If you are one of those people who finds it hard to consistently follow through on things then it may be that you’re low in the third type of energy which the Chinese call shen. I often translate this as the energy of integrity. It’s similar to the Japanese zen. Shen is your spiritual energy, it’s what makes you feel you have a purpose in life, that you love your life, that you’re happy to be alive in the first place.
One thing I love about this is no matter where you’re at, there’s no judgement in the Chinese system. We find it easier to sympathise with someone who is low in chi but are often quick to judge if we perceive someone is lacking in shen, or integrity. The way I see it, integrity isn’t necessarily something we are, which is how most of us think of it. It’s not even something we have. It’s something we do. We do it in relation to the amount of shen we have. So if you struggle to do what you said you’d do and to follow through on commitment and ‘walk your talk’ then instead of going into judgement on yourself, look at how you can build up your integrity energy, your shen.
I use the word integrity not just in the moral sense but also in the structural sense of being a spiritually integrated being. People who are low in shen often feel torn between all the different agendas that different parts of themselves have; the heart wanting to connect, the sexual organs wanting to have sex, the neocortex of the brain wanting to learn, the liver wanting to create and so on. They don’t know what to do first, they can’t decide what their true priorities are. To me, integrity means where you marshall and rally all of the different parts of yourself together and move forward in a unified, purposeful way.
Someone with high shen will have not just high integrity but are also likely to be leaders; they will be someone to whom others naturally look for guidance. They have a clearer understanding of what’s going on. I used to call shen ‘perspective energy’ because when you’re being pulled in different directions by all the different parts of yourself it’s like you’re stuck at ground level. People with high shen have greater perspective, can see the ‘bigger picture’ and take a longer view. They find it easier not to go for the instant gratification. As much as we want to be present in the moment right now, we also want to be able to detach and get a bird’s eye view of our lives. A high shen person is aware of his or her emotions. While they certainly feel things, they don’t become a slave to those emotions and get too caught up.
Though the connection may not be obvious, the health of our shen relates to physical organs. The most relevant organs are the heart and the liver. They have opposite but complementary functions. It’s the heart’s job to say ‘yes’ and embrace things. It’s the liver’s job to say ‘no’ and preserve the boundaries of the spirit and preserve the assertiveness. If we say yes to everything (including pizza and drugs for instance) then we’ll be in trouble but we’ll be in just as much trouble if we say no to everything. We need the balance of the two.
The word ‘decision’ means to ‘cut away’ all of the infinite possibilities except for the one you choose, and that’s the one you commit to. People who have trouble making decisions, trouble being assertive, or trouble with self-worth often have liver issues. The more you increase your shen energy, the less you struggle with such issues. On a physical level the liver’s job is also to filter out all the negative stuff ie physical toxins in the same way that on a spiritual level it’s filtering out the negative influences like certain people, media madness etc. You need to be able to say ‘no’ to all that and feel good about doing so if you really want to be healthy and have consistently high energy.
If you struggle to say no to the negative stuff (and feel good about it), that’s when you get emotions like anger (liver) when you can’t assert yourself and you get upset and that turns to anger. If that is swallowed down and not released it can turn to sadness or depression and lack of self worth. Jealousy and guilt are liver-related too.
Looking at the heart, when the heart isn’t allowed to get what it wants it can suffer from frustration and impatience, and in extreme cases cruelty or hatred.
There are plenty of targets, legitimate or otherwise, for us to point these emotions at but we have to ask whether it serves us to feel that way? Does it get us closer to achieving our real purpose on this planet? Usually, the answer to that is no. And even if your true purpose on the planet is to take down an ‘evil empire’ global corporation then it won’t serve you to be consumed with hatred for it. Being detached will get you further without burning you up.
Shen issues tend to be more around mindset and psychology but there is also this physical aspect. If you cleanse your liver and detoxify your body then you will find it easier to have more integrity and be more aware and have more of the healthy emotions show up.