The word “shen” means spirit in Chinese medicine. There is a global concept of Shen which reflects the quality of a person’s vitality and life force. Each organ also houses a particular Shen, such as the “zhi”, or will, for the Kidneys, and the “shen”, or spirit, for the Heart. Heart Shen is physiologically an accumulation of Blood (and therefore Qi) and Jing in the Heart. It reflects the expression of one’s will, manifesting as wisdom.Women lose Jing through the Blood during menstruation and childbirth (men lose Jing through ejaculation). This causes women to inherently tend towards Blood vacuity. When reproductive years have passed, the body ceases menstruation to preserve Blood and Jing. Through the Chong Mo (penetrating vessel), and under the action of the Zhi (Kidney will) manifesting through the Yuan Qi (Source Qi – the aspect of Jing which makes contact with each of the organs), Jing is transformed into Shen in the Heart. This is the process of the cultivation of wisdom discussed in Wisdom – The Virtue of the Kidneys. A simple way to express this is that our more physical aspect undergoes transformation into a relatively more spiritual aspect.
The uterus (one of the “extraordinary” organs in Chinese medicine – it is hollow, but stores vital substance) plays a crucial role in regulating this process. Unfortunately, western medicine does not recognize this function and considers the routine removal of the uterus to be inconsequential. However, even in western endocrinology there is the understanding that the uterus plays an important role in secreting and regulating hormones.
Menopause reflects a physical and spiritual transformation. Like all major stages of transformation in life (such as closing of the fontanelles, growing of teeth, and puberty), it is regulated by the Kidneys. It has been explained elsewhere in this newsletter that life is a process of Yin and Yang interpenetrating. Menopause reflects a process of separation. The Ming Men of the Kidneys (the aspect of Kidney fire which fuels metabolic change) flares to drive this physiological change. Fire rises, producing symptoms of heat above and cold below. This produces the familiar symptoms such as hot flashes, anxiety, and insomnia, coupled with fatigue and weight gain. This process is completely normal, and does not reflect a disease. It is a simple and unavoidable fact that life progresses and we decline physically. It is also a simple fact that matter cannot be destroyed, only transformed. It is this transformation which lies at the heart of the Chinese discussion of menopause (men also under this transformation through a very similar mechanism, it is just not as obvious because they do not bleed).
Menopausal symptoms are also completely normal, and reflect a major life transformation which is taking place. Again, this same discomfort of change is seen at all of the other stages of life transformation also. In health, this phase will progress and pass. Extreme symptoms and a prolonged process reflect imbalance. This imbalance does not occur all of a sudden. It reflects a lifetime of dietary, lifestyle, and emotional habits. Unfortunately, it is typical in our culture to wait until symptoms are out of control, not view the larger context in which they occur, and then take drastic measures to try and stop them. In doing so, we thwart the process of becoming a human being. We attempt to manipulate the process, rather than to understand and align ourselves with it.
As a society, the consequence of this is that no one understands or values their position or role in life. We do not value youth, and we do not value old age. We expend every drop our Jing trying to maintain an inherently changeable condition. The result is suffering. The tendency to brush off one’s experience and to say “it’s just menopause” is to devalue oneself. I observe the same tendency with regards to menstruation – “it’s just PMS”. Making the distinction between a process and a disease might help to ease the turmoil of inevitable life changes.