During these past few months, we have all been granted the opportunity to reflect on
ourselves and our lives a little more deeply. Everyone has been affected in some way,
whether it be in terms of our health, relationships, or finances – we have all felt the
winds of change either brushing up on our cheeks or throwing us into a devastating
whirlwind. During the process, there has been a consistent theme unfolding in my
awareness – that of observation, reflection, and witnessing. The question that arises in
this process is: what is really essential? At times we may forget what is most crucial in
our understanding, as we may be swayed by our base tendencies that revolve around
fear and uncertainty.



It occurs to me that we are called to remember what is most essential. Life is
characterized by a multitude of qualities, which are the archetypes that give color,
flavor, and meaning to all things. In some way, these qualities transcend us as
individuals, and we serve as their embodiment. I would like to offer a metaphor to
elucidate and illustrate the message I am attempting to convey. The metaphor is that
of a garden. The benefits of seeing ourselves in the image of a garden are
unfathomable. The first thing to be mentioned, is that a garden is beautiful. Plato has
said that “Beauty is the splendor of truth.” For in beauty is expressed a most
agreeable harmony and proportion.
A garden does not happen on its own accord, it requires a “Great Work,” which is the
purpose of our lives. It may even begin as barren soil, wherein preparation is
required to make the ground fertile. Then even when the land is ready to be
fecundated, the gardener must have certain knowledge and wisdom in terms of what
seeds to plant, in what season, under what conditions, and how much sunlight, water,
nutrients to give, etc.. Although it is also worth remembering that life is full of grace,
and sometimes just planting a seed in good faith without knowledge may also yield
an immense blessing.

One lesson of great importance that may be gleaned from this metaphor comes from
consideration of the root with regards to its branches. We are often so dazzled by the
multiplicity and variety we witness in life, that we may lose sight of the fact that there
is an undeniable unity that holds everything in cohesion. Everything is
interdependent. On this level of existence, everything is in need of everything else,
and therefore possesses a contingent reality. Thus, we have one root giving rise to
many branches. In terms of medicine this concept is applicable both to the essential
nature of our organism, as well as the manifestation of disease. Whereas we may
have many symptoms, they may all be a result of a fundamental imbalance. I
continually emphasize this because I hold it to be a major key in the understanding of
health and beyond. In the next section of this article, I am going to share with you
what constituents make up our essential energies, and in later articles, I will elaborate
on the most effective ways to nurture and cultivate these forces.



The significance of understanding the primary principles known as the three treasures
cannot be overstated. I think it is a deception of the mind that desires a complicated
answer to a simple question. Of course there is a value and amazement in
complexity, but the most profound truths are simple. In the same way that all shapes
are contained in a circle, simplicity is the framework that encompasses complexity.
For instance, we may look at something as simple and ordinary as an ant or a honey
bee, but the more deeply we explore its
mystery, the more we grow perplexed.
There is an ancient philosophical
concept in the Taoist tradition of health
cultivation known as the Three
Treasures. These are three fundamental
principles that govern all processes.
Just as the Yin/Yang principles govern
polarity and are themselves an
expression of the TaiJi (Supreme Unity).
These three principles are also found in
the alchemical tradition and are known
as Sulphur, Mercury, and Salt. Yet
another way of expressing these
principles is spirit, soul, and body.

Spirit represents a universal principle, a commonality that permeates all things,
whereas the soul represents an individual’s unique expression and signature, closely
related to the construct of personality. Salt represents the crystalized form of
something, which can be called its corpus or body.
In the Chinese healing arts, the three treasures are known as Jing (Essence), Qi
(Vitality), and Shen (Spirit). These three preserve life and are the epitome of life’s
universal impetus expressing itself through a particularized form. Far from being
simply abstractions, we can correlate these principles to various organ systems, as
well as other aspects of our living experience.





As shown in the image above, the three treasures may be thought of as an oil lamp.
Jing (essence) is the oil in the lamp. Without it nothing could come into being. It is
essential for the entirety of life. It is located deeper in relation to the other treasures.
Just like the roots of a tree, it is hidden in the primordial darkness. In terms of
Chinese medicine, it is related to the kidney system, which is elementally associated
with water, having an opaque quality and depth. It is important to understand that
the kidneys represent the root of our energy system. The kidneys govern all things
that involve long cycles of time, including the growth of head hair, the development
of bone, and the very length of our lives. The brain is also intimately related to the
kidneys and the bone by virtue of the “marrow” which infuses the spinal column and
has its effulgence in the brain which is often called “the sea of marrow.” Jing also
relates to our genetic inheritance and our constitution. In every way imaginable, it is
an expression of the essential, the fundamental, and the substance of what is. It
corresponds to the principle of salt which is like the mineral ash that remains when all
else is burned away – just like the bones are the only thing that remain of us when we
Jing is constantly being consumed, it has no excess. The oil will continue to burn until
there is none left, at which point Yin and Yang separate and the experience of self
ceases to be. As long as we are able to anchor ourselves in our Jing, then we have a
material basis for our life, we maintain strength and integrity.
As I mentioned, Jing has all to do with our inheritance. In males, the seminal fluid is a
product of Jing, and in females it is the egg or similar fluids involved in reproduction.
These are an essence that the body engenders. Therefore sexuality and stamina are a

direct expression of the health and state of Jing. Therefore, impotence and lack of
libido are strong indicators that Jing must be replenished, and it is equally important
that any leaks to Jing are sealed up and guarded.

QI (Vitality)

The second treasure, Qi (Vitality) is familiar to a greater number of people due to its
cultivation in the martial arts, as well as mention in film and popular media. The term
however, has a very broad and nuanced field of meaning. Some translate Qi loosely
to mean energy, but that does not fully encompass the concept, although it is a close
approximation. The Chinese character itself has a radical that pictographically
resembles something over a fire, such as grain or rice being cooked. Qi has
everything to do with the process of transformation. In the human body, this is
expressed as metabolic activity. It is closely associated to heat, which is involved in all
aspects of transformation, whether it be in the culinary arts, metallurgy, personal
growth, etc… In the image above, Qi corresponds to the flame, which is the vitality or
life force. Qi propels things into motion. The blood for instance, only moves by virtue
of Qi. Interestingly, the mind is also a conductor of Qi. The Chinese doctors say,
“where the mind goes, the Qi follows.” This concept has great implications in terms of
meditative practice as well as martial arts, and has been developed in such practices
as Tai Chi and Qi Gong.
Perhaps the greatest transformation that occurs in our physiology is that of digestion.
Food itself is like a symbol whose meaning is the Qi and pure fluids extracted from its
consumption. The stomach rots and ripens it using hydrochloric acid, which is a kind
of fire. In this organic alchemical process there are pure fluids extracted, which
nourish the tissues of the organs. This essential fluid is called the pure Yang in
Chinese medicine and is known as radical moisture in Greco-Arabic medicine. The
“spleen” in Chinese medicine (not a direct equivalent of the anatomical spleen) works
in tandem with the stomach in order to transform and transport these fluids. The Qi
that we derive from food is called Post-Heaven or Post-Natal Qi, in other words it is the
nutrition we gather after having been severed from the umbilical cord (Pre-Heaven).
Another useful way to conceptualize Qi is in relation to Jing, Whereas Jing is like a
savings account (storage of energy), Qi is like a checking account (spending of
energy). Qi animates our body and life processes from moment to moment, while
Jing is the reservoir which provides the necessary sustenance for the duration of our

One of the reasons I focus on digestive health in the clinic is because it is the wheel
that turns the whole mechanism. Diet and nutrition is the most direct way to affect a
change in our health because the energy produced in the process will power the
entire system. Again, it is a central root that can be nourished so that all the branches
are healthy. A gardener who is knowledgeable does not waste time watering the
branches. If the roots are able to drink, then the benefit is distributed to all


The third treasure is called Shen (Spirit). In terms of our metaphor, Shen is the light
that the lamp emanates. In a way, it is the whole purpose of the lamp. Its light is what
dispels darkness so that what is there can be seen. In the same way, spirit or the light
of consciousness is the power by which ignorance is dispelled. To have vision means
to be able to follow one’s destiny, which in Mandarin is called Ming, I.e. brightness. In
the truest sense, the purpose of Qi is to transform Jing into Shen. If we overspend
what we have of Qi and Jing, we begin to dissipate this light. Our expenditures may
be of a frivolous nature, or maybe we are just spread thin by our circumstances, but
the end result is that we are then unable to convert the essences and transformative
powers into the light of Shen (spirit). Shen is stored in the heart and is witnessed in
the eyes. We all know that we have gazed at people whose eyes are dull and
lusterless, and others who you may avert your gaze because the light is pouring out.
That light is a treasure, one that must be nourished and cared for. A full discussion of
Shen is outside of the scope of this article, but of all the treasures, it is the most subtle
and expansive because it reaches to the very heart of all things. Suffice it to say, the
quality of Shen is dependent on the health of the preceding treasures and is of
paramount importance in the life of a human being. Regardless of what goals we
may have for our health and the enjoyment of life, we would be amiss to neglect
these highest of virtues, and all work that is done is really a step towards the splendor
of truth.


I hope that this article inspires the reader to be more in reverence of the wondrous
gift we call life. They say that “Death is the road to Awe.” We would be mistaken in
thinking that death is a future event, it is happening right now in every moment. If
there were no death, there could not be a sense of nostalgia, which is a kind of
mourning. It has its sweetness, but also its sorrow. Every moment in our lives is one
that will never be repeated and cannot be preserved but in memory. For this reason,
every moment bears the quality of being a precious gift. Therefore, it behooves us
not to miss it, but to be present and rise to whatever occasion is upon us.
Let us remember that the seeds we sow today, we reap tomorrow. Although it may
seem obvious, it never ceases to be a challenge to our understanding. We are
primed to expect instant results and immediate gratification for our works, and in this
expectation we lose the ability to plant a seed with unconditional love. Our soul is the
garden that we must tend. No one can do it for us; the responsibility rests squarely
on our shoulders. We can always seek the support of others, but they can only show
us the door. It is up to us whether or not to walk through it. If we undertake the work
of beautifying our garden, planting the roses, tulips, lilies, and jasmine, then we will
attract to ourselves all of the wonders and glories this life has to offer. We will find
that the birds will adorn our garden with sweet songs, and the buzzing bees with
tantalizing honey. My sincere wish is that I may be blessed to continue the work
myself and to be a friend and health care practitioner for all who are willing to walk
past the threshold. I hope that the challenges we have undergone serve as the
impetus that propel us towards new vistas and horizons.


Yours in good health,
Ramy Saleh, L.Ac



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