There seems to be a natural curiosity about the organ network system in Chinese Medicine. Perhaps it’s because it’s a little bit different than the paradigm most of us grew up with, where the Heart pumps and circulates blood and that’s about it. It could be because the larger functionality of the organ network system begins to connect aspects of health that seemed separate: waking at 2am each night, pounding headaches and red, itchy eyes seem completely unrelated until your acupuncturist begins working with the Liver and all of these health complaints clear up. Sure, people understand the Spleen makes the blood, but when they learn it is involved with their worried mind and fibromyalgia, a little light goes off in their eyes and their curiosity is peaked. I’ve personally seen this trend over the past twelve years when I’ve talked with people and taught workshops about the Five Elements and how they interplay in nature, in our bodies, and in our lives.
Each of the five elements have an associated organ pair and an entire web of functionality beyond just physiologic mechanisms. There are also mental and emotional aspects of each elemental organ network pair, as well as an opportunity to cultivate virtue within ourselves as we tend to the system as a whole.
This post is dedicated to the curious ones. The ones who always ask questions, who seek to understand, who want to go a little deeper. Beyond the emotional aspect of the organs, we find what the Taoists called the courageous spirit of the organ itself. As humans, with self-reflective minds and free will, we have the opportunity to cultivate virtues within ourselves that bring greater health and vitality to the whole body. The five yin organs are the ones which are are affiliated with the five virtues. What follows is a succinct look into the emotional and virtuous qualities of the five yin organs according to Chinese Medicine.
Liver, Wood, Spring, Green
The wood element is associated with the organ of the Liver. The emotion of the Liver is frustration, aggression, irritation or anger. Experiencing any of these emotions can be seen as the Liver energy not moving smoothly and evenly throughout the entire body. The virtue associated with the Liver is Ren, or benevolence. The type of kindness that is genuine, soft and gentle. The sort of kindness that brings a smile to the grouchiest of faces. The kind of gesture that leaves an expansive feeling of joy in the chest. In its simplest form, we can practice kindness during the season of Spring. As we cultivate benevolence in our heart-mind, we keep the vital energy of the Liver fresh and dynamic throughout the year.
There are a few recent posts about this star of the season if you’d like to read more about its broader scope in relation to health.
Heart, Fire, Summer, Red
The Heart is associated with the emotion of joy and its potential transgression into mania. The virtue associated with the Heart is Li and can be thought of as proper-ness. Other direct translations include words such as; polite, respectful, honorable. The reminder that there is something greater than self is found in this virtue. We can practice living in state of deep, genuine gratitude as a way to cultivate Li in our Hearts.
Spleen, Earth, Late Summer, Yellow
The Spleen is associated with the emotion of worry, over thinking or ruminating. The virtue is Xin and is commonly translated as faith, trust, belief or integrity. If we define faith as trusting our own deepest experience and our most unshakable beliefs, we naturally begin to feel trust settle in our bones. That faith and trust begin to percolate into our interactions with others as we stand tall within the integrity of who we are. It is trusting that there is a natural rate and rhythm for all cycles to turn. It is honoring the seasons of change in our lives, knowing deeply that all that is needed will be provided.
Lung, Metal, Autumn, White
The Lung is associated with the emotion of grief and its virtue is called Yi. The translation of Yi is fairness and tells the story of brotherhood and sisterhood. There is an aspect of surrendering personal desire for the benefit of others. There is an aspect here that pertains to instincts. What do your instincts tell you about what is right? Listening to hunches and to your gut response to situations, while thinking of others first is a way to cultivate Yi in our Lungs.
Kidneys, Water, Winter, Black
The emotion of the Kidneys is fear and the virtue of the Kidneys is Zhi. Zhi is commonly translated as knowledge, wisdom, humble. There is an old adage: how did the ocean get to be king of all the water? It lay lower than all the rest. There is great wisdom to be found in humility.
The Five Virtues Together
Together these five virtuous qualities are seen as every human’s birthright (a part of the very tissue of your body itself). When a person is true to themselves, they will be natural and spontaneous. These virtues are all about remembering and not attaining. Our lives should always be about cultivating: the breaking down of patterns we acquire (as opposed to our true nature) & the remaking of the world/self on a continual basis. It is said these five virtues live within our skin and have the ability to transform disease. The latter I cannot speak to, but the idea of people remembering the virtuous nature of their organs delights me to no end.
Julie Baron is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. Julie seeks to empower individuals and communities. As a movement and mindfulness educator, she has a penchant for functional anatomy. As an EAMP, she has also has a passion for herbal medicine.