“It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that jing!”

My teacher, David Winston, used to sing this little jingle when talking about herbs for, ahem, male potency.

Jing sounds a wee bit dirty, doesn’t it? But David’s diddy was actually riffing on the Taoist healing philosophy in which health is based on the balance of three “treasures”: jing, qi, and shen.

Jing is the substance of our selves. It’s our fundamental life force. It lives in the kidneys and the adrenals and from there fuels everything we do. You can think of it as fuel or a battery pack.

Qi is movement and flow. It’s jing in action.

Where does qi come from?

Some of our qi is built into our DNA but most is acquired through air and food: breathing and eating. But here’s what I’ve been learning (life is sometimes too full of lessons): eating and breathing isn’t enough. You have to be able to assimilate what you take in… because if you can’t, then your body begins to dig into your jing, depleting your back stash.

Welcome to my winter.

I can now assure you David was right: it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that jing.

If you’ve ever studied with me, you know I harp on digestion.

Why? ‘Cause your immune system and your nervous system both do a lot of their work from your gut. So when your digestion goes to hell, it creates a domino effect.

Digestion should break down what you consume so your body can use it. If you can’t assimilate what comes in, it can’t nourish you… and if you’re malnourished, you start living smaller and smaller.

All of a sudden you’re at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, simply tending to the physical with no room or energy for anything else.

Here’s what’s fascinating: when you can’t digest your food, it’s hard to digest your experiences.

This may sound metaphoric but it’s more than that: being fully present takes energy. When you’re not being nourished by your food (or oxygenated by your breath) you don’t have the energy to be present in your life or to explore deeper psychological and spiritual states.

Remember the third of the Taoist three treasures?


Shen is our potential, our life’s purpose. It’s our spirit. And it’s powered by a balance of jing and qi.

This is very different from a Western conception of spirit, especially the new age teachings which tell us our thoughts and energy set the tone for our bodies. But the Taoists teach spirit arises from the flow of energy through our physical bodies.

I watch Witch Campers beat themselves up for falling out of spiritual flow.

This winter, I fell out of all of it. I spun into a pit of numbness. And, like my Witch Campers, I beat myself up over it… chastising myself not only for the grayness of my soul but also for not being good enough to do my work in the world. Who are you, I asked myself, to write a blog post or lead a community when you hardly feel like getting out of bed?

When this sort of thing happens (and it happens to each of us, doesn’t it?), we whip out words like depression or seasonal affective disorder.

But for me it wasn’t until I looked from a Taoist point of view that I found relief (and my jing): turns out my digestion was pretty much non-functioning. All that good organic food? It wasn’t making it past the lack of hydrochloric acid in my stomach.

It’s been pretty exciting to feel energy moving through my limbs again. And with the return of qi, my spirit is rekindling. Isn’t that just seasonally appropriate as the forsythia are blooming and the daffodils pushing up through the soil?

Energy effects matter and matter effects energy.

Sometimes we just have to flip our conception of what’s wrong on its head and explore the opposite side of the spectrum. What if your spiritual malaise is actually physical? What if your physical pain is actually emotional or spiritual?

When you’re out-of-sync, it reverberates through all of your being, showing up differently in the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual bodies. The body in which your symptoms show most strongly may not be the root of the problem.

So if you’re feeling emotionally or spiritually out of sorts, remember: it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that jing.

Ever had a similar experience? Share with me!

Big Hugs and Lots of Jing—