As noted last time, in Chinese Five-Element theory this season of late summer is related to the Spleen system. In the last post I talked about some of the physical manifestations of the Spleen system. Here, I’d like to attempt to describe the psycho-emotional aspects of this phase of the Five-Element cycle.
The Chinese word Yi, or intention, represents the spirit of the Spleen system. It is the Yi that supports our ability to develop ideas and have sustained intention, purpose, clarity of thought, altruism, and compassion. The Chinese symbol for Yi is made up of two sections—the top section means “sound” and the bottom section means “heart-mind-knowledge.” Intention is the sound of the mind.
Just as the Spleen system is responsible for extracting nourishment for our physical bodies from what we eat, the Yi, or spirit level of this organ system, is associated with our being able to feel nourished on an emotional level.
The function of digesting food is only the most basic level of the Spleen system’s work, which also includes the ability to process situations with the intellect, and emotionally.
When the Yi (Spleen) spirit is healthy we are able to think clearly, concentrate, study, focus, memorize, reflect, and generate ideas. We can “digest” experiences and impressions and transform them into ideas, values, and actions. The Yi is also what allows us to have sympathy for others … and for ourselves! We are able to recognize our own heart’s purpose, have ideas about how to achieve that purpose, set that intention, and apply ourselves to that end.
When the Yi spirit is “disturbed” or out of balance, there can be obsessive thoughts, worry, brooding, ruminating, and “being up in one’s head” a lot. Thought patterns can go around and around without resulting in movement, commitment, or action but simply cause distress or insomnia or feelings of unease. There can be muddled thinking, internal chatter, and an inability to stay on track with ideas to the point of completion.
With a Yi disharmony, opportunities can feel like a burden of such endless possibilities that it’s hard to transform them into a productive reality or to take action. Such a disharmony can make one seem to be always dithering, never settling on a course of action … or, conversely, stuck, weighted with worry, and too mired to move forward.
Someone with a Yi disharmony can be over-nurturing of others to avoid facing his or her own issues, growth, or responsibilities. Empathy and compassion are healthy manifestations of the Yi spirit, but an out-of-balance state can result in codependency, a coping strategy of attention focused on others, caretaking others at the expense of taking care of one’s self, over-involvement in other people’s stories … or, on the flip side of that, neediness, clinging, self-absorption, too much focus on one’s own issues, and craving sympathy.
The possible causes of a Spleen/Yi disharmony are varied:
- constitutional issues that began in utero or from genetic makeup
- excess worry (which can begin in childhood)
- unhealthy diet
- digestive disorders causing malabsorption
- anemia and vitamin deficiencies
- excess sugar (which weakens the Spleen system over time)
- childhood or later exposure to family dysfunction and/or alcoholism
- long-term stress, strain, and/or exhaustion
- non-ideal eating habits such as eating late at night, eating while on the go, or eating while doing something else
We can all probably recognize at least a few of the above symptoms or causes. It’s impossible to live a completely pure and stress-free existence or to stop worrying when all around us there is the suffering of others, or our own problems to confront. So … what can we do? How can we heal the Yi spirit? How do we hold to our intention?
- Imagine the world as a rich, fertile ground for your ideas and actions, resulting in a bountiful harvest
- stand your ground and feel solid in your intention
- take on less and stay with things you start
- get quiet and listen to your inner voice
- allow yourself to say what you think and express yourself fully and clearly
- stay centered and grounded in the face of others’ problems, needs, opinions, or demands
- when faced with obstacles find ways to solve the problem and move forward, like a river flowing around a rock, rather than continuing in a futile, unproductive manner
- give yourself the same loving advice you’d give a friend who is worrying excessively
In the creative cycle, the Spleen/Earth/Yi phase is the first step in getting something accomplished, whether it’s envisioning painting a beautiful picture, thinking about learning to play an instrument, deciding to take a trip, setting the intention to get in shape, wanting to learn a new language, and so on. The Spleen/Earth/Yi phase is the light bulb going off in our heads—Idea! Intention!
The next phase is the Lung/Metal/Po phase, during which we breathe life, energy and enthusiasm into the idea/intention.
After that is the Kidney/Water/Zhi phase, which brings forth the will to act and achieve and the persistence to see it through, to move the idea forward.
The fourth stage of the cycle is the Liver/Wood/Hun phase, which paces the idea and gets it in the right place at the right time to foster its existence and eventual success.
And the final, fifth stage is the Heart/Fire/Shen phase, which brings expression to the idea, makes the idea a reality, and brings it out into the world.
In future posts I’ll talk about these other phases and about how an imbalance in any of the stages can stumble us up with our goals and ability to fulfill our dreams. But for now, think: “nourishment.” Not only nourishment from all the lovely vegetables and fruits in this harvest season, but nourishment of the Self, the spirit, the soul.