Tick Tock, Part Four – How to Follow the Clock of Life

Today we’re going to wrap up our series on the Chinese Clock – a concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) whereby each organ has a two-hour period of the day when it does its best work. (At the end there are links to the previous three articles in case you missed them.) Often you can experience a sense of alignment or improved health by doing certain activities during each time slot. But several of the organs peak while you’re sleeping and you won’t always be able to schedule your life around this system, so the important part is simply to recognize and appreciate that you have these amazing capacities.

11:00 PM to 1:00 AM – Gallbladder Time

In China, a brave person is sometimes said to have a “big gallbladder” – while a timid person has a small one. The TCM view of the organ is a bit more specific – the gallbladder doesn’t preside over all forms of bravery, but specifically the courage to be decisive in accordance with one’s plan. In order for you to understand the role of the gallbladder among our society of organs, I need to tell you a little about the liver.

The liver has the role of the general or chief planner. The general uses her keen vision to strategize and plan – everything from the many tiny plans that make your day work to the big Life Plans that make your life feel productive and gratifying. We might even think of the liver as the architect, in which case the gallbladder would be the foreman – the guy (or girl) on the ground overseeing the implementation of the plan and making all the minute-to-minute decisions about how best to bring the plan to life.

The gallbladder acupuncture meridian covers the sides of the body – the sides of the head, the sides of the torso, and the outer side of the leg. Once I had a patient who had been experiencing pain in this area of his leg, and offhandedly I mentioned the gallbladder’s association with decision-making. “Sometimes people experience discomfort along this pathway when they’re blocked around some important decision,” I told him, barely expecting it to mean anything.

With great excitement, he responded that he had been contemplating quitting the band he played drums for, and he now realized the pain began the same day he started thinking about it. In that moment, lying on my table, he decided to leave the band, and in an instant the pain was gone from his leg.

The best way to spend Gallbladder Time is sleeping. There’s a lot of energy in the decision-maker, and if you stay up until this time, it’s likely that you’ll get a second wind which will take you the whole way to 1:00 AM. But at the end of the day, you’re probably experiencing “decision fatigue” from all the day’s decisions, and this energy is likely to be squandered. If you’re asleep, the mind can work things out without interference, and you’ll wake with a freshness that’s ideal for good decisions.

Biologically, the gallbladder is a small pouch attached to the liver that stores and releases bile to help us digest fats. Gallbladders are prone to get inflamed and painful when we chronically expose ourselves to food that we’re sensitive to. Many gallbladder removals could be avoided through identifying and removing these foods while taking Chinese herbs to dissolve gallstones and reduce inflammation (the most common formula is called Li Dan Pian and it’s often miraculous).

1:00 to 3:00 AM – Liver Time

As I explained, the liver is the general or chief planner. It’s considered to be closely connected to the eyes, which gives the general the faculty of keen vision, allowing for a clear life plan and goals, as well as a view of the “big picture.”

The liver’s weakness is a tendency to become frustrated or angry when it encounters obstacles to its plans – like an overly rigid general – and in the presence of anger, its vision is lost and growth becomes stagnation. It loses sight of the big picture and instead sees only the obstacle at hand, which is perceived as an injustice.

We need flexibility and perspective to get back on track. By stepping back, we can see the larger scheme of things, remember where we were headed, appreciate the enhanced growth that obstacles promote, and recognize there are more important things than being “right.”

Like Gallbladder Time, Liver Time is best spent asleep, so the mind can clean house and restructure our plans without our interference. But this is a common time for insomniacs to awaken, as the planner, like the decision-maker, often has a powerful, even domineering, energy. Sometimes this can be avoided by writing down unresolved plans and decisions before bed, so the mind doesn’t feel it needs to keep track.

3:00 to 5:00 AM – Lung Time

The lungs are associated in TCM with the fall season. After the robust growth of spring and summer, fall is about letting go, especially of outward appearances (like leaves), and the certain bareness that results. For some, this part of the cycle feels like loss and evokes grief. But there’s a lesson in this loss – it causes us to focus on what’s left: the intangible and eternal Oneness that connects everything.

Every act of letting go (exhalation or expiration) is paired with a filling up (inhalation of inspiration). And “inspiration” is a perfect word for this phase of the lungs’ work – to make within us a rich spaciousness. 

The lungs remind us of this as they take in and let go of the intangible all day long (which actually consists of the atoms of the world around us, including those breathed by virtually everyone else in history). The rhythm of the breath is a mantra that offers a perpetual opportunity to connect with our expanded self – to remember.

Most people are asleep during this time, which makes it easier for the mind to let go without our conscious clinging, but yogis have long considered these hours ideal for their morning practice. The crispness of early morning is much like the crispness of fall air, and it can be especially conducive to meditation, breath work, letting go, and tuning in.

Again, my intention in writing this series wasn’t so much to convince you to build your life around these two-hour time periods but to give you a look at the cycles you move through each day. So many wondrous things are happening in your body, mind, and spirit. I hope these articles have made you aware of the tremendous opportunity for healing, connection, and expansion that’s always available.

Be well,

Dr. Peter Borten

P.S. In case you missed them, here are links to Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

6 thoughts on “Tick Tock, Part Four – How to Follow the Clock of Life

  1. Thank you so much for these excellent articles!
    I am wondering, do you have any advice in dealing with the upcoming time change? I experience a slight anxiety each spring and fall when daylight savings changes. What is the best way to transition the body to the back and forth of this?

    1. Hi Dini,
      You’re welcome. I’m glad you’ve liked them.
      As for the time change, I think the best thing you can do is stay connected to the earth. The earth element in Chinese thought is considered to be the most stable. The earth always spins on its axis at the same rate, always revolves around the sun at the same pace, the plates of the earth move at an incredibly slow pace, earthen structures (like the pyramids) last a long, long time. So there’s a consistency to it, and by spending lots of time outdoors, you’ll be more aligned with the earth itself and its innate consistency. Because, of course, nothing is really changing except what we’re CALLING the current time. I think the more time you spend outside, the easier this will be.
      Another option could be this: As we approach Daylight Savings (the spring forward, where we’re calling the time an hour later than it really is), if you have a schedule that requires that you start work at the same time each day, you’re basically going to need to wake up an hour earlier than you have been, so, if possible, you could prepare for that shift by gradually waking up earlier each day until you’re waking up an hour earlier than your usual time. Then, when the clocks change, you’ll wake at the same (new) time you’ve gotten used to, but it will now be your “old” time. At the other end (fall) in preparation to “fall back” you could potentially wake a little later each day until you’re waking an hour late. (The only issue, of course, is that with the spring time change your bedtime will suddenly change, too, but you can gradually adjust to that, too, after the change happens.)
      Hope that helps.

  2. Thank you so much for your wonderful articles! I really resonated with bringing more conscious awareness to these cycles and am enjoying a deeper connection to my body’s rhythms from this new knowledge. Amazing!

    1. You’re welcome, Esme. I’m glad these articles have benefited you!
      Be well,
      Peter

  3. Thank you so much for this series! I ran into this concept a little while before you published part 1, and you’ve really clarified a lot for me. I’m wondering, is it different in any way for children? And is there an ideal time for lunch or is that excluded? Thank you!

    1. You’re welcome. The same general flow applies to kids. Lunch isn’t specifically addressed by this system, but I think having it around noon makes sense for two reasons. One is that in Ayurvedic medicine, the sun, as a ball of fire, is considered to parallel the rise and fall of our digestive fire; so the digestive fire is seen as strongest when the sun is highest in the sky. Second is that Small Intestine time is from 1-3, and it takes some time for the food to get to the small intestine after consuming it.
      Be well,
      Peter

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