Eduard Genís Sol, june 2020
The ethereal soul resides in the liver (肝藏魂, Gān cáng hún), concentrating in its blood. It conveys the most subtitle aspect of the awareness and its yáng nature needs the anchorage of the yīn-blood for its expression through imagination, ideas, creativity and oneiric activity.
The character 魂, Hún, ethereal soul, is formed with two radicals: to the left, 云 Yún, the cloud, and to the right 鬼 Guǐ, the spectrum. In its ensemble, this character refers to the concept of a spectrum flowing around the spirits domains, existing independently from the heart spirit (心神, Xīn shén). Nevertheless, the interaction between the spirit (神, Shén) and the ethereal soul (魂, Hún) are the foundation of the psychic life of a person.
The ethereal soul represents the spirit vitality, the subtle aspect of awareness/conscience, the psychic life of a person, which is associated to the Heaven, and therefore, the movement, the activity, the warmth, and the yáng.
The ethereal soul gets into the body just after the third day after birth and, after death, it abandons the body to go back to Heaven, with a tendency to attach to the spiritual origin of it lineage. In China, the traditional rituals of burial and mourning are focused, aside from other purposes, on helping the ethereal soul to go back to Heaven and remain attached to the spiritual origin lineage.
One of the fundamental characteristics of the ethereal soul is the movement and this is way in some Chinese texts it is defined as what comes and goes (时起时落, Shí qǐ shí luò). It is referred to as movement of ideas, projects, plans, hopes, a movement of a person towards the others, or the movement of the soul outside the body during the oneiric activity, a movement back and forth in their connection with the spirit of the heart.
The ethereal soul is on a different level of awareness than the heart spirit. It is placed on a level without rationality but that instead is the impulse of intuition, ideas, inspiration, and interaction in relationship, helping also the heart spirit to develop other mental activities. The spirit conveys rational thinking; the ethereal soul conveys inspiration, creativity. The first processes and choose between everything that generates and proposed the second. But this intimate connection between ethereal soul and spirit requires a movement imprinted from the first to the second and this movement needs the impulse from the liver Qì. If the liver is under pressure and stagnant (肝郁气滞, Gān yù qì zhì), the ideas, inspiration, creativity and interaction in relationship will also be under pressure, as the movement of the ethereal soul also has an imprint on the sphere of the relationships and empathy between persons. In this sense, the lack of personal life projects, inspiration, ideas, hopes and personal relationships all are due to a lack of movement or imprisonment of the ethereal soul that does not allow it to connect with the spirit of the heart (心神, Xīn shén).
The ethereal soul resides in the liver blood and, as we have explained, its capacity of movement or flow depends on the liver Qì. It is because of this dependence that the liver blood has to be abundant to allow this movement, harmonize it, and prevent to be excessive or stagnate. This is all to be considered taking into account that when we talk about the liver blood we are referring to the yīn-blood of the liver. If these aspects are deficient or if the heat agitates them, the ethereal soul will wander without anchorage and in this case we would observe in the person an agitated sleep, insomnia or too much oneiric activity. The length of the sleeping time is a good indicator of the ethereal soul state, although its interaction with the blood in the heart in which the spirit (神, Shén) resides is also taken into consideration.
The flow of the liver Qì is the impulse of the movement of the ethereal soul. If the liver Qì is deficient or stagnant, the ethereal soul movement will be limited and this will cause depression in a person, but if there is an excess of movement and flow, if there is an ascendant hyperactivity of liver yáng (肝阳上亢, Gān yáng shàng kàng) or a liver fire flaming upward (肝火上炎, Gān huǒ shàng yán), the ethereal soul will move too much and this will manifest in agitation, anger or, in a severe case, in mental illness.
To sum up, if the blood and the Qì of the liver are abundant and flow freely, the ethereal soul will be well rooted and its movement will be adequate. In these conditions, it will produce a flow of ideas, intuition, creativity and plans directed to the spirit of the heart (心神, Xīn shén) so that it assimilates, filter, selects and controls. If the contrary occurs, when the blood and the Qì of the liver are deficient, the movement of the ethereal soul will also be deficient. This contraction of activity will generate a lack of living sense and of courage or resolute mood, and the person will have great difficulties in his/her relationships, in generating ideas, making plans or being creative, which will put the person in a desperate or depressed attitude.
The contraction and expansion of the ethereal soul manifest itself in opposite states of mind in relation to the tandem yīn–yáng: introversion-extroversion, passive-active, and apathy-vitality. Depending on how well balanced this dual state of mind is and as much as it stays within a physiologically regulated frame, the mental and spiritual health of a person will be considered inside the limits of normality. If this is not the case and the movement of the ethereal soul exceeds those limits, mental and spiritual disorders will appear, generally polarized in the form of depression-agitation.
An excessive contraction of the ethereal soul can be caused by a liver Qì vacuity (肝气虚, Gān qì xū), by a liver depression and Qì stagnation (肝郁气滞, Gān yù qì zhì), or by a liver yáng vacuity (肝阳虚, Gān yáng xū). In the first and second scenarios, the ascendant movement of the ethereal soul cannot happen because it lacks impulse; in the third, it would happen more or less the same, as we have to take into account that the yáng Qì (阳气) does not only mean heat, but also mobility. The excessive expansion of the ethereal soul can be due to both repletion patterns (实证, Shí zhèng) and vacuity patterns (虚证, Xū zhèng). In the first case, the heat (热, Rè), the fire (火, Huǒ) or the ascendant hyperactivity of liver yáng (肝阳上亢, Gān yáng shàng kàng) generates an excessive movement of expansion of the ethereal soul. In the second case, a liver yīn-blood vacuity (肝阴血虚, Gān yīn xuè xū) prevents the ethereal soul from well rooting due to its yáng nature -ascendant and centrifugal-, provoking a whirlpool effect and agitation.
The expanding movement of the ethereal soul is needed for its interaction with the spirit of the heart (心神, Xīn shén), as this cannot adequately function without that movement. Without expansion, there is depression but if expansion is excessive the spirit is exceeded and overwhelmed by too much information and it will have a neurotic behavior. These conditions can even get worst if there is phlegm confounding the orifices of the heart (痰迷心窍, Tán mí xīn qiào), as this will put obstacles in between the ethereal soul and the spirit of the heart connections.
As explained here below, as well as the ethereal soul showing the spiritual vitality of a person, the corporeal soul (魄, Pò), residing in the lung, shows the organic vitality of the person. The balance between both souls is indispensable. Life exists if the ethereal soul can ascend to unite with the corporeal soul that has to descend for making this unit possible as well as the rooting of the ethereal soul as, in its nature, this soul tends to ascend to return to Heaven, its origin, and the corporeal soul tends to descend to go back to the earth from which it originates. The control that the heart spirit (心神, Xīn shén) exerts in both of these souls, applies to revers those individual tendencies. This is a much needed function for if the union between the ethereal soul and the corporeal soul breaks, this will provoke the death of the person, in the same way as this will happen if yīn and yáng separate (阴阳离决, Yīn yáng lí jué). The complementary nature of the two souls is seen in their associations of complementary concepts: the ethereal soul is associated to movement, activity, heat, the Heaven, the spirit of the heart and the yáng, and the corporeal soul is associated with resting, inactivity, cold, the Earth, the essence and the yīn. In this way, the ethereal soul and the corporeal soul regulate each other, maintaining the human being’s existence in a dynamic balance.