Y is for Yin-Yang
“Nothing is completely yin nor is it completely yang. All things in the material universe contain the seed of their opposite force... Therefore, yin can become yang and yang can also become yin, though both yin and yang are needed for the whole to be complete.” Chang Sok Suh.
What is commonly known as the yin-yang symbol holds its roots in Taoism/Daoism, a Chinese religion and philosophy. The actual name of the symbol is Taìjítú meaning ‘the great ultimate stretch’.
The symbol has three elements :
1) The black (yin) and white (yang) tear drop shapes representing the complementary balancing opposites that underlie all related phenomena. The yin, is the dark swirl, it is more passive, softer and is associated with the moon, shadows and the right (the sun sets in the West); the yang, is the lighter swirl, and in contrast is more active and represents the sun, brightness, passion and growth and the left (the sun rises in the East).
2) The two opposing dots ; the small dot of black yin existing within the large white yang region, with the corresponding small white dot of yang within the larger yin region, demonstrating that everything contains the seed of its opposite and that there is nothing that is purely yin or yang.
Each characteristic has a dot of the opposite colour in the largest part indicating the sense of movement and change i.e. right at its height there is the beginning of change. The opposites make up the whole. There is always a bit of yang in yin and yin in yang.
Everything and every energy exchange has yin and yang aspects. .. i.e. inherent in every birth is its mortality ( “There is no life without death. That is the true meaning of yin and yang.” Lisa See.) , shadows cannot exist without the light etc
3) Finally there is the curved centre line which is called ‘wu wei’ which represents the balance that exists throughout the natural world and it both separates and unifies the opposing halves which are all encompassed within the Taiji mandala.
The relationship of yin-yang in 'Opposition' (everything contains the seed of its opposite) is not intrinsic, but only relative to something else. Yin and yang are not total opposites e.g. good v evil and it is not a case of us striving to remove one part and only aiming for the ‘light’ side ; they are integral and relative to each other. Unlike other religions where the higher power is all good, Taoism teaches that we need to learn from both yin and yang.
"Imperfection and perfection go so hand in hand, and our dark and our light are so intertwined, that by trying to push the darkness or the so-called negative aspects of our life to the side... we are preventing ourselves from the fullness of life." Jeff Bridges
It is important to note that the line that separates yin and yang is not a straight line but a wavy line so they are never present in an equal 50:50 state but constantly changing balance and nothing is totally one or the other.
“It's not about binary but awareness of Oneness riddle. Between two extremes I choose the way in the middle.” Ana Claudia Antunes
The world is full of and made of differences, we can live in harmony with these opposites and in fact we need them to flourish and survive.
“Each of us are a difficult person for someone else” Jay Johnson
Taoism accepts that people can have different lives, different cultures, different religions and embraces this as natural rather than e.g. championing one religion that can be ‘the only way’ and everything else is evil. It teaches us that there is no such thing as ‘bad energy’ and to embrace those things that we see as different or annoying to us e.g. if you are irritated by someone who leaves a drawer open, the toilet seat up, doesn’t return a chair under the table when they get up etc etc it is a reminder that we are judging others to the yardstick of being perfect and no one is. We are all annoying to someone ! People’s quirks are natural and Taoism is about acceptance not judgement but it is concerned with recognising when things are either in balance or out of balance.
Our energies are not static ; they can flow from one end of the spectrum to the other depending on the situation from too passive to too aggressive… our aim should be to find balance in the centre.
Taoists believe that the universe is made up of opposing forces, energies, vibrations and matter which are in constant flux and behave differently in different contexts. Something can be yin or yang depending on the situation e.g. growing wheat is yang but wheat being harvested is yin. The yang starts an action (sunrise) and the yin receives or completes it (sunset) e.g. the crest of a wave is yang but the trough is yin. This can be reflected in the progression of a day from dawn to dusk (yang to yin) or like the seasons, that change from yang to yin following and intrinsic part of the natural law.
The yin-yang symbol reflects two phases of a cyclical movement, one constantly changing into the other and evolving over time through the interplay of equal opposites. ; a fluid, dynamic movement between alternating states. No one thing can exist in complete isolation. The part can only exist in relation to the whole ; it always exists in relation to its balancing, complementary, polar counterpart (the holistic microcosm) and also ultimately in relation to the whole universe (the holistic macrocosm).
The yin-yang is not static it is about change and movement, about growth and decay and the ultimate cyclical nature of the universe and our own personal lives which encompass the opposites of happiness and sadness , life and death etc
What does the yin-yang symbol teach us ?
Optimism is deeply embedded into Chinese culture and accepting that life works in natural cycles can help make us more optimistic too.
Taoism teaches us to accept and embrace change in our lives. When we do this we stop wasting our energy on fighting pointless battles, or trying to eradicate our weaknesses or fighting against our problems and instead can ‘go with the flow’.
The Yin-yang reminds us that change is truly natural and therefore to trust nature and the world and all the changes it throws at us. If we trust the process and embrace change rather than trying to resist the changes we encounter, it can be a reminder that our problems will pass too and we no longer need to be anxious about what is to come or to cling on to what we have because we know that things will be ultimately ok.
"Yin and Yang... The dualities that make us human. As though our lives play out on an immense balance scale - move one way, the scale tips to the left, but move the other, and it swings around to the right.” Abramelin Keldor.
When left undisturbed by man, nature lives in harmony with the world’s currents and in this way it is always balanced. We too are an integral part of nature, it is part of us and as such we too have the power to find balance in our lives
Taosism teaches that there is a power in the universe that is higher, deeper etc than any other and it is called the ‘Tao’ meaning ‘the way’. Toaists believe that if you live in harmony with ‘the way’ you will not have to struggle against life’s natural flow and places great emphasis on the wisdom of being flexible
So how can Ying-Yang help us in our everyday lives ?
“The old age old story of Yin & Yang... Every positive side has a negative side too. Which are you?” Timothy Pina.
Yin-yang is about finding balance and taking responsibility for our own energy. We all have a yin and yang element within us and our job is to find the ‘wu wei’ ; the centre line. We have responsibility for maintaining both the yang (the physical body) and the yin (the spirit/ the non physical essence of who you are) It is all about learning how to integrate and finding coherence and balance of opposite oppositions
“How I spend my time is my right but in the end, it still affects those I don't leave time for. There's a yin and yang in life. But people seriously don't ever realize it until it's too late.” Rachel Van Dyken.
Yin-yang reminds us to flow and be flexible, but it is also about appropriateness e.g. different situations are likely to require different responses It is about having the flexibility of mindset to adjust and respond appropriately. We are constantly making choices, and to flow we need to be flexible not just continuing with old ingrained habits
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to avoid the force of the attack upon your body, mind, or emotions, and apply your response to the weak point. In other words, yield to the yang and push on the yin.” Jan Kauskas.
Our emotions tell us when our yin and yang are out of balance. When we recognise a dissonance, that things don’t feel right, we need to ask ourselves what is taking us out of balance.
It is important to work on our self-awareness and to be able to recognise how or energy is balanced. By not taking the time or making the effort to listen to our inner voice we suffer needlessly - ‘a chain is only as strong as the weakest link’
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
How can you apply the Yin-Yang to your own life ?
What do you think of the Yin-Yang as a concept ?
What do you think of the following quote by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin :
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience."
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started:
Taiji/yinyang philosophy: Chungliang Al Huang at TEDxHendrixCollege
“The hidden meanings of yin and yang” - John Bellaimey (animated visual presentation via YouTube)