“A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” Proverbs 15:13
In almost every culture there is a thought process that the heart holds emotion or the mind. Hence sayings like “follow your heart”. The Chinese culture was no different. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the heart houses the mind, and controls the shen. Think of the shen as the affect. The shen reflects the overall healthiness of the mind. Have you ever looked into the eyes of someone suffering from depression, or even something as severe as schizophrenia? You can tell when someone is not their healthiest emotionally or psychologically just by peering into their eyes. Perhaps you have noticed that while looking into someone’s eyes they were shifting from side to side, or maybe they just seemed cloudy and dull. Almost as if they were not fully present in the moment. Perhaps they seemed dazed and confused. This person does not have a healthy shen. An emotionally healthy person has a certain bright clarity and that shines from within.
A great analogy would be that it is the heart’s job to maintain appropriate timing in life. For example, if a person wore a Batman costume to a Halloween Party, his heart is doing its job. However, if this person wore a Batman costume to a business meeting and screamed “I am Batman” it meant that his heart was not allowing him to make the right choice for the circumstance.
The heart is all about maintaining appropriate behavior for specific situations. In cases of mental illness, you might notice certain behavior patterns: inappropriate speech or tone of voice, making unsafe decisions, misjudging situations and social cues.
A TCM practitioner’s favorite thing to say is “everything in moderation”. Well, the heart is not innately about moderation. It is like a child and is an organ of extremes. It can go from wild joy to crushing lows. However, these extremes are not sustainable, and a person can burn out quickly. Think of a bi-polar individual: manic highs, followed by extreme depression. Basically, your heart system can be like crashing after too much Red Bull.
Bi-polar, anxiety, depression, and ADHD are all considered to be the result of a heart imbalance; the hyperactivity is a result of the heart not properly regulating the mind.