“…the heart is like the minister of the monarch… When the monarch is intelligent and enlightened there is peace and contentment among his subjects; they can thus beget offspring, bring up their children, earn a living and lead a long and happy life…” Nei Jing*
As we discovered in the last post, the ancient Chinese saw the Heart as ‘Sovereign’ at the centre of our body, mind and spirit just as they saw the Emperor/Empress at the centre of their Empire, creating harmony, peace and contentment. Although this quote may appear antiquated to us in some ways, it is actually saying how, if the intelligence (note that word applied to the Heart as opposed to the mind) and enlightenment of the Heart is operating at the centre of our being, all good things will naturally flow from that.
We also saw that to operate at that level, the Heart, which is both powerful yet vulnerable, needs to be protected so that it resides at peace in its ‘palace’, radiating its ‘directing influence’, like our sun, but untroubled by traumas or insults. I mentioned that, due to this special need for protection, there are three other Officials/ministers* in the Fire Element working to ensure this state is maintained. Let us look at them briefly in turn:
Small Intestine Official – Separator of Pure from Impure
“…the small intestine is like the Official who is trusted with riches, and he creates changes of the physical substance…” Nei Jing
As the ‘sister’ organ/Official of the Heart, the Small Intestine receives and assimilates the bulk of our food, using its ‘Fire’ to separate out the pure from the impure, ensuring only pure energy goes to the Heart.
This pairing may seem odd from a Western scientific standpoint, but it makes perfect sense from a Chinese medical and energetic point of view. The material we ingest has to be sorted out from what is good for us and what is waste matter. This is happening on all levels of body, mind and spirit, so that there is continuous sorting of our emotions and thought, as well as what we ingest in the form of food, sounds, ideas, pictures, feelings etc.
The Small Intestine must only bring ‘pure’ material, of whatever level, to the Heart, otherwise the Heart is disturbed and confusion reigns. This may manifest at the physical level with poor digestion and assimilation of food, or a hearing problem because we are unable to sort out voices from the background noise. At a mental level, it could be an inability to ‘think straight’, to prioritise or to figure out what is really important for us to focus on. At the emotional level, it could mean we tend to associate with people who are not good for us, as we are unable to discriminate ‘pure’ from ‘impure’, with all that that implies. Hence the vital importance of this Official’s function to ensure a happy Heart.
Circulation/Sex – Heart Protector Official: the ability to find joy and pleasure in life
“… the middle of the thorax (the part between the breasts) is like the Official of the centre who guides the subjects in their joys and pleasures…” Nei Jing*
This Official, whose names make clear its functions, is equated with love, sexuality and the ability to enjoy oneself. The Heart Protector also protects the Heart physically through the circulatory system, by regulating the amount of blood that flows into the heart, as well as emotionally, by absorbing blows and traumas so that the Heart Official is never touched, and is able to function without interruption. This allows us to face rejection, insult, or loss without damage to the Heart itself.
If the Heart Protector does not do its job, then there is no warmth, no love, no joy. Added to that is the danger of injury to the Heart, as it is inadequately protected. In health, however, we will experience someone as warm, caring, compassionate, even ‘fiery’. This Official affects our very ability to love, to share with others, and to enjoy the sexual act.
From a health standpoint, it is worth knowing that the ancient Chinese attitude towards pleasure contrasts with our Puritan work ethic, placing as it does the predominant value on work and accomplishment, only allowing pleasure after the work is done. This results in a kind of unhealthy dichotomy, but there is hope on the horizon as our politicians, who continually talk about ‘hard-working families’, are also starting to talk about Gross National Happiness (something Bhutan has already set up as a measure), and I sense in the younger generation a new attitude to work, which they desire to be both rewarding at all levels and fun, rather than adopt the attitude of a ‘daily grind’.
Younger people are seeing through the dangers of the indoctrination with the Puritan work ethic, where we become workaholics who find it difficult to relax and enjoy life, or have a sense of emptiness upon retirement, or when the working day or week is over, tend to go to extremes with our behaviour, often aided by the use of drink or drugs.
The ancient Chinese warned against this: “Extravagant joy is injurious to the heart…” Nei Jing. Our ceaseless striving for excitement and pleasure in such cases is just as much out of balance as too little – there is such a thing as too much Fire and getting burned!
Triple Heater Official – the three burning spaces:
‘…the burning spaces are like the Officials who plan the construction of ditches and sluices, and they create waterways…” Nei Jing
The Triple Heater is the ‘sister’ function of the Heart Protector, working closely with it. A system-wide function having to do with the heat of the body and its circulation, it is the heating (and cooling) system of the body, mind and spirit. They connect all organs and maintain temperature at optimum levels for the whole system to function in comfort, harmony and balance – truly a vital function, as we know when temperatures internally or externally become too hot or cold.
These ‘burning spaces’ are felt in three different sections of the torso, covering the areas of respiration, digestion and elimination, and they must be in harmony with one another for the organ systems to function in a co-ordinated way. So, in essence, Triple Heater governs our state of internal and external harmony, thereby protecting the Heart from extremes of hot and cold temperatures at all levels of body, mind and spirit. When working well, we have the give and take to balance our relationships and live in harmony with what comes into our lives.
Heart in the Daily Rhythm of the Officials:
Before ending with the guidelines, I wanted to touch on an aspect of our energy through the day, specifically related to Heart – a detail I have not gone into before but which is, I feel, important in this instance.
Each Official has a two hour period in the day when its energies are at a peak. Heart’s period runs from 11am to 1pm (12 noon to 2pm BST). I mentioned in the previous post how I observed Nature here in the countryside seemingly fall strangely silent in the middle of the day, when we were experiencing the great heat of summer recently (summer’s climate – heat – at its most Yang). Note that the heart time covers the period when the sun is at the height of its movement through the Heavens, climaxing at 12 noon.
The feeling was one of great expansion with this great heat and light, whilst at the same time making for a peace and stillness that was noticeable as Nature seemed to be taking in the ‘directing influence’ of the sun at its peak, just as the Heart (our inner sun) is designed to do within us, especially when at its most serene and harmonious.
Harmony seemed to be reigning in Nature at this juncture, with no contending voices/sounds – a sense of unity where Nature was experiencing itself as one, just as we can do when the Heart is acting in health as the Supreme Controller.
Heart Protector – trust and caution: as the gatekeeper to your innermost sanctuary, check into this Official’s ability to trust and yet be cautious to selectively open your heart and allow those you love inside – is there a better balance to be struck in being too open or too closed?
Intimacy – if the Heart protector is strong and healthy, a sense of inner protection, of deep security can grow within us, so that we can open heart and body to another person. Rather than just a simple physical act of pleasure, the level of intimacy in sex in the maturing process Fire represents can be a real meeting of hearts and a ‘communion of souls’, requiring trust of both oneself and one’s partner. This trust can be there, that no matter what happens, we will be okay. If this area feels in need of strengthening, repeat to yourself, with meaning: ‘I am safe and protected in my very core’, knowing that is a real possibility for you as you affirm it.
“Laughter is the best medicine” – life is not always a bunch of laughs in our world these days, to say the least. Humour, however, is a wonderful tonic for our Fire energies. Love may make the world go round but humour greases the wheels. Get in touch with your inner child and enjoy times of carefree play – being with a child certainly helps – you may even want to act silly, but be sure to laugh!
Initiating spark to steady glow – as we moved from the excitement and discovery of the Wood Element’s phase (Spring/the initiating spark) of a relationship into the steady glow of a long-burning hearth fire, we enter the true maturing of a relationship – a point when the people involved can sustain a commitment to each other over time. This capacity to carry through such a commitment is a measure of the strength of the Fire Element within us. Ask yourself who and what you are committed to in your life, and is there an opportunity for more maturity in those commitments?
” I loaf and invite my soul, I lean and loaf at my ease observing
a spear of summer grass.” Walt Whitman – Song of Myself
Remember the energy of Summer is more relaxed, more about ‘loafing’ and enjoying life in a leisurely way, without the goal-oriented push of Spring. The energy of Summer is more timeless, concerned with the Now, the present moment of awareness and enjoyment. With what is left of our Summer, see what takes your fancy in this way – it might be a picnic under some trees, riding a bike (leisurely!), rowing a boat and stopping to admire Nature’s beauty. It says it all in the phrase: “Slow down; stop and smell the flowers.”
Heart at the centre of your life
The Heart is at the centre of our essence from which truth emanates. For the ancient Chinese thinking was not a process of the mind but mind was governed by the Heart – nothing was divided from the rule of the Heart – our inner Emperor/Empress or Sovereign governing with love and compassion.
With an empty, untroubled Heart radiating this goodness into our ‘kingdom’, a sweet childlike innocence enters our nature and we can love with a goodness that knows no divisions or prejudices. Meditate on the Heart as being like the image of a child sitting in the centre of a crimson lotus flower – a perfect image for the powerful yet vulnerable Heart – and feel your energies made whole again (unified) and your Heart once again untroubled by the duplicity of the world and ourselves.
I wish you much joy in these remaining days of Summer and as an incentive will say that each season builds us up for the next, in that if we take the opportunities they offer to empower us in our health and happiness, the following season will flow well for us.
Next up will be Late Summer and the Earth Element, somewhat delayed as have been the seasons this year.
* The ancient Chinese view the Five Elements at work inside the body as the Officials, Ministers of an Imperial court, for a simpler/easier way of understanding.
* Nei Jing : short form of Huang Ti Nei Jing Su Wen or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – the essential text on Chinese Health and Healing.