From where does the Wind blow and to where does it compel us?
A few things about the peak seasonal transitions at the Solstices and Equinoxes that the ancients learned were the concepts of direction and time. The Sun was described by the ancient Daoist shamans as being on a journey that manifested on the Earth as a yearly progression from the time of Birth (Spring time/East) to Growth (Summer/South), then on to Maturing (Fall/ West) and Waning (Winter/North). Along its way, it stopped at different positions, compared to palaces, just before the next leg. At the Winter Solstice, its resting place was in the North, at the “Palace of Eternal Frost”, a place of great darkness in the time of Greater Yin, and at an “energetic time of transition (that) corresponds to ‘Midnight (Zi).” (Johnson, 35)
Driven by the celestial Wind, following the Sun’s movements lead them to realize that something about the seasonal qualities of the Earth and the phases of human life and thriving were analogous. The quality of the Wind at the Winter Solstice was called Guang Mo Feng (The Wind of Far Reaching Power). “This is a Very Strong Wind. If this Wind is allowed to invade the body, it will energetically settle in the Kidney organs and lodge itself externally in the bones and para-vertebral sinews in the shoulder and the upper back, where it is capable of giving rise to symptoms of Cold.” (Johnson, 168) This “Great Unyielding Wind (Da Gang Feng)” is the driving Winter Wind and is associated with a musical instrument called the Da Gu, which are large drums- the kind that, once struck, vibrate deeply into the bones and like thunder, can strike sudden terror in the Heart. When this Wind blows, there is a need to close up in the house for protection, as its presence can seem quite relentless and punishing. But it will make us move, one way or the other. The blowing Winds announce change; more strongly, they require change. In Energetic Medicine, the breath is a catalyst for transformation and is considered a type of Wind, but maybe more perplexing for Westerners is the concept of the Emotions having physical impact like Wind. In nature, the energy of the Human Internal Wind creates an emotional climate that provides an environment in which we can thrive or wither, physically, emotionally or spiritually. A primer on 5 Element Theory and an essay on how it may be possible that emotion can move tissue is at the end of this post.
And what of the full moon? The Full Cold Moon reflects the coming light of Spring; plus this year, we get a shower of stars from the Ursid Meteor, which I hope portends well. Meanwhile, as the Wind howls and the Winter begins to descend, we look forward to the promise of warmer light- I hope your Solstice is full of new meaning from all the old pathways. Blessings!
The Coming of Light
Mark Strand (1934-2014)
Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.
Stuff to do while you're waiting for Old Man Winter to blow away:
Create an "All Senses Garden" or at least plan one in your head:
One of my favorite garden centers in Nashville, is Bates Garden and Nursery; they posted this inspirational article from Monrovia Plant Company about creating a Winter landscape according to the senses:
Prepare for the Equinox by practicing egg balancing. Fun video by Kirk Mona (You Tube: Secret Nature)
Five Element Theory and Medical Qigong in a Greatly Reduced Nutshell (a Primer)
The combinations of the elements, transformed by the movement of Yin and Yang form the basis of 5 Element or 5 Phase Theory, which attempts to explain the Universe and Nature, including the human body and it’s health, or lack thereof, through these variations.
The five elements are linked by energetic resonance or frequency with specific colors, seasons, sounds, sense organs, as well as other aspects -specific organs in the body- Yin organs (nurturing organs), that are paired with Yang organs (hollow, transporting, moving and eliminating) to make organ systems that manage the functions of the entire body. Qigong means cultivating skill (gong) with the energy of life (Qi). There are three branches- Martial (Tai Chi, Kung Fu), Spiritual and Medical (focused on wellness and healing) Medical Qigong is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, with acupuncture and herbal medicine). Each discipline uses Qigong to achieve different goals- martial arts cultivate qi to develop strength, coordination and power for warriors and athletes (self defense); spiritual seekers use it to attain spiritual wisdom and skill; and the aim of Medical Qigong is to move, harmonize or balance qi throughout the body ‘s systems to promote health. All three branches employ mental focus, breathing techniques, and some degree of activity in coordination and so improve physical, mental and emotional fitness.
Qi comes into the body through the breath and moves through channels, or meridians, that flow through the body like streams, creeks and rivers that pool in the areas of specific organs giving them vitality. Health issues are usually described in terms of disharmony or lack of balance in the flow of Qi through these pathways or in the organs themselves. We practice Medical Qigong to address problems with the flow of Qi in the body, either through healing treatments done by a medical qigong practitioner or movement practice, or both.
The Dao, Wuji, Yin and Yang-
The Dao is translated most often as “the Way” pointing to a path, a process, or an active progression. It is unknowable and undefinable, but is sometimes thought of as Divine Mind. The Dao just Is. Wuji (woo jee), translated as Formless Void, could be seen as the medium through which the Divine Mind manifests Its creative ideas. In this view, the origin of the Universe occurred as the Creator’s idea of it passed through the Wuji, breaking the stillness into movement, referred to as Taiji (Supreme Ultimate), or Yin and Yang. The motion of Yin and Yang is considered the original movement of Creation, which generated the energy to produce the 5 elements, or phases, of material existence- fire, earth, metal, water and wood (the Five Lights). These “Five Lights” generated spiritual, then energetic orbs that provide an energetic template for all things that have physical form- heavenly bodies and the human body.
Yin and yang are perpetually in motion and one cannot exist without the other; there is always a little Yin in Yang and vice versa. Their movement is responsible for the various transformations in all of existence- seasons, epochs, timelines, birth, growth, thriving, waning, deterioration, dying, etc. Most of us Westerners are familiar with the double fish symbol of Yin and Yang and are vaguely aware of its associations- Yin is female and Yang is male, but their meanings are much broader than that. Yin forces are thick, cool and/or still- Earth, dark, heavy, receptive, covered; the Yin energy channels in the body are inside and to the front. Yang forces are weightless, motivational and "sparking"- Heaven, bright, light, active and open; the Yang channels are on the sides and the back of the body. The left side of our body is the Yang side and the right side is the Yin side. In a personal Qigong practice, it can be useful to think of Yin and Yang in this way: the forms we practice are Yang (observable movement); simultaneously, we are creating a still pointed focus inside- which is Yin (hidden); likewise, sitting meditations are Yin in appearance (still), but Yang on the inside (mental focus on moving Qi and Blood in the body at Will, called Nei Gong).
Internal Winds, or, How can Emotions Move Tissue?
Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Connection Between Emotions and the Disease Process
(Explanation described largely from Dr. Leon Hammer's work, "Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies)
Internal Emotions create vibrations within the tissues of the body, comparable to the way Wind moves objects, or as Johnson explains, “the body is a “reed that is shaken”. (Vol. 3, 458)
He goes on to explain that the ancient Feng Shui masters considered the Wind as the first and primary Element that commands the influences of Nature upon the Earth. Human wind, or breath, is created (in Medical Qigong therapies) by the doctor’s Yi, Shen and Qi (which I interpret as the energy of the Heart/Mind and it's Intention). The speed and direction of the wind is determined by the air flow created from high (heart fire) and low (kidney water). The energy of moving wind can be so gentle that it causes subtle penetrations of the body’s tissues and cells; the energetic currents are like water in their flows; they move across the body’s surface and sometimes collect in pockets, then unpredictably move along. In nature, the energy of the human Wind establishes the foundation of the environmental climate. The Internal Climate of the body, which in balance is mild and pleasant, is altered for the worse by the chronic or acute presence of seven emotions: Anxiety, Excitement, Worry, Grief, Sadness, Fear, Shock.
When talking about how an intangible, such as an emotion, can physically alter or influence the body’s organs, it is crucial to understand the idea that everything is a form of energy with varying rates of vibration. All energy attracts or repels what is either in sync with it or opposed to it. This comes up in Qigong classes when we talk about the various sensory associations in 5 Element perspective. The way I see it, when a person experiences any emotion, his/her entire body- all the cells and processes- reorganizes around that frequency. The heart/mind and the body begin to pay attention to this "something" that is happening that changes its default status, or homeostatic state, in a highly specific way. This could be one reason why we don’t have to look it up in dictionary to figure out what the emotion is (once we've experienced it); it's usually obvious if one is just a little spooked, pretty scared or struck down in terror, because the body registers and understands the frequencies of those energies in its very cells (the whole frequency band).
So, in Chinese Medicine, if the emotion is anger, the Daoists observed that it resonates most with (what we now know are) the specialized cells that make the Liver (as opposed to the ones that make the Spleen). And that energy causes physiological and psychological changes that begin within the Liver orb- anger generates heat, which makes the energy (Qi) rise, usually way too fast. Since Qi leads Blood, it rises, too, pushing energy quickly upward and through the other organs, especially the Heart and the Brain. The sensation of this fast moving energy produces a feeling of chaos or anxiety, then once into the head, there may be a feeling of pressure or headaches, but also quick moving and scattered thoughts. Hot energy scatters Qi, making it hard to organize, creating scatter brain. Also, the emotion of anger makes us physically tense, so any other Qi is blocked or stagnated and the normal smooth flow comes to a halt, causing bottlenecks and traffic jams in all the other systems or holding in pressure until it explodes or erupts like a volcano or a bomb.
Whereas Western medicine has viewed individual organs as all and only the total of their material forms and functions, the holistic TCM view sees the zang or zangfu (energetic orbs of the organs) as part of a constellation of functions that includes not only the physical roles of the organs, but other seemingly (to Westerners) unrelated phenomena that have been nonetheless observed through millennia as being synchronized with the energetic orb- frequencies or resonances that stimulate or patch into the specialized functions of each organ, such as sound, color, flavor and emotional energy. So, the energetic reality of an organ or organ system is an integration of influences that have an affinity with its specific energetic signature. Probably the first distinction that should be made between Chinese and Western medical models is how physical organs (anatomy and physiology) and the energetic template (or “orb”) for the organs have similarities and important differences. As Manfred Porket explains, “What nevertheless must be kept in mind is that an inductive and synthetic approach, that of Chinese medicine, always concentrates systematic exploration and stringent definition upon functional aspects, just as causal and analytic approach, that of Western anatomy and physiology in modern times- always concentrates such endeavor and definition upon material, substrative postulates.” (Porket, p. 74)
Hammer discusses how emotions are linked to the disease process using the Liver organ system as a starting point. The Liver system contains the body’s coping mechanism for dealing with any hostile or toxic emotional stimulus- especially if it’s chronic. Western physiology tells us that the Liver is the Master Filter for the body- filtering poisons and toxins we take in through food or environment and so it is with toxic emotional input. (This could be a reason why the spiritual virtue of compassion is associated with the Liver- it’s a master of forgiveness no matter what we put it through). In TCM, the Liver is a storage place for Blood, and because of that, it can restore itself more easily than the other organs; it recovers energy when the body is depleted and is responsible to keep the flow of Qi free and smooth, so Liver energies are intimately involved with movement and circulation of energy through the body and are compromised when there is a stagnation of Qi. The Liver yin controls ligaments and tendons, and muscular innervation of the eyes, while Liver Yang controls the nervous system.
There is a “reversible pathway’ between the biological Liver and the emotion of anger and its gradations- agitation,frustration, repression, tension, and stress. This means that any of these emotions may influence the function of the Liver and that a compromised Liver can produce any of those emotions.
“Emotion immediately contacts the nervous system and several events are set into motion.” (Hammer, p. 60) Because the Liver is the organ that feeds the nervous system, it would increase the amount of blood in circulation to do that. Under normal conditions, dispersing the anger energy could be accomplished by using some choice words or vigorous exercise to return to a more peaceful state of mind. Speech (using the tongue) involves the Heart energy, too, so it can be restored to calm. If physical activity does the trick, the Liver (ligaments and tendons), the Lungs (inhaling qi) and the Heart (circulation of blood and oxygen) will all contribute to solving the problem. As he points out above, though, if the anger is a chronic condition and is not resolved, that is when it begins to wreak havoc on the mind (psychological disorders like depression, aggression, anger management issues, etc.) and the body, particularly any part of the Liver system- the eyes, the gall bladder, the ligaments/tendons, the nervous system and the Liver itself. “Chinese medicine asserts that a particular emotion and a particular energy organ system are inextricably linked…”(ibid) such that anything that happens emotionally will affect the system that corresponds with the emotion’s elemental qualities- excessive/manic joy (or chaos, disorganization) affects the Fire phase (Heart), anger, Wood, Liver; fear, Water, Kidneys; sadness, Metal, Lungs; and worry/obsessiveness, Earth, Spleen.
Icing on the Cake (or so it appears):
Neuroscientist, Sandrine Thuret, explains evidence she has found that emotional patterns of depression physically change the function of the Brain. Damage to the hippocampus creates problems with memory quality. If energetically impaired, (as in shock patterns or depressive moods), this is very likely to hurt the ability of the hippocampus to release new neurons. Depression appears to inhibit the production of neurons and this becomes a kind of cycle that can only be broken or reduced by certain medications or anti-stress activities, plus a “good” diet (a.k.a., energetic medicine).
Hammer, Leon, M.D., "Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies: Psychology and Chinese Medicine", Revised edition; Eastland Press, Inc. P.O. Box 99749, Seattle WA 98139 USA. 2010. www.eastlandpress.com
Johnson, Jerry Alan. “The Secret Teachings of Chinese Energetic Medicine, Vol. 2: Energetic Alchemy, Dao Yin Therapy, Healing Qi Deviations, and Spirit Pathology”, The International Institute of Medical Qigong Publishing House, Monterrey, CA 93940, USA. Revised 2014.
Johnson, Jerry Alan. “The Secret Teachings of Chinese Energetic Medicine, Vol. 3: Developing Intuitive and Perceptual Awareness, Energetic Foundations, Treatment Principals, and Clinical Applications”, The International Institute of Medical Qigong Publishing House, Monterrey, CA 93940, USA. Revised 2014.
Porket, Manfred, “The Theoretical Foundations of Chinese Medicine: Systems of Correspondence", Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1974.
Thuret, Sandrine, "Your Brain Can Grow New Cells: Here's How", YouTube Video- TED Talk published on October 30, 2015.