onsdag 20 april 2011

The Heart channel and xinshu, the study of nourishing the Heart

There is a translation in the incredible series by Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de La Vallée. It is called Rooted in Spirit – the Heart of Chinese Medicine, and it translates only one chapter from the Lingshu, the second part of the Neijing, but does so in great depth and with full commentary. The chapter is called Benshen, Rooted in Spirit, and it is mainly concerned with the health and healing of the shen, consciousness, which resides in the Heart, and how you live so that you protect and nourish it.

If you haven´t read the post on the Pericardium channel it would be useful to do so before reading this.

In the Lingshu, Benshen is chapter 8. It was later considered so important it was put in as chapter 1 in the encyclopedic Systematic Classic of Acupuncture (Zhenjiu Jiayi Jing) from 282 AD (a couple of decades after the death of Zhang Zhongjing who wrote the Treatise on Cold Disorders we spoke about before, the Shang Han Lun). The Systematic Classic collated many earlier texts to help practitioners deepen their skill. Today, it is available on Amazon both in English and French at the click of a button. It´s a strange old world sometimes.

In this post, we will talk about both the Heart channel and the Benshen, because chapter 8 contains some very good information on what is called xinshu: the Study of Nourishing the Heart.

The Heart meridian itself, the shou shaoyin xin jing, is fairly straightforward. It´s just the treatment and knowledge of the Heart that is extraordinarily complex. The main meridian goes from the heart, out through the very pit of the arm pit. From there, it continues down the most protected inside of the arm on the bicep, down to the elbow crease and down just off center down the arm to the wrist. From there, it goes out and ends in the little finger. Nine points total.

It is treated for direct issues to do with the Heart – angina, tachychardia, irregular heartbeat, tension in and around the heart and out into the arms, etc – but by older Chinese medicine, the Heart channel was rarely treated directly unless absolutely necessary (see the post on Pericardium for the discussion about this). It is worth noting that Chinese medicine can treat heart-attacks and their aftermath, but would prefer to treat the person way, way, way before the blockages become that bad, or before an operation is necessary. (Since I personally know and then also have talked to quite a lot of experienced hospital staff the last decade, ranging from OR to ER to Ambulance to Radiology and Gyn, I´ve always personally wondered how much a skilled acupuncturist and chinese medical team could cut down the uneccessary surgeries done, and let the really necessary ones actually get to the top of the line instead. We´ll probably never find out.). An unbalanced Heart would also often be linked to issues of shen: panic, anxiety, hysteria, epilepsy, insomnia, emotional trauma, and specific kinds of forgetfulness. Treating the shen can also clear up more subtle problems in how a person might be locked into not so useful ways of perceiving reality around them. The Heart is linked to the element of Fire together with the Small Intestine. When working well, the Heart brings joy and presence and consciousness to the world.

Shen is a much-debated subject in chinese medicine. Classical chinese medicine, CCM, sees it as very important to be aware of. When necessary they treat it, either through supporting it or treating it directly. TCM, the Westernized model of chinese medicine taught in most Chinese universities and in the West, rarely cares about it other than treating the heart for physical problems and sometimes mentioning the state of a patient´s shen in a diagnosis. Western acupuncture, WA, has no knowledge of it or treatment of it at all.

Daoist practices have specific ways of nourishing the shen. Chinese medicine approaches it mainly through the spectrum of intent, needling or herbs. Some sayings about it are quite common, though, like, ”Avoid loud or obnoxious people, as they will be disturbing for your Heart”.

Having shen is the splendour of life; loss of it is ruin.” Neijing Suwen, chapter 13.

Xinshu is the Study of the Heart. The connotation is multi-layered and complex, like most chinese, Daoist or Chinese medical terms are. It has meanings of nourishing the life we have and the ability we have to be present and joyous in it; the balance we have in our heart and its relationships with ourselves and the rest of the universe; of nourishing joy, the ability to be joyous in life and our manifestation in it, and of our ability to fully manifest our own personality, with less ego and programmings and red dust. The definition of the term xinshu varies depending on who is talking and who is adressed: a Chinese doctor might be talking about it in treatment, or as a guide for a patient to lighten their spirit and heal it, while a Daoist adept might do the same, but add larger dimensions of spirituality, compassion, and techniques for nourishing the shen through very specific techniques in qigong and meditation.

For every needling, the method is above all not to miss the rooting in the Spirit.” Benshen, Neijing Lingshu, lines 2-3.

This is rarely seen today. The people who follow this advice consciously as part of treatments are few, and the ones who know the actual techniques for diagnosing it will mostly be found on the rarer side of Classical Chinese Medicine. As part of that, it is important to emphasize that it has to be rooted in the Spirit of both the practitioner and the patient, not just the latter – what Ecological NLP would call the need for having both internal and external Ecology checks.

...that being so, when there is apprehension and anxiety, worry and preoccupation will attack the Spirit.” Benshen, Neijing Lingshu, line 40.

All these risks unbalancing the Heart and shen. In the long run, they will injure them. Shen-imbalances are very common in the Industralized Western world. Our society spends a lot of time in the mental and emotional realms of our lives, and deals with huge amounts of pressure on the nervous system and mind, all affecting the shen. There is also less of an emphasis on the physical body and actually enjoying physical life, which means that the house our shen lives in doesn´t become particularly inviting. It can be like living in rented, second-hand bedsits, with the previous owners furniture standing around and a row next door – not exactly the kind of place you want to spend a lot of time in.

Nourishing the shen, nourishing our Heart, is something we should keep doing consciously all through the different stages of our life. Up until the age of about 30, it is likely that many will not understand the point of it as they still are so much in the age of Wood and the energy of youth. Our full personality and empathy is still not in place until the shift at about 25-30, and it´s often not until this happens that the nourishing of the Heart is understood. There are exceptions to this on an individual basis.

If life hits us with trauma, grief, or long periods of problems, this often injures our shen, our spirit, and this needs to be treated too. It will often take a long time before it is better and more stable again.

Nourishing the Heart can be through hobbies, or music, or art, food, friends, trips, etc; there is a specific feeling to it, a lightness in the Heart and a sense of completion in doing this. Nourishing shen is slightly different to just nourishing life. It is the matter of nourishing our very consciousness and presence, the joy we have in the life that we have. In Daoist training and in Chinese medicine, it is very much something that you train. Some people have it naturally, but most of us have to train it a little bit every day to become better at Nourishing the Spirit of Joy.