“…They should enable the best parts (of their body and spirit) to develop; they should enable their breath (energy/chi) to communicate with the outside world; and they should act as though they loved everything outside.” Nei Jing*
I indicated at the end of the previous post on Summer that we would start exploring the four ‘Officials’ of the Fire Element but I feel, given the heatwave we have been experiencing almost everywhere, further thoughts on ‘Fire’ itself is appropriate.
I have been struck when at home in the countryside just how still and peaceful things become in the middle of the day, due to the heat (that has a relevance to the Heart that will become clear in another post). This also reminds me of the quiet in the middle of Winter and here we are talking about the two extremes of Yin (deep mid-Winter) and Yang (high, hot Summer) producing that stillness, yet quite different from an energetic point of view. Now I sense an awareness of space and expansion with all this heat and brilliant sunlight; in Winter you may remember a feeling of containment and a reduced sense of activity and space as we huddled to keep warm.
At present the sun is giving us such an abundance of heat that it is providing the delicious and unusual experience of hardly feeling a hint of cold throughout the twenty four hours of a day. Nature supports a sense of ease, enhancing that sense of being in the moment mentioned last time, where perhaps you feel it could last forever! In such conditions it is natural to slow down and relax, and yet we feel the desire to communicate with the outside world. I hope you are having the chance to do just that, as mentioned in the quote above, and with a sense of excitement yet inner peace.
Fire Element and the Mind
The Fire Element lights up the mind with enthusiasm when in balance, leading to a lively and keen intelligence, clear thought and memory – perhaps this is why as people in our culture get older and are often left alone, these qualities can diminish. The essence of good communication is giving and receiving in equal measure. We take pleasure in expressing our thoughts and feelings, as well as hearing others views. This ability to share and express what we have been thinking about, with its give and take, is key to the Fire Element and such sharing can mean more is achieved by a group or team than is possible by the individual. We feel a real source of fulfillment from this sense of common purpose and achievement. Real understanding becomes possible through a spirit of openness and honesty.
Fire Element and Heat – the opportunity to expand
For the Chinese, ‘heat’ meant more than simple temperature on a gauge – it was associated with expansion, activity, rising up, boiling and melting. By observing heat applied to water, and how it changed when boiling to become active, expansive, to rise up in the form of steam (water changed into a more ephemeral form), they extrapolated this principle to other natural phenomena – including human life. Expansion of our body, mind and spirit (‘to develop’, as quoted above) is appropriate at this time of year, in accordance with the energy of summer.
The Heart is the organ/official that is the ruler over the Summer season, the root of life and the one that generates all changes in spirit. The Heart represents the deepest part of ourselves – our ‘home’ and the place from which we relate to others. It is the seat of deep connections, of love and compassion, of sharing and communication.
” We know that the shen are the messengers of Heaven… Heaven is not in myself without some kind of intermediary and the intermediary between Heaven and myself is shen.” Claude Larre (1)
In Chinese medicine, the shen (spirits of the heart) have their abode in the Heart. Thus, it is a place that is considered sacred, the place in us that connects us to the Divine. The Spirits of each of the Five Elements are the finest, most ephemeral expression of energy (Chi), each representing an aspect of awareness and consciousness.
“… the heart stores and harbours the divine spirit…” Nei Jing*
As aspects of consciousness, all are expressions of the Fire Element and all come under the jurisdiction of the Heart, the official known as the Supreme Controller and the central point of human awareness. At the spiritual level, it is the spirit of enlightened awareness, inspiration, insight and love that comes to us from the Divine, referring to the fiery Yang aspect that resides in the human heart.
Our ‘Inner Sun’
It is thanks to the Fire Element within us, our ‘inner sun’, that in many ways we have a spirit at all. With the increased secularisation of life in the West, this expansive light has dimmed in many people and may be the cause of many dis-eases, not least of the heart. It is said in the Chinese Classics that all illness stems from the spirit (becoming apparent in the mind and/or body). Our spirits, like other parts of us, need to grow, to be nourished, to be inspired and yes, to have time to rest and build up their reserves. If we are deprived of these, we can expect a weakening of strength and resolve, and with the spirit of the Fire Element weakened, suffering will go to the very heart of our being.
The Heart as Sovereign
“The heart is like the minister of the monarch who excels through insight and understanding and fills the role of ‘sovereign ruler’ from whom emanates directing influence and clear insight.” Nei Jing*
Insight (seeing within) has to do with intuition and helps us integrate our inner and outer worlds – a receptive, yin state (yin-tuition) in which we let ‘feelings speak’. Intuition is considered an attribute of the Fire Element, as it seems truly a sense of the heart, although other Elements are involved. Our hearts know the truth, and guidance from our hearts can guide us to our good or protect us from danger. By listening to our inner knowledge, we can answer questions or solve problems that we or others have. Both mind and heart , however, have to work together, with neither taking control if we wish to experience good health and continual growth. There is a fine balance to be achieved for our health, and in a culture that perhaps overly honours the mind and the intellect, this is important work for us to work towards.
With the Sovereign Ruler, or Supreme Controller in charge, like an emperor or empress, order reigns. Matters are controlled and co-ordinated from the centre, with tasks delegated to ministers, but at the same time the Heart is dependent on them for every aspect of his/her life. The commands can only succeed as long as they accord with the wishes and desires of the people. Communication is vital, telling the other ministers what to do and hearing what they have to say. Impartiality is key to wise arbitration and mediation between rivals, without taking sides – to carry out this role, the Heart must be in touch with all of them all of the time.
Here is where blood as the medium of the Heart Official plays its role and the acceptance by the others of the commands is there in health, due to the gift of the warmth and unconditional love coming from the Heart, given with openness and generosity.
Heart’s Need for Protection
For this reason the Heart needs protection – no barriers can be allowed to interfere with its flow. When the Heart is healthy, everyone is filled with a sense of joy and enthusiasm.
Next time we will see more of how the Heart Official’s three ministers within the Fire Element work together to ensure the light and warmth of the spirit are kept alive in us, so that all works harmoniously in our ‘kingdom’. They are the Heart Protector, also known as Circulation-Sex, and its sister energy meridian, Three Heater, responsible for maintaining an even balance of heat for our body, mind and spirit, and finally Small Intestines Official, who separates pure from impure.
Here are some guidelines in the interim:
– “The heart rules over the tongue.” Nei Jing* The power to communicate our emotions and thoughts depends largely on the physical power of speech and the tongue. The connection between Fire, the power of speech and the tongue is similar to the Wood Element, the power of sight and the eyes. Through speech we express who we are to the world around us, and our tongue’s ability to speak clearly is a sign of the clarity of our Fire energy and our ability to be in relationship. Today I heard on the radio about Aneurin Bevan, a famous politician from the middle of the last century who spearheaded the introduction of the NHS. He had a stammer when young, which he overcame through constant recital of poetry to himself, to then go on to become a famous orator. As a Welshman, I feel he knew the power of poetry, more than prose, to influence his heart, choosing it as a means of self-healing.
Take time to observe your own ability to communicate, especially at a Heart level to those you are close to, and if you feel a need to enhance it, first get in touch with your true feelings before expressing yourself.
– “Red is the colour of the South, it pervades the heart and lays open the ears…” Nei Jing* The ears are the orifice of the Fire Element – which makes sense as one of the primary functions of the Fire Element is communication: being able to hear is as important as speaking for communication to happen. ‘Ears’ here refer not just to the physical ability to hear sound, but also to the discriminating power of the mind in sorting the sounds into recognisable words. The last point on the Small Intestines pathway or meridian is called “Listening Palace”, situated next to the ears.
The capacity to listen to another is a power granted by the Fire Element within us. To quote Chuang Tzu, one of the great Taoist masters, “Cease listening with the mind and listen with the vital spirit…”
Truly listen to someone today and thereby let the Fire Element in you touch the Fire in another, making a heart connection of true communication.
– Individual Expression – in our truest expression, we are not a copy of others, we are made to each have a unique flowering, which brings richness to life and the world.
Your expression in the world could be anything – poems, pictures, music, gardens, meals, furniture, even just the way you walk and talk, or your gestures. Observe yourself and try to identify your own flowering process and whether it needs further expression.
* Nei Jing – short form of Huang Ti Nei Jing Su Wen or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – the essential text of Chinese Health and Healing
(1) see Influential Teachers 2 on this website for further details of Claude Larre