Happy Heart Month!

"In your Heart, there is love, don't love too deeply. In your Heart, there is hate, don't hate too deeply, because too much of any of these will attack the Shen. " ~ Sun Simiao, The One Thousand Prescription Book

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In our penchant for designating months for everything from breast cancer awareness to ice cream to guide dogs, it would seem appropriate that February - the month of luuuv -  is American Heart month.

In our part of the world, this involves awareness and education about heart disease, strokes, cardiovascular disease, and other potential hazards for the ticker.

So, how might this translate in Oriental Medicine?

In TCM, the Heart is one of the four meridians of the Fire element; in fact, one source says that it is the Fire meridian - the other three are more or less servants or protectors of the Heart.

The Heart is the Emperor (the Chinese liked to use governmental officials as analogies for all the Organs to describe their function and relationships...), and, as with most other royal personages, actually does very little...

... except to provide a physical home for our Shen.

The Shen was seen as 'the divine spark of consciousness' or awareness - the place where Heaven and Earth meet in humankind. Like the Heart's human counterpart, the Emperor was believed to be the "Son of Heaven", or the embodiment of the divine.

While the actual job description was somewhat undemanding - sitting on a throne, waving, presiding over rites -  the emperor played the primary role as mediator between heaven and earth - keeping the peace and harmony, and hopefully protecting the earthly citizens of the empire from natural catastrophes.

The holy office of the Heart housing the Shen likewise is simple ... and yet central to the overall well-being of the individual. Taoist practices were geared to cultivating tranquility of the heart, in order that they might live a long and vital life. If the Shen was 'scattered' or actually vacant (what we might call shock, delirium, coma, loss of will after long-term illness, or even mental illness like schizophrenia), a person would be hard-pressed to recover, unless the Shen could be enticed back into its home.

It's interesting to me that while the Heart in TCM is more related to summer - the most active, expansive time of the year -  February seems like a perfect time to meditate on its fiery nature.

It's usually this time of year when snow fatigue and cabin fever really begin to set it.

Wallowing in the cold watery depths of winter can leave many of us low on energy, enthusiasm, and on the edge of depression. 

While winter is appropriate for slowing down, finding solitude, conserving energy and such, adding a little warmth to life may be needed to balance and 'enliven' the Shen. But within moderation. (It's so foreign for us to think this way in our modern culture - we love/need/ are trained to go go go! but if you consider Water and its' capacity for storage of our vital energy, burning it up through too much fiery activity leaves little left to nourish the roots in Spring.)

So, how to have a Healthy Heart Month, TCM-style?

Well, like with the conventional medical model, promoting circulation with movement and massage is always a good idea.

Protect your Emperor. The Heart is the ruler of all, but vulnerable and tender. Along with its yang-paired organ, the Small Intestine - both have functions of assimilation. The SI assimilates nutrients - separating the pure from the impure... where we literally become what we eat. The Heart assimilates energy, vibration, emotions, images.. what we surround ourselves with, take in and integrate becomes who we are. This is probably the most critical understanding you can have about your Heart, and your responsibility to protect it and nourish it.

Take in beauty - through words, art, music. Be vigilant about the images you allow into your psyche. Bring something small and heartfelt into your workspace or a place you spend a lot of time in.

Speak 'from the heart'. (The 'tongue' and therefore speech is of the Heart in TCM). Write love letters... even if to yourself, or pets, or scenery. Express gratitude and appreciation. Contact a friend that may have been on your mind.

Laugh. Joy is the emotion of the Heart, and its 'sound' is laughter.

Meditate and reflect. Learn the language of the heart. (It is a 'movement and a rest...') The heart beats, but within the beats is stillness. The language of the heart is rhythmic - it requires meditation and withdrawl inward to hear it, and then outward responsiveness to express it. This helps us to maintain balance in our emotional life.

Would you like to read more Heart-related posts?

Run, Forrest, Run!

The Heart Feeds Itself First

A Meditation on the Heart Chakra