The expansiveness of summer has arrived!
The environment of heat, the color red, the taste of bitter, the Heart and its officials, the sound of laughter, the emotion of JOY!
In Chinese medicine, this is the element of Fire, ruled by the Heart, which houses wisdom and is considered to be the Emperor (or Empress!) of the body. The determining of the seasons and its elements, is not based on a calendar occurrence. This date is subjective – a decision based on feeling the energy, noticing the climactic conditions, observing Nature – a constant reference in Chinese medicine.
These season beginnings will vary from year to year and from one location to another. Speaking to an acupuncturist friend of mine in Florida early in June, she related that Fire had just started. While it was quite hot that particular day, I still was not convinced that it had begun where I live, in New Paltz, NY. Walking outside in the woods, looking at my garden, the energy still felt like Spring (the element of Wood) – the direction was a moving-upwards, a sprouting, a new beginning sensation more prevalent than the outward expansion of Fire. But I wondered about the day’s high temperatures …. perhaps spring had jumped into summer early?
Just then a wind came up, a strong wind that blew the tree branches with a loud gust. Ah, I realized, it is still Spring. Spring is Wood, the climate is wind, a yang, upward movement of energy (the seeds sprouting after a long dormancy of winter, where the energy is yin, downwards and holding). Not that we don’t have winds in summer – there are hurricanes, tornadoes and all sort of manifestations of wind energy – but that type of wind is an extreme storm presentation, not the general climate of the wind in spring.
Just around the solstice, the Fire element took hold here in upstate New York. High temperatures prevailing, but this time the energy was moving up and outwards, in an expansive motion. Buds blossoming, sprouts turning into plants, the green lushness of trees spreading out to provide needed shade from the summer sun.
Chinese medicine theory is beautiful and poetic, arising from lessons learned by observing Nature and – above all – applicable to your life in this moment, as you read this blog! I’m going to go into some brief descriptions so that you can use this philosophy pragmatically. By living in the Tao of the seasons, you will enhance your life in every way – guaranteed.
Right now we are in Fire, Summer and a full immersion into its richness and splendor will carry you through every other day of your life (even if you hate the heat). There are 5 other elements, all of which have seasons, colors, organ systems, sense organs, emotions, and more linked to them.
Late Summer / harvest time is Earth, the spleen and stomach; (this is the 5th season we normally don’t distinguish); Autumn is Metal (lung and large intestine); Winter is Water (kidney and bladder); Spring is Wood (liver and gallbladder). FIRE has four organ systems: the Heart and the Small Intestine AND the Pericardium and the Triple Heater.
The Heart is the Ruler and is paired with the Small Intestine. The Small Intestine is called the Sorter. On a physical level, this organ separates nutrients from the waste in the food we eat. The Small Intestine influences mental clarity by sorting the enormous amount of psycho-emotional input we absorb daily into what is useful and what is not. On this level, it helps you decide what is important to you, what your Heart calls for and what you can discard.
If the Small Intestine is deficient, someone might vacillate from one idea to another, feeling dismantled by all the input, unable to sort priorities. Sometimes the mental overload overwhelms our ability to sort the pure from the impure and despair, hopelessness, and a sense of fulility could arise.
The Triple Heater is an organ system with no physical presentation. Among its other functions, the Triple Heater, or San Jiao (prounced: san jow), regulates temperature, ensuring that heat is distributed evenly according to the body’s needs. For example, the head should be cooler than the abdomen, which needs heat for digestion to take place efficiently. Untethered heat, which rises, can travel upwards, causing headaches, delerium (not uncommon with children experiencing fever), or worse, a stroke.
On a psycho-energetic level, the Triple Heater regulates the warmth / coolness we generate towards life itself. What passions burn intensely within us? What leaves us cold? Can we accept warmth from others, and give it in return? How do we react when treated with a lack of warmth, a coolness, from another being? These are questions related to the Triple Heater.
In Chinese Medicine, the Pericardium or Heart Protector insulates the Heart from exterior attacks – pathogens, viruses, stress, etc. It also protects us emotionally from life’s suffering and pain. We are not supposed to take everything to Heart that comes our way and the Pericardium is the living membrane that can filter out whatever may damange the Heart. With a strong Heart Protector in place, a person will not “die of a broken heart”. Rather he or she will feel pain, suffer and process the experience as part of Life’s journey.
The Heart, the Ruler, the seat of Wisdom …. the Heart is filled with Shen, which is the spirit that connects us to the Divine or Universal Energy, or God (however you choose to define that). It is also the energy that connects us, heart-wise, to another person or animal. Shen is light, airy, yang, expanding and knows no boundaries. When we connect with the Shen, everything is possible and wonderful and luminous.
The Heart houses the Shen, which flies out as we progress through our day, lighting upon another human being, reciprocated – or not – in return, illuminating our thoughts and being with Potential, with Love. Pain, disappointments, mean words and actions, tragedies – our Heart expands to feel these but is not meant to hold onto them. The reverberations of the events can pass through the body, digested on an energetic level, as we take in what nurtures us, and let go of what is not beneficial, the process similar energetically to the process of digesting food nutrients.
In an ancient Chinese document, called the Ling Shu, we are told that there are two Hearts – one the Heart we know of, which is filled with shen: airy, light, open.
The Shen flies around, like little birds, and come home to roost in the Heart. There is another Heart within, a tiny space initially, shaped just like the Bigger Heart. This heart takes in Yi, not Shen. Yi is messy, and chaotic, dark and noisy. It is the energy of the Earth element, which is wondrous and beautiful ….. but within the Earth (which we’ll discuss in late Summer when that Element comes to play).
In the Heart, this energy does not belong. Only the Shen – light, ephemeral, non-substantive – belongs in the Heart. So, if our “little heart” becomes bigger and bigger as we stuff the mess, the chaos, the dark noise in it, there can be little or no room left for the shen birds to come home to roost. There is no room for the Shen. Depression, anxiety, turmoil are all symptomatic results from this overcrowding.
As children, we did not have the tools to protect our Heart, to sort through the pure from the impure, to stablize our moods and our interactions. As adults, we may remain ignorant or unconscious by choice. At this point of understanding, we can sweep away the detritus in our Heart space, just as we would clear out a cluttered room.
This is how acupuncture helps us –by clearing out any obstacles to amazing good health. It works for clearing out the crowded little heart, with its anxieties, depression, turmoil. It works for the tight muscles in the low back which are obstructing the free flow of blood and qi. (Perhaps we clench our back muscles in reaction to the turmoil?)
I am available to help you with all of that!
A wonderful way to align ourselves with the summer element of Fire is to check in to our Heart – what is our Heart’s desires? How can we best sort out our priorities, protect our spirit, and safely jump into manifesting our passions?
Take time in this moment and dwell in the mysteries during this season of Fire and joy.