I mentioned in my earlier post “An Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine” that I have created a Reiki healing system based on working with the “Five Elements” of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In a series of articles I have been talking about different aspects of the Five Elements and how they impinge on people’s lives: how imbalances in the five elements can show themselves as physical conditions and particular emotions and states of mind.
I have written about how the elements support and control each other through the nourishment and control cycles, I’ve spoken about the meridians and body organs that relate to each element, and in my recent articles I have been talking in a lot more detail about the emotions of the elements.
Now in some blog posts I am talking about particular states of mind that derive from each element and which relate to a particular body organ. Today we talk about…
The Mental states of Water
Water represents Winter: life has withdrawn into the ground, the power of life lies dormant in the seeds; we are in the period between death and rebirth. The characteristic of Water is sinking below, moving downwards, reaching the lowest level. Its energy is a vertical flow to the centre of the earth; Fire draws up to the heavens and Water pulls us down to the depths, and on a spiritual level Water leads the soul and life back to its origins, to a deep consciousness, to the central core. “The river picks up the stream and leads it back to the sea”.
In the body, Water manifests itself as the Kidneys and the Bladder, which – like all the ‘organs’ – are present at all levels of our body-mind-spirit.
The Kidneys are the storehouse of our vital essence, or basic constitution, something that we receive from our parents and our distant ancestors: our Ancestral Energy, an energetic ‘genetic code’ if you like. Imagine the seed that represents the potential for development, compressed into a tiny space. The Kidneys are the guardians of this essence. On a practical level, symptoms such as lethargy, a lack of acuity or perception, wishy-washy behaviour, and aching in the lower part of the abdomen, all point towards a lack of vital essence.
In Western medicine the Kidneys are responsible for dealing with water, which constitutes 65% of our body weight, and in Oriental medicine the Kidneys can be seen as the controller of the water supply in agricultural communities, a highly honoured position. The Kidneys continually purify the organism through the filtration of water. They do not provide nourishment (Stomach and Pancreas), they do not supply us with life energy (Lungs), but there is no bodily function that cannot be carried out without water. Water picks up waste products, prevents stagnation, it makes movement, freshness and the ‘fluidity’ of the body possible. The kidneys regulate the amount of water we have in our bodies and so a Kidney imbalance can show up in a variety of different ways, for example in swelling and bloating, difficulty in urinating, and inability to digest food.
Inner secretions require water, and digestion requires water when food is taken in and converted into a ‘pulp’ (this is where the phrase “Kidneys, Passage to the Stomach” comes from). The Kidney is also referred to as the ‘gateway to the stomach’ because the vital essence is seen as contributing to the rotting and ripening function of the Stomach, the bringing to fruition and the assimilation. Thus the Kidneys support the stomach in its job. Water moistens the body’s orifices: the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, anus and sexual organs. It is necessary for temperature regulation – through perspiration – and for the maintenance of joint and muscle fluids.
The Kidneys are responsible for regulating the body’s salts and minerals, and this hints at Water’s connection with bones. Our nervous system can only function properly when the body’s fluids have the right composition of salts and minerals, and the proper functioning of our muscles depends on this too. The brain and the spinal cord are in fact assigned to Water, and in ancient texts the brain is called the ‘Sea of Marrow’. In Chinese medicine the Kidneys are considered as important as the Heart because they maintain the internal environment; the Kidneys are the basis of life.
TCM sees two distinct aspects of the Kidney: the yin-Kidney and the yang-Kidney, with the former corresponding the functions that we would be familiar with in Western medicine. The yang-Kidney corresponds to the endocrine system: the adrenal glands, the sex glands, the islets of Langerhans in the Pancreas, the thyroid, the thymus and the pituitary. Of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands, the androgens exert a direct effect on libido, and adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone regulate blood pressure and the balance of fluids in our body. Interestingly, the adrenal glands produce hormones that mediate our fight-or-flight response: our biochemical response of fear, the emotion of Water.
The Bladder is not just seen as an organ of storage and elimination, but works with the Kidney in storing the vital essence. The Bladder is flexible and adaptable in its ability to store a little or a great amount without discomfort, and this flexibility and adaptability appears on all levels. So someone who tends towards depression, or feels unable to cope with life situations, or someone who fears change, may have a Bladder imbalance.
Water holds the deepest secrets of life. When we accept the power of Water we become quiet inside and the surface of the lake becomes smooth. In this inner quiet, the world of dreams and the unconscious begins to open up. Water is the element of the deepening of self and meditation. If one is at home in the depths then one can meet the storms on the surface calmly. With Water – more than any other element – we come across that which has no name: the Tao.
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Picture credit: Bert Kaufmann