In the first part of this post on the Large Intestine organ system, we discussed some basic information including: the name and official related to LI, the five element and six conformation designation and more. In this post, I’d like to dig a little deeper into the symbolism of this important organ system. In particular, I’d like to reflect on the way that the Large Intestine organ system, similar to its Metal partner the Lung, creates a conversation about purity and impurity in the body.
There was some discussion of this hexagram in Delli’s post about the balance of Wood and Metal energy, and I’d just like to add to that description. Stephen Karcher interprets the name of this hexagram as “Invigorating Strength” in his Total I Ching, others call it variously Great invigoration or Great strength and of course many other translations exist. I think that Karcher puts it well when he interprets the text as indicating,
“The way to deal with it is to focus your strength through a central creative idea. Putting your ideas to the trial will bring profit and insight. Beware of hurting others through excessive use of force” (Karcher 271).
This is, in a way, a perfect encapsulation of all that I talked about in the previous article! In the energy of Large intestine, we have great capacity to focus (transmit the Dao, give birth, get things done – just PUSH) and the danger for that focus and force to turn destructive (the Dictator, great fevers). On a more psychological level, Large Intestine energy gives us the ability to focus our power on a single point and move through any difficulty until our deed is done. This is a great skill whether we are employing it in the bathroom (!) or the boardroom. (Editors note: How could I resist?)
The more esoteric factors come in when we consider the trigrams that this hexagram is composed of – which Delli already elegantly spoke about in the article referenced above. The combination of Wood over Metal, Thunder over Heaven creates a situation of invigoration, movement, excitement and – ultimately – new beginnings. We must clean out the old to bring in the new, and the force that allows us to do this must be up to the task. Heiner Fruehauf would often talk about the Large Intestine as being the purest of the organ systems, because it has to deal with the least pure of substances – it requires great purity to maintain deep purity for the body. We can think about the use of colonics on a base level to represent the essence of this ideal – keep the colon clean and free flowing and your body can detoxify.
Metal has many characteristics and associations that resonate with what we’ve discussed about Large Intestine. The color of Metal is white – the purest color in the spectrum, the reflection of all color back to the observer – nothing “sticking” to the object.
Most Western cultures tend to associate white with purity, chastity, even divinity. The scent of Metal is pungent – which I always associate with much incense. Incense and other pungent things can be used to open the mind, to communicate with Spirit. All of these upward, brilliant, pure things infuse the Large Intestine with the ability to deal with impurity – the ability to “transmit the Dao/way” and to create “change and transformation.”
Importantly, the Yin emotion most often associated with Metal is sadness or grief. When people have a great injury to a Metal organ system, they have a tendency to stay in grief, to not let go. This is a malfunction, in a way, of the descending quality of Metal. You are unable to let things fall where they may. On the other hand, we can think of it as becoming dragged down in the filth, unable to let the filthy things leave our view but instead stay there creating toxicity. Of course it is normal to have sadness when a sad event has occurred – but the tendency to hang on to these things is never healthy. We must learn to let go of the things that are ready to pass (Large Intestine) and take in the freshness of the new world we are privileged to live in (Lung).
Large Intestine 1 : Metal point of the Yang Metal channel : 商陽, shāng yáng, the metal note
To show how this can manifest on a very specific practical level, consider the metal point on the Large Intestine channel – LI1, the Jing-well point of the Large Intestine channel. As many Jing-well points, LI-1 is excellent at clearing acute accumulations of heat, but on the Yangming Large Intestine channel, perhaps this effect is even more emphasized. Its use in descending the fire in cases of high fever certainly resonate with what we’ve been discussing so far. It is also known for its ability to descend Qi stagnation in the chest through its connection to the Lung – again we see use of the physiological descending property of the Large Intestine. Some Worsley-style five element acupuncturists use this point to descend mental stagnation, encouraging the patient to “let go” of old emotions that no longer serve. Certainly the rest of us could learn something from this usage.
I will end this article here, though clearly there is much more to say. I’ve only provided a brief glimpse into the symbolism of this mediator of the pure and impure. I’m interested to hear comments from readers – how does this resonate with your picture of Large Intestine and how does it clash? Can you see any practical benefits to working with this kind of knowledge? NCNM students, chime in with your further understanding of this material – we’ve learned so much – let’s share!
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.