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 Heart-Mind spirit

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 in Chinese medicine
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.