Jing Essence


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"Jing Essence is precious stuff. You've got just enough to last your life and when you die it's all gone. Keep it carefully!"

Well, that's what the ancient Chinese said about it. What is it?

In modern science there is no direct equivalent as far as I know. However, after I describe it you'll understand why certain proposals have been made.

The way I think of it is like a small bottle containing liquid, or beads of compressed, concentrated energy if you prefer: rather like small sweets, perhaps.

If you are born alive, you receive a bottle at birth. That's yours and nobody else can use it: you cannot give it away.

As you live, you use it up, like fuel in your car. Unlike fuel, you can't buy more, though you do make more - a little more - as you go along, depending on what you do. 

You can certainly use it up faster than desirable, like going everywhere in first gear, revving your car's engine furiously when you should be driving smoothly along with just the right revs to keep you going without stalling.

Some people live in hilly countries. If they drive without too much haste, their car's fuel will last longer. But forever racing up and down mountains will use it up faster; the same if they insist on hauling a huge caravan behind them.

Or if they go everywhere with the air-conditioning on at full pelt in warm weather and the heater on all the time in cold weather. Those use fuel, and sometimes in small cars you notice the engine labouring, particularly with air-conditioning: certainly the fuel goes down faster.

This analogy with a car and its fuel isn't perfect, however. Your body can repair itself most of the time, given the right materials and time. You can choose to get fit, or not. You can choose to rest, or not.

You choose what to eat and some foods are better than others. Bad and junk foods and bad eating habits use up energy without supplying much of what you need, whereas good foods and eating habits enhance your energy without needing so much digestive power. You notice this when after a 'bad' meal you soon need more or you feel tired, whereas after 'good' food you feel brighter and alert.

So, back to the bottle's contents. What did the ancient Chinese think used it up faster? What did they find that enhanced it, even increased it?

First, some people, even from healthy backgrounds, seem to receive the short straw and struggle with health all their lives. The Jing Essence idea says that to some extent how powerfully you struggle is a measure of the quality of your Jing Essence.

The quantity of the essence however decides how long you last.

So someone born without lots of jing-essence can still live a long life by taking care. Someone else, given lots of good quality essence can use it up fast by living dangerously.

How do you get Jing Essence?

It comes to you from your parents. It helps to have had healthy, youngish, parents, and to have enjoyed nine months in a womb provided by a mother who herself remained healthy throughout it and your birth.

So, in a way, it is your inheritance: nowadays we might say your genetic inheritance, except the latter doesn't supply the idea of a limited supply of something gradually used up in life.

So, that's the lot? No more? Well, not quite: you need just about all the blood in your body to make an additional drop of Jing Essence, and then only if it's healthy Blood - so ice-cream and popcorn won't help.

What uses up Jing Essence faster?

Here are some examples. Once you get the idea you'll think of more.

  • Living life faster than your body is designed for, by often taking stimulants to boost its performance. This category probably includes coffee although its bad effects are more noticeable the older or more ill you are.
  • Severe illness that drains your body's resources and from which you take a while to recover.
  • Enduring long periods of extreme stress.
  • Men! Dissipating your semen too much.
  • Women! Having too many babies close together without giving yourself time to recover between them. Also, losing too much blood during periods, for a long time.
  • Overstrain too often: one thinks of over-lifting but there are many kinds of strain. (I grew up on a farm and in my early teens grew tall and thin very fast  - I was nearly 2 metres high by the age of 13 - yet insisted on helping grown, strong men with heavy lifting. I could do it for a morning, but then had to lie down for the rest of the day and often the next day too.)
  • Taking too little rest, including sleep, from your work.

Where do you keep your Jing Essence?

The ancient texts are quite clear that your Jing essence is guarded, or kept, by your Kidneys. (Not your physical kidneys but the Zang-fu Energy Organs of the same name.)

Your Kidneys have an important role in your health. Theoretically you could have plenty of Jing Essence but weak Kidney energy, or vice versa. (However, one cause of weak Kidneys is weak Jing.)

In Chinese medicine, what does Jing actually DO?

OK. Now you're asking a difficult question or rather, a question with a more complicated answer and we must grope around in the metaphysics department a bit.

There are various concepts in Chinese medicine. The Zang-fu Energy organs are one such concept. Another is the 5-Element system.

Possibly even more important is the idea of the Channels or Meridians of acupuncture, along which flows Qi and Blood and which, taking all their side channels (their technical term is 'collaterals') into account bind the whole thing together.

Jing essence of itself does nothing. It's just in the bottle, so to speak. It is about the most Yin thing or stuff you've got. It just sits there.

What is said to move it is the 'Corporeal soul'. (Can we just put aside the meaning of the word 'soul' there for a moment? Let's just say that the idea behind it is not that of a soul that survives death, as per Christianity, Islam and Judaism for example, but more like an active piece of computer software that ceases when switched off, as when you die.) The Corporeal soul is managed by, (or 'attracted' by) the very active Qi of your Lung Energy Organ.

So, as long as you continue to breathe, your Jing essence is circulated by your Corporeal soul which itself moves with the Lung Qi. So keep breathing, and learn to do it well, because it will circulate your Jing essence better: 'airing' your Jing essence like this turns out to be a good move! Hence the bellows on the right.

Right, now to answer the question. Circulated by the Corporeal soul, your Jing essence goes in and out and round about, to all parts of your body, along your acupuncture channels. As such it is available to enter and be used by your Zang-fu Energy organs to maintain your health, repair your body, replenish your energy and keep you bright.

Thinking of it in modern 'Western' terms, your seed of potential takes on its inheritance only when worked on by its environment which, initially, is the womb. After you emerge, it manages the interaction with your external environment. A seed needs a space, water, earth, sunshine and time to sprout and grow. 

So what does it do? It becomes the force driving all your life's processes. Combined with the energies you get from eating and breathing, and from your thoughts and emotions, it turns into your life. And as you start your life, this wonderful stuff is the fuel ignited by your first breath.

How does it work out through life?

Fundamentally your strength to survive depends on your Jing essence. As you use it, you grow, mature and eventually decline. It carries you through all the stages of life and its development. As it gets used up, you show signs of aging.

What about illness?

If you have good supplies of Jing essence, most illnesses pose no problem: it has the wherewithal to handle them.

Severe or protracted illness is something else. Very high fevers, especially in babies or children, can use it up fast, because they can't take in enough food to replace the energy deployed to maintain the fever. That energy comes from somewhere else - their Jing supply.

Protracted disease or illness that lays waste to you also draws heavily on it. Although I'm not sure this is how the ancient Chinese thought about it, my understanding is this:

  • Suppose that you have something like chronic fatigue syndrome, but force yourself to work or play as if you didn't (although of course there comes a point when you simply can't carry on). To carry on like this requires you to draw on Jing supplies. In effect you get into an overdraft situation, consuming all this year's supply and then drawing heavily on next year's supply too.
  • So when you arrive at next year, the store is almost empty! Even if you begin to get well, recovery takes time before you return to your former state of vibrant health. That's when you no longer over-draw on your Jing, and you catch up with the supply. After all, you don't get all your Jing at once. Your Kidneys dole it out gradually.
  • Putting it a slightly different way, if you've used up several years supply into the future, you'll have to wait a bit before you reach the point that supply is again undiminished.

Here I've used the idea of illness, but you should now see why the same applies to any kind of overuse of Jing, as from taking stimulants, from severe strain, from having too many babies close together without recovering between them, and so on.

What else consumes Jing Essence?

All your organs consume Jing. When talking of an Energy organ, you sometimes see its Jing discussed, as if it were separate. For example, Kidney Jing is often discussed in the literature, but really, this is just the Jing that the Kidneys make their own.

Anything that adversely affects your Energy Organs may consume more Jing than desirable. 

Warning: the rest of this section is politically incorrect!

We all want to remain healthy throughout our lives. Immunisation is promoted widely for this and, although hygiene and other factors account for some of its successes, it is a great idea.

However, it is difficult to know what the long term effects of immunisation are. Nowadays, at least in the UK, a baby receives at least 18 vaccinations within its first 18 - 24 months of life. Some of these are booster shots.

The reasoning is that getting these in before the baby's immune system becomes fully operational means that the baby is protected as early as possible.

That is a laudable reason, but we don't know what - if anything - this does to the baby's long-term health and its immune system.

However, for protection, many of these immunisations must be repeated throughout life: expensive - and remember, these are powerful medicines that enter quickly into the blood stream, where they head directly towards your important organs, like your heart, liver and kidneys.

Also, the desired antibodies which the process is aimed to produce don't always appear, meaning still more shots. 

From the Chinese medical perspective, if there is no reaction, one wonders what has happened. Where did the substance go?

The belief, only half formed or articulated much, is that it enters the Energy organs, the Zang-fu, rather than forcing the production of the antibody. If so, that is likely to reduce their health, meaning that they will need more Jing.

Early contact with common diseases forces your immune system to exert itself, usually safely. In the UK, those common diseases used to be mumps, measles and chicken pox, each producing changes on the skin and/or glands, and mostly producing a fever of sorts.

Nowadays, some such diseases, which until the 1980s were considered normal and mostly not dangerous (alas, some people did react badly and a very few died, even with common diseases, but the numbers were small) are treated as deadly, and children are immunised against them.

Since nearly all are immunised, and have been for many years, we don't have a control group to compare their long-term health with.

A possible Elephant in the room

There is a huge increase, at least in the UK, in the incidence of skin and lung problems. I have asked people with whom I was at school in the 1950s and 1960s how many cases of asthma and eczema they remember. In one school of 800 boys, I could remember nobody and a friend - who later became a doctor - remembered one possible case. Just one. As for hay-fever, I don't remember any, but then I wasn't thinking about it.

At that time, we had all been vaccinated against polio and smallpox. Some had received immunisations against a few other diseases, especially if they came from abroad. 

We had, most of us, scant regard for cleanliness. We were boys, played games in the mud and so on. Many of us would have had pets, hairy pets, at home. So there are other reasons why we might not have developed reactivity to animals and so on. We were all from middle-class backgrounds so probably moderately well fed. (Though even here, fashions have changed. My mother-in-law was horrified that we weren't giving our daughter at least 4 good tablespoons of white sugar daily for her health, as my wife received at that age.)

Scientists are puzzled by the huge increase in the incidence of lung and skin problems. In Chinese medicine, the Lungs manage the defensive energies of the body, although they draw on Jing and other of the Zang-fu for help.

Vaccinations bypass the Lungs, so the defensive energies that the Lung Energy organ wields can't function properly. Nevertheless, the Lungs are said, in Chinese medicine, to be the Energy organ most susceptible to infection.

So is it surprising that the skin and the lungs, both of which are 'ruled' in Chinese medicine, by the Lungs, produce chronic symptoms of asthma etc to such an extent?

In effect, by suppressing the normal reaction of the Lungs, which is a rash or skin eruption often with coughing, sneezing, sore throat, thirst and nasal symptoms etc, all of which are a healthy body's way of defending itself when attacked, we have pushed the Lungs into a lower but more chronic level of reaction.

So, more hayfever, more skin problems, more asthma. Long-term, much more expensive than just letting ourselves catch and experience the illnesses.

End of politically incorrect section.

What can you do to foster your Jing?

Perhaps 3000 years have passed since the Chinese started to give serious thought to it, although Daoism probably predated Chinese medicine and the idea of Jing essence was very important to them.

Over that period, some of the most intelligent and able people including physicians who ever lived, faced at times with the violent chaos that has periodically gripped their country, have had plenty of time to consider the matter.

The following is a short introduction. Many large books have been written. There don't seem to be any short cuts, although a few methods seem to help temporarily. Only consistent practice is considered really beneficial.

Remember, the aim is to live a long life, in health! The aim is not necessarily to get hugely strong or ripped, or beautiful, or rich.

  • Keep your Energy organs healthy
  • Keep your acupuncture channels open and flexible
  • Eat the right foods for your constitution
  • Eat food the right way
  • Learn to think calmly and dispassionately
  • Live somewhere that doesn't poison you and does provide clean air and the means to live life at least partly out of doors
  • Avoid getting killed or injured badly.

So, to help to improve your jing-essence:

  • Learn either Qi Gong and/or Tai Chi, or similar
  • Learn to breathe properly
  • Learn to meditate, or pray: regularly
  • Take regular but not excessive exercise
  • Eat moderately, chewing well, food that has been properly chosen for you and cooked well
  • Rest enough and sleep well
  • Harness your emotions
  • Don't become acquisitive
  • If ill, see someone who understands 'energy medicine' who will aim to keep your Energy organs healthy, can help your acupuncture channels remain open and advise you on the right foods for your condition
  • Consider carefully the necessity for immunisation (because although, above, I hint at the negative effects of too many childhood vaccinations, especially for childhood diseases like mumps, measles and chicken pox, even a healthy immune system is sorely challenged by some virulent and deadly diseases that travellers from the UK may experience)
  • Aim for a 'spiritual' life (for suggestions about what I mean, click here)
  • Learn how to manage stress (see chapter 5 of my book on 'Qi Stagnation')
  • Consider studying Chinese martial arts with someone experienced

What about herbs and particular foods?

  • Some herbs are considered particularly beneficial for Jing Essence, including Chinese or Korean Ginseng. However, don't take these until your body is in balance and health. They may otherwise imbalance you. 
  • Food? Preferably organic, properly husbanded, picked when ready, cleaned and cooked appropriately as part of a balanced diet, meaning foods should be eaten from each of the five 'flavours'. (Another big subject, which I've partly covered in Chapter 9 of my book 'Yin Deficiency'.)

Note: this page is not complete! I look forward to hearing from others with different experience.

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