Living Through Crisis: Developing Evolutionary Consciousness: Part 2
As we focus on the very real physical health concerns during the COVID-19 crisis, now more than ever we must access deep reservoirs of vitality and wisdom within ourselves. In acupuncture language these deep reservoirs are the Eight Extraordinary Vessels. Beyond the daily vitality of the Lungs and Stomach, which are very important to keep strong during the COVID-19 crisis (see my prior article – Part 1 for tips), the Extraordinary Vessels allow us to tap into our evolutionary consciousness.
Humanity has faced many life-threatening challenges in its history. The body possesses an innate capacity for survival through adjustment and adaptation. While social distancing and basic immune boosting remedies are important to keep us healthy, we must also develop a deeper relationship with our true strength and power to survive crisis and calamity.
The Extraordinary Vessels are different from the 12 main acupuncture channels. They don’t connect with the internal organs or deal with daily physiological function. Instead, the Extraordinary Vessels connect with the organs of evolution, called the “Curious or Extraordinary Organs” within Chinese Medicine. These include the brain, bones and marrow, spine, blood vessels, sexual-reproductive organs. Within these Extraordinary organs and vessels lies information gathered throughout our ancestry, and even our past lives (if you, like ancient Taoists believe in such a thing). Within the Extraordinary Vessels we can gain access to wisdom that has kept humanity alive for its entire history. These vessels act as record books, but also deep reservoirs of survival wisdom, strength, willpower and ingenuity.
The Extraordinary Vessels feed the regular acupuncture channels, reminding them of their best function, true power and spiritual mission. Chinese medicine sees life as something more than the search for comfort and pleasure. It is a spiritual endeavor, filled with lessons and challenges so we may learn about our true power, connectivity and illumination. Difficult moments, both individually, as well as collectively like this era, are best navigated when we can connect our daily functional channels and organs to the evolutionary wisdom of our Extraordinary Vessels.
The most important Extraordinary Vessel for this time is called Yang Wei Mai: the Yang (active-external) Linking Vessel. It begins on the foot and travels up the side of the body, through the legs, hips, shoulders – into the head and brain. It is contrasted with the Yin Linking Vessel (Yin Wei Mai) which travels through the center of the body into the throat. The Linking Vessels refer to time: the way our past and future link together with the present moment. Can we use the experiences of our past to influence and empower our present lives? Can we link together all our vitality and wisdom to be optimally prepared for the future and its uncertainty? These vessels maintain coordination, not just of body, but also of mind and soul. Their strength and activation can often mean the difference between feeling overwhelmed and unprepared to face life and its challenges vs. feeling strong, bold and ready for anything that may challenge us.
Classically these eight vessels were tapped into via meditation only, forbidden to acupuncture. Yet since the 16th Century acupuncture became interested in utilizing them in medical treatment. They are widely used today in clinical practice. However, I’m most interested in reviving the practice of using these vessels within meditation practice, so all of us can activate them and benefit from their power. Even from the isolation of our quarantines. Since most of us worldwide find ourselves in some sort of quarantine or social distancing situation, I’m going to speak about the Yang Wei Vessel as a channel meant for meditation and self-stimulation.
Some say the call from spirit during this challenging time is to learn to become more intimate with ourselves; to be able to care for, understand, cultivate and treat ourselves more effectively. The Yang Wei Vessel is an invitation into our own power, capacity and enthusiasm for change, adaptation and evolution. It helps us overcome fear, anxiety, hesitation, stubbornness, ignorance and denial so we can face this challenge as it asks us to change with courage, excitement, innovation, acceptance and valor.
As I said earlier, within the Extraordinary Vessels there are a pair of Wei Vessels to represent the dual nature of embodied existence: the Yang (external, active) Wei Vessel and the Yin (internal, passive, receptive) Wei Vessel. The Wei Vessels are associated with time: the past (Yin) and the future (Yang). There are another pair of Extraordinary Vessels, the (Yin and Yang) Qiao Vessels which represent the current moment and our relationship to the external world (Yang) and the internal world (Yin). These four vessels comprise the total experience of time: past, present and future. There are the external worldly aspects of our relationship to time: the Yang, as well as the internal relationship with ourselves (Yin). It is interesting to note that these channels meet (present and future) at the areas of the hips, shoulders and head. Tension in these areas can often be a call to harmonize our present state with our projection into the future. More on these specific body areas later.
Perhaps the most utilized acupuncture channel in my clinical practice has been the Yin Wei Vessel, as most people I work with are unwell due to some aspect of their pasts that they’ve not fully reconciled, healed or brought to completion. Yet I see now, as we are faced with our existential movement into the future, not just as individuals but as a culture and a race, the Yang Wei Vessel is, to my observation, the Extraordinary Vessel we are all currently resonating with. The past is no longer as much a focus for many of us, but how we are going to move into the future, which now seems quite uncertain.
Now is a time to gather together our strength, courage, ingenuity and willpower so we can face the major challenges and demands for change.
The major role of the Yang Wei Vessel is to gather our “Yang” capacity to be active and strong: our capacity to stand tall, pivot, shift and change – to focus into a situation so we can transform it. Many of us feel either too weak to stand strong and tall. Others have difficulty pivoting, adjusting and adapting. While still others lack focus and ability to create and generate new ideas. These aspects of movement capacity are reflected in the acupuncture sinew channels of the Bladder (ability to stand tall and extend outwards), Gallbladder (ability to pivot) and Stomach (ability to focus and transform), which are linked together by Yang Wei Mai.
Yang Wei is comprised of acupuncture points from the Bladder, Gallbladder, Large Intestine and Stomach channels chiefly. Most of the Extraordinary Vessels don’t possess acupuncture points of their own, but share points from the main organ-associated channels. This follows their capacity to endow each of the organs and their channels with evolutionary consciousness and ability. The potential of the Stomach for example is not just to process food and drink, but also to be able to adapt to changes in food supply as the world changes; the ability to create new flesh utilizing whatever the world provides. But also to be able to take whatever is offered in terms of challenge and create an abundant life where we can thrive. This is the capacity to evolve endowed by the Extraordinary Vessels to the Stomach. This is what we need to tap into now.
In terms of immunity, it is the endowment provided to the Bladder channel that allows us to find ways to protect ourselves from any new types of viruses, such as the one we are currently facing. We are programmed as humans to survive through adaptation. It is the relationship between the Yang Wei Vessel and the Bladder channel that allows us to make this leap.
Lately, I’ve been having many dreams about being on a journey, walking through a desert. I see myself carrying a lot of weight, many material things. Each night at some point, I start dropping the things I’m carrying, even stripping clothing off my body. Last night I felt as if I left part of my own body and mind in that desert, waking up feeling much lighter and more positive. This is the evolutionary consciousness provided to the Large Intestine by Yang Wei. If we wish to survive and thrive in a changing world, we need to be prepared and able to let things go and leave them behind. Some of which we’ve endowed with much sentimental value. Yet through the wisdom of Yang Wei as it empowers and instructs the Gallbladder, we can decide through practical insight what is worth keeping and what needs to be discarded. The Gallbladder has a strong relationship to our brain and reproductive organs. It can be quite exacting in its decision making. Since over-indulgence in comfort is likely a major cause of our reduced immunity and tendency to be deluded and confused, the Gallbladder may be asking that many of these comforts and luxuries be discarded.
There is a fascinating acupuncture point along Yang Wei that is located on the scapula. I’ve never completely understood its meaning. The name of this point is “Tian Liao,” which can be difficult to translate. The word “Tian” means heaven or celestial. The word “Liao” refers to a hole in the bone, in this case within the scapula. A “Liao” is a crevice where unresolved material drains into, lurking until the body chooses to release it. The Liao make me think of the viruses that scientists say may begin to emerge when the ice caps melt: things that have been kept dormant for years which we will have to deal with. The “Tian” part of this point says it is an issue that has a celestial or heaven association, bringing to mind the ancient Chinese philosophical concept of “the mandate of heaven,” which each of us inherits relating to our life lessons or karma that we play out during our lives. These are challenges that can seem to emerge from out of nowhere, like the novel COVID-19 virus. A lesson from heaven chooses to emerge and overwhelm us, requiring all of our attention. The Tian word reminds us that most challenges in our lives are there to help us evolve, sent from “heaven.” Yang Wei Mai empowers us to feel we have all the tools necessary to face any challenge.
It is interesting to note that “Tian Liao” is located on the Triple Heater acupuncture channel, a system that maintains endocrine function, water metabolism, growth cycles, body temperature and the fire-water balance within the body. The manifestation of the COVID-19 virus is a sore throat followed by respiratory distress which at its worst turns into severe pneumonia. Anything that afflicts the throat is associated with inflammation. Therefore the Wind-Cold of the virus transforms quickly into heat in the throat, moving into the chest to create severe damp-phlegm that overwhelms the body. This can be seen as a severe malfunction of the Triple Heater and its ability to manage the waterways of the body, transform fluids and temper inflammation.
TH-15 “Tian Liao” may be something primordial and collective we are all having to face now: some type of evolutionary challenge and lesson provided by “heaven.” Many climate scientists say in terms of climate change, we will be fighting for the survival of our species. Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of this challenge emerging. Ideally if we can consolidate and utilize our collective consciousness and wisdom we will be able to shed our old destructive, outdated ways and find new ways to live and survive. We must face it with practical focus, courage and strength. We must link up all the movement aspects of our body so we can stand, extend, pivot, focus and transform.
Part 3 of this series of articles will provide a Qi Gong, self massage meditation for activating and working with the Yang Wei Vessel.