanism is the philosophy from which gourmet cuisine emerged. The gourmet is the conoisseur, who enjoys mindfully and appreciatively; one should not become a glutton, or gourmand.
EARTH: Managing the Melancholic Emotions
Because the Melancholic temperament is the least desirable in terms of health, it follows that the Melancholic emotions are also the least desirable. The word melancholy has become synonymous with depression and the blues.
In general, Melancholic emotions have a consolidating, constricting effect that favors sobriety, reflection and withdrawal. They also tend to be heavy, somber and grave.
Some Melancholic emotions, like caution, prudence and realism, in the proper mean and measure, can have constructive applications, and keep the Sanguine joys and indulgences within the proper bounds. Equanimity is maintained by never forgetting sorrow, even in the midst of great joy, and never forgetting hardship and deprivation, even in the midst of success and plenty.
Other Melancholic emotions, like loneliness, depression and grief, can have much more negative consequences, especially if prolonged or excessive. There are no bad emotions, and all of us have to experience these sometime in our lives, but problems arise when we can't process them properly, and get chronically stuck in them.
Some of the most pernicious Melancholic emotions are perversions or aggravations of more positive ones, which can have a constructive purpose. Pragmatism and realism can degenerate into cynicism, and caution and prudence can degenerate into misanthropy.
One place that Melancholic emotions don't belong is at the dinner table. Melancholic emotions like pensiveness, moodiness and worry will ruin proper digestion, and lead to the nervous, colicky digestive complaints that Melancholics are famous for. Eat, drink and be merry!
There are certain dangers or negative side effects that those who overindulge in Melancholic emotions are prone to:
First of all, they make the individual too withdrawn, isolating him/her from healthy communication and social contact with others. The person retreats into their own little world of worries and anxieties.
Secondly, they can make many people too rigid or dogmatic in their thinking. The spontaneity needed to enjoy life and take it as it comes is also often ruined. Melancholic types can also get too analytical, and rationalize away their emotions.
The philosophy that most expresses the positive uses of Melancholic emotions is stoicism. Stoicism teaches us to bear pain and suffering with dignity, and to accept both life's pleasures and its pains with levelheaded equanimity. Regardless of our outer circumstances, stoicism teaches us that the pursuit of personal integrity and virtue is life's highest purpose.
WATER: Managing the Phlegmatic Emotions
The greatest things about the Phlegmatic mentality and outlook on life, from which arise the Phlegmatic emotions, are a patient, devotional nature; a deep, abiding faith; and a remarkable good-naturedness. Phlegmatics are slow to anger and quick to forgive, as Water dissolves all hardness and smoths away all rough edges.
But since Water is also the most passive element and the greatest absorber of energy, the greatest weakness of the Phlegmatic emotional nature is its tendency towards passivity, which can plunge into a deep torpor of sluggishness and indifference. Phlegmatics need to learn how to rise up, take charge, and make the quantum leap from thought to action.
Emotional subjectivity and receptivity is also a great weak point. Excessive subjectivity makes it hard to make objective, rational decisions, as Phlegmatics find it hard to get the necessary detachment and perspective. Excessive receptivity makes one hypersensitive, overwhelmed, and emotionally shell-shocked, and unable to respond effectively to life. Raising your level of awareness is always a good thing, but increasing your sensitivity is not always good.
Heightened subjectivity and sensitivity, plus a heightened suggestibility and receptivity to subconscious influences, tend to weaken the power of the will in Phlegmatic types. This also heightens passivity and an inability to take effective, decisive action. Phlegmatics also tend to be creatures of habit.
The Phlegmatic emotional mindset is the perfect complement and antidote to the Choleric. Phlegmatic passivity tames the wild recklessness and impulsiveness of the Choleric nature, and Phlegmatic receptivity and subjectivity soften and restrain the excessive willfulness that Cholerics are prone to. Above all, Cholerics need to learn patience, tolerance, faith, forgiveness and compassion, which the Phlegmatic nature has in abundance.
Perhaps the most healing and transformative Phlegmatic emotions are empathy and compassion. Compassion means, "suffering with" - the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes, to identify with and feel their pain and suffering. This leads to a great emotional catharsis and cleansing, and a profound transformation as we realize universal solidarity with the human condition. This emotional cleansing or catharsis is a manifestation of the Expulsive Virtue of the Water element. Compassion is also the basis for many of the world's great religions.
Closely related to compassion are the Phlegmatic emotions of love and devotion; their aim is to soften a hardened heart, to make it more receptive to inspiration and healing. Love takes no offense, accepts and endures all things, is slow to anger, and eventually conquers all. Devotional paths to God are based on a personal love for, and relationship with, a personification of divinity. They are favored by those of a sentimental nature and Phlegmatic temperament, and are the perfect antidote for those who feel overwhelmed by a sense of harsh impersonality and indifference in the universe. Religious devotion is indeed an eternal spring of living waters that can sate the spiritual thirst of man.
Balancing the Emotions
It shold be clear by now that the best way to manage or remedy the negative emotions of one temperament is to counterbalance or temper them with the positive emotions of its opposite yet complementary temperament, backed up by that contrary temperament's philosophical mindset. And so:
Choleric anger, frustration, irritability, impatience and intolerance must be remedied by Phlegmatic peace and tranquility, faith and tolerance, and devotional surrender to a Higher Power.
Sanguine sensulaity, indulgence, euphoria and immoderation must be remedied with Melancholic realism, prudence, temperance and stoicism.
Melancholic austerity, worrisomeness, guilt, depression, rigidity and withdrawal must be remedied with a Sanguine appreciation of the joys and pleasures of life advocated by the Epicurean philosophy.
Phlegmatic passivity, lethargy and resignation must be remedied with Choleric action, ambition and drive, and the philosophy of rugged individualism that underlies it.