When did you last check in with your liver? Or your kidneys or your spleen?
I’m guessing not lately.
For most of us, these “lower organs” are pretty much out-of-sight, out-of-mind, at least until one of them gives us trouble. I certainly never paid much attention to mine. If you’d asked me where “I” was, I’d have pointed to my head, container for my “upper organ,” my brain.
I’d realized when studying taiji with Martin that the Chinese have a more personal relationship with their lower organs than we westerners do. Martin was so fond of a “healing sounds” practice that we students had to learn it well enough to take turns leading it.
In that exercise, each of five key organs—lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and spleen—was associated with a positive and a negative emotion, as well as a color and a sound. The liver’s negative emotion, for example, was anger, and its positive emotion was kindness; its color was green and its sound was “ssssh.” So, for the liver, you would visualize yourself breathing out anger as you made a gesture with clenched fists and the sound “ssssh.” Then you’d visualize your liver bathed in green light while making the same gesture and sound, and lastly you’d imagine the positive emotion of kindness filling your liver as you repeated the gesture and sound.
I learned the practice, I led it, it left me cold. I never did it at home.
As I began my study of qigong, I realized that Martin’s healing sounds practice had been the tip of an iceberg. Organs are a big deal in qigong, as in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and not just because of the physiological functions western medicine also recognizes. Organs are also believed to play roles in a person’s psyche, as seats of personality and emotion—and even perhaps of the soul.
The “lower organs” came up over and over again when I was doing Ken Cohen’s 100-day training course, in exercises and in silent meditations.
I soon realized that the lower organs were critical players in Yi Ren Qigong, too, starting with the kidneys, which were also dubbed “the internal power station.”
Where were my kidneys, anyway? I started looking at pictures in medical books. I may be deficient in some way, but I had a hard time translating 2-D drawings into my 3-D anatomy. With the organs that were located in the front of the torso, I could at least look down at my body and think “OK, heart must be here, lungs to either side, intestines down below.” But the kidneys are in the back, and when you try to look at your back in a mirror, your ribs get twisted and your back doesn’t look like the back in the book.
I spent a fair amount of time one evening searching the Internet for anatomy T-shirts. I thought maybe I could find a form-fitting garment that would remind me just how all my organs were packed inside me. But I came up empty.
At that point, I was still thinking of my organs in terms of line drawings. I had cooked chicken livers and hearts, and cow livers and brains; once, I’d even cooked a cow’s stomach, for menudo, a Mexican soup. However, I’d never visualized my own heart or liver or stomach as similarly having color and texture and slime. I vividly recall the moment in a class led by another wonderful Yi Ren teacher, Hazel Wolf, when she asked us to direct our attention to our internal body. I flashed onto an image of the organs packed inside my body.
I was taken aback. But thrilled. My organs! I was getting in touch with my organs!
As I got deeper into Yi Ren through classes with Brendan and seminars with Dr. Sun, I realized how very primitive this awareness had been.
Brendan and Dr. Sun didn’t just want me to know where my organs were and what they did; they wanted me to FEEL my organs—feel them and know what they were feeling. The idea is that the organs in the core of your body can give you more information more reliably than your brain.
For now, I’m taking this on faith. I can feel my heart beating, and I can tell when my stomach is not happy, but that’s about it. However, I know Yi Ren practitioners who are in touch with their organs. Hazel, for example, once told me that she could feel her liver’s distress when she was trying to decide how to handle a problematic situation.
But there’s more. According to Yi Ren and other forms of qigong, not only can you get important information from your organs, you can also work with them to resolve emotional issues, perhaps even past life issues—all of which is way beyond me at this point in my qigong life.
However, I may be making progress. Recently I heard Dr. Sun say that you should have a relationship with your organs, like you would with a pet or a friend—and I didn’t roll my inner eyeballs.
I haven’t been very nice to my organs. It never occurred to me to be nice to, say, my pancreas, or to my small intestine, any more than it has occurred to me to be nice to my toothbrush.
My organs and I are not yet speaking, although I certainly know without asking that my kidneys don’t like it when I use so much salt that my food sparkles, and my stomach would prefer that I not eat late at night.
However, I hope that someday, I will get more precise information. Dr. Sun says his large intestine likes pickles. Might mine? I don’t know. I’d prefer that it like chocolate, but it may not care what “I” prefer.
Still, I like the notion that my organs may be more than just chunks of slimy tissue. It puts a whole new cast on how I regard my body and how I want to live with it.