Bone broth, or what we call bone marrow soup in Chinese Medicine is just the rage right now, and for good reason. Extracting the essence of solid things, like bones and root vegetables, into liquid, or bone marrow soup, is the fastest way to nourish our own deepest essence, called Jing in Chinese medicine. In Ayurveda this is called nourishing the deepest level of the tissues, or dhatus. Like builds like in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, so that the minerals and building blocks locked into the deepest recesses of an animal, its bones, and a plant, its roots, are said to nourish our deepest roots. And this is why soups made from bone and root vegetables are classics in traditional medicine during the late Autumn and early Winter season, the time of year centered around the winter solstice.
In Classical Chinese Medicine a human life has three constituents–Jing/Essence, Qi/Energy, and Shen/Consciousness. Consciousness is formed out of the conversion of Jing by Qi. A baby is born full of essence/Jing. Its like your savings account. Over time, as we experience life with all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, challenges and opportunities, this Jing is converted by Qi into consciousness. We don’t even mean higher consciousness so much as the thing that begins the moment we open our eyes. In order to see the world even at the level of a neonate takes consciousness. Even a fetus has consciousness. A rock has very little consciousness, almost no Qi, but lots of essence/Jing. Gold, diamonds, mercury, arsenic, full of metallic essence. A mollusk or earthworm, not too much consciousness, but more Qi than a rock, and still plenty of essence. But even those two, as living beings, have more Qi, or life force than a rock.
Animals, whether birds making nests, cats grooming each other, or humans riding a bike while reciting a poem, constantly convert our Jing into consciousness. The will to do something, from scratching your nose to painting a masterpiece, is associated with Jing, the doing of that something utilizes Qi. Disease and hard work, keeping the body warm in cold weather, hard exercise, anything that creates real fatigue, consumes Qi all the more so, that is why, if circumstances are sufficiently difficult, like at the top of Mt. Everest in a storm, you can easily die. All your Jing is suddenly consumed, and there is no more supply for your Qi to convert into Shen. Everything a human being does requires Jing converted to Qi, that is the very difference between being a living being and being a corpse, the presence of warm Qi. That is why we grow cold at death. And death is defined in Chinese Medicine as the final depletion of your Jing. Hopefully, along the way, at that point, your minimum Jing has been associated with maximum wisdom, then life has even greater meaning.
Over the course of our life what keeps us replete with Qi is the extraction of Qi from the air into oxygen by our Lungs, the extraction of Qi from foods and liquids into carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and water, and the restoration of our mind/body’s by good sleep. We can also add that the less we disturb our consciousness/Shen by fear, anger, worry, grief, desire, attraction and aversion, the calmer and more level our mind remains, the more we preserve our Jing and Qi.
When we speak of extracting the essence of foods and liquids (this word essence, or Jing, is the very same word when referring to the deepest state of our human being, as well as the deepest essence of a foodstuff) by our digestive tracts we speak of its transformation into blood, which carries this essence to our internal organs for storage. The closest we can come to replicating the Jing we received from our parents as embryos, is to eat a healthy, easily digested diet, with respect for the seasons, time of day, and our own body type, while keeping a calm satisfied mind.
This is why, in both Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, and in fact in both Chinese and Indian culture, such strong emphasis is placed on creating beautiful food that is easily digested, and eating our food in a calm relaxing friendly unhurried environment. It may be frustrating as a visitor to India to have to wait an hour while a bureaucrat calmly eats her midday meal, as you wait in the heat for your visa extension, but in a major way they have their priority right. ( Indians themselves know not to show up at lunch time.) Human being deserve the right to eat the main meal of the day in an unhurried, relaxed fashion, because its the Relaxation Response that promotes healthy digestion, and the Stress, or Fight or Flight Response that destroys digestion by restricting the flow of Qi and Blood to the gut, while at the same time elevating all the detrimental stress hormones.
Americans can get very obsessed with “eating the right” foods, even to the point of developing orthorexia, while at the same time ignoring the lifestyle of relaxation that promotes health. It says in Chinese Medicine–“good sleep, good digestion, good elimination, good prognosis.” It doesn’t matter how healthy the food you eat is if you gobble it down in a rush. To be continued in Bone Marrow Soup, Part 2, next.