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The Five Spirits of Chinese Medicine

What would you say if I told you this?:

Your organs have a spirit.

When I began learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it felt like I was drinking water for the first time. Clear and refreshing, suddenly I had a new way to view myself in this world, to view my body in this world, and to view my emotions in this world. Sometimes when you learn new ways of thinking, and a new perspective downloads, it takes a little bit of unlearning of old patterns and habit to really let the new stuff permeate.

This journey of learning was entirely altered when I began learning about the metaphysical side of the medicine. I began learning about the consciousness of our organs, and suddenly I realized that so many of my interests were coming together. TCM is holistic (connecting the mind/body/spirit into a collective network), it is not linear, it has physical properties and emotional properties and energetic properties and, yes, spiritual properties. These different aspects are uniquely working together (or against one another in some cases), encompassing our total experience as a human on this earth. All of our ailments, symptoms, diseases, and behaviors are a result of the connection between the ethereal (heaven) and the material (earth) nature we exist in.

It is scientifically founded that our brains run off the information received from our internal organs, that there is direct relationship between our physical body and our thoughts. The heart has neural pathways that regulates brain function and nervous system. Serotonin has been found created in the stomach. Our brains respond to our organs. This is also explained in a previous post I write about the Vagus Nerve. So I thought it would be fun to do a little outline of what it looks like to add in the spiritual aspect of this relationship. Mind-body-spirit.

I'll ask you this question: as you read about these spiritual aspects of the organs, where do you think you struggle? Where do you shine? What aspect(s) seems the most imbalanced in your life?

The Spirit/Shen houses the Five Aspects of our Consciousness

How we show up in the world, how we interact and express ourselves, and how we navigate experiences.

  • Corporeal (Po) of the Lungs

  • Ethereal (Hun) of the Liver

  • Thinking (Yi) of the Spleen

  • Heart-Mind (little Shen) of the Heart

  • Will (Zhi) of the Kidneys.

The Po/Corporeal Soul of the Lungs: our Lungs are the most "exterior" of the organs, lying just below the surface of our chest and ribs. They represent the structure of the body, our immune system, our defensive qi. Po is the entering and exiting of our essence, the inward and outward movement of breathing, and our sense of survival. The Po is our knee-jerk reactions. Our skin allows the development of our immune system through how we feel with it and how it feels for it to be touched - skin to skin contact is an ever-important aspect of our physical ability to survive. The taking in of oxygen is obviously important for us to survive as well, and the stronger the lung function the better able the body is to circulate the the oxygen qi through the body. This is all a part of our corporeal soul.

  • When balanced and strong, a person is able to speak clearly, breathe deeply, be assertive and fair.

  • When unbalanced: weak respiratory function, living under a veil of sorrow/grief, living far into the past with an inability to move forward.

The Hun/ethereal soul of the Liver: the Chinese character that depicts this organ is of a dead person rising up to heaven. The hun wanders, is tethered to us at birth, but continues it's journey long after our body is gone. Heavily influencing our psyche, the Hun is linked to our dreams - this included our dreams while we sleep, the dreams we have for ourself in this life, the movement in our human relationships, our creativity and inspiration. Not always rational or linear, the Hun encourages us to think "outside the box" to fulfill our potential. The Liver is what is responsible for the free flow of emotions in the body; there is a balance here - the excitation and restraint of our emotions - ensuring a free flow of these emotions so they don't stagnate. This organ is connected to our sight - our visions, our insight, and our physical ability to see things.

  • When balanced, the hun can come and go freely, and brings our innermost thoughts, dreams, and creative aspirations into reality.

  • When deficient, the hun can be muted, leaving us feeling depressed, unmotivated, and without direction. When in excess, we have too many thoughts and ideas, we can't regulate our emotions, and might find ourselves in a state of mania.

The Yi/Thinking Mind of the Spleen: The spleen is an amazing organ that I didn't even think of before learning about TCM. The Stomach takes in food and mashes it to the point where the spleen can transform and transport the nutrients to the rest of the body. The spiritual aspect of the spleen is important for our ability to think, study, memorize, focus, concentrate and generate thoughts. We need ritual or routine to make a new goal attainable.

  • When balanced - clear thoughts and actions, ritual and structure in life so goals can be attainable; faithfulness and loyalty.

  • When unbalanced - knotting up the middle part of our body, presenting as digestive challenges; poor digestion of thoughts, rumination, overthinking, and lacking clear intention; excessive loyalty to the point of self-damaging generosity.

The Shen/Heart-Mind of the Heart: The Heart is the Monarch of the body. The "little" Shen (not to be confused with the Big Shen), resides directly in the heart and is connected to our relationships in life. It allows us to be loved and to love others, to feel connected with others, our self-identity, consciousness, insight, and memory. By coming into contact with that which we are not, we can better understand the person we are. The Chinese character for Shen is of Heaven trying to express itself, meaning our consciousness is the outward expression of Heaven. By opening up ourselves to higher levels of consciousness, we can tonify our hearts in this way. Our Shen is visible in our eyes - sparkle or dull, how you carry yourself in conversation, and eye contact. Shen is damaged by trauma. We hold it there. Shen is rooted in and moved by the blood, and the good quality and quantity of blood. When there is a lack of blood (blood deficiency), the Shen can become unrooted/disturbed and can wander.

  • When balanced: clear speech and vision, self-awareness, good sleep patterns, confident self-expression, compassion, empathy, and flowing ideas.

  • When unbalanced: cloudy thinking, lack of eye contact and confidence, hypervigilence and paranoia, apathy, trouble relating to others/social awkwardness, panic, disturbed sleeping patterns.

The Zhi/Will of the Kidneys: The essence of who we are, the Kidneys. A part of the water element, the Kidneys house our pre-heaven and post-heaven essence. Our pre-heaven essence is the hereditary essence we receive from our biological parents. How healthy and balanced our parents are at our conception and birth have a direct impact on our constitutions. The post-heaven essence is what we create after we are born - the air and the food we take in and our ability to transform that into energy. The Zhi/the Will of the Kidneys is the spiritual aspect of the organs that impacted me the most upon learning. The Zhi is the part of our consciousness that is constantly trying to move forward, grow and evolve. It is the courage to move through fear in order to do something that maybe scares us, is uncertain, or is risky. The ability to move forward and adapt through stress. It involves trust, faith, and the knowing that even if we can't see what the future holds yet, that we believe in ourselves enough to know that we will adapt to whatever happens.

  • When balanced: You are the creator of your life. You can manifest your needs and desires into reality. You persevere through the unknown. You believe in yourself enough to stay present in the moment so as to not let the fear of the unknown sway you from your journey. Being able to perceive and receive the open doors all around us.

  • When unbalanced: Running away or ignoring opportunities, lack of drive, depression, recklessness, excessive risk taking, low back/knee pain, quick aging, chronic fatigue, memory loss.

After reading, what have you noticed in yourself? What resonates?

Please leave a comment if you have any insights, questions, feelings, or if you'd like to learn more!

- Lecture notes from Scott Moylan, M.S, L.Ac, Elements of Healing, Essex, VT. 

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