By Hazel Appaqaq | 25 minute read
In all the familiar ways that it has done through the Earth’s ages, a new Summer solstice blooms over the island. The sun hurdles the horizon, the original Olympic athlete, and everything that consumes light, or has a way of getting it from something else, turns in rapt attention to its slow soar across the sky. Down below, in the dense thicket of the Cortesian wilderness, the indigenous creatures and critters going about their Summer routines seem oblivious to the disrupted sense of normalcy of the humans. Whereas for the hominoids, it is as though Winter is reaching a furry paw into the internal Summer of our lives.
As our senses receive the signals of the warming and brightening climate, the faltering level of community and interaction which our organisms also expect – seeing each others’ faces, sharing meals and being in touch – is creating a very different experience in the habitat of our cells. To the evolutionary expectations of our systems, the restrictions designed to protect our health and save lives had the side effect of stalling the “soft animal of our bodies” in a perpetual hibernation-like hush. Outwardly mandated to resist the invitation of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, we could not let our social being love what it loves, or at most, only from a starkly dissatisfying separateness.
The emptiness that continues to be felt, from not flocking together in stride with the other earthlings possessing a pulse, can be regarded as an echo of the Winter interlude of our ancestors. Consequently, the fact that we’re spending more time in seclusion, and may still be carrying a few extra warm layers, presents an opportunity to become more attuned with our requirement to pendulate: to sway with a tidal rhythm that connects us to season, place, and internal wilderness. And, as many of us contend with financial concerns, or uncertainties in our wherewithal to cope, and also with having the alarm bells of our fear response tolling more frequently, these shared experiences place us firmly in the domain of the Kidneys. The organ process associated with Winter, the Kidneys preside over themes of external and internal resources, and the emotion fear. This nexus of commonly felt threads is an excellent excuse to once again, peer through the kaleidoscopic oculus that is TCM.
In the sine wave of the seasonal flux, Winter’s dominion is at the bottom of the trough, where the activity of life is at its lowest, and Yin ascends to a crest of its power. The cold and darkness induce concentration in matter and energy, and the goal of the land becomes the conservation of the precious nourishment that was eaten or piled up in the Fall. By all outward appearances, life’s movement and growth has ceased, as creatures lie hidden in grottos or contained in cocoons. In the vegetative world, a stint of chilled stasis is required for seeds to germinate in the Spring, but the suppression of Fire is not complete. The animals, insects, and plants have burrowed not only into physical roots and dens, they are also tunnelling into themselves, seeking a warmth at the core of their being. During this lull in outward movement, progress is happening beyond what the eye can see.
Water’s character among the elements is the most Yin, thus its influence is strongest in the Winter. Like the other elements, the attributes that describe Water’s presence in people derive from the various forms that it takes in nature. The ocean in its vastness relates to the unconscious, in its fertile environment to the source of our creative potential and vitality, and in its inscrutable depths to the kind of fear that we feel in the form of existential dread. A churning river conveys the wants and wishes that propel us forward in life. The temporary and solitary conditions of our mortal coil are captured by a single droplet and a passing wave. Furthermore, Water’s states serve to describe its state in us. It’s inherent power is to flow, which a person might display as the skill of acceding to obstacles in a way that finds the “yes” in every “no,” and a redeeming quality in any experience of adversity. Conversely, the solidity of ice on a frozen lake can be seen in one who has become immobilized or stuck. Its potential to either form a mirror like surface, or to be crystal clear implies the mind’s gift of reflecting on a subject, and to gaze into our own depths. The quivering ripples in a puddle can appeal to both a free floating, habitual anxiety that attaches to any circumstance, or to our bodies’ innate strategy to shake us out of trauma. The moment when someone surpasses a previous limitation or when we display the capacity to transcend the boundaries of our physical form, or our self-fixated instincts, it is akin to Water’s transformative journey as it passes its threshold on the way to becoming a cloud of steam. And a quenching rain finds human form in our ability to soothe and soften our injuries with our tears.
The organs that shine with their own internal sunlight in the Winter are the Kidneys. The Kidneys embody the same Wintertime theme of storage, as they are known to be the reservoir of a creative and catalytic substance that is synonymous with the Jing. In the previous articles of this series, Jing was briefly stated as the soma, or the physical basis of our existence. But of course, as with most concepts of TCM, Jing in its fullness is multilayered, as it has an array of nuances that are relevant to different contexts. In a clinical context, it can be understood as a quintessential substance that the Kidneys house and dispense for growth, reproduction, and regeneration. A fluid that serves as a substratum for all other tissues of the body, it can be likened to the template of DNA. Through its initial production of marrow, it backs the formation of the brain and spinal cord, teeth, bones, blood and hair. As we grow into adulthood, the Jing sponsors the full gamut of our physical development and sexual maturation, including our mental acuity and cleverness. Its abundance is evidenced by all the usual associations with youth; lustrous hair, intact teeth, clarity and sharpness of mind, robust stamina, resilience to disease and the ability to adapt to change. Likewise, our conceptions of old age are apt descriptions for its waning reserve; the fading and drying of the body, dwindling mental capacity, the reduction of the senses and decline of sexual function. This generative and transformative serum is a limited allocation of the germ of life that is endowed to every individual at conception from their parents. Its expenditure governs the lifespan. The life force we harvest from the food we eat and the air we breathe supplements and extends the supply, but once its principal sum is used up, our life comes to a natural end. Since it’s reserve must last a lifetime, we cannot have too much of it.
Most Cortesians are familiar with the realities of living from a finite water supply in the Summer, and in the Winter, the necessity of keeping a fire alive in the wood stove. In the arid months of July and August, when the water table runs low, we must prioritize our water needs and use the least amount possible. Drawing deeply from a well all at once causes a longer recovery time, whereas abbreviated, intermittent consumption moderates the level of depletion. We also know from our firekeeping skills that the concentrated form of heat, concealed in the glowing nuggets of wood char, provides an enduring warmth to a household, and saves us the time and resources of restarting the fire during a downpoury day. Similarly, all the organs consist of a Yin aspect and a Yang aspect. The principle of taking care of the Yin aspect of the Kidneys is similar to protecting our well water supply, in that the key to preserving the essence of the Kidneys is to draw from its resources the minimum required to accomplish any task, and then to practise wise stewardship in a way that allows the supply to recover. The secret to nurturing the Yang aspect of the Kidneys is to cultivate its initiating spark, a pursuit that parallels the skill of maintaining a bed of embers in the wood stove. Kidney Yang is the germ of life that is the body’s source of continuity for all processes, or in other words, the link in the chain of existence. As long as the seed of Yang persists in our being, no matter how distorted it has become from the vicissitudes of life, our access to the Jing’s animating influence remains smoldering within us, harbouring the potential to ignite new growth, healing, and evolution. It is our responsibility to carefully nurture and preserve these two sides of Kidney Jing, as though we were cradling a vessel of water, or stoking a few smoking coals, in our every action over the course of a day. How do I do this, you ask? The Chinese functional concept of the Kidneys encompasses the allopathic definition of the adrenals, the glands that sit on top of the anatomical kidneys and can be described as the roots of our energy. The complementary methods of stewardship and cultivation that support both Kidney Jing and adrenal health have a basis in diet, lifestyle, and introspection.
Holistic medicine acknowledges that 21st century sapiens suffer from adrenal fatigue on a mass scale. The signs of its presence include: feeling constantly drained or without motivation, especially after meals, feeling groggy and underslept upon waking in the morning, having permanent bags under the eyes, low back soreness, brain fog, mood instability including persistent anxiety or depression, weakened immune function, weight gain and an inability to lose weight, and various sleep related issues. The typical causes of this disease are toxic overload, overwork, and the pervasive technologies and habits that prevent us from reaching deep rest. It’s also important to note that adrenal fatigue tends to manifest in concert with two other conditions: anemia, and hypothyroidism. If this is the case, it is important to work on improving all three conditions at once, otherwise any of these that remains untreated will continue to exacerbate and pull the others down with it. By the conventions of the 40 hour work week, and our favourite foods and distractions, the vast majority of us exist in a constant state of stimulation. In face of the ubiquitous circumstances that keep us perpetually plugged in, the act of inhabiting stillness and letting ourselves relax is no small feat. At night, as in the Winter, since many of us lead equally busy, social, and cerebrally active lives as the rest of the year, the Kidneys’ natural periods for regeneration are impeded. Even if tension or anxiety persists at a low level, the cumulative effects undermine their function and recovery. In the hot months of the year, and in the Summertime of our lives, we feel the wealth of our Jing as a carefree, invincible attitude, and we want nothing else than to work or party on its seemingly boundless supply. Little do we know that in the Wintertime, the expense comes back, to be balanced against next year’s reserves, and if we don’t allow ourselves an equally profound period of rest, the adrenals and the Kidneys foot the bill.
A fundamental way that we inadvertently sap the life force from our innocent adrenals is through eating habits that cause spikes and dips in blood sugar. In the developed world, our pantry shelves are replete with foods that have this destabilizing effect on our energy. Naturally, the worst culprits are the First World favourites, to be found in the vast amount of food products in the grocery store: caffeine, white flour, and refined sugars. When we ingest these addictive replicas of real food, the raw energy that we acquire from them is so concentrated that our bodies are forced to dump huge amounts of insulin into our cells’ environment to deal with the excess sugar. Every time this happens, the adrenals must give out a burst of hormones, which places a hefty demand on their energy. In fact, anything that has a dominantly sweet taste has this effect on blood sugar, including all whole fruit, natural sweeteners (agave syrup, maple syrup, coconut crystals, date sugar…), and alternative sweeteners (xylitol, stevia, monk fruit…). It should go without saying that the chemical equivalents (aspartame, sucralose…) are many times worse. Regardless of the manufacturers’ emphasis that they have less calories, or lower glycemic impact, or were harvested from a rainbow straddling the Himalayas, a sugar rush is a sugar rush is a sugar rush (say that five times fast). Furthermore, refined grains, such as white rice or pearl barley, have been stripped of the natural constituents that accompany the starchy part, which our bodies have been accustomed over millennia to digesting all together. When we eat products that contain refined foods, it actually requires those nutrients to be taken from our bones and tissues in order to digest the pure starches by themselves. In other words, when we eat refined foods, at the same time as jolting our bodies with a sugar load, we’re also mining them of essential nutrients. Interestingly, the body’s way of indicating its need for micronutrients is to ramp up the craving for salt. So, if you’ve ever been inside the Bluejay Lake Farm barn, and found yourself salivating in front of the communal salt lick, it may well have been your adrenals’ way, albeit obliquely, of getting your attention. A short list of other modern day products to avoid are: alcohol, tobacco, ganja, food preservatives, antibiotics, and unnecessary pharmaceuticals. Lamentably, chocolate is also on the adrenals’ list of hostile inhibitors, because it contains caffeine, and usually comes mixed with sweeteners to boot.
When it comes to our personal strategy for incorporating these reductions, some people will find that cold turkey works best, and others may achieve more lasting success with a gradual or sequential weaning. In the latter case, two squares of chocolate or a similar, small amount of a less potent sweet item could be permitted per day, until they feel brave enough to seek a greater independence. But, despite the above mentioned reality about sweets, even committing 80% of your eating habits to this diet will yield results in the long run. It’s hard to qualify the simple mercy of not having to pry and heave yourself out of bed, but instead wake up to an earthly vehicle that feels aligned with the impetus of the morning. Or to not feel the need to kickstart your energy after the midday meal with coffee and sweets, but rather to feel grounded and refreshed through the afternoon. Of course, the greater the commitment, the greater the harvest of health that is likely to be reaped, but – someone who is aspiring to progress beyond old habits, yet who is shaky in their execution, should not let perfectionism override their wish to grow and heal. A way to look at this initially intimidating step is to see it as so much room for improvement, which is both straightforward, and immediately doable. At least you know what you need to do, and you can formulate a sense of what lies between you, and feeling better.
The second step, which goes hand-in-hand with the first, is eating to balance blood sugar. A good rule of thumb is to acquire most of the starchy component of each meal in the form of vegetables. The full amount of dietary carbohydrate should ideally be around 80 percent, and of that 80 percent, roughly one quarter can be in the form of whole grains. Potatoes are an exclusion to this guideline, because they also contain an inadequate nutrient-to-starch ratio to be beneficial to tired adrenals. And we’re also not talking about parsnip chips, cauliflower puffs, “vegetable” pasta, heritage grain cereals, etc. Processed carbohydrates also contain a high glycemic load, which means that breads and other products made from milled grains, even if they were whole before milling, are out. Think: whole foods, simply cooked, in their naturally occurring forms. Out of the most popular grains, it is better to stick with those that contain a higher protein content, such as wild rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, oats and buckwheat. Another key practise for softening the sugar punch is to engage in some kind of gentle exercise shortly after each meal. The easiest way is to go for a twenty minute walk, fifteen minutes after eating. The activity helps to drive some of the sugars into the muscles, thus reducing the amount in the bloodstream, and it also improves qi through breathing, which is another critical piece for nourishing Kidney-adrenal vitality.
Regulating blood sugar levels also means not waiting until you’re ravenous before you start thinking about cooking or going out to grab something from the store. As much as we want to avoid shocking our system with too much energy, we also want to protect it from running low, since that is just as much of a form of stress that wreaks havoc on the adrenals. This means that although someone might feel inspired to do an extreme cleanse or intermittent fasting, these might not be the best options for their situation. A rumbling stomach, jittery, nervous energy, sensitive or ringing ears, headache, nausea and trembling, are the adrenals’ ways of signaling their distress due to a precipitous dip in blood sugar. By this time, you’re not likely to make good meal decisions anyway, and when you finally get some food in front of you, you’re more likely to overeat. Eating on behalf of the Kidney-adrenals generally requires a learning curve around cooking more for yourself, and planning ahead. This could include cooking in batches, preparing meals a day ahead of time, or having meal ingredients ready to go, like soaked almonds, sprouted lentils, cooked beans, or bone broth simmering in the slow cooker.
Regular intakes of quality protein and fats are also important for ailing adrenals, both because of their nutritional necessity and because they slow digestion. As well as providing critical building blocks for amino acids, they smoothe the glycemic impact of meals, thus extending the period before hunger sets in. Therefore, the third dietary goal would be to include small amounts of these at every meal, in the proportions of the largest amount at breakfast, a medium amount at lunch, and a small amount at supper. This distribution avails the fortification for when it’s needed most: during the activity of the day. Of course, this last means that breakfast should be a thing. Every day. Just have a breakfast, end of story. Nuts and seeds containing higher amounts of protein and fat include: hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, chia, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, and brazil nuts. Having a store of any of these is a great way to stave off low blood sugar, and avoid caving in to cravings for comfort foods.
TCM’s parallel recommendation to eat protein in small amounts – roughly 10-15 percent of the total diet, reflects the traditional assertion that although it is important, too much protein becomes a burden to the Kidneys. In Healing With Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford lists excessive protein consumption as one of the most common ways that modern people damage the Kidneys. Fortunately for people with a “meat tooth”, curbing excess is more easily done than strengthening deficiency, as would be the remedy for reversing malnourishment. Excess is typically treated by cutting out the offending behaviours and introducing a period of cleansing into the diet and lifestyle. Deficient conditions, on the other hand, usually require a slow and steady reinforcement, which necessitates consistent efforts and ample rest. Rebuilding the adrenals from deficiency is no exception, because depending on the state of depletion, and the degree to which someone immerses themselves in a restorative way of life, the process can easily take years. Typically, a minimum of seven years of sincere efforts yields significant adrenal recovery. Therefore, it is far preferable to take steps immediately towards reversing a pattern of overexertion, than it would be to pull oneself out of the quagmires of fatigue. This is even more important for women to heed, because during the reproductive phase of a woman’s life, the ovaries are responsible for maintaining a number of hormonal roles that are vital to her overall health. At menopause, when the ovaries shut down, these roles are shifted to… you guessed it, the adrenals. So if a woman’s adrenals are already in a state of exhaustion from having their life force squandered, it’s more likely that the transition to menopause will be a difficult one. It’s never too soon to start investing in adrenal vitality.
Recall from Spleen season that large amounts of carbs, sugar, protein, or fat in the evening meal means that the digestive system is working on that during the night, instead of letting the body complete the critical, restorative tasks that it needs to undertake during sleep. This is as much of an imperative for the Kidney-adrenals as it is for the Spleen, because if the body is in major metabolizing mode while we sleep, the Kidneys aren’t accessing deep rest either. The Chinese theory of the organs’ diurnal rhythms identifies the time of the Kidneys’ peak performance as occurring from 5pm-7pm. Feeling extremely droopy or ready to collapse on a regular basis at this time betrays their deficient state. Holistic medicine teaches that the time when the adrenals naturally enter their regenerative phase is 11:00 pm, and in order that they do so, the whole body must be in deep, delta wave sleep. Right around that time of night, if we stay up, we will get a resurgence of energy that can be interpreted as a “second wind.” If we push past the initial 10:00 o’clock drowsiness, it feels good to ride the wave of mental freshness that follows. But this is now the adrenals’ deep reserves that are being accessed. To spend this newly unlocked potential is to subtract it from the regenerative process, which means a withdrawal from the next day’s potency. The person with adrenal health on their mind should go to bed by 10pm at the latest, but 9:30 is even better. Rebuilding this function from deficiency requires a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night. So the two forms of health wisdom are compatible on this level as well, since eating a light supper between 5:00 and 7:00pm allows for a period of initial digestion and unwinding, before hitting the hay.
From the outside, modern day parenting in the nuclear family sounds like one of the most efficient ways of driving the adrenals up the wall, and the Kidneys into the ground. But parents of young children know the importance of maintaining a regular sleep cycle, so why is it that as adults, we tend to skimp on our own sleep hygiene? In addition to throwing our own bedtime out the window, quality sleep is undermined by the habit of collapsing into bed without a period of conscious relaxation. When we feel run down by stress, or we are run ragged by a work schedule or family life that demands our every waking minute, it truly is a blessing to be able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. But what the body truly needs to renew and regain its composure, is a slow descent into unconsciousness. This entails surrendering the level of mind that is in charge of making things happen, and shifting into the mode that is capable of being fully present, and on the receiving end of life. By the time 9:00 o’clock rolls around, it can feel like our inner child is in full resistance to being torn away from our screens, or our favourite nighttime diversions. But being entertained or mentally fascinated by something, and especially being entranced by the blue light of a screen, keeps our brains in the beta range frequencies, which have a stimulating effect, and prevent us from relaxing. Living by the adrenal health program eventually makes plain the paradoxical truth of how our bodies are both highly strong and resilient, and highly sensitive and delicate, at the same time. Learning how to unwind at the end of the day is one way of taking care of the whole being, not just the side that is functional and productive, and responsible for looking after others. Instead of routinely going from one hundred miles an hour by day to a screeching halt at night, some reliable unwinding activities are; trading massage, or doing self-massage, especially on the feet, practicing a gentle style of yoga, such as restorative or Yin, reading a book that’s not too riveting or mentally involved, listening to or making music, journaling, and last but not least, worshiping the fertility gods.
To support all of these dietary and lifestyle shifts in a lasting way, we also want to muster a transformation of our bodily and emotional definition of what it means to be comforted. Take the dietary changes for example. Instead of having “comfort” unconsciously mean the salty, highly starchy, sweet, and trashy food items which the dominant culture has defined as go-tos in times of frazzled nerves, exhaustion and heartache, the idea is to let your experience of food be that which brings you back to center, the place where you feel most yourself. An excellent book that explores the nature of eating (as opposed to what should or should not be eaten), is Nourishing Wisdom, by Marc David. In my own journey with various digestive issues, I’ve come to the understanding that my perennial bid to replace one comfort food with another was still somehow missing the mark. Eventually, it dawned on me that my comfort eating was fueled by the desire to numb out to the feelings and mind spaces that I was tired of inhabiting. In that context, “comfort” meant: to cut off from, to squash, quell, or even be momentarily distracted from those states. The power of sweets, carbs, and especially chocolate, to lift the mood and make us feel happy, is often the sticking point that most works against our commitment to bettering our cultivation game. Even if there’s a conscious decision to change old habits, a struggle typically ensues against unconscious forces that impel us to act from a hidden agenda. TCM identifies this agenda as the egoic self’s primary mandate to protect us from feeling pain that has been sealed off and trapped within a deep compartment of the self.
Lonny S. Jarrett describes this last dynamic in his book, Nourishing Destiny. By his account, something happens to each of us in early childhood, a painful or overwhelming experience that overloads our ability to contend with it. This inevitable experience presents a shock to our system that puts us in conflict with our previous understanding of the world and ourselves. The only way that our immature organism knows how to salvage a sense of internal equilibrium is to formulate some kind of interpretation about who we are in our depths, and about life in general. This interpretation is designed to keep us from re-experiencing the turbulent emotions again. From here on out, the injured child, which without exception we have all been, operates mainly unconsciously by this assessment. Over time, the assessment becomes a lense through which the child perceives subsequent life events, and thus, a thought conceived in a moment of insurmountable pain develops into an outlook. The longer the child looks through the tinted glasses of this outlook, the more they perceive that the events of their life conform to its message. When left unchallenged over many years, the outlook foments into a life thesis. What this aspect of Chinese philosophy undeniably resembles is, of course, modern day trauma theory. But the ancient Chinese also described this process cosmologically as the story by which each of us fragments off from the “primordial Dao,” the unitarian field that encompasses and births all of existence. It explains how we lose our connection to our limitless nature, and our capacity towards unfettered presence and spontaneity. These overlapping areas of Chinese philosophy branch into clinical knowledge through the assertion that we eventually come to embody our erroneous interpretations as illness. Their persistence in our worldview and inner sense of self is predicated on preventing us from being re-wounded. In a sense, the interpretations are of primary importance to confront and dissolve, even more so than the circumstances around what happened when they were first experienced. As such, TCM asserts that getting to the root of our illness and self-defeating habits must eventually entail meeting once more with that seed injury in our life story, and challenging the interpretation that we adopted deeply into body and spirit.
The Lung article introduced the alternate connotation of the Jing as the container of an individual’s ideal life path, or their extent of creative potential. Additionally, the Kidneys are also the keepers of the will. Our uniquely human ability to act from the force of our individual volition comes from the Kidney’s storehouse. The degree to which we manifest the unique purpose that Heaven mandates for us rests upon how skillfully we apply our will, exteriorly in life circumstances, and interiorly in self-reflection. The vast majority of us use this power to figure out how to get what we want, then “make our lives happen,” by moving ourselves from one situation to the next. Following a child’s development of self-consciousness on the road to becoming an individual, this learned approach to the creation of our lives is virtually unavoidable, and in the terms of Chinese cosmology, is a consequence of the child fracturing off from the primordial Dao, and losing “original nature”. The trend that ensues involves a conditioning over the lifespan towards serving one’s instinctual desires, personal wishes, and the preferences of the senses and the mind, until one has progressed to a deep state of entrenchment within one’s constitutional framework. In short, we tend to get bogged down in mundane consciousness, becoming totally identified with the personality, or what has been called “the false self” in the literary world of TCM. From this perspective, there’s no other way of being and acting, than to forcibly maneuver and manipulate the events of our lives by the machinations of the mind. But the eventual result of the mind wielding the will in this way is to tax the will to exhaustion, because this way of being in the world requires its exorbitant expenditure.
Conversely, the nature of Yin can be variously defined as the intermittent silence in between the beats of a rhythm, the negative space in between bodies and surrounding matter, and the resting periods that precede and follow periods of action. The Daoist practice of wuwei, or “doing without doing,” exemplifies the value of aligning with the Yin principle in all pursuits. This way of embodying a balanced form of action closely resembles the landscape’s Wintertime reversion to interiority. Self-discovery is the means by which someone comes into possession of the core of their personhood, which in turn informs their cosmically endowed duty. This duty is an agreement made with Heaven, whereby Heaven has entrusted us with the seed of its purpose, and we are responsible for cultivating and preserving it. In order to be capable of enacting our Heavenly mandate, we must first access the imprint of the Dao, concealed in our depths. The Dao De Jing, a seminal text of TCM, likens this return to authentic self, to nature’s Wintry return to the root.
This reversion is accomplished via the Jing’s counterpart, the Shen. In the previous article that focused on the Heart, the Heart was discussed as being home to the Shen, or the unifying and organizing force behind life. While the Kidney Jing contains the truth of who we are at our most authentic, interior nature, the Shen is that aspect of awareness that allows knowledge of the self, the experience of “me-ness,” which develops in early childhood. Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher of the 4th century B.C., described the infinitely diversifying nature of the Dao, writing, “The Dao blows on the ten thousand things in a different way.” This passage poetically describes that the Shen is what grants us individuation, and furthermore, uniqueness. Stored in our depths is a quality of being that we bring to the world that is ours and ours alone. The Jing provides the substrate of who we are in our heart of hearts, and the Shen applies an activating influence on the innate substrate. The Shen’s animating impulse needs the Jing to act upon, and the vessel of the Jing needs the Shen to bestow it with sentience.
This interaction between the Heart and Kidneys is the most important relationship among the organs, known as the Heart-Kidney axis. This pivotal bond is what allows us to, first, experience ourselves as freely acting individuals, and second, to discover the intent that Heaven placed deep inside us at conception. The way that the adept nurtures and protects Heaven’s decree is by focusing the Shen on the Jing, through a measured application of the will. This interaction of the poles of our human design leads the mental faculties to be willfully directed inward. When done with an ambition that is balanced, inward concentration of the mind yields insight and intuition. When applied in a way that is neither too aggressive, nor too passive, the will can be used in a fashion that conjures Water’s greatest strength. The realms of the Jing cannot be forced open, yet with just enough effort, our human capacity for awareness is empowered to dip into the well of the Jing, and bring measures of the unconscious up to the level of conscious knowing. And beyond what the spotlight of the Shen illuminates, the act of focusing on the Jing makes possible a form of unconscious knowing – a knowing without knowing.
To summarize, an analogy can be made with the fantasy story, The Dark Crystal. Our ignorant habit of guzzling Kidney Jing and adrenal vitality is similar to the Skexies’ way of suctioning life force from the Gelflings. Thus, our society’s extractive and consumptive paradigm is reflected in the daily efforts of the family of organs to maintain the health promoting relationships that are written into their very essence. The gradual teasing apart of these relationships by the habitual mind makes us unwitting participants in the same destructive systems that horrify and blunt our senses from without. Combating this vicious cycle, Chinese medicine is one indigenous perspective among many that evolved from a scientific observation of the patterns inherent to earthbound existence. The ancestral knowledge arising from this tradition identifies that the microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm; that the same wars that are currently being fought 8in resistance to civilization’s devolutionary spiral are being enacted on the battleground of our tissues. Long before modern day psychologists began talking about trauma, the ancient Chinese developed a rigorous understanding of the soul’s fragmentation. Addressing the core and genesis of illness is a necessary part of treating disease. As opposed to the frequent case in allopathy, where patients often spend five to twenty minutes in contact with a physician or specialist, the goal of the TCM practitioner is to become acquainted with the individual in their uniqueness and facilitate their active enrollment in the healing process. Without this essential ingredient, the patient will remain reliant on continued treatment to shift the flow and pattern of their troubles, the gravitational force of which remains hidden within the innermost layers of their being.
For those who are quiet enough to hear it, this land has a voice that speaks in the same language as traditional Chinese medicine. There’s talk of this place having a spirit of its own, a force that reeled in the year-rounders and that continues to cause the “migratory birds” among us to keep coming back. One of the ways that this power, called the “Cortes vortex,” works its influence on us is by demonstrating the art of pendulation with the seasons: the seasons of nature, and the seasons of our own inner wilderness. Its influence is maternal; its effect can be described as gestational. As John Preston once said to me, Cortes is where ambition comes to die. The trueness of his quip was increased by the fact that to my ears, this is a pro. The choice to live a simple life and let it be enough, to allow ourselves the chance to be held by a flourishing landscape, and to let ourselves truly rest in between periods of action, is not, as some might conceive of it, an avoidance of the world’s plights, but in fact, an equally needed contribution. In addition to being an elixir of health in itself, the art of wuwei can be lived and applied as an effective tool for the revolutions of our times. As we continue our collective journey through uncharted territories, we have the choice to allow ourselves to be discovered also by this place – and to permit the inoculation of the habitual self with our inborn, authentic identity.