By Damo Mitchell
www.lotusneigong.com | www.scholarsage.com
This is there first in a series of articles which are going to be posted up here over the next year or so. They are all excerpts from theoretical lectures given by me on courses I have taught across the UK, Sweden and America. These transcriptions often jump from subject to subject but they may be useful for people to read. The diagrams are taken from whiteboard drawings that were completed during the course of the lecture.
This first excerpt is from a course on the Spine and the Kidneys which was taught back in early 2012. This small section formed part of an hour long talk which was given on the nature of essence and its loss. The talk has been summarised within this article.
Within classical Daoist medicinal traditions, the spine is sometimes known as the ‘celestial pillar’. It is the aspect of the human body which sits like a horizontal column through our body, connecting us to the powers of Heaven above and Earth below.
Running through the centre of the human body is a long pathway of the meridian system known as the ‘thrusting meridian’ or ‘Chong Mai’. The branches of this meridian are numerous (figure 1) but arguably the most important of these branches are the branches that run from the perineum to the crown of the head and through the centre of the spine.
Figure 1: The Thrusting Meridian
Everything manifests on the three different levels which we study within Daoism and the thrusting meridian/celestial pillar is no different. On a Qi level we are talking about the pathway of the meridian itself whilst on a physical/Jing level we are talking about the spinal column.
The health of the spine to the ancient Daoists was vitally important because this is what enables us to have a strong connection between these two powers; it governs our relationship to the divine energy of pure Yang above and the condensed energy of Yin below. If the health of the spine is allowed to decline then the interaction between us and these two powers is greatly decreased. Conversely, those who shut down any energetic and psychic connection to Heaven and Earth will begin to discover that their spine begins to weaken and cause them pain. The spaces between the vertebrae start to close up and sickness starts to develop.
The Shen aspect of the celestial pillar is the element of our consciousness which runs through the centre of the thrusting meridian. This is a manifestation of the pure emptiness at the centre of our consciousness which enables the force of Heaven to communicate with the five spirits. In this way it serves as a sort of ‘spiritual antennae’.
When looking at disease, imbalance, illness or, as in the case of the celestial pillar, spinal problems we also look at the anture of disease according to the three categories of Jing, Qi and Shen. Physicality, Energy and Consciousness or Spirit. Modern Medicine generally works on the Jing layer, it treats sickness on the densest level of matter and goes directly to the body; that which is scientifically provable and measurable. Therapies such as Chinese medicine, acupuncture, Shiatsu, Mo Fa or any of the other energetic therapies that are currently being practiced aim at treating disease on an energetic level; the realm of Qi. Personal cultivation practices such as meditation and highly killed energetic therapists work on the Shen level. This direct work with sickness on the level of consciousness is solely within the realm of the sage doctors.
Every disease or imbalance will manifest in these three places – the Jing, the Qi and the Shen realms. Disease cannot exist on one of these layers alone as everything is reflected in all three manners. For example, a physical injury affects the body, the realm of Jing, from here it will affect the Qi and then the Shen layer. In the same way, something that disturbs the mind or the spirit starts to manifest in the energetic and then the physical layers. This is vitally important that you understand this – mind, energy and body cannot be separated from each other…well, at least not until death.
The process of the development and reflection of sickness across the three realms matches the Daoist theory of creation which I have discussed previously. (Figure 2 shows the Daoist process of creation)
Figure 2: The Daoist Process of Creation
From the beginning, Wuji, we have Yin and Yang born via the motive force of Taiji. From here the five elements come into existence to give us the transformational processes of life and from here the powers of Heaven and Earth. This is the process of Creation. This is the gradual process of becoming denser – the vibration starts to change and physical matter starts to form from the original ‘nothingness’. This process is reflected on a microcosmic scale when our emotions start to produce chemicals in the brain. This is very simple to understand – emotion produces a substance/chemical so this is the Shen layer producing a physical substance – Consciousness transforming into matter; between these two stages we would also have the manifestation of energy, Qi. Within the macrocosm, this process of consciousness producing reality is matched; herein lay many of the principles of Daoism and indeed most Eastern spiritual traditions.
Figure 3: The Tree of Disease
We can symbolise this process by drawing a tree like this. An upside down tree. (Figure 3) The process of sickness developing is like the trunk, the branches and the leaves. This is root cause, sickness and then external symptoms. Nourishing the tree we have the energy of and the roots of Ming and Dao. To help us understand this concept we can take an imbalance according to Chinese medical though. Let’s look at Kidney deficiency, this is the most common condition which Chinese medical practitioners will link to the health of the spine so it would seem like an appropriate example. Everybody who practices Chinese Medicine will be familiar with the nature of Kidney Deficiency. Kidneys in Chinese Medicine house the essence and govern our energy. If the Kidneys energy becomes depleted then a person can become very deficient in nature – they start to run out of Qi. Kidney Deficiency within Chinese thought primarily affects the spine, knees, a person’s sex drive, their immune system and even the health of their bones. There are many other relationships between the Kidneys and the body but I have kept it simple here as I know that only about a quarter of the people in the room are practitioners of Chinese medicine.
If I draw the Kidneys (Figure 4) and all of their associated elements we have the lower back going into the coccyx. This curve in the lumbar spine contains the lower Dan Tien and around the back of this we have the kidneys themselves. There is a collateral branch of the Kidney meridian system that runs from the lower spine into the kidneys themselves and then the lower Dan Tien so all of these are inter-related. The three sections of the spine and the associated organs/elements of the energy body are divided into three sections: Lumbar equals Earth, Thoracic equals Man and Cervical equals Heaven.
Figure 4: Kidneys and the Spine
The Kidney energy is closely related to the realm of Jing/physicality and Di/Earth so depletion of this energy affects the physical structure of the spine, particularly the lumbar region which corresponds to the energy of Earth. Continuous depletion of this vital energy will begin to takes its toll upon the lower back and this weakness will spread into the knees attacking our very supporting structure, the Jing of our postural alignment.
Let us begin to look at the nature of Kidney deficiency from a consciousness perspective instead of the usual understanding offered to us from within Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The consciousness aspect of our Kidneys and associated lower energetic centers govern our sense of connection to our primal origins. It is the aspect of your consciousness that links you into the collectiveness or, on a simple level, your tribe/family or even society. Human beings are tribal creatures, pack animals which is why so many of us are uncomfortable with our lives and living situations. Most people now live in a city which is no good; it isn’t a pack anymore it’s just a mass. We’re not supposed to live like that, we’re supposed to live in small groups/packs that form together which is why human beings have an obsession with being part of a unit. People that live on their own, completely isolated, normally become quite sick or quite eccentric because we’re not supposed to live that way. I have had the opportunity to spend time with many people living in isolation in Asia and I can bear witness to the fact that many of them were quite eccentric. I have spent protracted periods of time in similar situations and can indeed attest to the eccentric qualities which creep in to your being. Whilst isolation is good for periods of practice, it should also be remembered that our nature is to live as a pack animal.
So the lower Dan Tien and Kidneys are very closely linked into the very root of our sense of being – this is very important and something often ignored. The spirit of the Kidneys is the Zhi, often translated as our Will-Power. Is this the acquired Zhi? Our own…or the Congenital Zhi? The Zhi of Heaven.
If we look at the nature of human mind and we look at Kidney Deficiency; what depletes the Kidneys? Well Kidney Deficiency is a lack of energy, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Yin or Yang. Why do we lose energy? Chinese Medicine will say it’s because of overwork, too much stress, too much sex, generally too much! I believe that this is only part of the story.
There is one important fact when looking at why we are losing Kidney energy – this is that we are often choosing, consciously or sub-consciously why we are losing Kidney energy and in what form.
A huge reason for Kidney deficiency is people’s attachment to money. Money is a curious thing as it is, essentially, either small pieces of paper or numbers of a computer system somewhere that don’t actually amount to anything. The whole of our economy and ultimately our society is based upon this non-existent concept we call money which only has strength because of the value people give to it. Now, of course, we all need money to live. Without this money we could not buy the things we need, pay our rent etc but yet many people go beyond what is needed and endlessly chase the concept of money for the duration of their entire lives. Now in theory this is fine, I guess it is what some people enjoy or they would not do it but the problem comes when we begin to attach our own energy to the money we are chasing.
Our Kidneys manifest the energy of our Zhi, our will-power as well as how we view the will of Heaven as it pertains to us. They also connect in to the root of our being which governs our sense of self. What is our will? What do we use to judge our own sense of self-worth? What do we link our very essence to in an attempt to find some kind of gauge as to how well we are doing and how well we are moving through life? The answer to this depends entirely upon us. We choose all of these things. It is our own acquired nature which decides for us what we are going to attach these concepts to and I think that for the majority of us this is money.
Let us look at other common objects that Kidney energy is attached to: Firstly– attention and sympathy. Many people will thrive off of the attention they are given in life whether it is positive or negative. They usually have some woe within their life or an uncomfortable condition they are living with which makes their existence unpleasant. When you spend time talking to these people you are left feeling very drained indeed; the very conversation is tiring. I have seen that within the alternative community they are somewhat lovingly called ‘energy vampires’; have you heard that phrase? Once they have talked to you for some time about their problems they will say something like: “I feel much better now, thank you” and then they leave you feeling absolutely knackered. Why is this? Because their Kidneys got what they needed, they have attached their energy to sympathy and attention in the same way that others may attach their energy to money. Unfortunately, in many cases they have taken this energy from you.
On the opposite end of the scale there are also people that derive their energy from their need to care for others. Whilst this does not, on the surface, appear to be such a bad thing it can cause problems when those that are being cared for have something bad happen to them. This disruption in the target for the carers energy has a big impact upon the carer and so deficiency can arise. I worked very briefly in the mental health field and I saw this many times with my colleagues; they were too energetically attached to their clients and so when something went wrong or one died it literally drained them. They were all ending up burnt out and so they all went of sick all of the time. The trick is to care without attaching and I think this is a difficult thing to do.
Relationships, a lot of people attach too much energy to relationships, there has to be balance. Within 99% of peoples personal relationships one person is feeding off of the other energetically and emotionally. This may sound kind of harsh but I believe it to be the case. If this applies to you then do not worry, it is not such a big problem, you just need to ascertain why this is the case and then try to bring about some kind of balance. Some people only have energy if they are in a relationship. If that relationship ends then they quickly move on to another person so that the energy source is not taken away; these people are totally 100% consumed with finding a new partner and nothing else matters until this is the case. Sadly it often happens that this desire is like an empty heat, a fire fuelled on emptiness. Once back into a relationship they are quickly dissatisfied and so the energy source is gone again…time to move on.
This desire to find the perfect partner can also apply to other aspects of people’s lives. The desire to find the perfect something; the perfect partner, the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect situation. All of these things are no good because they cause the fluidity of the nature of Water to dry up. This lack of mental flexibility caused by a fixation on a single perfect point serves to choke the Kidneys who cannot enable you to follow the flowing path of Ming. There is no perfect person, there is no perfect job, there is no perfect situation and I’m sorry but there’s no perfect purpose to life. There is just what is happening at this moment and that’s what we need to understand because as soon as you define something and it becomes fixed then there is no possibility for change or development or growth so the Kidneys are drained. A person’s employment is a fascinating thing. Many people spend their whole lives working for large corporation, often in fairly low level positions and yet they still define themselves by this position. In England we call them ‘jobsworth’s’. Perhaps this person was the janitor. Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with being a janitor, of course not, but it is wrong to judge your entire being by the role of being a janitor. Companies do not care about their employees, of course not, they care about making money to satisfy the Kidney essence of the person at the top of the pile but yet many of the workers make their employment the most important, focal point of their very existence. What happens then, well, they retire and die. The Kidneys were too attached to their role and so once this was taken away then they pop their clogs, there is no need for their existence any more.
So in conclusion, when trying to understand the nature of what is depleting our Kidney energy, I would suggest that it is wise to try and understand what we have created as a source of energy. Ultimately it will be something transient and so this energy is based upon something very fragile.
Question from student:
When I am around people I find that I become tired. Big groups really drain me and so I generally keep to myself and have little to do with people. Is this because people are draining me?
You should be careful of this. I know that you have practiced Qi Gong for a long time now and so it is important to become aware of how you fit in to the rest of society. Firstly, it is too simple to say that the people you meet are draining you. If you are losing your energy to groups of people then I would suggest that it is more likely an issue with how you attach to them, the problem could lie with how you see yourself in connection with them. One trap I see a great deal of internal arts practitioners falling in to is that they say that they cannot mix with ‘normal’ people any more. They gradually become more and more reclusive until they are modern hermits, locked away in bedsits grumbling at all the ‘un-spiritual’ people who are wasting their lives having pointless fun around them. It is even common for a practitioners ‘dislike of people’ to become something of a banner that they wave around. It becomes another layer to their acquired self that they use to elevate themselves above the masses. This is a trap that we must avoid; whilst short periods of reclusiveness are good for our practice, they should be just that: short. We must continue to live amongst other people and enjoy their company or it will lead to only one thing…loneliness. I am always a little disbelieving of many of the people I meet who live in virtual isolation all of the time who say that they are not lonely. It is funny that when I come across these people they always seem incredibly pleased to see you and it is actually quite difficult to leave them, they almost hold on to you for dear life when you want to carry on with your day! If you cannot be around people and you cannot stand to live as part of society then you must ask yourself what it is about you that is making these things difficult. People are great, the world is great, there are countless amazing experiences to be had with other people; do not deny yourself these.
Author: Damo Mitchell began his training at the age of 4 and has continued his studies since this time. He is the head of the Lotus Nei Gong International school of Daoist Arts and teaches courses and classes across the UK and abroad. He is the author of several books on the Daoist arts which are published through Singing Dragon. Damo is one of the head administrators for this site and regularly contributes a great deal of written and filmed material.