This article was originally published through the “daoism mailing list”. It is re-printed here by permission of the author, Robert James Coons.
I think we have all seen the yin and yang diagram before… This picture of two fish, one black, one white, with elements of each in the other, is an ancient Chinese way of understanding the cooperation of opposites in the world.
yin being composed mostly of darkness is the energy of the earth, or the nurturing. Laozi calls yin the darkness, or mystery goddess-inferring a female presence.
Yang is the sky- the ongoing- movement away from or toward something. Yang is considered as positive, creative, and by proxy as being a masculine and active force.
Both of these forces have their dormant, emergent, median, dominant, and transitional phases. These phases indicate when the energies arise, begin to develop, are fully developed, and when they begin to give away in favour of the other. This also gives rise to the creation and destruction of the five elements of water, wood, fire, water, and earth.
But lets not get ahead of ourselves-
yin and yang seem like very interesting but somewhat vague ideas and it is difficult to see their practical application.
Today I wish to discuss what the application of yin and yang are in day to day life and in the greater picture of the well being of the world.
The first thing to understand is that Daoism believes in a cyclical understanding of time, as opposed to a linear one, as some other religions do. Because of this, there is no clear start and stop, no first beginning and no final end.
The world is simply an ongoing thing that is always beginning, developing, maturing, stabilizing, and falling away. As such, there is no end of the world in the Daoist calendar (what a relief!). Birth, life, and death are all real though- so daoists look at the life of the body as being very important to protect.
Some people may remember an article which I sent out a while ago which was a translation of a text called “taiji fa hui.” It was about how to use yin and yang to stabilize meditation practice, and how to correctly align practice with time of day, sleep patterns, and patterns of the reproductive system. It is a bit complicated, but the basic meaning is that every day, the body, the world, and the whole universe go through the cycle of taiji. Cycles can last for a short or long time, and there are many cycles all connected to each other to allow everything in existence to keep moving. If we are not good at understanding these cycles, we may make some mistakes in our lives such as not getting enough sleep, eating at the wrong times for optimal health, not giving ourselves consistent routines, and not doing this in harmony with the natural cycles of other people.
Have you ever noticed how the average day starts a little after sunrise and ends a while after sun down?
Farmers in my home town say “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
The greatest phase of positive energy in the world and in the body is while the sun is shining. The body naturally wishes to sleep at night and work at day. This is also the most effective choice if we wish to farm, as the dormant phase of night may be too cold for certain activities, and because our animals mostly also rest at night, so they are of little use to us at that time. When the sun reaches its very highest phase, it is known as the true yang phase of the day. This is a time when we may wish to take a break, because if we continue to push ourselves through the hottest of the heat, we will damage the body. As the sun begins to set, we can begin to align our work with the goal of finishing for the day. As dark falls, We can insert the white dot of yang into the darkness of yin by finishing up housework after dinner and then going to bed.
From the perspective of a farmer, this is a well balanced and traditional day. This wisdom has existed all over the world long before the invention of the yin yang diagram.
From the perspective of a society, we can see how the rise and fall of political ideas, economy, social welfare, and stability are all changing and connected. If we have wise political leaders in elected government, and a strong population of conscious voters, we can engineer a country toward a balanced state of social harmony. This does not require complex political ideals- simply knowing what times to add or decrease our efforts.
Laozi argues that humanity has been out of balance for a long time and that in order to rebalance ourselves and the world, we ought to put our attention on non action.
He believed that non desire is the best way to harmonize positive and negative energies- and that desire destroys our ability to perceive the inner workings of the world around us.
A simple type of practice in non action is just to force yourself not to move for a while. Stay completely still, relax your breath, and don’t focus on anything specific (including not being focused. Or as Ian Sinclair so succinctly says “RELAX HARDER!!!”).
Stay that way for a while. Don’t think about dinner, your social life, or Barak Obama.
Do this every day for a while and see where you get with it.
How do you feel?
maybe you need to sleep.
Good, keep going.
Listening to the body is something that we should remember to do every day, but if we are always doing things that require our attention to be taken away from the body, then we may not remember to observe the cycles of yin and yang in the body.
Go forth and do nothing for a while. Play around with it. See what happens.
I hope you got some benefit from this article and please feel free to contact me.
See you next time.
– Robert James Coons