How’s life going for you?
Do you feel like something is missing? A lack of inspiration perhaps? Feeling closed off from others or even yourself? A sense of despair or an absence of the ‘heart and soul’ of life? Maybe you’ve been having trouble sleeping? Feeling anxious? Restless? Difficulty concentrating?
If this sounds a little too familiar read on… it might be a disruption or disturbance of your Shen.
Let me explain…
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the way we look at our mental, emotional and spiritual health is by looking at the Five Spirits - these spirits are aspects of our complete animation as a human on Earth from our Divine spiritual nature to our animal instincts to the connection with the collective unconscious. These spirits all serve different aspects of the self and our interaction and experience on Earth, as such we can address issues that arise in the psyche by addressing these spirits. As goes with all illness and disorder in TCM these issues with the spirits can be experienced in a range of severity and intensity and also duration - meaning we can have a mild and brief Shen disturbance that lasts a day or two or we can have a more severe and chronic presentation that lasts for months, years or a lifetime, there are many causes and reasons why which I’ll get into later on.
So What is the Shen?
The Shen is most closely linked to our Western idea of the soul or spirit - it’s our divine nature and light, the connection to source, our greater purpose and the mystery of life. Taoist tradition states that when the yin and yang essences of the parents unite at the moment of conception the star seeds of the Shen are scooped up in the ladle of the Big Dipper and poured down into the developing heart of the embryo. This pure light mixes with the essences of Earth and eventually becomes the basis of awareness, intelligence and consciousness - our own unique sense of self. Our Shen is partially our personality but it’s actually much more complex and deep than just that - it’s our personality in alignment with our True Self, finding our Shen is all about knowing our True Self, and that’s not just the self we think we are with our ego, it’s the self that we originally intended to be while in this Earthly experience.
The character for ‘Shen’ can mean:
What is a Healthy Shen?
When our Shen is present and in alignment it shows up through our eyes, if you’ve ever attended a spiritual retreat or had an energy healing or acupuncture treatment you may notice there’s often a difference that can be seen in the eyes (take before and after photos next time you go!) before and after the healing - this is because all healing helps to root the Shen back into the body and we see it show in the eyes. With a present Shen we can easily connect with ourselves and with others, we’ll live a life that’s uniquely suited to us as an individual, and we are generally balanced as a person. When our Shen is truly integrated and well we have an expanded awareness, an ability to reflect on ourselves and life around us with neutrality and experience being a state of compassion often.
What Causes a Shen Disturbance?
All of the spirits can be disturbed by strong emotions and trauma but the Shen is often the most easily and strongly affected. Like birds resting in a tree will fly away when a car alarm goes off, the Shen will flee with strong emotional upset. Anything that upsets our heart will upset the Shen, and childhood upbringing can play a big role in longer term issues. If our parents didn’t or weren’t able to truly see us and inhibited our authentic expression and nature then we were predisposed to issues with our Shen. Karma and genetic predisposition can also play a role, contributing to Shen disturbance actually being a part of our work in this lifetime. Shock, trauma and abuse will certainly disrupt the Shen as will recreational drugs with a scattering energy like cocaine, amphetamines and even nicotine.
How Do I Know if My Shen is Disturbed?
Receiving an actual diagnosis of a Shen disturbance should be reserved for Acupuncturists and other practitioners of Chinese and Taoist medicines to make, however there are some common signs and symptoms that arise which can tell you to take a deeper look at your Shen so you can take steps to start the healing process.
Common symptoms and signs that point to a Shen Disturbance are:
A person with a Shen disturbance manifesting in our spiritual arena will likely have the experience of feeling like there is a lack of coherence to life - their personality / ability does not match the life they have. Perhaps they are a talented musician but are stuck working a construction job to make ends meet and feeling drained by their work which leaves them feeling a bit apathetic about life in general. There is often no inspiration experienced, a ‘dead’ quality, no heart and soul, no vibrance to life. Ambivalence and apathy are common feelings and they have a difficult time choosing what’s right for themself.
As we see this progress we also see a ton of activity without a center - activity is fruitless and unproductive, they are ‘doing’ a lot but getting nowhere and this will produce anxiety, restlessness and fatigue. They also lack the ability to reflect on themself, often thinking they’re ‘right’ or just missing information that may help them to pull out of their ‘funk.’
In more severe presentations we see a difficulty distinguishing true from false, real from unreal, the consciousness is disrupted and the mind is not at ease. This person will tend to make those around them uncomfortable and have difficulty making eye contact with you. Shen disturbance is a person who is fiery and active, the life of the party type one minute with crashing the next - unreliable, unsteady, they live intensely and close to the edge.
Ted Bundy is a great example of a severe and chronic Shen disturbance, while he wasn't diagnosed with Schizophrenia, he did have a significant Shen disturbance and disconnect from his True Self. He was perceived as charming and lively, yet his 'crashes' involved the devolution to murder. Even though he is smiling in this photos we can still see the absence of the light of the Shen in his eyes, if you cover his mouth and look only at the eyes it becomes even more apparent.
How Can I Heal my Shen? Self Healing for the Spirit
Healing the Shen requires creating a safe harbour for the Shen to return home to, the Shen loves a neutral and calm space, so creating this feeling within us is essentially the main goal. This takes a delicate and patient approach, and we have to remember to never over-treat or over-do any treatments as this causes more disruption than peace.
Working with a healer who is versed in this type of spiritual and emotional work can be an essential component to your healing process. This work can be done in person like receiving acupuncture treatments and it can also be done online over telehealth by receiving remote healings, help with guided meditations or seeking out a licensed therapist or coach to deepen the work further.
Some practices to enjoy on your own that can help cultivate that space of neutrality, clarity and peace for the Shen are:
Dr. Kim Peirano, DACM, LAc is the Owner and Acupuncturist at Lion's Heart Wellness, the San Francisco Bay Area and Marin's #1 Cosmetic Acupuncturist and #1 Holistic Healer.
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