By this time next week, as the sun begins to fade in the sky, we will find ourselves sitting near our front doors with a bowl of candy at our sides, eagerly awaiting the arrival of ghoulish monsters, spooky ghosts, and miniature superheroes begging for sugary treats. I always get caught up in the enthusiasm, particularly that of the little kids, whose costumes are a little over-sized and lop-sided, but whose big, eager smiles shine out of the dark night.
In the past, this night was considered the most magical night of the year, the time when the supernatural world was closest to our own. Yet the ghosts that walked the streets on this night were not smiling children, but demons who needed appeasement so that they would visit destruction on someone else. In many Catholic countries, this time of year marks The Day of the Dead, a day when deceased family members, particularly children, are remembered with candles, flowers and food placed at their graves. Worldwide, it is a night when people stop to reflect on the nearness of death and reaffirm their faith that their souls will live on.
In China, there are also special days of the year when spirits are said to roam the earth, although they don’t occur in October. The scariest month of the year in China is “Ghost Month”, the seventh lunar month of the year. During this month, hungry ghosts are thought to travel extensively throughout the country, attacking their enemies, or venting their anger on unsuspecting victims. Many people deliberately avoid doing any potentially dangerous activities during this month, such as swimming, traveling to visit loved ones, or going out alone at night, as it is thought that a ghost might waylay them and cause a tragic mishap. On the last day of the seventh lunar month, lanterns are lit and placed in the rivers to peacefully guide the dead back to their places in the spirit world.
Spirits make their appearance in Chinese medicine as well. Unlike in Western theology, where we have just one spirit, undivided, in Chinese medicine, our spirits were thought to have two parts: an ethereal part, and a corporeal part. The ethereal part is called the Hun, and it originates in the liver. Like the Western version of the spirit, it enters us when we are born, and ascends to the heavens when we die. The corporeal part is called the Po, and it resides in the lungs. This part of the spirit forms with us as we grow in our mother’s womb, and when we die, it enters the earth with us, gradually dissolving into the ground.
Ideally, we would have a healthy liver where our ethereal spirit is both free to move, but also well grounded. A strong ethereal spirit grants us creativity, intuition, decisiveness, and fearlessness. We have the vision to plan our lives and this give us a sense of direction. We are also better able to express ourselves in our jobs and personal lives, despite any obstacles, so that we feel fulfilled. When the liver is healthy, we are strong and brave. We are also flexible, and have the vision necessary to see both sides of any question. We are generous, and when we work, it is not just for ourselves, but for the greater good of all. In this way, we become benevolent.
By contrast, if our liver becomes congested or stagnant, our ethereal spirit will become angry, impatient, agitated, frustrated, annoyed, cowardly, self-centred, conceited, and boastful. If our liver is deficient, our ethereal spirit will be rootless and lack the ability to plan, causing us to wander aimlessly through out lives without direction. We will have difficulty establishing personal boundaries and can allow others to over-step them, causing us to feel frustrated, resentful, or even enraged. As peak liver time is during the night, the rootlessness of our ethereal spirit can be particularly expressed during the night, causing insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, and a feeling of floating just before falling asleep.
As mentioned earlier, the second half of our spirit is the corporeal part, called the Po, which is housed in our lungs and as such is closely related to the breath. As we breathe deeply and root ourselves in the present moment, our corporeal spirit is strengthened, which gives us the capacity to sense and feel the world around us as it currently is, providing us with clear hearing and sight. Unlike the ethereal spirit which wanders during the night, the corporeal spirit is most active during the day as we breathe in and experience the world around us.
Just as we allow air into our lungs, and then release it back into the world, so our corporeal soul is connected to our ability to receive and let go of emotions and possessions. If our lungs are weak, our Po will also be negatively affected, and as a result we can become possessive, miserly, selfish, defensive, envious, or extremely sensitive. Our lungs are particularly affected by sadness, sorrow, and grief, which blocks the flow of our breath and weakens lung energy. In fact, all of our emotions affect our breath. Our breathing changes when we are sad, or crying, or angry, or joyful, or excited, or fearful, which is why the lungs are so sensitive to feeling.
When our lungs are strong, we are able to receive and let go, we are generous, charitable, giving, open, receptive, sensitive, and remember to think of others. This indicates a healthy flow of outward energy and a strong sense of worthiness and self-fulfillment. A strong Po is also reverent, conscientious, ethical, upright, honest, prudent, sensible, honorable, modest, and respectful.
As another evening of wandering spirits approaches, let us consider the strength of our own spirits: the Hun and the Po. Are we feeling angry, rootless and directionless? Do we have difficulty letting go? We can take steps to strengthen these two parts of our own spirit by strengthening the organs which house them. This will ensure that as we wander the earth on this most hallowed of eves, we forgo anger and selfishness, and instead leave peacefulness and benevolence in our wake.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.