The basic paradigm of virtue in Chinese medicine is as follows: Virtue, “de” in Chinese, implies contact with original nature. The character symbolizes accordance between and action in accordance with one’s heart-mind (the Chinese term “xin”, or Heart, literally translates at heart-mind. Virtue is what manifests when one acts in accordance with one’s true nature. Virtues are part of the Chinese concept of an organ system. Each organ has association and resonance with a given virtue, just as each organ system includes a set of channels, functions, symptoms of imbalance, etc. Just as red and blue are on a continuum of the visual color spectrum, and as the visual color spectrum is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, so is each individual virtue part of a larger “virtue spectrum”. The virtue of a particular organ is simply an entrance into the larger realm of virtue.
The virtue of the Kidneys is wisdom. The emotion of the Kidneys is fear. Fear is the energetic of wisdom just as emotion is the energetic of virtue, experienced on a relatively more physical level. That is to say, the Kidneys, the emotion of fear, and the virtue of wisdom are all in resonance with each other. And even more so, it is only our perception and experience which allows us to see them as separate – it is an artificial distinction, but one which is necessary in order to have a discussion about them.
The spirit of the Kidneys is “zhi”, or will (the word for wisdom is also “zhi”, a homophone with the term for will). Spirit in this context means the quality or dynamic which fuels the movement between the emotion and the virtue. There are two aspects to the will of the Kidneys, the Yin aspect and the Yang aspect. The Yang aspect is the more active portion. It allows us to push, through fear and through life. It is the part we have control over (and the one people are mostly concerned with, either feeling they have enough and liking themselves for it, or feeling they have too little of it and hating themselves for it). But there is only so far we can push, and that is to our Yin aspect. The Yin will has to do with receptivity. We cannot control it, because it is in the field of uncontrollable things.
Fear is reactivity to the unknown. Wisdom is a sense of knowing (not of circumstance but of oneself) in the midst of this, and utilizing the will in a balanced way to respond in a manner congruent with one’s Heart. That is, the will allows us to utilize our resources (i.e., our Jing – see The Kidneys Store the Jing) in the face of the unknown, and to act in accordance with one’s heart-mind (thereby manifesting virtue). Out of balance, we under-utilize or over-utilize our resources in an attempt to avoid contact with the unknown which lies deep within each of us (ultimately, death is what we fear most deeply). Eventually, both of these leave us spent. This transformation of Jing into wisdom underlies the functional relationship between the Kidneys and the Heart. Under-utilization and over-utilization both result in inefficiency of the process, which ultimately wastes more energy / resources / Jing. Depletion of any sort is a sign of a Kidney imbalance.
The point is that there is no way to get to wisdom without fear. For each organ system, there is a dynamic whereby the virtue degrades into the resultant emotion, as the process of transformation gets stuck. Out of this stuckness, some aspect of our being is called into play to move us back in the direction of virtue. That is, we have to get lost in order to find ourselves (and then we realize we were never lost in the first place).