The Chinese ancients saw the body’s organs as having functions far beyond their physiology. They saw the twelve organs as if they were twelve “officials” in a court, each with a ministerial role and a complex set of functions. They described the functions of these officials much more in terms of mind and spirit than physiology.
From this perspective, the Heart official is akin to an emperor who sits on the throne and holds the kingdom together simply by being himself. When the emperor is wise and moderate and all his ministers are taking care of business, then the kingdom functions harmoniously.
The Heart and its functioning are uniquely essential to life but are also very sensitive to disruption. Because of this, the other three Fire officials (Small Intestine, Pericardium and Triple Heater) act like an inner cabinet to the emperor. They take on the job of protecting and supporting the Heart, which they do in their various ways, monitoring communications from the Heart to the world and from the world back to the Heart.
Mind and Heart as One
The spirit of the Heart is shen. One modern authority, Giovanni Maciocia translates shen as mind; indeed the ancients saw no distinction between heart and mind, unlike the usual western view that mind is equivalent to brain function.
When the heart-mind is settled and protected, the shen resides there quietly. However, shen is easily disturbed by shock and trauma which can cause it to fly away like a flock of startled birds. When the shen leaves the Heart, the connection with spirit is lost and the person may feel apathetic, depressed and separated from themselves and the world. Others may see emptiness, vacancy and lifelessness in their eyes.
On the other hand, disturbance to the shen can result in hyper-excitement, a kind of false joy that appears ungrounded and unreal. Insomnia, restless activity, uncontrolled speech and even mania can be some of the manifestations of such disturbance to the Heart.
In choosing points to treat the Heart, we must be very careful to respect its delicate sensitivity. Some acupuncturists do not even use needles on the Heart meridian, preferring instead to treat it indirectly through Pericardium. Heart must be treated gently, treasured and honoured like an infant king.
One point that is safe to use is Shenmen – Spirit Gate. It is the gateway into the innermost chamber of the Heart. At the same time, it provides a gateway through which the Heart can express itself in the world. As the source point of the Heart meridian, it treats the organ directly, strengthening and stabilising it. The point will balances the Qi whether it is deficient or excess.
Shenmen soothes the mind and spirit, easing anxiety, sadness, depression and mania. It helps to mend a broken heart. It calms the physical heart, treating such conditions as pounding, palpitations and arrhythmia. Shenmen assists with memory and mental capacity; it helps with conditions of speech and the tongue including excessive speech; and it helps when there is insomnia and restless sleep, calming the heart and mind to allow for peaceful rest.
In the west we refer to the eyes as the windows of the soul. The perspective of Chinese medicine is that the eyes are windows into the heart-mind. The quality of the shen is seen in the eyes. When the shen is healthy, the eyes are alive with a “thereness” that makes intimate contact with the world while at the same time the person is in contact with himself. Spirit Gate helps us to move towards this way of being in the world.
Location of Heart 7
The point lies on the inner wrist crease, towards the ulnar (little finger) side and about one-fifth of the distance across the wrist. Feel for a hollow at the base of the pisiform bone. Apply gentle pressure for two to three minutes or until you feel the Qi moving. Hold the left side first, then the right. Tune into yourself as you do this. Treat it as a little meditation on your heart.