My brother was the first person to introduce me to the concept of Yin and Yang. “The black represents evil, every act of evil always contains a small piece of good. The white represents good, every act of good always contains a small piece of evil.” Later i found out he got it from a movie (Two Hands) but it didn’t matter. This masterpiece of philosophy was my first ever delve into the Dao. What I didn’t realise was exactly how complicated that little black and white symbol actually is. It’s taken me 20 years to realise that it is a three dimensional multi-flux evolving piece of information. It is a perfect paradox. It is dualistic but it is one and nothing at the same time. The funny thing is every time I look at it or study another commentary on it I learn something new about it and myself. The deeper I go, the less i know.
This is a 3 part article where first i will discuss the philosophy of Yin and Yang, followed by how Yin and Yang affects you physically, emotionally and mentally and then I will finish off with the Middle Way, a way of living in harmony with Yin and Yang.
Part 1. The Yin and Yang of Life
The Chinese characters for Yin and Yang when broken down represent the shady side of the mountain and the sunny side of the mountain. I don’t know who first wrote these characters but their insight into life was genius. Using the mountain as the analogy for Yin and Yang is perfect.
Climbing the mountain
It’s a sunny spring day in South East Queensland and you decide to climb one of the glorious Glasshouse Mountains. For arguments sake, conditions are perfect and there is not a cloud in the sky, no wind, the temperature is a balmy 25 degrees. You arrive at your mountain and if you’ve ever climbed a mountain and i’m assuming you have, when standing at the base of a mountain you can’t help but marvel at it’s glory. Rising high into the skyline it’s an amazing sight. Surprisingly you find yourself in a dark, cold and wet place and underdressed. You’re in the Valley. The Yin of the Mountain. It’s a hard slog to climb the mountain. It’s steep, your legs hurt, you can see the peak but it just doesn’t seem to be getting closer. This is the rise of Yin to Yang. As all hope seems to be lost up ahead is a clearing, you scramble the last few steps and then there it is, you can’t help but to marvel of the valley below. The sun illuminates all that was cold, dark and wet and you now stand in a warm, dry and light place. You’re hot, sweaty and are so glad that you didn’t overdress. You’ve reached the peak. The Yang of the mountain.
What a lot of people think about when they hear the words Yin Yang is polar opposites. Hot/Cold, Male/Female, Day/Night, Light/Dark, Ford/Holden. Just kidding about the last one you get the picture. This is only one way of looking at Yin Yang. Not only are they opposites, they are interdependent, mutually consuming and inter-transformational.
Interdependence means they cannot exist without one another. The peak doesn’t exist without the valley. When you’re climbing the mountain its hard to say where yin ends and yang begins, this is because they inter-transform into each other. There is sudden and subtle changes to maintain the balance. The mutual consumption of Yin and Yang needs a little more explanation. This is the continuos adjustments of their levels. For instance in the Valley it’s cold dark and wet. At the Peak it is dry, warm and light. These are what would be called full Yin or full Yang, Or excess Yin or Yang. For this to happen it means that the opposite must be empty or deficient.
Every aspect of life is structured into Yin and Yang. The rise and setting of the sun, the moon cycles, Day and Night, the flow of the seasons, even how society is structured. The below list is a common insight into what is seen as yin and yang, although some of the concepts are not originally part of the Chinese concept and have been added in.
If we take the philosophy of Yin and Yang into Modern Western society and place it ever so subtly over the top we quickly realise the it is overly yang and mainly consumes yin. All work, no rest. Wanting money for no service. Wanting external substance to cause internal happiness. We have an over abundance of food while other countries starve to death. Consume, Consume, Consume. Obesity, heart disease, drug addiction all problems of an overly yang society.
Over the last few hundred years so much Yang has been burned up and Yin has been consumed. It’s very obvious when you take a look at how humanity is. It’s time to slow down and recycle the Yang and cultivate the Yin.
Awareness of Yin and Yang, I believe, is the start to a more balanced world. Becoming aware of Yin and Yang in your everyday life will bring balance to your own world and that around you. In part two of this article I will go into more details about how Yin and Yang affects the way you live, from the way you sleep and eat, to when you work and rest. How it affects your physical body, your emotions and your mind.