During our life, the Shen resides in the empty center of the heart, where it continues to grow as it guides us along our path through life. Although it is invisible, its presence is reflected in the light that shines from the eyes of a healthy human being. In the presence of healthy Shen, there is a luster and brightness to the disposition, a feeling of connection and awareness. Most of all, the presence of healthy Shen results in a life that is uniquely suited to the individual and a person whose actions make sense within the context of the surrounding environment.

The Chinese character for Shen has several meanings:

  • Spirit as infinite cosmic light
  • The yang energy that enlivens the psyche
  • The activity of thinking, consciousness, insight and memory
  • An intangible yet recognizable quality of luminous vitality that is seen is a healthy humanbeing
  • The name given to one specific expression of the five shen

SHEN: (Spirit) is the most subtle of the Three Treasures and is the vitality behind Jing and Qi

  • The Shen represents the forces that shape our personality including mental and spiritual aspects. The Heart houses Shen and it can be observed by trained practitioners through a certain brightness of the eyes. Shen disturbances generally refer to mental disorders.
  • Shen is the energy of consciousness and awareness. Shen is the vitality and stability of the mind and of the human spirit. A person with strong Shen is one who is calm and at peace, strong minded, aware, clear, centered, deeply intelligent and profoundly happy. A person who is kind, generous and giving and who has a big heart is said to have a lot of Shen.
  • While the Shen is often referred to as the spirit, it should not be confused with the Christian idea of the spirit; it is more about a person’s inner light. Our Shen allows us to think and discriminate, and shapes our personality. Shen is the most immaterial of the Three Treasures in Chinese medicine.
  • Shen is a manifestation of the higher nature of human beings. It is augmented and developed through the interaction of Jing and Qi energies. Shen presides over the emotions as an all- encompassing awareness or virtues, expressed as wisdom, love, compassion, kindness, generosity, acceptance, forgiveness and tolerance. A strong Shen exists on the foundation of a sound Jing and a strong Qi; the three must be developed together. Well- cultivated Shen brings peace of mind.

Shen, Hun & Po, Yi & Zhi are specific psychic aspects or ‘souls’ of the individual organs: The heart stores the Shen, the lungs Po, the liver Hun, the spleen Yi and the kidney Zhi. Shen, Hun, Po, Yi and Zhi take Shen as their ruler, therefore they are called the Five Shen. In this sense, Shen is singular— the ruler that resides in the heart and the emperor of the organs, but there is another level in which the five Shen share equal status. An example of their equality are the intimate qualities corresponding to the five zang organs: directions, seasons, climates, colors, tastes, sense organs, emotions, etc…

During our lives, Shen are said to reside in emptiness at the center for the heart. From a Chinese medical perspective, the heart is not a physical organ, but also the emperor/empress, the “supreme sovereign” of the body and the mind. The heart, as a sovereign, in is responsible for the circulation of the blood and the overall state of the emotions as well as the well-being of the Shen. Through Wuwei, the heart coordinates and organizes every aspect of the body-mind. Thus the greatest emperors’ rule their kingdoms without effort, simply by maintaining their position of perfect equilibrium between earth and heaven. Without this spaciousness, the spirits will flee and the light of the Shen will no longer illuminate our consciousness or actions. In such a state, a desperate effort to control the environment replaces the effortless non-doing of the Wuwei.

In Chinese Medicine, when we say that the Shen is disturbed, we are saying that a person’s consciousness is disrupted; the mind is not at ease; this one of the most commonly used descriptions of psychological and emotional disturbances. When a person’s Shen is disturbed, the light in the eyes (as a reflection of the light of the Shen of the heart) may be dim, as if the person is not really present, or it may be strangely bright with a hard-edged glitter. Usually there is difficulty connecting to the individual whose Shen is disturbed.

The Shen has a special relationship to the element of fire. Like fire, the Shen responds quickly to sudden stimulus

Signs & Symptoms of Shen Disturbance:

Insomnia, Dream-Disturbed Sleep, Anxiety, Palpitations, Inability to Concentrate, Timidity, Being Easily Startled, Being Overly Talkative, Forms of Schizophrenic Mania, Incoherence, Hyperactivity, Restlessness, Frequent & Inappropriate Laughter.

Next on the Generating cycle of the 5 element theory is Earth. Click the link to learn about Yi: The Spirit of Earth—Integrity, Intention, Clear Thought & Devotion

Each elemental spirit is explained by author Lorie Eve Dechar from her book “Five Spirits: Alchemical Acupuncture for Psychological and Spiritual Healing.” You can find her book online for purchase at