The Courage to Face the Storm (Season of Water/Winter)
3 years, 3 months ago Posted in: ., Acupuncture, Asian Medicine, Climate Change, Medicine, Self care, The Storm 0
The Courage to Face the Storm (Season of Water/Winter)


It’s a chilly, quiet day here on the darkest day of the year as I sit and ponder what to say about self-care in regards to the 5-elements view of Water and the season of Winter. There’s a deep well of metaphors and insight that emerge anytime we begin speaking of water, particularly in the metaphysical sense as we do Taoist Medicine, with regards to our physical and psychological health. No one can deny that Water is Life. In the most very real and practical sense, all biological forms that we know of emerge out of watery, fluid state, both from an evolutionary standpoint as well embryological. In the preface to one of my favorite books on water, Sensitive Chaos by Theodore Schwenk, the revered marine biologist Commandant Jacques Cousteau said in regard to the organisms he studied “all that life around us was really water, modeled according to it’s own laws, vitalized by each fresh venture, striving to rise in consciousness.” The same could be said for land organisms as well since the fluid principles which govern marine animal structures also govern our own. The thought that organic life is essentially water imbued with form and consciousness is echoed in the Taoist view of the Water element in it’s most precious physiological form- as Jing, which means Essence. 

According to theory, Jing is stored in the Kidneys, or rather the Ming Men- the Gates of Vitality, which is also thought of as Kidney Yang and Kidney Yin. Though Jing is actually the basis for all other fluids in the body, it’s most direct physical manifestations are semen, menstrual blood (itself a special kind of blood intimately connected with the process of reproduction) and bone marrow. As per convention, Jing is seen as our inherited vitality and reserves that underlie all other physiological activities. In essence, it is our DNA and the hereditary strengths and weaknesses we acquire from our parents. It is an important element in numerous critical functions such as reproduction, metabolism, and mental awareness. It’s also important to note that Jing is divided into both pre and post natal Jing- the former being the Essence we receive at birth and the later being that which we derive from air, water, and food. Proper nutrition and lifestyle practices are the keys to conserving and maintaining pre-natal Jing for as long as possible, and constitute the ultimate goal of a true physician from a Taoist perspective. 

Psychologically speaking, the emotion that affects the Kidneys, and therefore eats up Jing, is fear. Like any of the mental/emotional processes, fear has a natural place in our lives, but in excess amounts can take serious tolls on our physical and mental health. Fear is a mental/emotional state that we have known since before our humanoid form ever evolved.  In my view, fear is ultimately rooted in our own mortality, for the most primal sense of fear is the destruction of self as the water-filled sacs we embody all face inevitable destruction. Evolutionarily, fear served as a means of survival to prevent from being eaten by something larger or avoid other forms of physical death. But as curious and troublesome apes we have devised countless more forms of fear, some imaginary and some not, and seem stricken with an unbreakable habit of inflicting more trauma/fear on each other. On-going psychological trauma and events which induce heightened amounts of fear have been shown to have dramatic impacts on numerous physiological functions, all of which implicate damage to the Jing/Essence in a Taoist medicine context (as well as to Shen, or Spirit, but that is in the Fire blog). In particular, we know that persistent trauma induces a rise in cortisol from the adrenals, who sit just on top of the kidneys, and excessive cortisol dosages induce all kinds of ailments, from depression/anxiety, muscular and skeletal problems (back pain in particular), to decreased sexual function. 

So how do we protect our Essence from damage, both physical and psychic? First and foremost in protecting Kidney qi/Jing is living a life of moderation- getting adequate sleep and hydration, not over indulging in food/drugs/sex, and avoiding heightened and prolonged stressful situations which unnecessarily impact our body’s vital fluids. Obviously sometimes the later cannot be helped as we don’t often have a choice as to certain impactful situations- particularly for those who grow up in abusive situations or have been attacked by the exploits of colonialist, patriarchal, military states. But even in times of extreme stress, if we are fortunate enough to still have a place to call home and moderate resources, we have a choice to engage in overall-wellbeing supporting activities like proper nutrition, herbal therapy, regular acupuncture/body work, and restorative activities like qi gong, yoga, and meditation. Qi gong in particular has a whole set of exercises aimed at protecting and supporting Jing and the Water element, some of which may even help restore it after damage has been sustained. Unplugging from the fear-machine of the media is also of great benefit, and I often make a point of going on a media fast this time of year. It’s also a great way to honor the darkness which is an ally to water whose color is black in the Taoist arrangement of correspondences.

Sleep is of course another area where we may not necessarily have a choice as insomnia can be the monster that walks into your life against your will. Again this is a problem that is treatable through acupuncture, herbs and lifestyle habits; I had horrendous insomnia during graduate school, and have successfully beaten it back to where only occasionally do I now need an herbal sleep aid. Insomnia often is tied to that other monster in our life which we can have a bit more control over- stress. Stress of course is a downstream product of fear, as the later is usually in the background, whether it’s the stress of a toxic work or home environment or the lesser stress of our work in the world and the fine line between success and failure. A recent study on meditation/mindfulness exercises, of which qi gong qualifies as, showed that sustained mediation practice helps to increase grey matter in the brain. This is relevant from a Taoist perspective because the brain- or the “Sea of Marrow”- is seen as essentially a product of Jing, and from my perspective, the findings of this Western study imply that in fact we can replenish our Jing through meditation and related practices. This is a critical break from tradition which says that our Jing is fixed at birth and only diminishes with time.

In the face of the Storm which we face today with democracy in shambles, hate-mongering fascism on the rise, and climatic catastrophe nigh, there is ample cause to be afraid. Some might say this in itself is fear-mongering, but to deny the dangers we are now in as a society is either complete ignorance or willful denial of reality- neither of which will help us collectively or individually. To deny fear is not the answer to preventing it from entering our veins and wearing us down. The antidote to fear of course is courage, which is conveniently housed along with willpower in the in the Ming Men- the Gates of Vitality seated in the Kidneys. So from a Taoist medicine perspective, protecting our reservoir of Essence is crucial step in bein able to withstand the coming Storm. May your Jing be potent and safe, and courage embolden your Heart in the coming years.


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