According to prevailing theory, while the five basic emotional states are associated with the five Zang – the Heart, Pericardium and Liver are actually most closely involved in the emotional life of the human being. The Heart as the house of the Shen/Spirit holds a kind of master key for the evolution and expression of emotional states. As the Emperor, the Heart seems to have the power to override the emotional thrust of other organs – possibly acting as the origin of emotional control. The Liver, as the source of hormonal power – especially for women – surely contributes to emotional health and pathology. However, I believe that often overlooked Pericardium offers the most symbolic insight into our emotional life.
In a prior article about Pericardium and the organ clock, I discussed several categories of symbolic information about Pericardium. I will repeat some of those here – expanding on them – and reveal a couple more that helped me to delve more deeply into the protector of our Heart, Pericardium.
1. Time of the year – The Earthly branches, the month on the calendar and several other symbols all relate to a kind of “death energy” that is exemplified by the Metal element in its focus on severing, letting go and moving on. Although the time of harvest is one of great joy, it is also one of recognition of the movement into winter – a time of lower activity.
What does this have to do with emotion? It’s an almost intolerable cliché to say that if you love someone you let them go, but there is deep wisdom in this statement. Even if the “letting go” is not physical – say by breaking up with someone – an internal recognition of the temporality of all human relationship is essential to recognizing their true power. We cannot hold on to those we love. Even if we manage to sustain the relationship over the course of our life, we will at least be separated by death. Because the feelings involved in close relationships are so strong, our desire to hold on to them is great – and this is a great teacher. Letting go of the need to have permanence in a relationship allows you to enjoy it in the moment, every moment. This includes your relationship with yourself.
2. Time of the day - Most times of the year, 7-9pm is either dark or on its way. It is also the time when families gather, and in some parts of the world it is time for the evening meal. For most folks, 7-9pm is a time for winding down, getting into more comfortable clothes, and eventually falling into the weird unconscious state of sleep. There is a two-sided lesson here. This time is for togetherness and unification but also a time for vulnerability and shedding of one’s external persona. Maintaining good emotional health requires both of these aspects. We must learn to come together with others, and also to unify the diverse parts of ourselves, in order to be healthy.
Perhaps a more important lesson here is the importance of vulnerability. Learning how to be vulnerable has been very powerful for me. In terms of my relationships with others, I have learned that if I don’t allow mysel
f to be open to both elation and deep pain I reserve important parts of myself from the other person. This creates unhealthy barriers. However, I find that vulnerability is important to my emotional health outside of my relationships with other people as well. When I allow myself to be open to the wide variety of experiences that this life has to offer – even if I don’t think I would prefer some of those experiences – I grow significantly. For example, I have learned to get past my barriers against doing exercise by realizing that it is a problem I have with being open to change. If I start exercising, I’m not sure what will happen and that makes me uncomfortable. By realizing that being open and vulnerable to the experience of challenging and changing my body creates space for me to grow as a person, I do myself a great service. This makes me a more well-rounded person emotionally and otherwise.
3. Zodiac animal related to Pericardium’s Earthly Branch – The dog is one of the most potent Pericardium symbols. There are many kinds of dogs now, as there were in ancient China. There are dogs for protection, there are dogs for sports like hunting, there are herding dogs, there are dogs that we enjoy simply for their gentle disposition and family-oriented attitude. But all of these dogs share a couple of key characteristics. First, they are fiercely loyal. A dog, even if treated badly, will defend its home and the people living in it. By simply being loyal to those you love and to your own principles and ideals, you will avoid many of the situations that put you in a bad emotional place. Perhaps easier said than done, but meditating a little on the steadfastness of Dog may help.
Another common characteristic of dogs is their ability to live in the moment. I don’t know about your dog, but mine has a very short memory. This is sometimes frustrating, as when he repeatedly sleeps on the couch despite my frequent admonitions, but mostly it is a simple lesson for me. This ability to forget the past has been a great key in my quest for emotional stability and health.
Pericardium’s Organ Clock Relationships:
4. Clock pair (Stomach) – As I mentioned in my article about Pericardium and the organ clock, one of the most interesting relationships to analyze is that of the organ and its partner directly across the clock. One of our teachers, Heiner Fruehauf, said that organs across the clock from one another are able to “take one another’s shifts.” I think this is because of the concept of the energy circulation of the channels. Every organ system is said to have a two hour period (for Pericardium, 7-9pm) where the Qi is strongest within it. If there is this ebb and flow then it stands to reason that there will be a two hour period when the Qi is weakest within each organ system. The most reasonable time for this ebb would be twelve hours later – on the other side of the clock. But this will be a time when the energy of the organ 12 hours later will be strongest.
In the case of the Stomach and Pericardium, we have an unusual match. The Stomach is all about bringing in the material world. Thinking about the Stomach’s zodiac symbol – the Dragon – we can imagine the strength of the East, the all consuming power of that most exalted Chinese symbol. Here I see a lesson in our advocacy for our own needs.
While we don’t want to harm others, we also don’t want to allow harm to come to ourselves. Being capable of knowing when your own boundaries have been crossed and responding with the appropriate emotion is a key of emotional maturity. Also, enjoy the material world while you’re here! While we shouldn’t get caught up in greed, it is important to relax sometimes and to just take it all in. The clock pair relationship teaches us all of this.
5. Six Conformation pair (JueYin Liver) – I haven’t talked much yet about the Six Conformations. I will have to post about it soon. Let it suffice to say for now that the theory of Six Conformations is another way of organizing the organ systems as well as a way to understand pathology. It divides all twelve organ systems into six groups of two, a hand and foot channel for each conformation: Tai Yang, Yang Ming, Shao Yang, Shao Yin, Tai Yin and Jue Yin. Liver is the foot Jue Yin (the channel runs along the leg) and Pericardium is the hand Jue Yin (it runs along the arm and chest). The connection of the two is deep and when studied, reveals much.
Both Pericardium and Liver are involved with Blood. Liver is said to store the blood and while in TCM Pericardium isn’t related to the blood very often, the actions assigned to the Pericardium points have a lot to do with Blood. The Blood is Yin to the Yang of Qi, and because of its associations with hormones and the female principle – Pericardium and Liver both have a deep Yin quality. This realization is accentuated by the fact that from a 6 Conformations perspective, Jue Yin represents a very deep level of the human being – both mind and body.
When I contemplate this, I recognize the deep mystery of the emotions. Recognizing this makes me much more likely to have tolerance for the fluctuations I experience from day to day, as well as the fluctuations of others. Although emotional mastery is an important goal to work towards, we also need to realize that the deep mystery of our emotions is an intensely complex code to decipher. It requires patience, gentleness and a heaping dose of humility.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of Deepest Health. When I'm not writing here, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Community Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.