Monks laughingThe Nei Ching Su Wen (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine) likens the twelve organs to twelve officials in an ancient Chinese city-state, each one with their own talents and responsibilities for maintaining the functioning of the harmonious whole. But this was historically a feudal structure as well. The harmony was maintained by the rule of a monarch, to whom the officials were subject. This “ruler” among the officials is meant to be the Heart.

Feudal societies, whether in Asia or Europe, adhered to “the divine right of kings.” The monarch was meant to be directly in touch with the divine and therefore was responsible for leading the country wisely. In China, this meant being in tune with the Tao, which is, well, everything. The wise ruler responds appropriately to climate, relationships, physical and mental activity, etc., in the present moment, without distortion from the past or future. The wise monarch’s guidance, therefore, would keep the country in harmony with the needs of the time and create peace and prosperity.

On the physical level, Western Science says that there are two functions of the heart organ and cardiovascular system (which together comprise the Heart Official in Chinese Medicine): 1) The heart pumps the blood through the cardiovascular system, and 2) The function of the cardiovascular system is to transport blood, which carries oxygen, wastes, nutrients hormones, etc. to all the tissues of the body. In addition, at the microscopic level of the capillary beds, where the blood drops off nutrients and picks up waste from the tissues, there is a simple system of shunts that determines what tissue will be nourished at any given time. If the shunts close, the blood bypasses that local tissue and goes straight into the veins, to be carried back to the heart and distributed appropriately. So literally, the heart rules all the organs and tissues, by choosing the tissues and functions that will receive the blood that gives the energy to respond.

The story of King Arthur describes a monarch who earned the loyalty and love of his subjects because of his integrity and wisdom. His knights (officials) met at the round table where each was respected and heard, and though subject to the king, their love and respect for him secured their acceptance of his leadership.  Under his rule, the subjects were cared for, protected, and happy and the kingdom prospered. But when he was grieving for the loss of the two people who were the closest to his heart, he withdrew into himself and the kingdom was plagued by discord, poverty and famine.

The Neijing Suwen says, “The Heart is the Sovereign of all organs and represents the consciousness of one’s being. It is responsible for intelligence, wisdom and spiritual transformation. …Decision-making is the king’s job. If the spirit is clear, all the functions of the other organs will be normal. It is in this way that one’s life is preserved and perpetuated, just as a country becomes prosperous when all its people are fulfilling their duties.” (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, A New Translation of the Neijing Suwen with Commentary, by Maoshing, Ni, Ph.D., Shambhala, 1995.)

The Heart also is the home of the Shen – or spirit and part of the Fire Element which has to do with warmth, light and expansion. The Shen is the unassailable original nature that is the expression, as a human being, of the great emptiness from which all things come and into which they return – the Tao.  When the Shen is not obscured, it directs and harmonizes all aspects of the body, mind and spirit appropriately for the conditions at hand and the person maintains balance and health.

So the highest job of the practitioner is not to tell people what to do, but to create the space for them to  listen to the wisdom of their hearts.

Dorothy said, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, and I don’t find it in my own back yard, I’ll know that I never lost it in the first place.

The task for all of us is to return home.

In my classes, students do a meditation – an inner dialogue – with each official as we are learning about it. We do this first, before left-brain “book learning,” so that we can listen better to the right brain. Here are some of the messages students have reported.

  • The official said, “I bring the kingdom into balance by considering the needs of all subjects. Breathe more deeply, with awareness, to enhance the riches to be distributed. BE well; BE wise; BE happy.” The emphasis was on being rather than doing. The gift was glasses to see joy more clearly.
  • The Official was both male and female, dressed in royal blue with the oak leaf as a symbol. I was told to meditate and quiet myself more for balance.
  • The main guidance was not in words, but it was “Eat when hungry, sleep when tired.” It was very restful.
  • The Heart Official did not have a body, but the message was, “Peace, be still. That’s the place you need to work from and spend more time in.” The gift was a stone, to remind me to be still.
  • The Heart Official was a white rock prism. All colors came out of it. It handed me a treasure box with a scroll inside that said “Remember to have gratitude.”
  • [The Heart Official] was a little figurine of a sacred deity. It said, “You already know. You are me.” It had little ruby teardrops. It was just precious. It asked me, “What is your true self?”
  • The Heart Official said, “Remember your connections. You are love and you are loved. Never have any doubt about that.”
  • The Heart Official says, “Follow the Peaceful Path, but hold true to your convictions.”
  • The Heart Official was the Happy Buddha. He said, “To be truly happy with yourself, you must follow your heart.” He told me that love holds the world together and advised me not to take on all the everyday stresses. “Calm your own Shen, which is housed in your Heart.”
  • The Official said, “Follow your heart more. Purpose and fulfillment are linked to longevity.”
  • A crystal chime spiraled into space and light. “Take things lightly. Think how things are light. Bask in the silence to let it nourish you.”
  • The Heart Official was a horse and he said, “Don’t be afraid to work me, but don’t hurt me.” Then it reminded me of the emotions that go with it: “Keep good spirit.”
  • The Heart Official was a Rasta man playing drums. “You have to enjoy the work you do. Keep a constant rhythm; be one with it. Don’t have too much on your plate; don’t do too little, then too much. “When I asked for a gift, I heard the drum really loud and, “Do it in harmony and with compassion.”
  • When I asked for advice about how to keep the heart working and in good condition, it said, “Huge love and faith keep it going.”


  1. Find a position in which you can be comfortable and alert. Begin by observing your breath through several cycles.
  2. Imagine that with each inhale you are bringing golden light into your heart.
  3. As the heart fills, imagine the gold light spilling over until it  the rest of your body is filled with joy and peace.
  4. Imagine sending that light, joy and peace wherever it is needed in the outside world.
  5. Remember that outside and inside are one.
  6. Thank your heart.
  7. Return to normal breath and follow your next exhale out to the world.

©2014 Deborah Valentine Smith