What is happening to our essence?
One of my students asked me how much of our “ vital force” or “energy” (Jing/Essence) we lose each time we are pregnant. In Chinese medicine it is said that with each child we give some of our energy to them. Surely, they asked, because we are having fewer children these days than our grandparents, then we should have more energy? But is this in fact true? This is hard to measure, but many women I work with are experiencing stress and exhaustion, especially after giving birth and while they are looking after young children.
So how much does having children take from our energy or does having children in fact somehow increase our energy?
Jing is what the Chinese refer to in their traditional healing systems as “ancestral energy”: you could think of it as our energetic DNA. It is the energy which is transmitted at the time of our conception: the uniting of the egg and the sperm. The Chinese don’t just see this as inheriting physical characteristics, but emotional and spiritual energies as well. They also see this as being not just the energy of the mother and father, but their parents and grandparents: the family energy. Interestingly science, particularly the science of epigenetics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics (will have a future blog on this soon) is tending towards this view. Our DNA, is always influenced by our environment: and the effects of our environment include our whole family history. If this seems a little vague to you, just remember that the egg which produces the new life was actually present in the womb of the mother to be when she was forming in the womb of her mother: the new baby’s grandmother. There is a very tangible maternal connection: but there is also a paternal connection too. Development of sperm is also influenced by the father’s environment, which includes his ancestry.
For the Chinese, and indeed for epigenesists, our initial energy, the Jing, is a huge, rather than a limiting energy: it is our potential. For the Chinese, it sustains us during our life time and we use it to grow, to reproduce and when it is used up, we die.
So how much do we loose each time we have children? And surely we should have more these days as women are having fewer children? This is where it is interesting. Jing is not just used when we have children but is also used up during ovulation and menstruation: there is an energy involved in producing and releasing eggs. Of course during pregnancy we do not ovulate or menstruate and so this means that the Jing which would have been used for that can now be used to support the pregnancy. Postnatally, when women breastfeed exclusively, this delays the onset of ovulation and menstruation. So while in the past, women might have had 10-15 children, it meant that they would not be ovulating and menstruating as much in their life time as women who have only 1 or 2 children. We also have to remember that not all the children survived and that children would look after each other and help with the housework. Another important factor is that most women would not be working outside the home in the way that modern women do: juggling family and work. I am not trying to say that it was easier in the past, but that it was different.
Another big difference women experience from our ancestors, which has happened only recently, is the hormonal suppression of our fertility. Many women spend much of their fertile life suppressing their fertility by using artificial hormones to suppress ovulation. What is the effect of this on the Jing? We don’t really know.
Of course hormonal contraceptives have the positive aspect of allowing women to control their sexuality and to choose not to be bound to the house and having children: however is there a cost to the body? Hormonal contraceptives disconnect a woman from her natural cycle and from the energy of ovulation. After suppressing this energy often for most of her reproductive life, it is not always easy to then express this energy and become pregnant. In a way we should not be surprised that there is a decline in fertility. There must surely be some effect to having suppressed it for so long. However, often women then have to take yet more hormones to boost their fertility again. What is the long term effect of this on the body? Who knows? We are in quite unknown territory.
The unknown territory continues into the menopause, when many women take yet more hormones, to regulate a natural change. Why is this natural change causing so many problems for modern women? The Chinese refer to the menopause as the “second spring “: a time when a woman can be freed of her menstrual cycle, to express her Jing in a different way. As she gets older, she needs to use the Jing to support herself and not the creation of a new life. This time of life is often considered a time of the flowering of wisdom: when the woman is less tied to the material world through her periods and can express herself more fully. These positive views of the menopause differ greatly from modern views.
I have found that Chinese medicine is relevant in these situations where women are having issues with their menstrual cycles, supporting pregnancy and the menopause and fertility. I work in these case a lot with the Extraordinary vessels and they seem to gain a lot of benefit. Some of it is about being more connected with what is going on in the body.
I am aware that I have raised more questions than given answers, but for me these are important questions to ponder. I would welcome further discussion on these topics based on your own personal experience or that of women you work with. I will post more on this topic soon.