And the Lamp of Life

     Greek Medicine recognizes four basic vital principles that give life and health to the whole organism.  The first three have already been discussed, and are products of the Vital Faculty:
     The Vital Force
     The Innate Heat
     The fourth vital principle is the quintessence or distillate of the Natural Faculty and its Four Humors.  In many ways, it's the complement or counterpart of the first three vital principles.  It's called the Radical Moisture.  It could also be called the nutritive, hormonal essence of the organism. 


Genesis of the Radical Moisture

     In the Fourth Digestion, right before the Four Humors are congealed and converted into living tissue, an extremely refined essence of all of them is withheld from this process.  The Radical Moisture is very precious, and only a few drops of it are distilled from each digestion.
     The Radical Moisture is circulated through the bloodstream and is distributed to all the principal and noble organs, which then circulate and distribute a portion of it to their subsidiary organs and attendant vessels. 
     The reproductive organs or gonads of both sexes get a large share of the Radical Moisture.  From this they produce the generative seed.
     The Radical Moisture is of a pale, creamy color.  It is thick, rich, moist, oily, unctuous and has a mild, pleasant aroma.  Its main taste is bland or mildly sweet, but with a slightly sour, acrid bite to it - hints of all the other tastes are also present, since it's the quintessence of all the humors.  Basically, the physical properties of the Radical Moisture resemble those of Royal Jelly, which is indeed the Radical Moisture of the queen bee.


Properties and Functions of the Radical Moisture

     The Radical Moisture has several important and distinctive properties and functions:
     The Radical Moisture nourishes the organism on a deep and fundamental level.  It gives nutritive power to the humors, especially the moist, flourishing Phlegmatic and Sanguine humors, which predominate in bulk and nutritive importance to the organism.
     The Radical Moisture guides the growth, development and maturation of the organism over the long term.  These include sexual development and reproductive flowering or maturation.  The other vital principles and the Four Humors handle the day-to-day functioning and nutrition of the organism, but the Radical Moisture guides it over the long term. 
     The Radical Moisture gives nutritive finish, polish, completion and integrity to the organs and tissues.  It also endows them with basic, nonspecific immune resistance.  Immunologically, the Radical Moisture underlies humoral immunity, whereas Thymos empowers vital immunity, or the immune response.
     The Radical Moisture is the hormonal essence of the organism.  It is centrally and deeply involved in all the anabolic growth processes of the organism, which are the function of the endocrine glands and their hormones.  You could also call the Radical Moisture the vital marrow or sap of the organism.
     The Radical Moisture and its quality are responsible for our basic mental and spiritual traits.  Besides growth and developmental disorders, defects in the Radical Moisture can create imbecility, mental retardation, and defects of character and intelligence.  The Radical Moisture is the essence of the life lived, and what gives it purpose and direction.
     The Radical Moisture is the anchor that gives the functions of the other vital principles stability, focus, grounding and persistence.  As the Yin anchor and complement to the other vital principles, the Radical Moisture is necessary to enable the organism to attain a quiescent state of sleep or rest.  It also supports, and is regenerated by, the vegetative functions of the organism. 
     The Radical Moisture forms the genetic code or procreative seed that is passed on from parent to offspring.  At conception, each parent contributes a portion of their Radical Moisture to form a new life.  In this sense, the Radical Moisture is the essence of the Water element, which is the original source of life. 


The Origin and Metabolism of the Radical Moisture

     The initial, most important and greatest portion of the Radical Moisture that we receive in life was given to us by our parents at the moment of conception.  It determines the overall quality, character and longevity of our life.  Over the course of our life, we replenish the Radical Moisture somewhat, but in a much more partial and imperfect way. 
     The Radical Moisture that we replenish ourselves with after birth is the quintessence of the Four Humors, or the end product of digestion and metabolism.  To ensure optimum quantity and quality of the Radical Moisture, we must eat a balanced, wholesome, nutritious diet, and we must keep our digestive systems and pepsis functioning optimally. 
     The Radical Moisture has a symbiotic relationship with the Innate Heat, which it needs to function and unfold properly, much as Fire releases the fragrance of incense, or the petals of a flower unfold under the lifegiving heat of the sun.  But the Radical Moisture is also like the oil in a lamp, and the Innate Heat like the lamp's flame.  The flame lives by consuming the oil, and will eventually consume it entirely.  Such, regrettably, is the inherent nature of life.
     Nevertheless, there's still a lot we can do to conserve our precious Radical Moisture and prolong the quality and longevity of life:
     Eat well and digest well, since the replenished Radical Moisture is the quintessence of the Four Humors and the Natural Faculty.
     Avoid undue stress, overwork, worry, anger, or anxiety, as well as staying up late and "burning the midnight oil", as these unduly consume the Radical Moisture.
     Sexually speaking, a man loses the most Radical Moisture in ejaculation, whereas a woman loses the greatest amount through gestation and childbirth.  Learning Tantric techniques of withholding ejaculation and achieving a Non Ejaculatory Male Orgasm (NEMO) during sexual relations is a great boon to male longevity, especially in middle age and beyond.  For women, optimal nutrition during pregnancy and nursing, as well as family planning, help conserve the Radical Moisture.


Metaphor:  The Lamp of Life  oil_lamp

     The Radical Moisture is the oil, and the Innate Heat is the flame.  These two complementary vital principles form the basis for an important metaphor in Greek Medicine: the Lamp of Life.  The burning of the lamp's flame is analogous to the basic evolution and progression of a man's life, which happens in four basic stages, as follows:
     When the lamp is first lit at conception, the flame is small but disproportionately bright for its size.  It grows quickly and steadily, most quickly at first but more slowly later on, until the flame reaches its peak of heat and light.  This stage is analogous to the Sanguine growing years of gestation, infancy, childhood and youth.  The flame is small because it's dampened by a lot of Radical Moisture, or oil, and is only warm, not hot.  The growth rate of the flame is most rapid at first, during gestation, but gradually slows down in its growth rate as the full flame of adulthood draws closer.
     In adulthood, the lamp's flame has reached its maximum size and peak output of light and heat.  The flame and its oil are both abundant, and in equilibrium.  These are the Choleric full throttle years of life's zenith, full of ambition and drive.  The strength and vigor of the body are at their maximum.
     In maturity, or middle age, the lamp's flame begins to dwindle, and its light and heat output aren't what they used to be.  Neither is the oil supply, or vital reserves of Radical Moisture that the flame feeds on, what it used to be.  The flame starts to crackle with dryness.  These are the years of declining strength, vigor and resiliency, when a Melancholic, philosophical sense of the transitoriness of life dawns.
     In old age, the end draws near, and the lamp's flame begins to flicker and sputter as the oil levels get critically low.  The flame's light and heat output are negligible and inconsistent.  The Phlegmatic years of old age are coldest and lowest in life energy.  When the oil supply is totally exhausted, the lamp runs dry and its flame is finally extinguished.
     So now, when some senile, decrepit character in a Shakespearean play gasps on his deathbed,  "Alas!  The lamp of my life has almost run dry!", you'll know that he wasn't just picking his poetic allusions at random.  He was merely using the prevailing medical metaphor of his time.