Yin-Yang: A Lesson in Resistance and Surrender

Print This Post Print This Post April 18, 2008 on 11:16 am | In Adventure, Emotional, Mental, Physical, Relationships, Spiritual | Comments Off on Yin-Yang: A Lesson in Resistance and Surrender


One of the fundamental aspects of Chinese philosophy is the concept of yin-yang, which forms the basis of a description of reality in terms of unity through polarity and opposition.  Yin and yang (which are associated with earth and heaven, respectively) are two opposing yet complementary aspects of any phenomenon that form a unity under a theory known as Taiji.  The traditional symbol of this unity of opposites is the taijitu, the diagram that is illustrated at the beginning of this post.  The outer circle of this diagram represents the totality of a perceivable phenomenon, while the black and white shapes within the circle represent the interaction of two aspects that cause the phenomenon to appear in a particular way.

The dark portion of this diagram represents the Yin aspect, which is associated with qualities characterized as passive, dark, cold, moon, completion, feminine, negative, downward-seeking, consuming – corresponding to earth and night.  In literal terms Yin refers to a shady place or overcast, cloudy conditions. 

The light portion of the diagram represents the Yang aspect, which is associated with qualities characterized as active, light, heat, sun, creation, masculine, positive, upward-seeking, producing – corresponding to heaven and day.  In literal terms Yang refers to a sunny place or sunshine.

Under the theory of Taiji there are several important aspects of Yin-Yang:

  • Yin-Yang are conjointly rooted: they are complementary qualities that arise from a unified whole.  The yin and the yang aspect of any phenomenon, when combined, describe the entire phenomenon. 
  • Yin-Yang are opposing:they are polar aspects of phenomena that describe opposing qualities inherent in the phenomena.  As an example, nighttime and daytime are the yin and yang aspects of a day. 
  • Each aspect of Yin-Yang creates its opposite: the production of Yin from Yang and Yang from Yin occurs cyclically and continuously, such that no one principle dominates or determines the other.  As such all of the opposites that one experiences – for example, health and sickness or wealth and poverty – are due to the temporary dominance of once principle over the other.  However, no one principle can dominate eternally, which means that all conditions eventually change into their opposites.
  • Yin-Yang interpenetrate and mutually transform:the interpenetration of the aspects is illustrated with the \”eye-spots\” in the diagram that emphasize the latent potential of the opposing aspect within each aspect that causes it to transform.  All phenomena have within them the seeds of their opposite state, and the maximum expression of either quality is always followed by a transition toward an expression of the opposing quality.
  • Yin-Yang wax and wane: the yin and the yang aspects always exist in a dynamic equilibrium.  As the expression of one aspect increases the expression of the other aspect decreases proportionally. 

It would be fair to say that my approach to life thus far has generally been characterized by a predominant focus on the Yang aspect: the active, light, masculine, positive, upward-seeking, and producing.  Probably nothing captures this tendency better than the characteristics – the tempo and timbre – of our typical family vacations. 

By nature (or more precisely, by habit) I am a committed doer as well as a fervent value maximizer: a somewhat unfortunate combination for my family when we are on vacation.  As a died in the wool doer I typically have a full schedule of activities planned for our vacations, even those such as our most recent one that are supposedly designed primarily for rest and relaxation.  But it is on adventure or theme vacations where I am truly in my element – whether it is whitewater rafting, hiking in Kauai, exploring the Grand Canyon, or even visiting a theme park such as DisneyWorld. 

Indeed, DisneyWorld is a perfect example of why vacationing with me can be a challenge, despite the fact that I have the very best of intentions in trying to wring the most enjoyment out of each moment.  In order to ensure we have plenty of time to see everything I make sure that we are amongst the first to enter and the last to leave each theme park that we visit.  I also try to have some sort of plan in place so that we can hit all of the rides during the day, see all of the shows and parades, get a good spot for the fireworks, and so forth.  Now you can imagine the impact this sort of intensive schedule has on my wife and daughters, especially when visiting somewhere like Orlando where there are a number of different theme parks – Disney Magic Kingdom, Disney Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios, Disney Animal Kingdom, Disney Blizzard Beach, Disney Typhoon Lagoon, Universal Studios, Universal Islands of Adventure, Sea World, and so on – to visit during the course of a week.  By three or four o\’clock on the afternoon of the second day everyone (including me) is exhausted, but determined to get \”our money\’s worth\” from the multi-day \”Park Hopper\” passes I have purchased for the family we slog it out for the remainder of the week, getting every penny of value that we have paid for.  Of course, after several days of non-stop rides, shows, parades, confections, fireworks, and junk food everyone is ready to crash and burn – and indeed one of the signature traits of vacations that I have planned in the past is that you come back home feeling like you need another week of vacation to just lie around and recover from the vacation you just took!

Although I am getting somewhat better as I age (perhaps 1957 was a vintage year?), this past vacation has taught me that I still have a long way to go before achieving anything close to true balance between doing and being – the Yang and Yin of Life.  Spirit, however, seems to be undaunted by my intransigence and has been working hard to convince me of the need to revise my ways by embracing the Yin aspects of life and flowing with the \”seasons of life.\”  And as the rest of this article (and my next) will reveal, Spirit can be most persistent and most convincing!

My original plan for our Spring vacation (March 14-21) was primarily to spend some time outdoors and go fishing and hiking at Lake of the Ozarks and the surrounding lakes (our entire family loves the outdoors and especially fishing) in Missouri.  As such, this was already a pretty low key vacation in terms of structured activity, in that my main focus was on spending time outdoors with the family.  We did, in fact, manage to go fishing a couple of days during our vacation, both at Lake of the Ozarks and at two smaller, nearby lakes (Autumn Lake and Good Oak Lake) albeit with very limited success and with a great deal of discomfort.

Although the lakeside settings are potentially lovely, it was obvious that we were a bit too early for Spring in this region (all of the trees were bare), and the weather was uniformly unpleasant and gloomy for the entire vacation.  Most of the time it was cold and raining – ranging anywhere from a steady, seemingly endless drizzle to much more dramatic thunderstorms accompanied by heavy downpours.  Indeed, for the majority of our stay the area we were visiting was under National Weather Service Flood Warnings due to runoff from the unusually heavy and continuous rainfall, and on several days experienced severe flooding in nearby areas.  During those rare occasions when the rain abated, the weather was cold and sky completely overcast – making outdoor activities much less appealing than they would normally be.

Moreover, the foul weather we experienced that week seemed to perfectly mirror my interior physical and mental states as well.  I continued to struggle with back tension and pain throughout the entire week, and although the pain waxed and waned during each day more often than not I was uncomfortable.  It was very difficult to sleep at night, and not infrequently during the day I was in sufficient pain to just want to lie down and sleep – if only I could find a comfortable position to do so!  Moreover, this pain kept me distracted enough to prevent me from making any substantial progress on my writing, which was one of my secondary goals for my vacation.  Talk about frustrating!

But a funny thing happened on the way of failing to achieve my goals for this vacation: although we did not do a lot of fishing and hiking, we did get a lot of rest.  Moreover, once I reconciled myself to the fact that there was not a darn thing I could do about the weather, staying inside together with my family without anything in particular to do actually became enjoyable. 

The sound of the rain on the roof and windows was soothing, and even during the thunderstorms the feeling of coziness and comfort of being sheltered from the storm (rather than in it) led to a profound sense of relaxation and restoration.  Indeed, there is something truly rejuvenating and restorative about just watching and listening to a proper downpour from the comfort and safety of a cozy room.  The condominiums we were staying at were almost all windows – looking down over the Lake of the Ozarks – so we had a \”front row\” view of the thunderstorms as they rolled through.

Much too my surprise, no one complained about being \”stuck inside\” or bored.  As a matter of fact both of my daughters made a point of telling me that they enjoyed not having an agenda to meet or activities to pursue.  So while it would not be correct to say that they were glad that my plans were thwarted, they did appreciate the opportunity for rest and relaxation that our circumstances afforded us – and as much as I hate to admit it, so did I!

So what did we do during our vacation?  Well, we watched some videos and movies, we bought a Monopoly game and played several games during our stay, we ate when we were hungry, and we rested whenever we felt the urge to do so.  I would be lying if I said I was able to fully go with the flow, for there were certainly times when I let my frustration over my thwarted plans get the better of me.  But there were times that I was able to slow down and go with the flow – simply accepting what actually was without comparing it to my idealized plans.  And even when I was not able to fully accept the situation I was keenly aware of the futility of \”arguing\” with reality: my plans were simply wishes projected into the future, while the cold and rain were very much real – here and now!  Moreover, when I was able to stay present and go with the flow my back pain invariably subsided.

If you are starting to notice a common theme in the messages that Spirit is sending me, well I guess that isn\’t surprising given my bent of character.  I find it very easy to get caught up in the drama of urgency, and probably one of the largest lessons I have been learning over the past couple of years is that there is more to life than achievement and success.  Although I still treasure the feelings of accomplishment associated with achieving a goal that I have committed to, I am growing increasingly aware of the fact that there is a whole other aspect of my life – the yin component, if you will – that is linked to simply being rather than doing. 

This \”passive\” (or perhaps more accurately, peaceful) yin aspect, which I have long neglected, deeply senses my connection with the Universe around me, and does not require me to do anything in order to merit the many blessings I receive each and every day – from the love of my family to the air that I breathe and the water that cleanses and sustains my body to the food that nourishes me.  This aspect of me is profoundly and intimately connected to all that is – here and now – and does not require anything to be different or better in order to find happiness and deep satisfaction.  Moreover, it effortlessly adapts to changing circumstances, delighting in the kaleidoscopic transformation and unfolding of reality.

I still have a long way to go in fully embracing this aspect of myself, but as previously mentioned God – or Spirit, or whatever you prefer to call \”IT\” (I am that I am) – is very, very persistent.  One thing is certain: if I fail to learn this lesson it will be due to my own stubbornness, and not a lack of effort on the part of Spirit – as you shall see from my next post!  Until then, may your light shine brightly – but may you also embrace the shadows that make the light all the more brilliant!

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