In Taoism (and Traditional Chinese Medicine) the concepts of Yin and Yang are a useful tool for describing the relative energies that are present in our lives, in the world and in our bodies. In this article I talk about balancing what seems to be an overly Yang world at the moment with, not only Yin practices but a more Yin outlook on life.
Yin and Yang concepts
Generally Yang relates to the sun, ‘heavens’, masculine, heat, strong and active qualities. Yin relates to the moon, the earth, water, cool, feminine, still and soft qualities. Yin and Yang are not definitive terms though and each concept is described relative to another. For example in yoga practice a seated breathing exercise is more Yin than a dynamic flow sequence but then meditation is more Yin than a breath practice. Yang energy is said to be more destructive whereas Yin energy is more creative.
I initially felt called to write a piece called “Embracing the Feminine” but when I deeply thought about the concepts involved Embracing Yin felt more comfortable and all encompassing. However, it is important to cover the male/female element of this view. In general men have more of the Yang qualities and women have more Yin. This is by no means applicable across the board but at some base level I think we have to embrace those differences. Watching my two children (one male and one female) grow I notice that despite trying to reduce the socialised differences (we can never completely block them out) there are definitely innate differences between them in an energetic sense. For example my son is generally more active, destructive and strong and my daughter is more still, creative and soft. This really seems to be part of their character and not something that they have completely learnt from society or family. The important thing is not to make one better than the other but to embrace both equally.
The world is out of balance
The problem that I see in the world is that the Yang forces have, over many many centuries, been held up as the ‘better’ energy (I use the word energy for lack of a better one to describe this concept). The destructive, outward focused power of Yang has been harnessed and worshipped. Humans have been using the Earth’s resources unsustainably, destroying whole ecosystems and polluting the land, sea and air without creating enough new, diverse life to replenish it.
Generally, with some exceptions, as humans we live in a deeply patriarchal society. At some point in the past, at some level, there grew a collective fear of that which the feminine embodies. Most hate and suppression stems initially from fear and it appears that over time the male population has diminished and controlled this female energy to the point that many women now suppress it in themselves. Ekhart Tolle describes this concept in his chapter on the ‘Pain Body’ in A New Earth.
The most prominent religions of the last few millennia focus on a ‘sun’ or ‘Father’ God in the heavens and we have to go back a long way in history to find a time when it was widely accepted to also revere the ‘Mother’ Earth or the sacred feminine. Even in yoga many of the teachings seem to focus on a progression towards connection with the divine. In the chakra system we are taught that the energy moves upwards from the base chakra (more Yin) to the crown (more Yang) implying that we need to transform Yin to Yang in order to progress on our spiritual journey.
Furthermore, society holds up and celebrates individual outward achievement as a sign of success, as well as wealth, status and appearance. These are Yang qualities also and when out of balance with the Yin qualities of introspection, community focus, inner wisdom and personal power they lead to a very ego-centric way of living in the world.
All of these Yang energetic qualities are not explicitly bad things but in the absence of their opposite Yin force they lead to a world that is out of balance, focussed on destroying Earth’s resources for short term gains.
The Universe needs more Yin
Yin is a creative power. It turns that star dust that we live on, created by the Yang destructive forces, into life. It is a more reflective, nurturing, ‘Mother’ energy with an internal focus. A wisdom and knowing. Living within the means of our own environment.
There are a number of ways we can bring more Yin into our own lives and help to affect this shift and I have outlined some ideas below:
Equality for women:
There has to be a power shift to bring male and female, men and women to become equals. The issue is wider than the masculine/feminine debate but it has to be part of the solution. We need to do everything possible to bring our children up to be equals. Not the same – but having equal access to the same opportunities and choices and respecting each other in the ways that they bring their own gifts into the world.
Indigenous cultural knowledge
An acknowledgement of the gifts and knowledge that ancient wisdom traditions and indigenous cultures have to offer this world including their deep connection with the land, seas and sky and their powerful meditation practices. There is an urgent need for true reconciliation, open and equal dialogue and cultural exchange. For this to happen Western, colonial cultures need to admit their ancestors’ mistakes and truly make reparations for what has happened in the past. Indigenous communities need to be able to truly forgive. This is too important.
Ancient mind-body practices
We need to continue to spread the self-reflective practices of Yoga, Meditation, Tai Chi, Qigong… We need to embrace stillness and be able to uncover our own insight. Practices that connect us to our deep inner wisdom, energetically housed at the belly centre (called the Dantien, Hara, Wisdom Centre or Womb Space in different traditions), are particularly important right now to shift the balance from Yang to Yin. Practices that both keep us grounded and connected with the Earth as well as helping connect us to the ‘divine’ or the universe around us are wonderful tools to help individuals find their way.
Connect with nature
To help this shift it is important to have a connection with nature (we are part of nature not separate from it). Have a closer connection to the food we eat (think more seasonal, local, non prepackaged/processed food), the landscape we live in (get outside, watch the seasons change, feel the elements rather than sitting in an air conditioned box) and incorporating grounding practices into our daily life can assist with this.
There are sections of our society moving strongly in this direction, particularly women but many men too. My move to live in the country was as much about this shift as it was a particular time in my life to make that change. More and more people are taking up the practices of yoga and meditation to balance their yang lifestyles, re-learning how to work with the land and the seasons, create things with their hands and build a stronger sense of grass roots community.
Overall the goal here (and in yoga) is to find balance. It is not the goal for Yin, Mother or Female energy to win out and take over. Without Yang we would not grow and change, destroy aspects of ourselves to create new ones. We need both to thrive.
This stuff is not easy and right now in the world with wars, hatred and greed taking over the air waves it might seem a lost cause but, ever the idealist, I don’t think so. I know too many kind, centred, balanced, powerful people who are calmly flighting to affect this shift. Join with them and add your comments below.
Om Bhagavate Om Jai Ma (Mantra of the Sacred Earth)
Michael Stone (2009) Yoga for a World out of Balance, Shambala
Eckhart Tolle (2005) A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose, London: Penguin
Wayapa Wuurrk – Aboriginal Earth Connection Practices – http://wayapa.com/