Chinese Herbs for the Mind: What Do We Mean By 'Mind'

Chinese Herbs for the Mind: What Do We Mean By 'Mind'


What Do We Mean By Mind?

In the West, the health of a human being is divided into separate fields of study - spiritual, physical, and mental. If you injured your knee you’d see your physician (the body doctor). However if you were depressed, you’d more likely see a psychologist (the mind doctor). In TCM you’d see one doctor; the one who treats you, your body, and your mind.

The mind looks different through the lens of TCM. We see mind and body as expressions of a single being, which are best assessed together. A few Westerners are beginning to get the idea. The 1996 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV, 1996, Introduction, p.xxi) acknowledges:

“ A compelling literature documents that there is much ‘physical’ in ‘mental’ disorders and much ‘mental’ in ‘physical’ disorders.’

In TCM, the term ‘mind’ means: consciousness, emotion, imagination, remembrance, thought, memory, and intelligence. However, what’s meant by ‘spirit’ in TCM is, in a way, much more interesting and complicated than what’s meant by mind. You are, of course, a spiritual entity that exists outside the realm of mind and body. Though your ‘spirit’ exists apart from mind and body, it’s also a part of mind and body as well. Since your spirit exists as part of your whole body, TCM attributes a ‘spirit’ to each organ. The heart spirit is called the Shen. The Spleen is the ‘yi’; the lung is the ‘po’; the Kidney is the ‘zhi’, and the Liver spirit is the ‘hun’.

Since we’re looking at mind in this book, the organ system we’ll discuss most is ‘the Heart’ and we’ll refer to spirit as ‘the Shen’.

The Shen lives in your heart, not in your head. Many mental problems we associate with our brain are not diseases in themselves but are actually symptoms indicating that the Shen is unsettled or troubled. We call this condition Disturbed Shen, and it’s usually caused by ‘heat’ that’s building up in the chest.

To understand what we mean by ‘heat’, it helps to remember that ‘heat’ is energy. Energy makes things move, make things change, and makes things warm. Our bodies make and radiate normal healthy heat, generated from metabolism and digestion. However when it’s excessive, there are other heat sources that have often come into play. This kind of heat isn’t normal and can indicate, imbalance and pathology. We call it Evil Heat. When heat affects the body’s Heart or Liver, symptoms arise that we curiously attribute to the mind.



   © 2017 Joel Harvey Schreck 

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By the way, did you know that Dr. Shen is also the artist and photographer Joel Schreck? See his work at

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