The Spirit Of The Heart
When we think of our hearts in a way that represents our spirit, what comes to mind? It is our soul, our essence, the truth of who we are. The Heart, in Chinese Medicine is associated with the element of Fire. It is also associated with the season of summer, which is headed our way by the end of the month. We are creeping towards the Summer Solstice in June, which is the uppermost yang part of the year. The days are longer and we have more time to play and enjoy the warm weather. The Heart is the emperor of all the organs and spirit of the individual. The spirit in Chinese Medicine that is associated with the Heart is called Shen. The word Shen is the Chinese translation for Spirit, and Shen is also used to describe all five spirits together within a person. The Shen is the most yang of all spirits. It is the ruler of our self expression, intuition, joy, and it shines through the eyes of a person. Following your heart when making decisions or choices in life is the equivalent of following the Shen. It can be seen in the healthy glow of the skin. Shen is the fire inside of us, and the spark of life that enters us when we are born. It makes us who we are as individual beings. It houses our mental state of being and is the “mind” of the Heart. Shen encompasses mental activities, sleep, thoughts, consciousness, and emotions.
The best example that I can think of to explain when we see or feel Shen is the feeling one gets when they see someone and say “hello.” It’s the kind of genuine “hello” that makes a person smile and feel warm inside. Sometimes that “hello” can make a person’s day. The Shen within comes to the surface and it manifests in the warm glow that we feel when we are able to reveal our true selves to the world. When we follow the ways of our true calling and walk through the world with the intent that our heart leads us toward, we are following the Shen.
The Shen is the guiding force of our lives. In Chinese Medicine, the imbalance of Shen can manifest in many ways. The person may not be able to meet people’s eyes; they experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, and heart palpitations. The person may be easily startled. They may lose their sense of direction in life or be unable to express themselves in ways that are meaningful for them. Some people have huge, wide open hearts and tend to take in everything, but may not be able to let go of the heart break. The person may shut down and hold in their feelings, leading to a Shen imbalance, which can in turn affect other spirits or organs in the five element realm. In relation to the Heart, the Heart/Shen/Fire is at the top of the five element wheel and imbalances of the Heart/Shen/Fire eventually lead to other imbalances if left untreated.
There are many ways to nourish the Heart and Shen that anyone can do. It’s good to be open hearted, but know when to let go of painful feelings. Not being able to let go traps these feelings deeper and deeper inside with each day that they are not expressed. One should give themselves permission to feel the pain and cry - sometimes release is the best medicine. Also, meditation is very helpful in calming the Shen. A Buddhist Master by the name of Dipa Ma had a meditation practice that she shared with people called a “lovingkindness” or “metta” meditation. The purpose of this practice was for the person meditating to heal them self and focus on lovingkindness towards themselves. The metta is, “Let me be free of enemies. Let me be free of dangers. Let me be free of mental anxieties. Let me pass my time with good body and happy mind.” (“Dipa Ma, the Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master,” by Amy Schmidt). Enemies meant both external and internal enemies. One is to hold an image of them self as they chant the metta over and over. The goal is to learn to love yourself. I have found this to be a very powerful meditation and when I use it, I feel uplifted and released from anxieties or whatever may be bothering me. Learning to love yourself allows you to fully love others and love life. So follow your Shen and let it take you on the journey of life.
Jessica Towery, MS. L.Ac.