Shen – The Spirit of Fire

In the final posting about Fire points for this summer, we look more deeply into the nature of this Element by looking at the spirit of Fire.

sun on hand gestureShen is the spirit of the Fire Element. As the most yang of the spirits is the one closest to heaven. Indeed it is the heavenly light of awareness and consciousness residing in the heart of each one of us. When the heart is healthy, it provides a place for the shen to rest. But when the heart is unhealthy, disturbed and unsettled, the shen flies away like a flock of birds startled by a commotion.

In the classical literature, shen is used in two ways. In the first, it refers collectively to all five spirits (wu shen), five individual aspects of consciousness, each expressing the nature of its corresponding Element. In the second sense, shen refers particularly to the spirit of the Fire Element. This spirit is responsible for thought, feeling, emotions, perceptions and cognition. The Heart and the mind are so inextricably linked that the shen of the Heart is often translated as mind or heart-mind. The shen of Fire resides in the Heart during our lifetime; upon our death, the spirit returns to the heavenly realm from whence it originated.

The shen is not directly visible, but it is reflected in a person’s eyes as a sparkle, a point of contact, a “thereness”. This inner radiance, called shen ming, is what gives each person his personal uniqueness. It is that which makes each of us like no other.

The shen is reflected also in a settled mind and clear thinking. When it is disturbed, has flown away, the eyes become dull and there is a sense that the person is not quite there. Shock, trauma and abuse are common reasons for the shen to fly. People who have experienced war, imprisonment or torture, or refugees who are fleeing persecution are often likely to have shen disturbance and therefore Heart imbalance.

The spirit of the Heart is responsible for settled sleep, settled emotions, and cognitive functions such as concentration, short-term memory and the ability to think clearly. Shen disturbance can therefore appear as difficulty getting to sleep, dream disturbance, volatile emotions, anxiety, panic, depression and feelings of rejection. Since shen is the mind of the heart, any disturbance will result in disturbances of the mind. Indeed, all mental illness can be viewed as an imbalance in the shen.

A healthy and balanced Heart shen enables the capacity to form and maintain healthy and meaningful relationships. Heart boundaries are clear but also able to adapt appropriately to different relationships. Conversely, emotional problems that stem from relationships such as abandonment and betrayal, weaken the Heart and hurt the shen.

What does shen look like when it is in perfect balance? Such a person is settled, calm and not easily distracted. She sleeps peacefully, undisturbed by dreams. She has an inner light that infuses her with a glow that can be seen in the eyes. She makes eye contact that shows her depth. Her speech is coherent, reflecting a balanced mind. The way she lives her life is congruent with who she is as a person. She gives and receives love with ease. In a way she lives a life of love. She may well be intuitive, her consciousness in open communication with universal consciousness.

A point that strongly influences the shen is Shentang – Spirit Hall. It is the outer shu point of the Heart and lies on the Bladder meridian. Shentang makes direct contact with the heart-mind and has the capacity to restore the shen to the Heart. It brings us back to the centre of who we are in our uniqueness as a drop of the Tao.

When the shen is disturbed and there is anxiety, depression or heartbreak, or when we are resigned, in a state of shock, or without the capacity to act, then Spirit Hall can restore the spirit and encourage participation once more in the richness of life.

Location of Bladder 44

BL 44Shentang is located between the shoulder blades. It is 3 body inches lateral to the midline at the level of the junction of T5 and T6 and at the medial border of the scapula. This point is best held by someone else. To treat yourself, lie on a tennis ball or golf ball pressing into this point. It is best if you can be relaxed so that you can tune into the subtle influences that this point can bring.