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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 you use fuel faster.
As we get used to electrical cars, battery fuelled, we’ll become more aware of all this.
This analogy with a car and its fuel isn’t perfect, however. Your body can repair itself, given the right materials and time. You can choose to get fit, or not, and 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 digestive 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 bright 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.
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.
Sadly, ice-cream and popcorn don’t work – my children have tried both.
Here are some examples. Once you get the idea you’ll think of more.
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.)
From here on you’ll see more words explained by TCM theory.
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.)
OK. Now you’re asking a difficult question or rather, a question with a more complicated answer! We must grope around in the metaphysics department a bit.
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 picture of the bellows.
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 for 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. As you start, your first breath ignites this wonderful stuff into 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 ageing.
If you have good supplies of Jing essence, most illnesses pose no problem: it gives you 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.
These lay waste to you and draw heavily on your jing essence.
Although I’m not sure this is how the ancient Chinese thought about it, my understanding is this:
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.
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.
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. Since its immune system isn’t functioning like an adult’s, the baby’s reactions to the immunisations will be subdued.
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 the health, meaning that they will use up 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.
There’s a reason these diseases are best caught when you are young. Measles, for instance, apparently damages the immune system by re-setting it, knocking out its acquired resistance to other diseases. Early in life you haven’t had many diseases so this may not matter. Catch it when you’re an adult and it could jeopardise your future health by making you susceptible again to diseases your body had previously learned how to deal with.
However, every child I was at school with had had measles and thought nothing of it. It was just another disease like chicken pox. No big deal.
Many such diseases, which until the 1980s were considered normal and mostly not dangerous are nowadays treated as deadly, and we immunise babies against them.
Since nearly all babies are immunised, and have been for many years, we don’t have a control group to compare their long-term health with.
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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. 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, they had vaccinated all of us against polio and smallpox. If you lived abroad, they immunised you – abroad – against other diseases like, I expect, cholera and rabies.
In the UK 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 change. We horrified my mother-in-law because we weren’t giving our 2-year-old daughter at least 4 good tablespoons of white sugar daily for her health, which she had given my wife at that age.)
Scientists are puzzled by the huge increase in the incidence of persistent 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 against many diseases and keeping the ‘healthy’ reaction on the outside, we have pushed the Lungs into a lower, inner, and more chronic level of reaction.
So that means we get more chronic allergies and hay-fever, more skin problems, more asthma. Long-term, as far as a budget for national health is concerned, can we be sure this is less expensive than just letting ourselves catch and experience these once-normal childhood illnesses?
This is a complicated subject! – see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2973966/
and one must bear in mind that measles – and other childhood diseases can make babies susceptible to other serious problems like encephalitis. Nevertheless I don’t see how the matter can be resolved unless the incidence of vaccination is compared with the subsequent cost to a country of long-term Lung, skin and associated problems.
End of politically incorrect section.
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.
Note: this page is not complete! I look forward to hearing from others with different experience.