"Nothing real can be threatened; nothing unreal exists." - A Course in Miracles
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” -The Little Prince
Last week we covered the roles (and shortcomings) of Anger and the Liver organ system in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This week we will look at Joy and the Heart system. Let's dive in.
The Heart is thought of as the Emperor in the TCM model (the Liver is the General, by the way). It is said that when the Emperor is happy, everyone is happy. The opposite is also true. The emotion of true joy has the ability to overrule all our other emotions. One cannot be joyful and simultaneously angry, fearful, sad, or worried. That being said, true joy is not always predictable. It flourishes in waves, each one magnificent, but fleeting. It is our unique challenge as humans to learn how to ride these waves and treasure them while they last.
The Heart is represented by the fire element and is embodied in the high summer months. This is the time of the most yang energy. The plants and animals are in full swing. Daylight is the most abundant and our activities migrate to ones more of leisure and play. It does't just seem more joyful during the summer months, environmentally it is more joyful. Warmer. More vibrant. This is when blood circulates the best and sweat flows easily.
There are negatives to so much yang energy, however. With all of the yang energy in the air it is tempting to overdo and over-stress our bodies. When joy becomes unchecked by rituals and restorative practices, it can turn into mania. While it is good to use the heat of Fire to burn off unnecessary trappings, there is always the risk of burning away too much of ourselves in the process. In TCM this is why the other emotions exist: to help bridle, advise, and balance the immense power contained within joy.
The Heart is the home of the 'Shen' (or Spirit). The Shen is said to be visible and present in our eyes and in our speech pattens. You know people are being authentic when they can look you in the eyes and communicate their emotions. When their Shen is perturbed they will have trouble making this kind of contact. Furthermore, a Heart that is healthy and supported will have no trouble with sleep and does better with fear, worry, anger, and grief. The good news is that the Heart is one of the the most resilient systems and works without pause every day to bring blood and joy to the body. As long as the Heart beats, there is hope.
So how can we nourish our Hearts? The answer is unique to each person but generally it looks like slowing down and enjoying friends, pursuing passions, and playing more often. It involves making a habit of sitting quietly with your own emotions and reflecting on the things that bring you joy--on the things you are grateful for. It means staying present and engaging with each moment as fully as possible, setting aside your fears and having faith that your Spirit is wiser than your self.