Last week I introduced the Chinese Clock – a principle from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that states that each organ has a two hour period in the day when it has an abundance of energy and does its best work. I also explained that the roles of the organs in TCM include psychological and spiritual capacities as well as physiological ones. Besides helping us to understand how to best utilize each time period, this system can sometimes be diagnostic. For instance, if you always feel tired at a certain time of day, or always wake up in the night at a particular time, there may be an imbalance in the organ that presides over that time. Now, let’s continue our discussion.
11:00 AM to 1:00 PM – Heart Time
In TCM, our heart is the core representative of the fire element in us. Fire’s qualities include lightness (meaning both luminous and weightless), warmth, expansiveness, animation, and inclusiveness – all virtues of a healthy heart. The heart is the portal through which consciousness enters our body. Naturally, the time of the heart is when that giant fireball we call the Sun is highest in the sky.
Among the community of our organs, the heart is referred to as the Emperor (or Empress), and it presides over the kingdom of You through its vast network of vessels. By the power of its love, it endeavors to spread warmth to every facet of your life, to have all parts of you feel included within its benevolent reign, to illuminate and enlighten the darkest folds of your mind. Beating out every moment for us, it aims to keep us always in the present.
The heart and its vessels work best when they’re open. Yet one of our most common reactions to uncomfortable experiences is to “close” the heart and its vascular network in an attempt to avoid feeling or accepting. Vascular disease – the hardening, blockage, and failure of the vessels (especially those that serve the heart muscle itself and the brain) – is the biggest cause of death in the U.S., and I have long wondered if there’s a connection between our psychological “closing” and this physical expression of closing.
During Heart Time, I invite you to do something good for your heart. You could engage in exercise that elevates your heart rate. This encourages the heart muscle and its vessels to remain strong and elastic and it helps facilitate a lightening of our mood. You could consciously extend love to someone or to a neglected part of yourself. You could practice choosing light-heartedness. You could practice staying in the present, repeatedly choosing not to depart into the past or future.
1:00 to 3:00 PM – Small Intestine Time
These twelve organs are grouped into six pairs. Sometimes the pairings are obvious (like the stomach and the pi which I described last week); other times not so much. The small intestine is the heart’s partner, and here’s how it works.
The digestive tract is like a tube of the outside world running from the mouth to the anus. Although it’s not a straight line, it makes the body something of a cylinder, and you can throw all manner of nourishment or garbage in there. The bulk of this tube is the small intestine, which is where most absorption takes place – not just absorption of food, but also of life experience.
In TCM, the small intestine has the task of “sorting the pure from the impure.” As it samples the heart’s kingdom firsthand, it must discern what is “pure” and worth incorporating into oneself versus what’s “impure” and worth letting go (sending along to the large intestine for elimination).
Besides being a good time to absorb your midday meal, Small Intestine Time is good for practicing discernment. What expressions of “purity” – of truth, love, and awareness – would you like to partake in to feed your heart? What expressions of “impurity” exist in your life that serve mainly to cloud your consciousness, or keep you engaged in conflict? What long-held grievances are impeding your heart’s work? (Let them go.)
3:00 to 5:00 PM – Bladder Time
To understand the bladder in TCM, we have to understand its partner, the kidneys. The kidneys are thought of primarily as a reservoir of energy – of our life’s potential, in fact. And the bladder (besides storing urine) presides over the utilization of this potential and its transmission into the world through our works. The TCM bladder also has some overlap with the functions of our nervous system and our primal drive for security and survival.
Fear is the factor that most disrupts the bladder’s work. In the presence of fear, we often default to our animal brain and the fight-flight-freeze mechanism. If we fight, we tend to throw all our reserves at the issue at hand (perhaps drinking coffee and working ourselves to the bone). If we freeze, it’s like there’s a hold on our bank account – rather than risk using up our life, we withdraw. If we flee, it’s like being in a relentless marathon to some idealized future.
Many people feel tired during this time of day because of the habitual engagement of these survival mechanisms. Instead of pushing through, be respectful of your limits. Slow down. Reflect on how much energy you spend versus what you do to replenish yourself. Be with the stillness – it’s not going to kill you; just the opposite – it stands to save your life.
5:00 to 7:00 PM – Kidney Time
The kidneys and bladder are the two organs of the water element. As I said, the kidneys represent the storage of our life’s potential (jing), like the water in a deep well. Life ends when the well is dry. When treated in a healthy way, we only draw up enough water to feed the seeds we have planted in the world (and we’re conscious about the seeds we plant). By this, I mean we don’t take on obligations thoughtlessly, we don’t give away our energy unconsciously, we “go with the flow,” and let life unfold at its own pace. Meanwhile, the replenishing things we do – getting good sleep, eating good food, loving interactions – act like rain that falls into the well to restore it.
When fear comes in, like a cold wind, it can alter our relationship to this well. Sometimes it makes the surface of the water choppy. When we look at our reflection, we see a distorted picture and we act from this distorted sense of reality. The choppy surface also makes it impossible to peer down into the darkness and get an accurate sense of our potential. Maybe we’re in mortal danger and we should start bringing it up by the bucketful to try to overwhelm the odds! Other times, fear freezes the well entirely, making it inaccessible to us. Fear has thus diminished many a life.
What’s the counter to fear’s cold irrationality? The warmth and radiance of the heart. This is the balance of fire and water within us. The heart’s love melts our fear and its light of consciousness illuminates the truth that fear has obscured. The heart’s ability to pull us back to the present gives us a chance to regard our fear in a rational way. It’s not realistic to wish for fear to go away forever, but it’s entirely possible to feel it without being controlled by it.
During Kidney Time, consider replenishing your well with a small, nourishing meal. Ask yourself how you can get things done with less investment of personal energy. Reflect on the fears that may be running you from “below the radar,” and use the light of your consciousness to see them clearly – to see how insubstantial they are. Look into the well of your potential and ask yourself how you can more effectively bring this gift into the world. Meanwhile, for your anatomical kidneys, protect against dehydration. A good general guideline is to divide the number of pounds you weigh in half and aim to consume this many ounces of water over the course of each day (e.g., 150 pounds body weight means 75 ounces of water).
Thanks for reading. Once again, I chose not to give you everything at once so that you’ll have time to consider these concepts at a pace that better supports your ability to integrate them. Check back next week for more.
Dr. Peter Borten
P.S. Again, in case you missed last week’s article, you can read it here.