In the Five Element energetic framework, the Heart is the king of all other organs. The Heart is associated with Nature’s element of Fire. Fire gives life and hope; it also gives light. In TCM, at the physical level, the Heart is associated with all mental activity, consciousness, thoughts, feelings, memories, sleep and more. At the energetic or spiritual level, the Heart offers a house for the Shen or Spirit; this resident provides the body with the capability to connect to the limitless Tao or unconditional love of the Universe. However, this vital connection can only be achieved through the Heart, never through the mind. The Heart also gives humans a direct connection with Nature, which is how the Tao manifests its gifts in our reality. Following the Tao itself is deeply rooted in faith. Understanding who we are as an integrated system of body, mind and spirit is essential for good health.
According to the bible of traditional Chinese medicine, the Huangdi Nei Jing, or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, the Heart is responsible for housing Spirit. Because TCM is a by-product of a spiritual journey by ancient masters, much of the language in this classical text is related to spiritual purpose. These ancient masters lived in a very different cultural context—free from the unique pressures, problems and distractions of life in the twenty-first century. However, it explains the Heart’s role very well. It says simply the king’s responsibility is to follow Natural Law. Its ultimate function is to be happy!
In ancient Chinese tradition, the role of king was a sacred one. The king’s ultimate mission was to take care of his people. He had to set an example by ruling with wisdom, compassion, care and love. While the king was ultimately in charge of the well-being of his kingdom and his subjects, he was also trained to follow the Tao. His responsibility was to show how he is like the Tao itself—able to go with the flow, not worry, enjoy life and literally “do” nothing. His primary action was nonaction. The king was expected to let others manage the day-to-day duties of his kingdom. In the Five Element energetic framework, this same concept applies to the Heart. Its duty is to remain peaceful so the individual can connect to the limitless Tao. A peaceful Heart allows us to go with the flow. The Heart’s responsibility is to sit peacefully above turmoil. Imagine what our world would be like if everyone’s Heart functioned this way!
TCM regards the Heart as a central processor. It serves as the gathering place where consciousness, mind, Qi or all the vital energy, feelings and emotions of the body must pass through. The Heart should not be attached to emotions like worry, and should not invest its time trying to figure things out. It has other organs to do that. The Heart is at its healthiest when it is peaceful and practicing unconditional love.
Western society focuses on eating (or avoiding) certain foods and doing cardio activity to attain heart health. But if we look at the Heart through our multidimensional energetic framework, we cannot do anything physical to prevent its health issues. If this were so, marathon runners wouldn’t have heart disease; seasoned athletes wouldn’t drop dead from heart attacks. The Heart is such an incredible organ that addressing it solely from the physical perspective does not do it justice. If running can impact the multidimensional functions of the Heart, then all Eastern practices would have abandoned their meditations and taken up running!
The Heart allows us to communicate with Universal Qi and its messages of unconditional acceptance and love. Our very existence allows the Universe to appreciate its immense creativity and continually expand its love—for itself and its creations. Many people find it difficult to accept this concept: the Heart is beyond the mind. While it lives in this physical reality, this aspect of our being is connected to and part of oneness. While we can think about God, the Universe, or another higher energetic force, the Heart is connected to the mystery of life. Real enlightenment never comes from the mind. You can only talk with God from your Heart. Eastern spiritual practices—Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu—have time-honored ways to open the Heart through special energy exercises like Zen, Qigong, meditation, yoga and the like. These practices are not focused on connecting to the physical heart, but to its limitless spirit. Western religions practice this way as well. Christian religions use prayer to connect with God. Through the act of praying, individuals have the chance to drop their mind. Real prayer has to come from the Heart.
Excerpted from Digesting the Universe, by Nan Lu, OMD, with Ellen Schaplowsky. Tao of Healing Publishing, New York, NY, 2015.