• James Bartlett

The Spirit of Summer and Fire

Saturday 20th June 2020

“May the impermanence of the summer solstice remind us to not to delay in enjoying our lives.”

As the sun sets this evening in the west, it marks the final day of our Springtime. As it rises tomorrow, the first day of Summer begins.

Today is the longest day of the year and is also known as the Summer Solstice or midsummer. The time usually is marked by festivals, bonfires, feasts and celebration. The same will happen this year. However, the annual ceremony at Stonehenge will be seen virtually around the world rather than causing a mass gathering. It is a time in many pagan religions where the sun is worshipped to bring fertility, love, purification and health. It is the time where nature reaches its peak and is blooming at its finest. In many parts of Europe, it is seen as the middle of Summer, hence the name. However, here in the UK, it marks the official start of Summer.

I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about the Summer, according to Chinese medicine. The summer solstice is one of the oldest festivals in the history of China. It is a time when the Yang energy is at its strongest. The Yang energy is hot, light, rising and represents the sun. It is the ‘sunny side of the mountain,’ and is one side of the balance of everything around us. It enables us to grow and to mature and is evident in the Spring and Summer seasons of the year.

Summer is the time of the Fire Element, and you only have to look around to realise why this would be so. During Summer, nature is at its most mature and is at its peak. It is bursting with life. The days are long and hot, the colours of the flowers are vibrant, and there is a sense of joy in the air. It is traditionally a time when friends and families get together to bask in the heat of the sun, taking in some much-needed vitamin D and enjoy each other’s company. The longer nights give the feeling that there is more fun to be had. It’s obvious why many people flock out of the big cities to the beaches and fields around to enjoy the long, lazy days.

The element of Fire gives us our capacity to feel and to spread joy, love and warmth. When our Fire element is in balance and working as it should, we should have no problem in being able to nurture our relationships and to feel content with what we’ve achieved so far in the year. It’s the perfect rest point before the busy harvest season and the feeling of decline we experience in the Autumn. In five-element theory, each element has an associated emotion, sound and pair of organs.

The emotion of the Fire Element is joy, and where can we find a better example of joy than in the warmth of the Summer months? Someone who has an imbalance in their Fire element may struggle to find this ‘spark of joy’ within them. They may seem resigned, sad and sometimes joyless to speak to. It’s as though their inner Fire is unable to express itself and make the beautiful connections that it gives us. The sound of Fire is laughter, and we can hear it all around us during the Summer. When someone is unable to reach the Fire element within them, they may not even be able to muster the delight we experience when something brings us joy and reason to laugh. We also may see someone whose Fire is burning out of control. Some people are so full of joy and laughter that it may seem inappropriate and quite uncomfortable. These people may be unable to control their laughter, finding humour in things that many would find distressing.

The Fire element has two associated organs and two ‘functions.’ This shows us just how important Fire is thought of in Chinese medicine. The Heart and the Small Intestine form one pair, and the ‘Three Heater’ and ‘Heart Protector,’ form a pair of functions. Each is crucial in enabling us to experience and to distribute the warmth, love and light of the Fire element.

The Heart is considered the ‘Supreme Controller’ of the organs and functions within our mind, body and spirit. It is the most sacred organ, and each of the organs within us work to ensure it is kept safe and can stay in control. It is seen as the seat of our emotions, where love and joy flow from. In some Eastern traditions of acupuncture, especially Japanese, the Heart meridian, or energy pathway, is considered too precious to use a needle on. It is only treated directly if no other way is working. If the Heart is protected and functioning well, all the other organs can do their duties safe in the knowledge that the ‘Supreme Controller’ is secure. If the Heart is out of balance or struggling, it may begin to exert its control over all the other organs. The Heart cannot control everything. It needs the support of all the others. If it takes on too much, someone may appear too dominant and too controlling. Or on the other hand, there may be utter chaos in someone’s life. They may attempt to gain control over every aspect of their lives, and possibly the lives of others. In the end, this would be too much for the Heart to take, and we know what eventually happens to a Heart that is under too much pressure.

Each of the other Fire organs works together to protect the Heart from the knocks and traumas of everyday life. The Small Intestine is responsible for separating the ‘pure from the impure.’ Life is full of things that are bad for us, and it is the job of this organ to keep the good stuff and send the bad stuff away for elimination. This is across all levels of our being, in mind, body and spirit. Not only does it separate the good from the bad food we eat, but also the negativity and cruel sides of life that we should stay away from. If the Small Intestine isn’t functioning as it should, someone may find life a confusing mess of information. It could be that they are confused about what is the right or wrong thing to do in a situation. Depending on the situation, this could make someone appear cruel and even toxic, as they are unable to differentiate between what is good and what is bad.

The Heart Protector function is known as the ‘pericardium’ in Western anatomy. It is the sheath that protects the Heart from shock and disease. In Chinese medicine, it does this and so much more. It helps to protect us from the knocks, insults, setbacks and hurtful comments that we experience in our lives. Such a trauma would be too hard for the Heart to take, and so the Heart Protector stands guards and keeps our Heart safe and out of harm’s way. When the Heart Protector is struggling to fight off these knocks, it leaves our Heart exposed to the nastier sides of the world, and to hurting and heartbreak. If heartbreak reaches the Heart, it can cause such resignation and pain that it may never be able to love or trust another person again. In extreme situations, the Heart has been known to stop entirely. ‘Dying of a broken heart,’ or ‘taktsubo cardiomyopathy’ in scientific terms, is triggered by stressful events, especially the death of a partner or loved one. The Heart truly is the seat of our capacity to love.

The Three Heater is our internal central heating system. There is much debate about what the Three Heaters physical expression is. Some have likened it to the connective tissue, known as the fascia, that wraps every organ and muscle. The Chinese have known of this function for hundreds if not thousands of years, and Western medicine is only catching up! If the Three Heater is functioning well, it will keep the communication and temperature of our mind, body and spirit in check, and our inside and outside worlds harmonious. In ancient texts, it is known as the ‘organ of balance and harmony.’ If it isn’t working as it should, someone may experience extreme emotions, examples of blowing hot and cold and uneven temperature in the body.

It is obvious from all the above, just how important the expression of the Fire element is to our lives. All of the elements are important, and each brings us individual capacities and qualities. But try to imagine life without Summer. For some, this is a reality, and a connection to the Fire element can be a real struggle. Five-element acupuncture can help to bring the Fire element back into balance with the flow of nature and help to heal some of the problems that afflict us in mind, body and spirit.

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