Classical Chinese Medicine ascribes individual physical, spiritual, and mental attributes to each organ, which extend from a person's central spirit known as "The Shen." The "Shen" encompasses five distinct spirits: Hun, Po, Zhi, Yi, and the Shen of the Heart, each residing within one of the five Yin organs. These spirits assume distinct roles and traits that become evident when they are either in a state of harmony or disturbance. When the five spirits are in equilibrium, they resonate harmoniously. If our bodies are in spiritual disharmony, the effects can manifest both physically and emotionally.
Shen - The Spirit of the Heart
Shen is our Spirit, or our highest consciousness; the wisdom that we want to share with the world. Shen is most commonly translated as Spirit, but may also be translated as our highest consciousness, or source consciousness. It is generally the end goal of a Taoist to build their Shen. Shen is expressed as our most virtuous nature. When we further embody acceptance, non-attachment, forgiveness, love, compassion, kindness, generosity and tolerance, we consider this to be an expression of Shen. It manifests itself as our wisdom and our ability to see all sides of an issue without the influence of right or wrong interpretations.
When you imagine the Spirit living in the Heart, you must ensure that your Heart is a welcoming home and an inviting space. If you wish for your Shen to continue to grow throughout your life, the greater you know yourself, the more you can evolve this home within your Heart and the more authenticity can shine through.
When Shen is expressed harmoniously we experience clear thinking, self-awareness, a strong sense of self, balanced emotions, clear speech, connection, compassion, empathy and joy. When Shen is disturbed and the Heart is affected, one may experience mental disturbances and emotional imbalances, low self-confidence, disconnection from self and others, poor self-awareness, disturbed sleep and little capacity for compassion and empathy. This can be when we are living without passion or when we are ignoring our inner wisdom/intuition.
The Zhi - The Will
Whilst the emotion of the Kidneys is fear, the virtue of their Spirit-mind is wisdom. The spirit of the Water Element is Zhi, also known as one’s willpower, ambition, purpose, and destiny. The YinYang duality within the Kidneys is mirrored in the YinYang aspect of the Zhi. The first level of the Will, or Zhi is the Yang Will and reflects the intentions of a person, coupled with their force and self-determination. Its effects are experienced on a more superficial and immediate level, as this conscious effort is the force that propels the manifestation of one’s desires to come to fruition.
The deeper Will is the Yin Will, it is related to our destiny or fate, our relationship with and our journey into the unknown of the future. The Yin Will moves through a person and it is only when one takes a moment to reflect on the past, that they are able to perceive the current that ran deeper than their known volition, it involves trust and faith. An imbalance of Zhi may manifest as a feeling of restlessness or a desire to run away from life. When the Kidney Qi is weakened, there may be a lack of willpower and drive, however, at the other end of the spectrum, the Zhi can also become destructive, resulting in recklessness and excessive risk-taking. When our Zhi is in harmony, it is the guiding force that moves a person forward with ease, embracing the unknown whilst also realising that you are very much a co-creator of your own destiny.
Hun - The Ethereal Soul
The Ethereal Soul; the Hun shares similarities with the Western concept of the soul. Entering the body 3 days after birth, it has a will of its own, inhabiting the formless realm of imagination and dreams, it brings animation to our mental processing. It is said to be a ‘free-flowing shapeshifter, existing amongst the clouds of heaven’. Upon death, it leaves the body, and in its wandering spirit, travels back to the heavenly realms.
The Hun weaves its magic into our sleep and dreams, cultivating a deep state of rest with dreams that benefit the soul. Bringing balance to our emotional landscape, the Hun ensures that the emotions are neither repressed nor over-expressed. It is also responsible for our decision-making and planning, directing us towards our own vision and purpose in life.
The Hun is happiest when the Liver is healthy, and the Blood and Liver Qi are abundant and able to flow smoothly. This contentment cultivates a healthy flow of creativity and imagination, a connection to one’s intuition and ability to envision their goals and life purpose, that sense of direction we all crave. When the Hun is balanced, we can be adaptive and flexible to life’s challenges, feeling motivated and courageous enough to actualise our dreams.
If the Liver is in a weakened state, as in the case of Liver Qi stagnation, or a Blood/Yin deficiency, the Hun is not able to flow freely. One may lack motivation, direction and purpose in life, losing touch with their imagination and creativity, and they may begin to feel disconnected from their dreams and vision for life. This feeling can cause a person to feel stuck and unable to move forward or regulate their emotions.
In the case of an overburdened Liver, the Hun can become flighty and cause havoc in the mind, causing one to feel emotionally overwhelmed, frustrated and ungrounded. This individual may be full of creative ideas but unable to execute them.
The Po - The Corporeal Soul
The Po (also known as the Corporeal Soul) is related to the Metal element and resides within the Lungs. It is perceived as part of the soul that is connected to the physical body. Together the Hun and the Po are the two aspects of the soul, intertwined like Yin and Yang. Responsible for physical movement, coordination and balance, when you think of Po, imagine your instinctive actions and impulses. When Po is in balance, hearing, sight, smell and touch are all acute, and the autonomic functions of the body can work in harmony. In a harmonious state, Po supports our connection to the present moment through the breath. Someone with strong Po may breathe with ease, speaking with a clear strong voice.
If there is a deficiency of Po, one might experience a disconnect with the present moment and feel as though they are stuck in the past. There may be unresolved grief, a weak voice and the presence of respiratory issues. Remember, the Lungs are associated with grief and sadness. From a Taoist perspective, there is a close connection between our emotions and our breath. Think about how our breathing changes depending on the different emotions we may be experiencing. Whether our breath becomes shallow, rough, or short when feeling angry, worried or frustrated, or when we are surprised or scared we may gasp. The emotions express themselves through the breath.
The Yi - The Consciousness of Potentials
Yi (also known as the Consciousness of Potentials) is the spirit of the Spleen, corresponding with the Earth element, this organ system is responsible for the transformation and transportation of food and fluids, playing a key role in digestion and nutrient absorption. "Yi" can be translated as intent or thought and involves our intellect, comprehension, intention and creativity. Any weakness within the Spleen can result in poor digestion of food, whilst a deficiency of Yi can lead to poor digestion of one’s thoughts.
Yi is also responsible for the virtues of faithfulness, loyalty or sincerity and supports new manifestations to come into being. Its insightful nature deems it extremely aware of the needs of other people and situations, understanding what can and needs to be done. When Yi is imbalanced, a person may lack clear intention, experience worry, confusion, exaggerated sympathy, self-destructive generosity and “stifling” loyalty.
A robust Yi empowers us to crystallise our thoughts and concepts with clarity, enabling them to materialise in our reality. When the Spleen's vitality wanes, it hampers our ability to achieve our aspirations, resulting in a sense of incompleteness. We struggle to complete tasks, often leaving projects in an unfinished state.
To dive a little deeper, check out our podcast episode 'The Wu Shen and Alchemy Vs Ascension with Stephanie Nosco'.