“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 effective 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 affects matter and matter affects 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—
This is the time of year when I often see clients spiral down the rabbit hole, drop their daily habits, and land in a state of either despair or bizarre holiday mania.
(You know those wild-eyed women running through HomeGoods, gathering up every last beeswax candle? Yeah. You so don’t want to be that person.)
So let’s start OM-ing now as a preventative measure.
As the days get darker, we naturally turn inward and become more introspective.
Add to that the mild depression of less sunlight, throw in a pinch of holiday stress and, suddenly, this can become a pretty unsettled time of the year.
Instead of dreading the darker days to come, think of this window before Thanksgiving as a time to realign and get into solid daily habits that support you, body and soul.
Get these habits for the darkest days going now so that guests, travels, and cooking for twenty don’t throw you off!
#1 Carve Out Time for Yourself
It doesn’t take much. A 20-minute tech-free zone, where you don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself, is heaven. So on the way home from work or from the supermarket, stop at a park, turn off your phone, or go for a short walk.
(And let me know if you don’t feel better for it!)
#2 Remember to Breathe
First notice how often you hold your breath.
Yup, me too. It’s kind of shocking, all the breath-holding we do. You’d think we would have asphyxiated by now.
Okay, now for the remedy:
Actually make time to breathe.
Five minutes when you are lying in bed trying to convince yourself to wake up.
Another five minutes before you eat lunch.
(5 minutes is not that long, people! You can do this—it’s breathing, for heaven’s sake! It’s the first thing you did on the way in and the last thing you’ll do on the way out.)
#3 See the Sunrise
When you’re done lying in bed breathing, throw your coat over your jammies and go watch the sun rise.
A 7AM sunrise is one of the gifts of these longer nights—in the summer you can sleep ‘til seven or watch the sun come up. In the winter, you get to do both!
Andrew and I have gotten into the habit of standing in the street to watch the sun rise over the mountains (we have tall pines on the east side of our house, so there’s no view that way).
As the sun comes up, for just a few moments I feel myself as a part of the larger doings of this great big world and my own concerns get a little smaller.
#4 Check out Mama Moon
The moon reminds us of cycles.
The earth is on a cycle around the sun, too, but it’s a long haul around the galaxy. By the time we come back around, we lose the sense of cyclicality.
A moon cycle, however, is 28 days.
Every 28 days you get to start a new cycle: you get a do-over.
How cool is that?
#5 Don’t Forget the D
Scientists now tell us that D3 is a hormone, not a vitamin, and one in which we are almost all deficient. Because you get your D from the sun, the winter months mean diving D levels.
This is one to supplement; there are no herbs that are high in D.
I like a liquid D3 in an olive oil base so I can just mix it with my food.
#6 Sip Some Herbal Happiness
Sipping herbal teas in winter reminds me of summer, and gardens, and bumblebees.
Plus some herbs have chemical constituents that actually help the happy.
Lemon Balm, St. John’s Wort, Milky Oats, Hibiscus, and/or Linden.
I got a gorgeous white tea call Ya Bao and I am already planning my winter mix: Ya Bao, Linden, and Milky Oats. With a smidge of honey, I’ll be tasting sunlight all winter long!
And we all want that, right?
Now it’s your turn: share your habits for staying aligned through these longest nights!
It shouldn’t have been so intimidating:
- put herbs in mason jar
- fill to the rim with vodka
Not difficult and certainly not rocket science for someone who knew her way around the kitchen.
Was it really okay to pick dandelions from my yard? What if a dog had peed on them? Where does one buy mason jars anyway? And the big one: what if I poison myself?
The resistance and fear that this simple exercise evoked was amazing to me.
I had the book and then the mason jar for months before I made my first herbal tincture.
I thought this silliness was mine alone until my second year studying with herbalist David Winston.
The course was live-streamed, so while David lectured, some of us chatted online. It turned out that nearly two years into the program, one of the other women in the class had still never made a tincture.
That was years after my first tincturing experience and I’d been teaching herbalism for a while. I knew the only way to get this fear into proportion was to make the damn tincture.
I hit the caps key and typed GO GET A MASON JAR.
* * * *
I have come to realize recently that this fear of adding alcohol to plant material is a little deeper than mere fear of kitchen chemistry gone awry.
This is a cultural fear, pounded into our heads since we were quite small:
We don’t take care of ourselves, doctors do.
We don’t make our own medicine—we buy it from trusted names like Johnson & Johnson or Merck.
Our kitchen is not a lab and therefore not hygienic enough for making medicine.
I bought into all this, and I bet a lot of you do, too.
Don’t get me wrong—there is a time and place to get yourself to a doctor and there is a time when pharmaceuticals are exactly the drugs you need.
But there is a lot of space between optimal wellness and health that has deteriorated to the point of needing medical intervention.
And that’s the space we need to reclaim.
Making your first tincture is so friggin’ scary not because it’s complicated or difficult. It’s scary because, in that moment of pouring vodka over dandelions, you are declaring self-sovereignty.
You are saying I can make my own medicine and take care of myself.
And in our culture, that is downright revolutionary.
How do you do your self care? Tell me below!