elation and joy 喜 樂

While the other five zang are associated with one emotion, the emotion related to the heart is expressed by two characters – xi 喜and le 樂. Within the correspondences of the five elements, each emotion expresses a movement of qi– anger the bursting out of wood, the dynamic energy of spring; fear the descending nature of water, the movement inwards and downwards of qi in winter; grief or sadness constrict and constrain; over-thinking moves round and round and ties the qi in knots. But the ascending movement of fire is expressed by both elation and joy. It can be a gentle warming which loosens the qi,or an explosive upsurge which depletes the yang. It can lift the spirits or set the blood racing. 

These two characters both have an association with music. Etymology from the first century CE suggests that the character xi (喜) is made up of a hand beating a small drum and a mouth singing or shouting, expressing the excitement of music and dance at local festivals. Le (樂) is the music of rituals and ceremonies. The character also depicts a drum – a large temple drum on a stand – with gongs or bells at either side. This music is more sedate and calm, a music which centres and brings harmony. 

The excitement of xi (喜) is said to loosen the qi,to make everything flow well – but there are always warnings that this can go to far. Elation acts like a stimulant – it gives us the inspiration and energy to move forward – but like any stimulant, it’s easy to take too much, and it can become addictive so we seek out excitement and stimulation in order to feel alive. Xi is usually seen as an excess pathology – an excess of excitement and an over stimulation to the blood and qi, but there is no excess of le (樂). The common pathology here is bu le– lack of joy. Le (樂) describes the joy of being alive, the joy of being centred in oneself and in touch with the world around us. The music of rites and ceremonies resonates within the hearts of the participants and creates a unity. Le (樂) expresses the feeling of being at one with the universe and at one with others. It is a quiet joy that comes from within. A lack of joy (bu le不樂) is a lack of interest in life, an inability to connect. 

As with all fire pathology, we need that warming flame – but we don’t want to get burnt out.


Fear (kong 恐) is the emotion – or as we see in Suwen chapter 5, the expression of will (zhi 志) – related to the water element, the winter, and the kidneys. Its effect, described in Suwen 39, is to descend the qi. The text suggests that prolonged fear causes impotence and a general leaking away of the essences – a loosening and slackening, or wei syndrome. The discussion of the seasons in Suwen chapter 2 tells us that a failure to act according to the qi of winter prevents the shao yin from storing: ‘The kidney qi is powerless in the depths of the body, causing impotence (wei 痿) and deficiency in the spring.’ 

The character for fear represents a kind of restriction (功) in the heart (心) and Lingshu 8 describes a situation where the qi descends, leaving the upper jiao stranded, the heart beating fast, the lungs constricted. This is a description of a severe acute state, but in prolonged fear and anxiety this may become a pattern – not so extreme but more gradually debilitating. 

The classical texts often refer to the double expression kong ju (恐 懼), which is usually translated as fear and fright, a state in which the spirits are scattered and cannot rest in the heart. Both aspects of the shaoyin are affected – the kidneys cannot store the essences, the heart cannot store the spirits.

The final paragraph of this section of Suwen chapter 5 tells us that reflective thought (si 思) prevails over fear. Reflective thought is the emotion or will of the earth element and the centre. Its action is to turn things around, to rotate – and it is the earth element that is able to re-establish the broken connections between fire and water, heart and kidneys. 

Fear may also be a natural and healthy function of our survival mechanism; this is the will (zhi 志) associated with the kidneys in the group of five often referred to as the ‘five aspects of spirit’ (shen, hun, po, yi and zhi). The water element may dampen the excesses of the fire of the heart. But as always with fire and water this is a delicate and dynamic balance. Too much water and the fire will go out; too much fear or timidity and there will be no space for the joy of the heart. 

The other positive aspect of the fear mechanism is that facing certain fears, working with them and transforming them can lead to the ‘virtue’ associated with the water element – wisdom. And in the Chinese mind this wisdom is a practical kind of life-skill. Lingshu chapter 8, which is the seminal chapter on the effects of the emotions and what might be called the unfolding of the spiritual and emotional aspects of life, culminates in the production of wisdom (zhi 知) ‘which is nothing other than the ability to nourish life (yang sheng 養 生).’

SHEN and LING 神 靈

The Chinese characters shen 神 and ling 靈 may both be translated as spirit, spiritual, spirit-like; both have the original meaning of influences coming from heaven and their etymology conveys their rooting in ancient shamanism.

The character shen is made up of two parts – that on the left 示 represents an influence coming from heaven, an auspicious sign, a revelation; and that on the right 申 is to extend, to expand, to unroll. In the oldest texts, the shen are often related to the spirits of ancestors, or those attributed to natural forces. They later came to be more closely associated with an embodied presence within the human being, (jing shen 精 神) and the way that heaven is able to manifest itself within us (shen ming 神 明), the illumination of the spirits, or enlightened consciousness.

Ling is more complex. At the bottom is the image of two shaman, or shamanesses, wu 巫 and it is suggested in Dr. S. L. Wieger’s translation of the 2nd century etymological dictionary, the Shuowen Jiezi, that they are situated between heaven and earth, providing a link between the two (工) – and possibly dancing. Above the two figures are three mouths (口) suggesting that they are singing or praying, and at the top, the character for rain (yu 雨). So the character represents a kind of shamanic rain dance. But rain also has the wider meaning of all kinds of beneficial influence from above, and the character became more commonly used to refer to spiritual power or efficacy, the numinous or sacred, but also the embodied realisation of the spirits, and one’s inner spirit.

The character ling is seen in the Lingshu, the second part of the Neijing which refers primarily to needling. The ling shu (靈 樞) or spiritual pivot, as it is usually translated, is said to refer to the needle itself – acting as an intermediary between heaven and earth, spirit and matter.

In the Xici, the commentary on the Yijing, the shen are considered to be above the influence of yin and yang, constant and unchanging. A ‘shen disturbance’ is therefore a disturbance of the heart/mind (xin 心), and an inability for the shen to be housed. The shen were often likened to birds, which will rest and roost in a tree if it is still and calm. But if it is shaken by the wind the birds will scatter. The same is true of the spirits. They require the stillness of the heart/mind to settle. The wind of the emotions will unsettle the heart/mind and scatter the spirits.

In modern Chinese the term shen jing (神 經), pathways of the shen, refers to the nerves, and various modern ‘shen disorders’ are actually disorders of the nervous system – such as anxiety and the kind of ‘jumpiness’ known as jing (驚), which is often caused by a separation between heart and kidneys. Maybe in this time of panic, we have never been so much in need of repairing the vital heart/kidney, jing/shen connection.

The Seven Emotions

While preparing the text of The Seven Emotions for a new print run, I came across some Father Larre gems… This, at the beginning of the book, gives a beautiful introduction to the use of Chinese characters throughout the text.

Claude Larre: An aspect of our teaching will be the etymology of characters, because if we are speaking in English without reference to Chinese, the etymology is of the essence. What we want to convey in the minds of those who are listening to us is the Chinese text. The difficulty is to speak Chinese using English words. If we write a few Chinese characters it is not to impress you with our knowledge of Chinese, it is because through the different strokes something is built, which is not a word, but a symbol which opens your mind. You must set free your imagination. 

There is a sort of artistic and aesthetic understanding of things which is necessary to enter the Chinese field of terminology. So using numerology, using Chinese characters, referring to etymology, comparing this and that to social life, political life, organization of human groups, all of that gives us clues to the understanding of Chinese medicine, because there is no difference in the Chinese mind between the well organized political body and the human body of each of us.

And later:

The problem with the way we think about emotions is that we believe serenity is the lack of emotions. That is not the case. Serenity is not being disturbed by emotions. Or if we are disturbed, it is to be able to come back to ourselves immediately. In treating people we are not supposed to ask them to be emotionless, or not to be taken over by emotions, but just as far as possible to be able to come back to a state where the emotion will be felt inside their quietness.

webinars with elisabeth rochat de la vallée

  • Tuesday July 21 – ming 明  ‘light’ – enlightenment, intelligence, brightness 
  • Tuesday August 4 – shan 善 ‘good’ – efficacy of non acting, to do good 
  • Tuesday August 18 – li 禮 ‘rituals’ – propriety, standards for human behaviour 
  • Tuesday September 1 – xing 形 ti 體 shen ⾝ – 3 characters for the body

9:30-11:30 am PDT; 12:30-2:30 pm EDT; 5:30-7:30 pm UK; 7:30-9:30 pm Israël 

Use this link for registration: – you will then receive payment instructions. A few days before the meeting you will receive the password and material for the lecture.

jie – regulation and rhythm

Jie (節) is a division, an articulation, but one that is appropriately measured and regulated. Its radical is bamboo (竹) which can be seen in its modified form at the top of the character. And jie (節) originally refers to the nodes of the bamboo where the stages of growth can be seen. This measured gathering together, in a kind of knot, before the next stage of growth is said to give bamboo its strength and stability. The lower part of the character (即) is to be exact, precise, immediate. The first of the classical dictionary definitions of jie (節) is a node, a knot, a joint, and it is also to measure, to moderate, to give regularity and rhythm.

In Chinese medicine, jie (節) is used to describe the stages of progression through the meridians, and particularly the gathering of qi (氣) at the joints – a binding that gives both strength and articulation, and reflects the structure of bamboo. The term is used frequently in the descriptions of the jin jing (筋經, muscular channels), for example, the tendino-muscular channel of the shao yin of the hand (heart meridian) is said to knot (jie 節) at the pointed bone at the wrist (shen men, Ht 7), while the jue yin of the hand (xin xhu, heart master/pericardium) knots (jie節) at the elbow and in the armpit. We can also see the similarity with the character jin(筋, tendon/muscle) – the right part of the phonetic here referring to apart of the body (月or 肉). The structure of the muscles reflects the growth and development of bamboo and its consequent strength. 

Jie also implies the way in which circulation is regulated and given the correct rhythm. It is used to describe the ‘articulations’ of the year –the solstices, equinoxes and the four ‘quarter days’, or ‘gates of the year’ which mark the beginning of each season. They give the year its rhythm and are celebrated with festivals, marking times to work and times to rest.

The jie qi (節氣) are the 24 periods of the calendar, which describe the appropriate weather or qifor each of the 15 day periods – for example, August 8th is the Beginning of Autumn; August 23rd, End of the Heat; Sept 7th, White Dew; September 23rd, Autumn Equinox.

Jie (節) is also the name of a kind of bamboo clapper used to keep time in music – where it moderates and gives rhythm. And it appears as the name of hexagram 60 in the Yi Jing, variously translated as moderation, division, to be well-measured. It is a time to regroup, gain strength in order to move forward.

communication and circulation (tong 通)

The character tong (通) describes any kind of communication which is free from obstruction; it is particularly used for the spreading and free movement of qi, but can describe communication between people as much as free-flow within the organism. In classical Chinese it is to open the way, to open dialogue, to allow the mingling of different things, ideas, people. It is to give free access to something; to penetrate and to permeate. 

The radical of the character (辵/辶) is to walk, in a measured and rhythmical way – which is very similar to the character xing (行) – the xing of wu xing (五 行), the five phases or elements. Both have the same idea of regular and well-regulated movement. The easy flow of one thing into another. The character xing (行) is used to describe the regular movement of the heavens (the movement of the stars and planets is xing xing 星 行), and tong has the added dimension of the even distribution of qi which is made possible by this perpetual movement. 

There are many characters used for the vital function of free-flow of blood and qi throughout the body, but the most important and commonly used is tong (通). 

The same radical is seen in the character for dao (道) which, as well as its more philosophical meanings of the way, the way things are, the ways things move and change and transform, is also seen within physiology to imply movement and free-flow. The character dao is often used to describe the movement of water, and is seen in the point name shui dao (St 28), and also the free movement of the spirit/consciousness, as in shen dao (Dumai 11) and ling dao (Ht 4). 

The character tong is found in the point names of Gallbladder 7 tong tian (通 天), communication with heaven, and Heart 4, tong li (通 理), communication with the interior. This tendency to use the character tong in association with heaven, the spirits and the heart, suggests the importance of this constant movement, circulation and communication within the psyche as well as the general physiology. In the philosophical classics tong dao (通 道) and tong xuan (通 玄) are common terms for understanding the dao and penetrating the mystery of life. 

Therapeutically, tong is to restore the movement and circulation of qi wherever there is blockage and restriction. Bu tong (不 通) suggests the lack of free circulation – the main cause of disease and dis-ease. Tong bu tong (痛 不 通) is a common expression which is used to describe pain (tong 痛) due to blockage – the character for pain sharing the same phonetic (甬) with the added radical for illness (疒).

webinars with elisabeth rochat de la vallée

In September Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée will begin a series of webinars in English on the Dao de Jing.

The first four seminars will approach the subject of water, which permeates the writing of Laozi and illustrates suppleness and ‘the strength of weakness’.

The 4 webinar courses will be held on Mondays Sept. 16, 23, 30 and Oct. 7
at 8.30 pm GMT (12:30 pm PDT 3:30 pm EDT, 9:30 pm CEST/Paris)

Click the link below to access webinar details:


FU  復 the return

The Yi Jing (I Ching) hexagram 24, The Return (fu 復), is associated with the winter solstice. It illustrates the beginning of the return of the light, the return of the yang after its total withdrawal. The image of the hexagram ䷗ shows one yang line emerging at the base. The upper trigram has three yin lines and is called kun (坤), the earth ☷, the lower trigram is thunder ☳, the arousing, zhen (震), and represents the stirring of the yang in the depths.  Read more

the symbolism of numbers

The following is an extract from the introduction of a new book by Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée, The Symbolism of Numbers in Traditional China.                                                                                                                                                                             

Numbers, expressions of One

Numbers are agents of the production of the world, from the heart of the One. They symbolize an organization which is perceptible to us and understood by us, and which the human mind imposes on the universe in a process of constant transformation. They function as the operators of cosmic life in perpetual evolution. Read more