A Meditation on The Nine Palaces

By Toby Helmstetter, LAc

With the New Year upon us, and the Chinese New Year coming in February, it's a good time to take stock of how we've been living our lives and what aspects of it we'd like to change. New Year's resolutions are one way to make some positive changes; but if you're looking for inspiration, you can use a bit of Chinese philosophy to help you think about where you've been and where you're going. The Nine Palaces are considered the nine primary areas of life where we humans struggle and seek satisfaction. They are a reflection of our health and where we have (or lack) control in our lives. They are the key to longevity, to a feeling of sovereignty over our lives. Having control over the Nine Palaces, and over the areas of our life that they govern, gives us control over our lives and, the Chinese say, over our destiny.

At certain times, one palace is more prominent in our lives than others. Whatever is most stressful to us in the moment is the palace we are working with. We can be in one Palace for several years or a matter of weeks, depending on the course of our lives and the emotions we associate with it. Take a look at the list of the Nine Palaces and see where you are right now in your life:





Children and Creativity

Travel and Adventure

Career and Knowledge



The primary Palace is Health. Without our health, we cannot move easily to any of the other Palaces. The final Palace, Home, is a reflection of having found our "home" in the world, of making peace with all the other palaces--basically they don't stress us out anymore. The Palaces can develop literally, as in taking a year-long course to expand our knowledge and further our career, or figuratively, as a disease process in the Creativity palace that develops as infertility.

In Chinese medicine, we ask ourselves, "What Palace are we engaging with?" The palace we struggle with is the area where we lack control. But through our will, we are able to make choices for ourselves and determine how we react to life's challenges. If we give up the struggle, if we embrace life's challenges, we see they are the root of our suffering and also our growth. This wisdom helps move us through the Palaces and ultimately towards "Home." We find that, in fact, we do have control over these areas of our life, even those areas where we feel particularly helpless.

My teacher says you can heal what you're conscious of. When we become conscious of the stresses in our lives, we can heal them. By changing our minds, we can change the disease. Life then, becomes a series of opportunities for change. What better attitude to bring us into the New Year?

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