Tagged: Mindfulness

Cultivating Spirit – The Shen or Heart-Mind in Chinese Medicine

Shen or Heart-Mind - cultivating spirit


“Life is transformation. There is no life that is not an unceasing transformation.”

– Élisabeth Rochat de la Vallée


It’s the final month of our Winter here in the Southern Hemisphere. As we approach Spring we get closer to emerging from our Yin state and the building of Yang will initiate.

Yang is light, activity, movement, initiation, action, the doing. On a metaphysical, spiritual and cosmological level the most Yang manifestation of a human, the purest Yang aspect of our consciousness, is the Spirit or ‘Shen’.

Shen is translated as something which is divine, marvellous, extraordinary or mysterious. In recent times we call it the Heart-Mind.


Separation, Suffering and the Shen: The Heart-Mind Journey


Shen or Heart-Mind is also translated as The Self, I, our presence. The Oneness of all that I am. It’s deep and primordial and connected to all that is, but is also just right there if you listen.

Shen or Heart-Mind is represented by the Chinese characters for the physical heart, plus something that descends from above and hits earth like lightening. From that, everything unfurls, is made manifest and expressed.

The inception of our Heart-Mind begins in childhood when awareness of ourselves as a separate being dawns. This is the original split from our ‘just being’ in the interconnected web of all life.

It is also the beginning of suffering.


The Taoists see our Shen or Heart-Mind journey as a path of self-awareness.


Our mission is to return to that state of inter-connectivity with all life through the integration of our understanding of who we are – our unique conscious awareness and expression.


Cultivating Spirit, Shen or Heart-Mind


So how do we embark on this journey into ourselves? You might be thinking, Do I need to become a Taoist to discover my oneness with all that is and ever was?



Cultivating Shen is not as esoteric as it sounds. Really it’s just two steps:

  1. Shen realisation: you realise you have Shen and that is your original awareness/identity.
  2. Once this realisation occurs, you actively cultivate Spirit.


Cultivating Spirit means that you consciously work toward nurturing your relationship to your Spirit/ Heart-Mind.


Rather than identifying with distracting and often undermining ideas of Self (ego, masks, personas, thoughts, emotions or conditioning), you let your presence, in which is rooted in and infused with your Shen, nourish you and the world around you.


Traditional Ways of Cultivating Spirit, Shen or Heart-Mind

Shen or Heart-Mind ritual

Traditional ways of cultivating Shen include:

  • Meditation
  • Breath work
  • Qi Gong
  • Tai Qi
  • Internal and external martial arts
  • Artistic pursuits (the art of tea, painting, dance, writing, Taoist sexual practice).


Shen or Heart-Mind and Acupuncture


On the acupuncture table, I ask you to listen and become receptive to your Heart-Mind because it knows what you need. It knows in the most perfect way for you, way more tailored to you than I could ever craft in my advice – if you’re prepared to accept its truth.

Acupuncture allows you to get out of your head – so influenced by your external world – drop the stories and the habitual patterns of reaction and assumption, and get into the sense of Breath, Body and Heart. This creates an order and harmony, a resonance.

These are the conditions in which nature thrives – your nature and the Big Nature, the ‘One’ (the interconnected web of unceasing transformations which organises the systems of life).

To become a spiritual person according to classical Chinese wisdom is to become fully who you are as a human. To accept your unique expression, drop what you’re not and be who you are. That’s it.


How Acupuncture Heals the Shen or Heart-Mind


When you are settled on the acupuncture table, you start breathing into your lower belly and come into the experience of how your body feels in that moment.

You breathe out and let go – of your day, the busy-ness, your stuff.


You now have the opportunity to drop not only the roles and responsibilities of the outside world, but also your ego.


You can relax the sense of your identity, the masks and personas you wear out there in the world. The acupuncture table is not a place where have to keep your ‘shit’ together.

I offer this safe space so that you can relax your efforts, soften, open and allow yourself to drop into a connected restful state whereby:

  • Qi can flow (very important for the efficacy of your acupuncture) and
  • You can come into resonance with your Spirit.


The Alchemical Process of Liberation

Shen or Heart-Mind is present in nature
Fully becoming who you are and realising your Spirit is referred to by Taoists as alchemy.

I like to call it the alchemical process of liberation.


We achieve this liberation through the avatar of the Heart-Mind, which comes to reside in the empty void in the centre of your chest and gets housed in your Blood.


Enveloped, protected and cocooned by the Pericardium (wrapping of the heart), this space is infinite potential, interconnection and unconditional love.

It is a very difficult place to keep open. But you can – with intention, practice, determination and by habitually letting go.

From that space your Shen can create order, clarify direction, provide inspiration.

The great ideas that spontaneously erupt, the a-ha moments. They come from that place.

This is why acupuncture can be so transformative. We access your Heart-Mind Spirit where it resides in your body.

The ancient Chinese relate it to the north star, Polaris – the still point around which the entire galaxy pivots. Just as in the Northern hemisphere they look to Polaris to discover true north, so we can look to the Yang light, space and impulse of the Heart-Mind to discover our direction in life.


I invite you to explore the feeling of deeply letting go in the safe space of the acupuncture table. Head here to book an appointment at Cloud Gate.


The Wisdom of Water – How to Cope with Winter

How to cope with winter - the wisdom of water

Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.

– Lao Tzu


In July in the Southern Hemisphere we are in the depths of winter – that deep dark Yin place of stillness, hibernation and rest. The mysterious and all-pervasive impetus for growth has stilled. The soil temperatures are cool and flower buds that have birthed from their seeds are still just kernels of potential, waiting.

Winter can be hard for some peeps. It can get you down, especially if life has also thrown in some tough times or big changes. In winter it’s easier to descend into the deeper layers of consciousness (the sub and unconscious) to places where the script is written. There can be great fear and resistance from most to go there and experience it.

From a Chinese Medicine treatment perspective, winter is a very important season for rejuvenation and renewal. Daoist and Buddhist traditions (as well as many styles of psychology) would posit that it is from sitting with yourself, with a non-judgemental attitude and willingness to just see what’s there and be with it, that enables transformation and disintegrates old constructs. What is liberated provides the alchemical building blocks for the new.

If you’re the kind of person who struggles in the cold, each year you may wonder how to cope with winter in a way that is less defeating, more empowering.

Since water is the element of the winter season, I like to look to the wisdom of water for answers.


What Can Water Teach Us About How To Cope With Winter?


Often when we are feeling low or defeated, we put pressure on ourselves to ‘pull ourselves up by the bootstraps’ and DO something about how we are feeling. The lesson that water’s wisdom wants you to learn is …. (drum roll):


(Huh? Say what? No way. That’s silly. I.Feel.Like.Shit.  Something’s got to change!)


Water teaches: hold fast in the darkness, get comfortable with the not knowing and stay present to the tension. (You’ll need a touch of faith.) This is the time we use our will to not do, even if every part of us is screaming to take action, to fix the problem, to make everything ok.

At this stage we follow the left-hand path, the path of Yin. We trust, we wait and surrender to the unknown.

When one stays in the darkness long enough, one begins to see.’ -C.G. Jung, Alchemical Studies 

Think about how water behaves in the face of resistance. When it encounters stones, fallen logs, steep cliffs in its path, it does not attempt to change the obstacle. It yields. It softens. It makes room for the hindrance and continues on its way.

A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive.

“I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me,” he said. “Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”

Now, I hope you think this is not some ‘new age’ woo woo, even if talking about the wisdom of the elements is new or weird at first.

But I’m not making this shiz up. The wisdom of the elements is based on a founding concept of Taoism.


The Principle of WU WEI

How to cope with winter - A Chinese medicine perspective

In the Tao de Ching, Lao Tzu explains that beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony with the Tao behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way.

The planets effortlessly revolve around the sun without any sort of control, force or attempt to revolve themselves. Instead, they engage in easy, spontaneous movement, as does all nature (generally speaking).

So the goal of spiritual practice for the human being is, according to Lao Tzu, attaining this purely natural way of behaving.


How to Cope with Winter Using Effortless Action


There is another, less commonly referenced interpretation of Wu Wei:

Action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort.

In this instance, Wu means “without” and Wei means “effort”. The concept of “effortless action” is a part of the Taoist internal martial arts such as Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua and Xing Yi.

This effortless action is so counter-intuitive in a modern lifestyle. It’s like the opposite of “efforting”. We are trained to believe that dealing with emotional challenges, physical challenges, sadness and suffering involves considerable effort to bring about change.

But the wisdom of water and Wu Wei are here to bring the opposite lesson: Stop trying to force things through, with the power of your will. Perhaps there is a greater will at play that you can align yours with. Be receptive, be yourself.

Just let go and wait for the growth to begin.

To start, think about an aspect of your life that you can release the vice-like grip of control over.

Consider the notion that whatever it is, it has arrived to make you thrive by adapting to your environment. Just as trees grow stronger due to adverse weather conditions, so do we.  Life is a process of unceasing transformations. What doesn’t transform, what can’t adapt, dies.  Inside the challenge is precious growth. Can you hold space for this idea?

Change will come. This is certain. The wheel is turning, a new cycle of seasons will inevitably begin, new growth will come. The cycle of life is always turning. This holds true no matter what.

This winter, feel the wisdom of water and Wu Wei so that you can enter spring renewed and rejuvenated. After all, that is precisely what winter is for.

How do you cope with winter? Let us know in the comments below.

The Power of Yin

The power of Yin - stargazing

What is Yin?

Yin is a term that comes from the classical Chinese concept of opposite yet complementary forces, Yin and Yang. Yin is described as the “shadow side of the mountain” in relation to the sunny side, which is Yang. Yin is dark, cool and quiet, and so we often neglect the importance of Yin in favour of the hot, bright and loud Yang elements in life.

It’s an elegantly simple concept, yet Yin Yang can describe mind-bending complexities of the mechanisms of the universe. Its essence is encapsulated in the Yin Yang symbol. No matter how you try to dissect this circle, every slice will contain both Yin and Yang.



Image courtesy of tcmworld.com


You can use this symbol to understand the relationship of Yin to Yang and vice versa.

It’s impossible to separate Yin from Yang. They don’t exist without each other because they:

  • define each other
  • transform into each other
  • create balance and harmony together
  • are completely interdependent.

Neither is superior or inferior. They are both respected for their unique and necessary qualities as indeed, without one, the other would not exist.


Characteristics of Yin

Yin can be described as the quality of slowing towards stillness. It’s the withdrawing, the receptive. It’s what nourishes, what holds, what contracts, what is degenerating. It’s an entropic force.

In the body, Yin is the substances and states that nourish, and the matter that catalysts act upon to transform.

Yet, so often today, in relationship to the ebb and flow of our lives, we don’t value our Yin. We don’t protect it, nourish it, cultivate it. The body obeys natural law, but we live in an environment that doesn’t.

In our ceaseless activity we overwork, we over-schedule, we consume too many stimulants, we leave ourselves time-poor for the tasks we need to complete. We are glued to technology, rapidly processing volumes of information without a break. We rarely experience silence and we don’t rest when we are sick. We have the most unrealistic expectations of our bodies.

Yin states are restful states:

  • Relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Rest
  • Napping
  • Daydreaming
  • Sleep
  • Meditative art and music
  • Slow sex
  • Receptivity
  • Quietude
  • The realms of sensation
  • Space.
Power of Yin


In our rushed and overloaded culture, embracing these Yin qualities often feels indulgent and triggers guilt.

We can feel like we are weak, lazy, unproductive or vulnerable. We feel guilt or shame about having bodily needs. Through all this we have misunderstood the power of Yin. We have all sorts of judgements about dropping into deep restful Yin states, what are yours?

The good news is:

  • Great sleep produces optimal performance.
  • Slowing down enables better concentration.
  • Allowing space to digest information allows processing and integration of information. Boosts brain power.
  • The body can go into growth, repair, re-balancing and healing during rest periods.
  • Slowing down allows you to access your non-work Self.

Without periodic and ample restoration, you consume all your resources without replenishment. If you push yourself beyond your capacity, you start to consume your reserves. Do this for long enough and you’re on the burnout train, baby. Your actions start to lose presence, efficacy, efficiency, focus and power. You start to lose the ability to relax.

You’re entering into empty Yin territory.

Empty Yin

What the hell is empty Yin?

Empty Yin happens when you’ve let your stress run your life. Being in flight or flight mode has become your norm and you no longer listen to your body’s messages to slow down, take space, rest, relax and recuperate. Empty Yin feels like pressure, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, inability to relax, reactivity. Empty Yin can feel inflamed and dry, you may have tapped your adrenals, stressed your digestion, put pressure on your liver and overwhelmed your mind.

Fun times.

Empty Yin leads to empty Yang.

The good news is that to reverse this scenario – to build your Yin back and heal your body – relaxation, rest and recuperation are THE ONLY technologies that will get you there. You must give your body the environment it needs to heal, and that is in the rest and digest (aka autonomic nervous system) state.

At first it can be hard to finally feel what your body has been trying to tell you for months. You can crash. That’s ok. Understand that it is through the crash that you will build power. You’re cultivating the essence from which the next thing will spring.

When you get the hang of Yin restoration, it can feel lovely. A beautiful return. There is an art to relaxation – which is different from rest and different from sleep.


The Power of Yin

The internal martial arts, the Yin arts (training the mind, cultivating spirit), have always understood that to cultivate power you need to periodically turn inward.

With this space and quietude we can develop the relationship to our inner world. We can process and let go of how life has affected us. We can get clear on our deep motivations, we can reconnect with that consistent witness Self that is less swayed by the comings and goings of life. We can realign to our centre and we can house our mind back into our body, cleansing the doors of perception so as we can be refreshed when we re-engage with life outside ourselves.

Without this space, without this downtime, without letting go, without these rhythms, it’s an endless pushing of your own willpower. And with that approach, how are you meeting life?


Have you reached destination burn-out town? It may be adrenal fatigue.

Acupuncture can help you restore your health and recover your Yin – book an appointment with Becky today.

Experiencing Difficult Emotions (And How To Mine Them For Their Wisdom)

We all have trouble dealing with our emotions sometimes. Feelings that come up can have all sorts of stories attached to them. Stories we don’t like, feelings we don’t want to experience.

We hide what we feel, ignore it, feel shame and guilt about it, lie about it or blame other people for causing difficult emotions in us.

We also crave certain emotions that are considered positive: we want to grasp on to them, get addicted and attached to things, people and places which generate that emotional feeling.

This attachment to certain emotions can motivate our behaviour and make us feel out of control.

When it comes to emotions, perhaps we never really grew up.


Difficult Emotions and Chinese Medicine

Our feelings and thoughts have a somatic expression (a response in the body).

The Chinese mapped these body responses and attributed them channels. They also discovered which organs get affected by different emotions. Within a Chinese medicine framework, feelings are considered natural and necessary with their own unique wisdom, insight and character.

Emotions begin to be considered pathogenic (a cause of disharmony or illness) when the mind judges, controls, distorts, represses or suppresses these raw feelings. When the mind becomes involved in a controlling manner, it can stagnate the energetic momentum that contains the feeling.

This is why, when you start to move that blocked energetic momentum and relinquish mind control in practices such as acupuncture, massage, breath work or yoga, spontaneous emotional release can occur.

Our mind is heavily influenced by our conditioning – by our family, sub-culture and societal values. By our past experiences, by our associations.

We create defence mechanisms to get through, to avoid pain and to keep ourselves together psychologically. I call these mechanisms the gatekeepers or the bodyguards.  They are so important and they do great work… until they don’t.

We outgrow them, but we don’t update their job description and they start to cage us in and block healthy intimacy in relationships. That’s where the stagnation can really start to affect your health and happiness.


Emotional Stagnation

Emotional stagnation can lead to physical and mental ill health. It can keep you trapped and stunt your growth, maturity and intelligence.

The basis of emotional stagnation usually has to do with fear and control – fear of experiencing something that will overwhelm you and make you lose control.

The way to deal with that fear is to wake up to the very nature of emotion. 

That is, emotions are changeable. Often within milliseconds. The latin root of the word emotion means “to move”. Left to their own devices without interference by mind, emotions rapidly change.

It is the control, repression, suppression and stories we attach to emotions that causes them to stagnate or to identify with the story so much that the denial of our emotions becomes part of our personality.


How to Lose the Fear of Difficult Emotions

So how do we wake up and lose the fear?

1) Understand the nature of Mind

2) Understand the nature of feelings

The penny-dropping insight, the big A-ha, is realising that both Mind and emotion BY THEIR NATURE are impermanent, transient and are in a process of change. This means that mistakenly identifying them as fixed, permanent or part of yourself is fundamentally futile.

If you wake up to this reality, then you can really get to the root of what is causing you pain.

What allows our feelings to transform and continue on their merry (or raging) path is recognition or acknowledgement.


Not by someone outside of you. By your own heart.

If you are busily committed to avoiding or ignoring your emotional truth, it takes a whole lot of energy, effort and mind control.


Shen Realisation and Difficult Emotions

The Chinese called the cognitive part of our mind, the streams of consciousness, the planning, the thinking, the processing etc the Yi.

The part of our consciousness that is beyond Mind, the consciousness you’ve had since within the womb (my working title is the embryological mind), the consciousness or awareness that is there beyond the thoughts, in between the thoughts – they call that Shen.

Instead of bombarding you with concepts of Shen (for which there really are no words), the Chinese – being an insanely practical culture – focused on Shen realisation. They then developed methods for people to practice and guide them to Shen realisation.

Shen realisation is the mother of all insights (and a different blog post) and is what reorientates you on your path. Shen realisation is awareness of our most primary nature. It is what can really reframe our sense of identity and make it a whole lot easier to see the ‘stories’ we’ve created in regards to our emotions and our emotional blocks.

Shen realisation is the goal of treatments like acupuncture. It’s like the diamond or pure awareness hiding under the rough of all the misunderstandings of our self.

We all have diamond (pure awareness) and we all have rough (not pure awareness).

The degree and impact of the ‘rough’ is very individual – it’s very human stuff. Viewing yourself with gentle eyes and suspending judgements long enough to listen to your heart can lead to liberation and wisdom.


girl meditation


Holding Space for Your Difficult Emotions

This is a practice. Holding space means setting an intention for your mind to suspend judgement of yourself and sit, listen and feel into your heart and your body and find your truth – regardless of whether what you find is unacceptable or contrary to your social values, regardless of whether you like it or not.

The steps below describe a really easy way to hold space for yourself and this is the way I like to do it.  You could do this just about anywhere, or use it as a regular practice. The acupuncture table is an optimal place for holding space for yourself.

  • I sit in meditation or lie down with one hand over my heart, the other on my belly.
  • I set my intention that for just this 20 minutes I will maintain concentration and suspend my usual judgements, stories, avoidance, clinging and all the rest and be kind to those disenfranchised parts of my self.
  • I visualise my self sitting in my heart, by a campfire wrapped in a blanket.
  • I listen and wait to see, hear or feel what appears. That which has been hiding, drowned out, unseen, not felt, denied. I wait gently for these parts of myself to reveal themselves.
  • I then relax my body, soften and acknowledge what shows up. My truth.
  • This is where the wisdom seeps in, the A-ha moments show up. Accepting what is my truth does set me free.
  • I then take rest in pure awareness knowing that all else is impermanent, by nature will change and to identify or hold onto it is futile.
  • I exhale and let go.


How do you release difficult emotions? Let us know in the comments.


To hold space for yourself using acupuncture as a healing tool, book an appointment at the Cloud Gate clinic today.