Where’s My Chi?

Time Organ Intent Actions
5:00-7:00am Large intestine / colon Transform Get up, drink water, evacuate bowels, stretch, meditate, exercise
7:00-9:00am Stomach Balance Be sweet to yourself, eat breakfast, arrive, become real
9:00am-11:00am Spleen Develop Act, make decisions, work hard, think, communicate, achieve
11:00am-1:00pm Heart Communion Articulate vision and purpose, access your soul, spread the love
1:00pm-3:00pm Small Intestine Refine Have lunch, go slow, ride the wave

Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity
– Lao-tzu


The Tao Te Ching is a classic Taoist text. According to tradition it was written by the great sage Lao Tsu, several centuries BC. It is a small book but it offers extraordinary insight into the human condition. This insight was derived from a close observation of the patterns of change that exist within the natural world. Taoism and traditional Chinese medicine have been intertwined since ancient times. TCM provides a link between us and the natural world. Through the 24 hour chi cycle it gives us a guide to harness the natural forces. Ultimately, this is also an opportunity to experience the Tao, or the wisdom and power behind creation, what I also refer to as universal intelligence.

Each two hours of the day, as a specific organ is energized, powerful natural forces support certain actions. Between 1:00 and 3:00pm the Small Intestine is energized. If we have been living the day in harmony with the chi cycle so far, we have been up since 5:00am. We have meditated, exercised, nourished our body, mind and spirit, then worked hard and smart. By 1:00pm we have reached the summit of the day. We have done all the hard work. Now, as our chi moves from the Heart to the Small Intestine, it’s time to ride the wave.

As discussed in previous articles, in TCM our organs have a physical role but also a psycho-spiritual role. They have a material presence but an immaterial one as well which extends into the astral body, and this is where things get interesting. In TCM our Small Intestine is paired with the Heart and it too plays a role in ‘editing’ how we present to the world. But the Heart is like the good-looking sibling who gets all the attention. Heart imagery is used every conceivable media from greeting cards to clothing. I even saw a TV ad recently featuring people going about their daily business carrying big fluffy red hearts.

The message was that if we saw what we were doing to our hearts by eating badly we would all be much more careful. I really liked the idea. Unfortunately the ad was for margarine not the 24-hour chi cycle, but it was a great concept. We need to think of all our organs like that. Even the less glamorous ones such as the Small Intestine. They are equally magical. Of course the ad wouldn’t work so well with people lugging around metres of furry sausage-like intestines, but the Small Intestine is an organ we need to love and respect. If we want to develop spiritually it is crucially important to have a clear mind and make wise decisions and if we live in accord with the chi cycle, the Small Intestine gives us this mental clarity and wisdom. This is the gift on offer for this time of the day.

The good thing about Small Intestine time is – it starts with food. The most important thing to do in this two-hour period is have a delicious, nurturing lunch – the biggest meal of the day. To do the right thing by our Small Intestine lunch has to be warm and joyous and celebratory. I’m not talking about sandwiches here, they are the antithesis of this – fast and cold and indifferent. As far as I’m concerned it is no coincidence that the Earl of Sandwich, reputedly the inventor of the sandwich, was considered one of the most immoral men of his time. He was a renowned gambler, lecher and member of the hellfire club who was said to enjoy the corruption of innocence. As the popular sandwich story goes, one night in 1762 the Earl was too busy gambling to stop for a meal. He ordered a waiter to bring him roast-beef between two slices of bread so he could continue to play cards and eat without getting his fingers greasy. The truth was probably far more sinister. The Earl was a busy man and was more likely to have called for the beef in between bread so he could eat while working at his desk. That particular combination of activities has gone on to ruin many a life.

If I had my way I would ban sandwiches. That may seem a bit rich coming from someone who indulged in a smorgasbord of destructive mind-altering substances, but I see what sandwiches do to people. In my clinic every day I treat a stream of stressed-out, angry, anxious, hyper-tense people who are slowly falling apart and don’t know why. They sit there and describe lives totally out of rhythm with the chi cycle. When we get to the part about what they eat, they say they usually skip breakfast but then make up for this by having a really healthy lunch. When I ask what this is, the answer is always ‘a salad sandwich’. Now if it was a rabbit sitting there telling me that was a good lunch I would agree, but rabbits don’t have to go to work, help save the planet or go on a spiritual
journey. It is we self-aware humans who landed those jobs and we need to fuel and nourish our bodies to achieve this great task. Sandwiches are not nourishment.

Nourishment comes from meals containing things like protein, rice and vegetables, and it comes from consuming this in heart-warming company in a soul-satisfying environment. Eating at your desk in the office between phone calls and appointments, or while rushing around trying to catch up on chores or deal with your kids or family is not nourishment. Over lunch you want to sit back, eat and, if you are with people, talk about joyful things. If you rush around or talk business while you eat it interrupts the processes of refinement in the Small Intestine. It contributes to the pathologies of time-deprivation, heart disease and, I believe, cancer.

Lately we have seen a lot of interest in the Mediterranean diet because it is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Various companies try and recapture the essence of this diet, which is high in antioxidants, in tablets or tonics but this is a reductionist view. It is not just the diet. In Mediterranean cultures they love food and they eat lunch with friends or family in a celebratory atmosphere. You might be able to bottle antioxidants but you can’t bottle this communal joy. Even up north my glum German kin understand the importance of a celebratory cooked lunch. Of course in Australia we are deep in sandwich
territory. Kids are sent off to school with a vegemite sandwich and a couple of biscuits or a piece of fruit for lunch. I don’t know how they survive. This is also a country with high levels of obesity, depression and drug abuse and perhaps there is a connection.

Most of us can’t go home for a hot family lunch and not all of us would want to even if we could. Being with your family is not necessarily joyful. So we have to adapt the lunch concept to suit us. I had one client, a young successful and attractive professional who had the classic high-achiever lifestyle. She worked long hours lived on sandwiches, slowly depleted her organs and ended up with suicidal depression. Antidepressants made her worse so she decided to change everything about the way she lived. She took cooked meals with her to work for lunch. On her break she gathered her work friends and made them sit down somewhere nice while they ate and talked about non-work related things.

The idea is to create a downward flow of energy while we eat. This will allow the Small Intestine to absorb nutrients and thus contribute to strong Blood and chi – the foundation of health happiness and success. I see a lot of people these days whose energy flow is predominantly upward. As a result they often have a ‘knotted’ stomach or bloating as soon as they eat or they can’t face a substantial meal. They tend to nibble on snacks while on the go. If we want to reduce pathologies including cancer and heart disease we need to start loving and respecting lunchtime as well as our organs. We also need to live in harmony with
the universal forces and after lunch the cosmic energies are calling on us to slow down.

This is the ideal time for a siesta and of course this is the other aspect of the Mediterranean diet that can’t be bottled. In those cultures people sit back and relax after a good meal. They don’t rush. In many Asian countries as well siesta is respected. Most of us here can’t put our heads down after lunch and have a little sleep, or string up a hammock in the workplace. Even if we could we are so time deprived and stressed we can’t even get to sleep in our beds at night time, let alone in the afternoon. What we can do though, is bear the concept of slowness in mind and act accordingly. Try and sit for 15 – 30 minutes after lunch. If you read this and immediately think ‘I can’t do that’ you are already on the path
to a time pathology.

During Small Intestine time we have to take the back-seat and let the universe do the driving for a while. Now is the time to slack-off around the water cooler. If you have to keep working, do the least taxing things of the day. Don’t make big decisions, don’t confront anyone, don’t do anything stressful. Don’t work gung-ho like you did at Spleen time, but most of all don’t ignore your inner processes. Sitting back after lunch is crucially important for our health and happiness and one of the most important actions of the day. If we don’t ‘step back after we have done our work’, either by allowing ourselves to ‘arrive’ at breakfast time or sit back after lunch, we are trying to control what is beyond us and we begin to develop what I call an ‘additional drive’. We then lose the ability to ever stop.

This is not a healthy situation. Cancer is an example of something with an autonomous drive and no one wants to go down that path. Being able to not do things is as important as being able to do things. Living in accord with the chi cycle and the natural forces means respecting the times for not doing things. Then we can reap the limitless benefits of the cosmos.

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