So what about this “orgasm” function that’s related to the Penetrating Vessel? (See “The Penetrating Vessel and Protective Qi: A New York Story.”) Another story.
Whenever I have a chance I teach Chinese Medicine through theater because I teach bodyworkers and we like to experience things physically. In one class I was demonstrating the interrelated functions of the twelve meridians and the eight strange flows (extraordinary vessels) by having students physically demonstrate how they connect. People playing the “twelve meridians” were in a circle in the order of the 24 hour cycle of qi. I’ve done this with water in paper cups, but this day we were in a space that had a large quantity of small pillows scattered around the room, so they were being passed from meridian to meridian to signify the qi. I then gave the group situations that would divert the qi and each “strange flow” demonstrated how it would help to restore balance. At one point, “Penetrating Vessel,” who was in the very center of the circle, began collecting the pillows from all the “meridians” until she had them all clutched precariously in her arms. In a giant burst of energy, she threw them all into the air and yelled “Orgasm!”
And there you have it.
It’s pretty much the same function as in emergencies. It draws qi in to the center from all the meridians, only in this case, instead of rushing up or down it all gets “thrust” out in all directions so strongly that it “blasts through the kinks” in the twelve meridians. Wilhelm Reich was such a great believer in the benefits of orgasm that he wrote a whole book about it. I think of it like a plumber’s helper that blasts water through the pipes with great force to dislodge the clogs. And that’s why it feels so good and why you feel so relaxed after a good one.
After 911 I expected to find some depleted Kidney Qi in my New York clients, related to the fear generated by the terrorist attacks. But what I found was a lot of imbalance in the Pericardium. “Terror,” or “fright” in Chinese Medicine is one of the internal dragons – or endogenous causes of disease – and affects both the Kidney and the Heart. It is said to “scatter the Shen.” In a couple of my clients their fright had led to a susceptibility to panic attacks.
One day when I was surfing through my favorite tome on Chinese Medicine, Deadman and Al-Khafaji’s A Manual of Acupuncture, I came across something called “running piglet disorder.” This was very intriguing. The disorder was caused by fear and fright and described as a situation in which “…qi is violently discharged and rushes upwards along the Penetrating vessel causing great agitation and anxiety.” Remember that the Penetrating vessel is intimately related to the Heart and Blood Vessels. It also says that it can be related to stagnant Liver qi turning to heat and rushing up.
I told a client about this description and about the Penetrating Vessel’s “fast lane” in danger function. (See “Protective Qi and the Penetrating Channel: A New York Story.) Over several sessions with lots of mindfulness on her part both in session and between sessions, we discovered that as a panic attack came on she would feel the qi run up and then run down and then run up again, rather like a penned, frightened, squealing piglet looking for some way out. We concluded that this is precisely the long-term effectiveness of terrorist activity. In danger there is usually a source of threat that one can either fight – energy up to the head and shoulders – or run away from – energy down to the legs. In this situation, one doesn’t know where to run or whom to fight and so the qi generated can’t be channeled into the sinews. It gets collected for action and stays trapped on the highway, unable to commit to fight or flight.
In her sessions, when she was calm, we worked on finding tasks for the gathering qi to give it something to do, rather than run up and down squealing. I taught her the “Punching with Angry Eyes” exercise from Pal Dan Gum (The Eight Brocades form of Qi Gong) to direct it out through the face and arms. She decided that what she needed from her legs was grounding. In her mind’s eye she saw the Ents from the Lord of the Rings trilogy: the huge, living tree-like beings, slow moving because of their enormous roots and determined nature. With practice, her panic attacks began to diminish in severity and she was even able to intercede occasionally when she felt one might be coming on. Our most spectacular results came one day, however, when she arrived for a session in the throes of a panic attack triggered by an appointment with the dentist scheduled for later in the afternoon. Using her tools for moving the energy, and working with the Penetrating Vessel (most importantly St 30 and the master and coupled points – GB 41 and TW 5) we were able to calm the qi. It was the only time in her experience to date that she had been able to do anything but wait it out once a panic attack was in full throttle.
Sometimes “book learning” gets illustrated in the most astounding ways. When this event happened, I had been acquainted with the Penetrating Vessel (C’hang Mai) for many years already and my experience of it was pretty much what was written about it. It is one of the first energy channels to form – starting in the fertilized egg – and along with the Belt Vessel (Dai Mai), the Conception (Ren Mai) and Governing Vessel (Du Mai) gives rise to more Strange Flows (Extraordinary Vessels – Qi Jing Ba Mai), which give rise to the other energy pathways, meridians and subsidiary channels. It is also called the “sea of blood” and lies along the trajectory of the fetal notochord, which develops into the heart and blood vessels. It is also called “the sea of the twelve meridians” and “the highway conduit.” It is associated with blushing and with orgasm. Those associations should have been clues, but I didn’t really get the intensity of its action until that early spring evening in Madison Park in New York City.
I had been teaching all day in Manhattan with my teacher and mentor, Iona Marsaa Teeguarden, who was also staying with me and my children in our apartment in the Bronx. She and I had been teaching for a week already and, as was usual on the rare occasions we got to see each other, staying up late talking. Essential to this story is the fact that I had also scheduled some clients in my office in Manhattan after our teaching day was done. By 10 pm that night I was beyond tired.
My usual practice was to take an express bus home to the Bronx from the top of Madison Park in Manhattan. This is actually a thriving business area and home of several district courts during the day, but in the evening the ladies of the evening take over and the corner of 26th and Madison is usually full of people. The ladies are doing their thing on the corner, johns are cruising by in cars and taxis, negotiating and making deals; there are always several people waiting for the express buses that both begin and end their route there. There are usually two or three of them idling while the drivers take their dinner break. If you are a New Yorker, this is a pretty safe place to wait for a bus. Lots of people, limited wait.
Speaking of New York, let me say a word about Protective or Defensive Qi (Wei Qi). The Wei Qi is described as running between the skin and muscles and preventing the invasion of “aggressive qi,” which in Chinese Medicine usually means climate: cold, wind, damp, etc. But in New York “aggressive qi” can come from human beings. Your Wei Qi becomes a personal radar scope, registering anything that enters – or even sends too much energy toward – your personal space. Most New Yorkers live in the realm of Wei Qi. Oddly enough, in the aftermath of 911, the city seems less prickly to me, perhaps because there is a sense of community fostered by shared trauma, but this was before that. Especially in Manhattan, the lines between poor and wealthy neighborhoods get fuzzy and the physical distance between them is mostly in the mind. If you take public transportation you get to meet everybody except the limosine people and they’re a different kind of dangerous. Wei Qi seems pointless to the point of ludicrous when you are literally packed in, tushy to tummy with your fellow New Yorkers during subway rush hour. But if you’ve lived it, you know what I mean. My shoulder may be pressed into your chest, but I will know instantly if your intentions aren’t honorable and I’ll be ready for you. A hundred years ago ladies used hatpins to protect themselves. Today, it’s pretty much a very loud, embarrassing voice directed at the miscreant with lots of attitude. Unless, of course, you’re dealing with one of the obvious crazies and then it’s a whole other story. But I won’t go into that here. My point is, that as an ordinary New Yorker, you never know who’s in your vicinity and you must be alert. If you have a modicum of self-preservation, you quickly develop three hundred and sixty degrees of awareness around you at all times.
My point in bringing this up is that the Wei Qi “wells up” to the surface into the Sinew Channels that feed the muscles from the principal meridians. If there isn’t a lot of Qi to go around, they tend to get short-changed unless there’s a screaming threat off the starboard bow.
This particular evening, my level of Qi was pooling somewhere inside longing for the comforts of home that were still an hour away. I did not notice – at first – that the top of Madison Park was deserted. No buses, no hookers, no commuters or taxis or johns. Not good. I also did something I never did when I was more alert and survival oriented – I sat down on a park bench facing the sidewalk on 26th street to wait for the bus. The alarm system was turned off and my head was in my navel.
I only became aware of the kid with the stick when he was already standing next to me on my right side. It is telling that I was not startled or apprehensive. I was too tired. The kid was slapping his stick – a broken rung from a kitchen chair? – against his palm as he said “Do you have any change?”
Now this is a fairly common question on the streets of New York. Homeless people on the streets and hustlers on the subway are constantly asking for money. Every New Yorker develops his or her own unique response to this. A friend of mine makes sure he always has a bunch of quarters in his pocket so he doesn’t have to say no to anyone. Most people simply refuse to acknowledge the presence of the one asking. Eye contact opens you to that person and you don’t really know what you’ll find there or in yourself in response. Compassion? Sympathy? Delusion? Despair? Danger? Too risky. My usual response is to mutter, “No, sorry,” with just a quick glance of acknowledgment in the other’s direction. Frankly, I wish I could hand out $10 bills. I know how delightful it is to get unexpected money. And, yes, I know what most of those bills would go for, but that’s the deal when you really give away money. Give away. No strings trailing back to your own life lessons.
However, I was pretty much trapped here. In my surprise at the kid’s presence I had turned my head to look at his face full on for several seconds. So I said, “No, I just have enough for the bus.”
“Well, then,” he said, still slapping his stick against his palm, “Do you have a dollar?”.
At this point in time, some of that deep pool of Qi started to climb towards the outside. I had the feeling that there was some kind of coercion going on here. Not much, admittedly. The kid was about twelve and skinny and not as confident as the stick would like me to believe, but something had to be done.
I had worked for awhile with Bronx teenagers who were survivors of sexual assault and abuse and I took the “street fighting” classes in the program right along with them. I didn’t do much street fighting on the desert in California where I grew up and figured it might come in handy sometime. This was the time.
The first thing we learned in our class was to use the voice. Put power into it and yell. Sometimes that’s all it takes to put off a predator who’s looking for weak prey. So, almost without thinking, I put all the qi I had at the moment into my voice and said, very loudly, “NO!”
The kid was obviously startled and he looked off to his right at something across the empty street. How had I missed them? Coming toward us was a group – I won’t say gang – of maybe six or seven kids. They seemed to be led by an older kid of about fifteen who was carrying a baseball bat. And no, they didn’t have Little League uniforms on.
The kid next to me said to the leader, “She yelled at me!” This was clearly not playing fair and he was outraged.
The leader beckoned him over and the group of them proceeded to have a conference there on the sidewalk about 10 feet away from me.
I was still sitting on the park bench, in pretty much the same relaxed (exhausted) posture I had been in since sitting down, but my brain was starting to wake up. I’m saying to myself, “They are deciding whether to leave the crazy lady alone or to beat the crap out of her.”
At that moment I felt every ounce of energy in my body drain down into my legs. It was the most remarkable sensation. The image in my head was like a cartoon thermometer dropping down to the bottom. And as I observed the physical phenomenon, my head said, “The Classics say that in anger the energy rises to the head and shoulders. In fear it drains into the legs. I must be afraid.”
At that moment, a yellow cab with its blessed halo, the “vacant” light on top, turned the corner onto 26th street and headed down the block toward me. I do not think I walked to the street. It would have given the kids too much time to notice. I think I levitated like I was on a pogo stick to the street, just as the cab was passing, waved it down and jumped in.
And that, my friends, is the meaning of the term “highway conduit.” You want to get somewhere fast, you take the quick road. And in a pinch, “the sea of the twelve meridians” can draw all the energy from all the regular channels and commit it to survival, whether that means sending it to the head and shoulders to fight with teeth and claws or sending it to the legs so you can run the hell away.
Iona still laughs at me because I didn’t just take the cab home. Nope. I was a New Yorker. I got out at the next stop on the express bus line to catch the bus home, my legs shaking so badly from the aftermath of the adrenalin rush that I could hardly stand.
For more on the Penetrating Channel and Fright, see “9/11 and Running Piglet Qi”
These are not the only stories about the Penetrating Vessel. There are many other functions; including the very important male and female developmental cycles: “The Cycles of Seven and Eight,” that will have to wait for another time.
My towers are constructed from choices of viewpoint and belief.
Where you build your tower determines what you see.
When the towers fall, I am aware that I have been trapped in caskets of my own making.
An Egyptian sarcophagus, elaborately painted with superficial details while hiding flesh and bones.
Breaking out is both liberating and terrifyingly vulnerable.
In one of those processes, I dreamed of a poplar tree in the front yard of my childhood home that cracked open and released a beautiful butterfly.
A reminder that the structures we build so seriously can come between us and the beautiful, scary, ephemeral nature of life.
The Star (Rider/Waite)
The Star is light in the vast darkness of the universe.
Wishing on a star, we ask for access to the possibilities in that vastness.
The pouring of water to the land and river is an offering,
An indication of the humility required to be open to the guidance of spirit.
Our own view from the tower is limited to what we can see,
So how can our wishes transcend what we already have?
When the tower comes down,
There’s an opening for a vaster wisdom to make itself known.
The Moon (Rider/Waite)
Let what is hidden remain indistinct, to be revealed in its own time.
Trying to prematurely sharpen the outline eliminates crucial aspects that are part of a still murky truth.
In this process, age has advantages.
Looking at events of 40 years ago, I see that they are still taking shape.
Like things in the moon’s shadow, the outlines are forever changing.
There is some relaxation to accepting the ambiguity as a function of time.
In the mystery, we expand.
The Sun (Rider/Waite)
In every version of the Sun card, the rays are prominent.
In Egyptian carvings they have little hands to touch and caress.
Bright, warm, and expansive,
Basking in the sun is what Joy feels like.
Joy is playful, like the child in the card, riding the horse without saddle or reins,
Confident in the moment, moving freely with change.
The Sun reminds me to look for the sources of light and warmth in my life.
Just a spark of interest, curiosity or delight can be coaxed into flame when I give it space in my heart.
Why do we hold back?
Our nature is to shine and to encourage the spark in each others’ hearts.
The sun rises each day for everybody, no matter what.
Every dawn I have something to be thankful for.
A daily gift of joy.
The blinding destruction that brings down our carefully constructed towers leaves little to be sure about, lots of questions and some fear of the dark.
In that chaos a star appears in the darkness to guide us.
The light grows with the rising of the moon, but the way is still in shadow.
It is a time to tolerate ambiguity and watch what arises from intuition.
A time to explore rather than choose.
A time to be curious about what is only partially revealed; letting commitment wait until things are fully revealed by the Sun. The Star and Moon lead us in the direction of the light. They give us hope for possibilities that can become fulfilled as we allow the Sun to fully reveal the path of joy.
I think of Judgement Day, when souls will be sent to heaven or hell.
But in this Tarot journey, it is almost the end.
In the light from the Sun we have examined what is arising within us.
We can distinguish between illusion and joy, and choose what to keep.
The World (Rider/Waite)
Symbols of the directions, the elements, the sources of life, all together, turning.
Like the yin/yang symbol, everything makes up the oneness that is the Tao.
What has been, what is, what will be.
All are coming and going seamlessly within the totality.
“The universe” is that wholeness,
Creation arising from the elements as they are dispersing.
Ouroboros. The circle of living and dying.
My accumulated knowledge and experience is a bundle I carry with me.
Like the old time traveling salesman with his wagon and horses,
I travel from person to person, telling my stories;
Sometimes exchanging something in my bundle for a place around the fire.
“Wood gives us the ability to see beyond the obstacles with our “mind’s eye,” and the strength and flexibility to keep moving past them towards the goal.”
I always marvel as daffodils and crocuses push up through the snow and bloom, just when the weather is changing enough to give them a chance to survive. What exquisite responsiveness to the smallest hint of light and warmth! We are just like the daffodils, when we pay attention. It’s the gift of the Wood element that allows us to sense the guidance of Shen, and like the plants sense the change in the light, we can notice those small stirrings that pull us to our highest vision, even before we can see it clearly. Wood grants the ability to move relentlessly through or around obstacles toward the sun and the light. We have all known and worked with people whose life experience should have them curled in a ball in the darkest corner, yet who keep moving, growing and spreading the power of their determination to all around them. They are the daffodils in the snow.
The movement associated with the balanced Wood Element is both strong and supple. The Liver and Gall Bladder meridians govern the tendons and ligaments, which stabilize the joints by holding them in place, and create movement of the bones by connecting them to the muscles. When there is too much Wood energy, the joints are tight and stiff; when there is too little, the joints and muscles are weak. The balance of strength and suppleness produces flow, like the movement of a gifted dancer or gymnast or our friend the house cat. The flow of the Water Element is different. Water flows because it doesn’t resist gravity. Without that outside force, it is still. The movement granted by the Wood Element has an inner direction and a purpose. Wood brings this gift of directed, smooth flow to the fluids in the body – the blood and lymph – and to everything that moves, including the voice, the feelings, the transmission of nerve impulses and the muscles.
Wood is also responsive to conditions. Watch children move seamlessly from one emotion to the other as they interact with the present moment. That beautiful responsiveness to life right now, without reactions from the past is what we call “innocence.” This responsiveness to the present also allows us to make appropriate decisions in the moment. The Gall Bladder influences all the other organs of the digestive system by a simple decision:”yes” or “no.” If there are fats to be emulsified, it releases bile to combine with the digestive juices from the pancreas in the small intestine. If not, it doesn’t. The same function influences our mental and emotional decision-making. General Gall Bladder responds to the conditions on the field while keeping sight of the vision embedded in the plans made behind the lines by its partner, the Liver. The plans are based on the vision toward which we move, be it the taking of a country or the accomplishment of our highest goals. Wood gives us the ability to see beyond the obstacles with our “mind’s eye,” and the strength and flexibility to keep moving past them towards the goal.
We can remind ourselves of our innate daffodil-ness by asking:
“What moves me?
What is my vision for my life?
What makes things flow for me?
What motivates me?
If I could look around the obstacles in my path, what would I see?
May we embody the balanced Wood Element this spring by clarifying our highest vision. May we unfold, grow and flow purposefully toward that light with the suppleness and strength of the body, the emotions and the spirit.