May is here, and this time of year welcomes the very beginnings of summer in Chinese medicine as well as various other traditions. The weather here is certainly feeling very summery lately too (at least at the time of this writing)! This time of year is dedicated to festivals of joy, fertility, love, and spiritual dedication in many cultures.
Chinese Medicine associates the Heart organ with the season of Summer. Walking in the bright sunshine and light breezes this morning, smelling abundant roses and other flowers, I could feel my own heart opening and lifting. Joy is the emotion belonging to the Heart in Chinese Medicine, and Laughter is the related sound. The element is Fire, and the color (of course) is Red. Blood and Sweat are also related to the Heart. The Heart is said to open into the Face.
The Heart governs blood and is thought of as the monarch organ in the body. The Pericardium “organ” (thought off as a wall around the heart) is the protector of the heart and corresponds with emotion, digestion, and other related qualities. The Small Intestine is the partner of the Heart, and the Triple Burner is the partner of the Pericardium. The Triple Burner is a concept of three different centers of heat and water metabolism in the body. All of these meridian/organ systems correlate to Fire.
The name for the aspect of our spirit connected with Heart is Shen. Shen is related to mind and spirit both, and also describes the vibrant radiance inherent in all beings. For example, when a face is shining and filled with vitality, we might say that face has good shen. Or, when someone is very troubled mentally, we might say their shen is disturbed. Shen is also that facet of our spirit representing what some describe as our "higher self", that part of us most connected with the Divine, the infinite expanse of cosmos, with Spirit itself. I'll speak more about this in a future blog.
The animal connected with Heart is the Red Bird, also called the Vermillion Phoenix. I like this idea of the Heart spirit being related to a phoenix, and all that implies-- opening to fire, being consumed, rising from the ashes. (Although, truth, be told, in Chinese Medicine we are generally trying to keep things in balance so that we are not consumed by our own fire!)
Also belonging to Heart are Inspiration, Insight, Awareness, Compassion. Our intuition corresponds with this realm, that sense of knowing something in our heart. When the Heart organ is out of balance, we may experience anxiety, insomnia, dream disturbed sleep, palpitations, heat, mouth sores, bitter taste, lack of mental clarity, mania, or a sense of being out of touch with our own true feelings and life experience.
To nourish the heart, we nourish the spirit, finding times and tastes of peace, tranquility, joy, meditation, heartfelt laughter, prayer, communion with our deepest self and the cosmos.
The taste associated with the heart is bitter, a taste to clear heat. Bitter foods in this category can include whole wheat, brown rice, and oats, as well as dandelion, jujube seeds, and other bitter tastes. However, when it comes to the heart and summer time, we are also often nourishing spirit by calming, promoting rooted joy, and by restoring blood and sweat to the heart.
Foods in summer should be cooked lightly, but with a high heat. The idea in summer is to have our heat be on the surface, so we can relate better with heat in our environment (not that our summers here are so hot, but, that’s the idea, so keep it in mind on a hot day). In the heat, one might eat spicy foods that release exterior, such as ginger, black pepper, etc., and take hot showers. However, we don’t want to disperse too much, or we become depleted. All about balance. Cooling foods can be nice in the heat too, but again, we don’t want a lot of cold/cooling foods or our digestion becomes troubled, leading to disharmony and imbalance in the body. As always, but especially with the heart, we seek balance, sustaining the yin (cooling, moistening, nurturing, nourishing, calming) while celebrating the yang (spark, inspiration, joy, laughter).
Summer foods also include all the juicy fruits and vegetables that begin to be in season, and calming herbs such as chamomile, lavender, catnip, lemon balm, and basil. Mushrooms, dill, cucumber, and raw milk (warmed) can be helpful depending on one’s constitution. Sour tastes for astringing are also helpful, such as lemon, mulberry, schizandra berry (wu wei zi), and hawthorn berry. Roses, so beautiful in bloom right now, pertain to the liver, and also to the heart-- they are seen by many traditions to represent unconditional love, and the divine feminine.
As summer approaches, in its flirtatious Bay side way, lets attend to our true hearts, our inner joy, and our deepest awareness of our connection with the great mystery of spirit.
With heartfelt blessings and gratitude to you all, Shoshana