We recently bought a new house. One of my favorite features of the place, when we looked at it, was the “yard.” It’s not really a yard, more a rhodedendron forest that transitions into terraced planting areas and then to the huge wraparound deck. Not much grass, just total serenity. And a whole lot of English Ivy trying to take the place over.
The soil is perfect for many Chinese herbs, and the way the back area is oriented gives a great mix of sun and shade, exposure to rain and protection from it. While there are certainly things that don’t grow well in a coastal climate, most of my best plant friends will be just as happy here as they have been at any of my Portland and other Oregon area homes. But, there is the Ivy.
A friend of mine who is a massage therapist and life long gardener hippy, once said something that surprised me, given her nature. She said that all gardening is in some way dictatorship. You choose what you want to grow (using whatever principles guide you) and you systematically destroy everything else. Not everyone is going to agree with that assessment, but I’ve found it to be a valuable insight. One can’t argue with her gardening results, really. I’m reminded of this as I stare out at this mass of winding ivy roots. And that, in turn, reminds me of the Large Intestine, our next adventure on this Year of Sagely Living.
Large Intestine, being a fu organ, is frequently ignored in TCM diagnosis.
I just don’t buy the idea that any organ does any more or less than any other – they are all integral and by god all the functions and structures of the body have to be divided into twelve parts, certainly these 6 hollow organs must contribute their fair share! The Large Intestine, in particular, is ignored, being in the business of waste processing. BORING.
The Large Intestine is about letting go. But not the letting go of death, necessarily. It is a metal organ, so often associated with the death process and the grieving that comes with it. But, it is also positioned on the organ clock in the spring, and its earthly branch 卯 is a wood branch. It is, then, about letting go to “generate the new” as is often said in the Shennong ben cao jing. It is that late winter/early spring pruning process. You see the shoots coming forth, you have an idea of the growth direction, and you cut back what is preventing the natural emergence of what you desire. Killing for the purpose of birth, as opposed to killing for the purpose of the long, dark winter sleep.
Different pruning for different seasons.
The time on the clock associated with the Large Intestine is sunrise (5-7am)
Heiner Fruehauf would often tell us that the LI is positioned at the “ass crack of dawn.” The pushing energy of the sun rising, the way it exposes everything to the bright and sometimes harsh light, and the killing force discussed in the last paragraph leads Heiner to think about the archetype of the dictator when discussing the Large Intestine – thus my being reminded of it as I hack away at this ivy.
The zodiac animal associated with Large Intestine is the rabbit.
This is a symbol absolutely ripe with important information. Think of the rabbit – what comes to your mind? Most people think first about their legendary breeding capacity – and indeed the Large Intestine has an important role to play in the birthing process in animals. That urge to PUSH is often only really understood by a person giving birth when someone tells them that it is less helpful to think of the vaginal opening and more helpful to think of having a bowel movement – that great force is what allows the baby to move forward. Think of one of the contraindicated points in pregnancy here – LI4.
The decent, the metal pushing out, all are associated with helping the new life come forth.
The rabbit is also a fairly erratic animal.
It goes here and there quickly, bounding back and forth in the evasion of predators. This speaks to us of a pathological part of the Large Intestine story. Energetically, I think of the Large Intestine whenever I have a patient who make decisions quickly and quickly abandons them. Heiner often discusses the pathological Large Intestine type as being the person who weaves in and out of traffic quickly, making a lot of moves but never really getting anywhere. This is a lesson to me as I move through this garden rehab project – I want to cultivate the physiological Large Intestine’s deep rhythm. Bowel movements should be rhythmic – coming at similar times every day – you should be able to time your clock by it.
So, in gardening, I want to pick my spots and abide by them, carefully cultivating, killing, arranging, considering.
The same is true of all my various dealings. As the yang energy of the year grows, I find myself wanting to create, create, CREATE! A hundred million projects, like weeds, growing and clamoring for light and nutrients. While we think of abundance in all things, of course, we must certainly acknowledge the realness of constraints. Time, money, life energy – they must be balanced. To let something grow, I may need to let something go. In and out, the rhythm of creation.
In teaching young acupuncture practice owners, I am deeply aware of the lessons of the Large Intestine as they plant the seeds that they hope will grow into sturdy support for their future lives.
They want all of it to work, every idea, every project. They get excited about being freed from the confines of college life, and so dive into house projects, family commitments, hobbies, and a hundred business, practice and study ideas. They want to maintain everything they learned in school while recovering whatever fragments of themselves they left behind to study Chinese medicine. All of it – at least once the post-boards convalescence is done.
To them, to you, I say listen to the Large Intestine.
Be deliberate, rhythmic, let the light of the sun cover everything so you can survey, consider, and make decisions about what you really want to burst forth as your life continues. Maybe, someday, I’ll take my own advice.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.