01 FIRE 
02 EARTH ䷁
05 WOOD ䷃

08 QI
00 VOID ䷼



The Water Element 

The unseen, what’s coming but isn’t yet known. Earth as seed, latent upsurging. Primordial realms, the unconscious, pluripotence, potential. Wu wei, rushing water, alluvial coasts, Lawrence Durrell writing “expressionless as cuttlefish, or those other grotesque monsters one sometimes sees lurking in the glooms of aquaria” at his typewriter in the south of France. Invisible landscapes, mystery schools, the mythic imagination, mushrooms, mud. The smell of wet wood, the mycelial blanket - deep, dark, damp, secretive. Sleeping, storage, silence, survivalism. Obscurity, twilight, shadow, the occult. Rock out with your crock out for yin time beckons, and the Season Of The Crockpot casts its glare upon us.

In five element alchemy, winter belongs to the element Water, as it gives us our reservoirs and reserves of energy. Winter is a sacred pause of concentration and contemplation that marks a drawing inward and guarding our reserves, a time to tap the marrow of life and suck it deep into our bones to nurture and gestate the seeds of our will.

Winter has a bivalent nature that you can sense in the spirit of the New Year, as we simultaneously carouse with the ghosts of Christmas’ past whilst calling in the spirits of what’s to come. I learned from my mentor Lorie Dechar that the Water element’s dual directionality is encoded in a Taoist symbol, the two-headed white deer. As the animal spirit of Water, the two-headed deer resides deep within the old growth forests of the kidneys, looking into two divergent directions at once - in one direction, the past, and the other, the mystical darkness of the future. The work? Keep your eyes on what’s emerging, what’s gestating in the inner sea, what’s dancing in the rhythms of your bone marrow. Can you dive deep into your potential whilst surreptitiously surrendering to the blackened chaos? Winter is a’knocking.

Winter Solstice:
There’s A Darkness on the Edge of Town

Despite the whitewashed glitz of tinsel, Bing Crosby, and the ever elusive ‘getting what you want’, the winter season is really all about the discomfort of a precipice, the disorientation of decomposition, and the exploration of the liminal boondocks between darkness and light. Liminal means “relating to a transitional stage” or “occupying a position at both sides of a boundary,” and the shadowy magic of liminal states lie in their ability to be brazenly nebulous, threatening the sense of equilibrium and unambiguousness that our binary-bound, homeostatic fleshsuits crave. Our ancestors turned the distress and unease of lying in wait under the shadow of a darkened sun into ribald celebrations of death and rebirth, where social hierarchies were reversed or temporarily dissolved (here’s looking at you, Saturnalia!), and bloodied sacrifices were made to hasten the return of the sun.

’Tis the season of nigredo, the alchemical Darkness On The Edge of Town, the first stage of the Great Work where the fixed gets dissolved by the volatile. Nigredo - sometimes translated as ‘blacker than the blackest black’ - is a liminal phase shift that putrefies the shadowy morass of the ‘dark night of the soul,’ and through discomfort and decomposition, condenses it into light. It’s the alchemical version of Christmas - the return of the Sun King that only the tenebrous coupling of chaos and the unknown can provide. Perhaps I’m no more than an aging goth with a penchant for Jung and fifty shades of black, but this to me is the true spirit of Christmas.

A few ideas for exploring the divine discomfort of transition & liminality during the wintry holiday season:

Prostrate yourself in front of the dying sun on the edge of a precipice, a border between the here and there… where the sand meets the sea, an ominous crossroads worthy of a Robert Johnson yarn, a lawless bordertown at the terminus of a highway, the 8th stair in a 16-stair stairwell. When you are positioned on a hinge between the density of the past and an amorphous future, where do you lean? When there is ambiguity and disorientation, what sort of things come up?

Find a waiting room in which you have no set appointment and sit in it until you become wildly uncomfortable with anticipation.

Incant Yeats’ Rosa Alchemica at the mouth of the La Brea tar pits whilst a rogue street pigeon is disentangling itself from the tarry mire.

Have someone tie you to a tree in the middle of the woods and trust that the knots will find their way loose.

Let a stranger blindfold you and walk you home. Go ahead, tell them your address.

Ride an elevator for an entire day.

Light one white candle under the cloak of darkness in a coyote den on the outskirts of Elysian Park, and sing Springsteen’s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ at the top of your lungs like it is holy writ. When you come to the part that goes - “Everybody’s got a secret, Sonny, something that they just can’t face. Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it, they carry it with them every step that they take” - blow out the candle.

Make like the Hanged Man of the major arcana and suspend yourself upside down for a distressing duration of time, unwinding into the discomfort of the upended, yielding to surrender. What condenses in the darkness and discomfort? Can you attune to sensation without assigning it roles? Can you keep it opaque? Is the waiting the hardest part?

Whatever emerges from this explorations of enigma, let’s lean into the darkness together.

On The Water Element Within And Throughout

We are waves whose stillness is non-being
We are alive because of this, that we have no rest.

- Abu-Talib Kalim

Water navigates the unknown with the innate understanding that it must flow forward regardless, soft and yielding with patient puissance yet holding the strength to penetrate mountains and earth. Water speaks to movement, current, adaptability, flow. She is pluripotent possibility, a multidirectional wonder. As the Mother of Wood, Water carries the seeds of deep potential. In her poised quiescence as a reflective pool, she gathers the moonglow on her surface and stews the yin juices of mystery, a womb for creation to crawl out of. In her yang expression, she plunges forward with the wrath of a flood or the renewing geyser of a sulfury spring. One minute, she’s show-ponying around like a lacy icicle, then she changes into vaporous mist, just like that!

Water is the Great Equalizer, soaring to heavens and sinking to depths. Known to pal around with the hoi polloi of the underbelly, she has an affinity for things that lurk in the dark - shadow, obscurity, the sullied, the occult. The Tao Te Ching muses that “water goes to the darkest places and is therefore closest to Tao,” much like accidental TechnoTaoist Philip K Dick was fond of saying that “the symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the trash stratum.” Both tell an alchemical tale about divine intelligence lying in the periphery where no one dare to look, about investigating areas of discomfort and neglect, and how descent transforms into regeneration in the quest for equilibrium. As soon as one gets to the bottom, one finds itself at the top. Water is mercurial, spontaneity with equanimity.

For Water within us, think of sap and lubrication - bone marrow, cerebrospinal fluid, semen, blood. For these are the fluid matrices that yoke together the serpentine mysteries of DNA with the spiraling, fluid power of life. This realm is presided over by the Kidneys and Bladder, our conduits of the Watercourse Way, who control the quantity and quality of fluid reserves and bring equilibrium to the body temple en masse.

On The Kidneys and Bladder

“How is it that the kidneys correspond to wisdom? The kidneys are the essence of the element Water, and wisdom proceeds unceasingly without any doubt or uncertainty. Water likewise moves forward without uncertainty.”

- Discussions of the White Tiger Hall

As the Water element throughout the cosmos brings reserves, raw power, and a will to move forward undaunted whilst tapped into a mystical current of flow, the Water element within imparts fathomless resources and the discretion to use them justly, moving in sync with the will of the universe. Our conduits of force, flow, and fluidity are the Kidneys and Bladder, who together house a magnificent reservoir of energetic Qi able to feed every cell in the body with the life giving force of Water. Situated on the left and right of our alchemical cauldron and stoked by the Mingmen fire, the Kidneys are considered the ‘root of the body’ that furnish our form and spirit with vigor and nourishment. Water is life, as the old adage goes, and the Kidneys dominate growth, development, and reproduction, the holy trinity of ontogenesis, the divine blueprint unfurling. Emblematic of the power of opposites, the Kidneys keep the Waterways in balance with one Kidney encompassing the Yin functions of the body - cooling, regulating, nourishing - and the other presiding over the Yang functions of warming, activating, circulating, and drying.

Not just an irksome bag that natters in our ear that we have to pee, like, NOW, the Bladder’s sacred task is Controller of Water Storage, assessing the quantity and quality of reserves for our fluid matrix. The importance of this duty cannot be underscored… too little water flowing out and suddenly you’re a Stay Puft Marshmallow, too much and WHOOP, you’ve got hypovolemic anemia, are blacking out in a Home Depot parking lot from low blood pressure, and then find out you need monthly IV rehydration because your autoimmune condition causes chronic dehydration (true story, happened to me).

Like the Sun and Moon who bless all of creation with the sacred paradox of illumination and darkness, the Kidneys and Bladder provide the architecture of blood, bringing counterbalance, equipoise, and purity.


On Jing

“I am creativity without any determined end. I burst into an infinite variety of forms. It is I who colors the entire Earth green after winter. It is I who fit the sky with birds and the oceans with fish. When I say create, I mean transformation.”

- Alejandro Jodorowsky

As the reservoirs of our life force and pluripotent potentiality, the Kidneys are a subterranean sanctum that stores the seed potential of our inherited constitution. This primordial dark matter is known as Jing 精, loosely translated as ‘essence’ but best understood as the alchemical marriage of DNA and sexual energy, serpentine stockpiles of lifeforce that provide the blueprint for the material basis of the human body and the nest egg for fueling all that we long to gestate in this lifetime. Along with Shen - spirit - and Qi - energy - Jing is one of the Three Treasures of the Eastern Medical Arts, and it is the will of this work to nurture, protect, cultivate, and sustain it.

Jing is water in the well, our inheritance from our last life and all the others before it, intimately embroiled with DNA but utterly beyond it… some may say that it’s our epigenetic ancestral life force. But Jing isn’t JUST the ephemeral cosmic serpent of DNA, it’s spirit materialized in density and substance, informing the robustness of our blood and flesh. It’s what makes things juicy, as Jing is the substructure of the sexiest elixirs of life - blood, semen, marrow, menstrum, the elixir rubeus. Jing is swoony like that.

Jing is utilized anytime we tap into our reserves, and it is the work of the Water organs to allocate these reserves appropriately so that we don’t just burn out and fade away. Though aging is quite literally the process of loosing Jing, it can also be egregiously squandered through the delights of a life well-lived in reckless abandon - spilling seed, chasing darkness, worshipping adrenaline, Bacchanalian benders, 90’s rave culture (lived it) and its 2020 equivalent of slaving in the late capitalist bardo- overworking, making money, getting turnt.

But fret not! As sure as Jing can leaked and lost, it can also be strengthened and sequestered, and as the Secretary of the Jing Preservation Society, I’m here to teach you how.

On Strengthening and Sequestering Jing

To tend to the Jing is to know when to go out, when to stay in, get things done. Don’t take it from me, take it from the immortal David Bowie, who, as a prolific Capricorn that perfected the art of reverse aging, clearly knew a few things about the dichotomy of licentiousness and longevity. For in the Cult of Jing Cultivation, temperance, my dudes, is everything.

Strengthening and sequestering Jing is a dance between want and will, and you can think of the Ten of Wands as your talismanic dance partner. In the medicine of the tarot, the Ten of Wands speaks to the oppression of ceaseless toil, to our gestative powers being thwarted by actions that aren’t rooted in source and spirit. When we don’t pause to access the depth of our spiritual resources, (a ritual that encompasses the entire spirit of Winter and the modus operandi of Water), power only comes from exhausting the will, burning the candle at both ends. This, my friends, is the death knell of Jing. Water never uses blunt force, it makes its way shimmying with the great current of Tao, full of the nourishment of a rich womb. When we move from the current coursing through our bones and the empty center at the core, we carry the weight of our life with equanimity, the load lightened by the Spiritus Mundi.

Jing Cultivation 101: Utilize your resources appropriately, draw only enough as necessary to elegantly complete the task at hand. Follow your instincts instead of reacting to fears - this conserves and consolidates qi, and nudges your body out of sympathetic arousal into a receptive state where you can lean into the whispers of the tao. Reflection is everything - allow the spirit of Water to illuminate you, listen to the messages in your aching bones. As Debra Kaatz says in the Taoist Tales of Acupuncture Points, “it is said that those who can reach the very marrow of their bones become secure in the absolute core of who they are. It is the marrow that produces the new cells we constantly need through life. In this way the bones contain our vital structure giving protection and a framework for all movement.”

Practical Jing Magic

If I learned anything from the rogue esotericists researching the intersection of entheogenic jungle medicine and neurobiology, it’s that DNA is alive and we can communicate with it (thank you, Jeremy Narby). As Jing is a succulent substantive substrate of DNA, it shares its plasticity, pluripotence, prescience. Much like we effect the unfurling of our epigenetic codes by lowering our allostatic stress load, Jing is similarly susceptible to the conservation and condensation of our energies and efforts. Though we are born with a finite cache of Jing influenced by the combined essences and epigenetic ambiance of our ancestors, what we do with it is well within the realm of our influence.

Some of us endured birth trauma, were born premature with a slew of inherited autoimmune issues, and then survived 90’s club culture, punk rock, premature exposure to existentialist literature, and stimulant-induced nervous breakdowns (not pointing any fingers except at myself), and as such took the deficit of Jing they were born with and then ran the rest into the ground. If this sounds familiar, you may be hard up for Jing, my friend! Jing deficiency can manifest as premature aging, adrenal exhaustion, joint degeneration, back and knee pain, going prematurely grey (what up, silver fox), infertility, loose teeth, weak eyesight, neurodegenerative conditions, and a poor memory.

As Jing is seed energy, you can nourish it by increasing nuts and seeds, whose fertile benedictions replenish the stores of Jing-zhooshing minerals often missing from our fallow, post-industrial diets. As Water is black and fathomless, Jing can be nourished by blue and black foods. Think black beans, black sesame seeds, black rice, blueberries, blackberries, seaweed, spirulina, eggplant, fermented miso, and kelp. Never missing a cue to drop a bone broth rec, I’ll go on record saying it’s THE Jing tonic nonpareil. Jing gets leaked hither and thither with flagrant sexuality, so if you’ve a hard time restraining your carnal urges (and why should you?!) I recommend tantra, semen retention, ingasming, edging. For those of us tore up from the floor up, Jing tonic herbs and acupunctureare the Jing jam.

Orbs of Jing:
Seducing Your Kidneys With Herbs

As I write this, we are standing in the cosmic crosswalk of Chinese New Year, a new moon in Aquarius, and the emergence of the White Metal Rat from the gutters of Water season, (all of which I celebrated around a bonfire with my fierce cabal of Acu Witches and these precious chocolate victuals). Truly, it’s the perfect time to flatter your Jing with an orbicular orgy of her prized unguents, pad her proverbial coffers with Taoist panache and Venusian flare.

How to, you ask? Process the following in a Cuisinart, and roll into luscious
gooey orbs, of course:

1 cup Coconut Butter, warmed up to a sultry melt on the stove.

3/4 cup Raw Cacao Powder
Black to appease the Jing, Cacao is a sacred cerebral excitant that boosts anandamide, the proverbial ‘bliss chemical’, serotonin, our body’s natural anti-depressant, theobromide, caffeine’s more genteel euphoric cousin, and magnesium, a powerful heart tonic and smooth muscle relaxant. Cacao strengthens the life force by increasing adaptability, the criterion of empyrean endurance.

4 tbsp Raw Honey

1 Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise and scooped.
Ambrosial, sensual, scooped-out bone marrow of the Vanilla pod. Jing by association.

A blend of Jing-nourishing, Kidney-seducing, aphrodisiac herbs to stoke the
Mingmen fires of creation:

12g Schisandra Berry
A Venusian beauty tonic of rosy rubescense, Schisandra supplements the body's original qi and yin essences, glamouring those who ingest her with soft, moist, radiant skin, and the celestial glow of a demigoddess. A famed herb for glamoring magic, she is the Queen of the Jing Locking Herbs, increasing sexual fluids and sensations, restraining your lush yin fluids to impart a numinous glow that magnifies your radiance and luminescence.

12g He Shou Wu
Primordial mountain magic made manifest, this herb of the Taoist mountain shamans literally translates to Black Haired Mr He, as it’s said to reverse the effects of aging and return grey hair to a lush black (an overrated hue, bring on the silver foxes I say!). Rich in zinc, it builds essence and blood, legendary for returning the aged to their rollicking youth and inspiring raving mad mountain Taoists to birth broods of children way past their child-bearing years. Regenerates nerves, brain cells and endocrine glands, said to impart lusciously long locks of hair.

12g Cistanche
A gentler Yang Jing tonic than some rollicking rogues of the Taoist canon (I’m looking at you, Deer Antler!), Cistanche strengthens will and endurance, and nourishes without draining or depleting. A suitable suitor for Schisandra, he also rebuilds the Kidneys, nourishes blood, and increases flow to the sex organs, whilst also being neuroprotective (hella science on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, read up!).

18g Yin Yang Huo 
Known on the streets as Horny Goat Weed, this Manna of the He-Goat is revered for its ability to slow the effects of aging, increase libido and nerve regeneration, and inspire Bacchanalian rumpus betwixt grazing licentious goats.

I recommend rolling your orbs in Black Sesame Seeds, as Jing LOVES the blackness of the void who birthed all of creation from her primordial loins. You can also add magical intentions for the year of the Metal Rat by incorporating sigils into your chocolate fete:
Stir the shape of your sigil into your ingredients whilst mixing, settling into a trance.
Draw the sigil upon your cooking vessels, or paint it upon yourself or a lover in edible body chocolate to be licked off in ecstatic reverie. If you’d like to turn your chocolate into edible paint, simply add extra coconut butter and warm on the stove until liquid.

If this was the year of the Black Metal Rat, I would obviously recommend a symphonic black metal soundtrack of Dimmu Borgir to enchant your orbs, but my Mixtapes of the Tao: Metal Edition should do just fine.

The year of the White Metal Rat and Jing share a few things in common, as they promise renewal and expansion if we are careful to proceed in our endeavors with stealth strength. Nocturnal creatures that scurry out of the darkness, they speak to the power of investment and subterranean riches, providing the sacred architecture for physical and mental endurance.

Elemental Acupressure:
Ming Men ‘Gate of Life’

“The Gate of Life is the mansion of Water and Fire, the house of Yin and Yang, the sea of Essence and Qi, and the nest of life and death. If the Gate of Life is depleted and damaged, the five solid organs and six hollow organs will lose their attachment, resulting in the imbalance of Yin and Yang and causing diseases.”

- Classical Physician Zhang Jing Yue

The illustrious fire that blazes betwixt the Kidneys, the Ming Men or ‘Gate of Life’ provides the fuel for our metabolic and psychospiritual processes. The Yang Fire to the Yin Water of the Kidney’s life force, the Ming Men shores up your anatomy with the reserves to live a life of flourishing purpose. Never missing a hot op to speak to the pedigree of words, the phrase Ming Men is also translated as ‘Gateway of Destiny’ and ‘Life’s Unique Purpose’, which speak to the magic that unfurls with the unification of Yin Water’s gestative capacities and Yin Fire’s spark of liberation. Water is about manifesting potential, after all.

In The Taoist Tales of the Acupuncture Points, author and badass homesteader Debra Kaatz shows us that “Ming is drawn as a written order over a mouth and a seal. It is like a decree agreed between Heaven and Earth directing man… However, it is also a gateway, for Men means a doorway or gate. How we use the potential we are born with depends on how far we can open this gate during our lifetime. When we open this gate, we are given more life force so a quality of life returns.”

To locate on your own body:
Ming Men is is located in the center of the spine, just below the 2nd lumbar vertebrae. Hot tip ➞ find the curve of your natural waist where it pinches ever so slightly inward, then join the thumbs together on the midline. The thumbs will generally intersect with the spinous process of L2, and LIKE WHOA, this point is usually tender.

My favorite acupressure technique for stimulating Ming Men comes from Chen Xiyi’s Red Phoenix Calisthenics, and involves rolling the knuckles over the areas left and right of Life Gate 36 times (36=9, the Taoist number of completion, containing all things and all permutations). It is said that by performing this sacred kneading that Qi can be absorbed into the bones.

Mixtapes of the Tao:
Winter // Water

In the latest installment of Mixtapes of the Tao, I appease Ol’ Man Winter and his consort Ol’ Man River (they get down) with an aqueous dossier of sonic alchemy to invoke the yin manifesting mystery of Water.

Sometime back in the late 90’s, my BFF and I realized that all the best songs were about rivers and oceans, but in concluding my research I wonder aloud… was there ever a more poignant rumination on living the Watercourse Way than the Talking Heads’ anarcha-taoist masterpiece ‘Once In a Lifetime?!’ Discuss, mon chéri.

Side note→ my exercise regimen is putting on Stop Making Sense and following all the dance moves in my living room (Tina Weymouth is my style icon and accidental halloween costume now and forever). I call this DIY Kali calisthenics.

Water dissolving and water removing

There is water at the bottom of the ocean

Under the water, carry the water

Remove the water at the bottom of the ocean!

Water dissolving and water removing…

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down

Letting the days go by, water flowing underground

Into the blue again, into silent water

Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down

Letting the days go by, water flowing underground

Into the blue again, after the money's gone

Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

Follow the trigram for Water to the Spotify Mixtape 
 Rage on, naiads!

On The Zhi Spirit

The Zhi is one of the Wu Shen - the five spiritual powers that direct our fate - and the animating spirit of the Kidneys and Water element. To know the Zhi is to know the might and moxie of willpower, the resolute way that a river never reverses its course. The willpower encoded in the Zhi is both the willfulness to manifest your destiny, but also the will to be pulled towards certain things and adversed to others. Whereas we often speak of willpower like a force that struggles against the odds and the current of nature, the will of the Kidneys arises like the negentropic force of a geyser, shooting up from a fissure in the bowels of the earth like a hydrothermal explosion. It’s a spontaneously arising will, like an interpretive dance to your favorite song, and you are being led by that space deep beyond your loins where the heart of the universe articulates your movements for you.

The Zhi is the will to live, and it’s here to ensure that our course is Tao.  Through its wisdom, wiles, urges, and instinctual drives, it grants us the ability to participate in life with gusto. Because I’m hard for Greek mythology, I think of the Zhi like the Three Fates, spinning the thread of fate and cutting it when the pilot light goes out. If we are in right relationship with our Zhi, we take right action in response to the demands of life, with healthy instinctual responses that keep us in flow. These responses are both gleaned from the wisdom we have accrued in this lifetime, and also the genetic imprint of our lineage, and the choices they made to survive and thrive. Overactive nervous systems fail to concentrate the will in an appropriate manor, leaking it hither and thither. The ever-wise Élisabeth Rochat says of the Zhi -

“If what one aspires to is opposed to the natural order, the will turns its power against life, exhausting vitality with passions and debasing it with inappropriate desires. If what we aspire to is in keeping with to our original nature, the will is a constant reminder of what is right and drives us toward the fulfillment of our destiny.”

Honor The Zhi and Rage Against the Machine

Though I NEVER throw down a diagnosis without taking tongue and pulse, I am damn near certain that Late Capitalism suffers from a Zhi imbalance. Repression of instinctual impulses, internet porn, uncorked ambition, work addiction, bragging about tiredness, fearing the ever-elusive ‘other’, X Games, caffeine, steroids, Adderall, Modafinil, bio-hacking, nootropics… the collective weight points towards a culture driven by the will and not the heart, and we’re careening towards a breakdown. Conversely, a lack of motivation, what my teacher Lorie Dechar calls ‘emotional impotence’ (LOVE that turn of phrase), an inability to face your fears, and poor follow-through can also point to Zhi dysfunction.

Queen Élisabeth Rochat de la Vallée likes to say that “Water is linked to the origin and beginnings of life, as are the lower labyrinths of the Kidneys. Therefore, it is the nature of Water to be in constant relationship with origin.” As the spirit of our embodied Water element, the superpower of the Zhi lies in its ability to be an Emissary Of Origin, to take in its whispers and turn them into right action. Of course, in the hyper-yang crucible of Late Capitalism, we haven’t the time or space to lean into any whispers, for the wheel screeches incessantly in our ears.

In these very last moments of Winter, the rumbles of the Zhi spirit can still be heard if you listen closely. As we transition from water to wood season at the crowing of the Spring equinox, we’ll start to feel the earth. move. under our feet. But for now: honor embryonic water, the magic of the womb. Suspend yourself in a liquid matrix of placental stillness. Dive into and embrace the darkest of dark inner spaces. Create a sacred vessel for unstructured time, clear your schedule on the perpetch. Face a lingering fear. Get more rest. Spend time with water. Honor your ancestors, for the willpower of their own Zhi ensured the continuous flowing of life that percolated trans-generationally to culminate in your being.

The Dance of Will and Energy

One of the virtues of a healthy embodied Water element is a vast reservoir of tenacity. Think of the intrepid will it takes to flow freely forward with a cavalier spirit in spite of obstacles, or the determination of the seed to break its shell and burst outward undaunted. We all hold a kernel of this gallantry in the nest of our Kidneys and adrenals, but flip the coin and you encounter the other face of Water, one that’s plagued with the grey creases of adrenal-fueled bravura, where the fundamental drives of the body have been distorted and the candle burns relentlessly.

The dance between our Zhi - willpower - and Qi - energy - is a delicate one, for a strong will can mask deficiencies of energy (until the proverbial piper gets paid, of course). When my patients refer to themselves as having a ‘superhuman amount of energy’, or being a person that ‘never gets tired,’ they may actually be exploiting their natural resources and ignoring the rhythms of their body. This is not always the case (no supreme truth says I), but it is an invitation to investigate how we plod our course through the day, and from where the motivation to plod springs forth. This is made all the more salient by my refusal to exploit eastern medicine as a tool for maximizing our output in a capitalist labor market by increasing motivation and productivity.

Below is a series of contemplative prompts from Five Element Acupuncturist Lonny Jarrett that I consider a core practice in the work of refusing to industrialize the rhythms and cycles of the body. I often give this exercise to patients when we are working on adrenal fatigue, burnout, autoimmune diseases, and stress.

  1. What are the ways you tend to use willpower to push past your limits?
  2. What is the motivation that drives you to use your will in this way?
  3. What price do you pay for overusing your will?
  4. In what situations have you used willpower in a way that empowered you?

Contemplate on, my anarcha taoist brethren!

On Fear and Freeze

It makes sense at this moment in the cosmic pivot to speak about fear. The election cycle (ie, scary monsters and super creeps), living underinsured in the COVID-19 fever dream, pitting neighbor v. neighbor in an N95 face mask face off, the spectacular Herzogian terror of an indifferent universe impervious to our needs… the collective dismay sinks like an anvil, everything seems to be pulled towards the bowels of the earth. People seem strange, when you’re a stranger, streets are uneven, when you’re down.

The Huang Di Nei Jing, the sacred writ of Chinese medicine, speaks to how emotional energy has vectors, predictability, and movement. Fear, unsurprisingly, causes qi to sink. To understand how fear relates to the Kidneys and Water element, think of the last time you felt fearful. Not the spectral fear you feel on the daily lurking in the recesses of your psyche and soma, but the type of fear that descends like a bolt of ice from the heavens in response to an immediate threat. Fear, like water, plunges to the depths. Our bodies collapse into survival mode, our spine curls inward to protect our vital organs, a cold shock pulses through our fingers and toes, and our energy quite literally drops into our lower loins, the spaces that speak to fundamental safety. You might even pee your pants (look, we’ve all done it).

More poisonous than a pestilence, fear keeps us frozen and unable to accept change, inhibiting us from manifesting the seeds of our potential. Cold and frost delay growth, and it’s no surprise that the Powers That Be and their horsemen of the slow apocalypse forevermore referred to as the Lamestream Media hurl ice bolts of fear when orthodoxy is threatened.

If you find yourself living in perpetual fear of your health, your Water element may be out of balance and require tending (holler at your local acupuncturist). In the now, resist the inward pull of the tides, remain upright, risk assess like a boss. Trust in your body’s innate curative processes, stay home, say no, protect the vulnerable, surrender to the unknown. The mission of the moment: How can I feel safe enough to emerge into the world? That’s the story of how Water engenders Wood, and the conversation the entirety of the cosmos is having as we transition into spring at the vernal equinox. Take notes.

Water Medicine:
Shou Wu Chih Longevity Tonic

“The root of the 50-year-old plant is called “mountain slave:” taken for a year, it will preserve the black color of the hair. The root of the 100-year-old plant is called “mountain brother:” taken for a year, it will bring a glowing complexion and a cheerful disposition. The root of the 150-year-old plant is called “mountain uncle:” taken for a year, it will rejuvenate the teeth. The root of the 200-year-old plant is called “mountain father:” taken for a year it will banish old age and give the power to run like a deer. The root of the 300-year-old plant is called “mountain spirit:” taken for a year, one becomes an earthly immortal”

- Li Shizhen’s famous Materia Medica of 1578, Bencao Gang Mu

Shou Wu Chih is the classic longevity tonic of cimmerian apothecaries, a murky, amber elixir sitting soddenly on dusty old shelves, winking at ya coyly with esoteric splendor.  Anchored by the magnanimous moxie of He Shou Wu - Chinese Fleeceflower Root- it finesses one’s savoir-faire by nourishing the blood and essence, warming the stomach, boosting the spleen and strengthening the tendons and bones. One could use this medicinally for any of the wanton Water element maladies that may befall you, such as arthritic aches & pains, lackluster sexual joie de vivre, adrenal fatigue, low sperm count, aching bones, coldness, shock, trauma, and emotional frigidity. One could also knock a few back before meals as an aromatic aperitif, as it’s excellent for  anemia and poor digestion.

There’s a fabulously gallant fable culled from the annals of Chinese esoterica that immortalizes the braggadocio of He Shou Wu. Its history dates back to 800 AD, and it has still remained a colloquial anecdote in both Chinese households and herbal circles.

Old Mr. He was an impotent curmudgeon (I’ve always thought of him as a grizzled Chinese Kris Kristofferson), a dastardly drunk who was prone to honky-tonk all night and pass out alone under the stars. One portentous Sunday-morning-coming-down, he found himself nursing a Haggard-sized hangover in the fields, staring up at a bodacious vine twisting and twining itself into the cursed heavens. Its bedeviled root reminded Mr. He of two lovers intertwined, and sensing a message from Lady Nature, he decided he would grind the root into a powder so that he could sustain himself while he rotted in the woods. Within months, Mr. He had a raging libido and the vim & vinegar of a teenager. Within a year, his snow-white hair turned back to pitch-black, earning He Shou Wu its name: ‘Mr. He’s Black Hair.’

Raw herbs for Shou Wu Chih can be procured at your local Chinatown Apothecary – I love the licentious sprawl and epic tea selection at Wing Hop Fung in downtown Los Angeles. If you prefer to peruse the ether, you’d be much obliged to check out Spring Wind Dispensary, Fat Turtle Herbs, NuHerbs and Mayway.

For this tincture, you will need the following accoutrements:

He Shou Wu/Fleeceflower (Rx. Polygoni Multiflori) 50 g
Dang Gui (Rx. Angelicae Sinensis) 50 g
Huang Jing (Rhz. Polygonati) 40 g
Sheng Di Huang (Rx. Rehmanniae) 20 g
Chuan Xiong (Rhz. Chuanxiong) 15 g
Bai Zhi (Rx. Angelicae Dahurica) 14 g
Sha Ren/Cardamom Pods (Fr. Amomi) 4 g
Fo Shou (Fr. Citri Sacrodactyli) 5 g
Ding Xiang/Cloves (Fl. Caryophylli) 2 g

1 Liter Prairie Organic Vodka

1 gallon glass jar, for infusing your medicinals

Muddle your medicinals with your vodka in a sterilized glass vessel with a secure lid. Age for at least one month in a deliciously dingy crevasse of your liking. Take one shot of this affable alembic daily, or mix with warm water, freshly squeezed lemon and raw honey for a Taoist Toddy.

Water’s Grand Exit

Any fool can get into an ocean  
But it takes a Goddess  
To get out of one.
What’s true of oceans is true, of course,
Of labyrinths and poems. When you start swimming  
Through riptide of rhythms and the metaphor’s seaweed
You need to be a good swimmer or a born Goddess
To get back out of them
Look at the sea otters bobbing wildly
Out in the middle of the poem
They look so eager and peaceful playing out there where the
    water hardly moves
You might get out through all the waves and rocks
Into the middle of the poem to touch them
But when you’ve tried the blessed water long
Enough to want to start backward
That’s when the fun starts
Unless you’re a poet or an otter or something supernatural
You’ll drown, dear. You’ll drown
Any Greek can get you into a labyrinth
But it takes a hero to get out of one
What’s true of labyrinths is true of course
Of love and memory. When you start remembering.

-- Jack Spicer