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Up (or down) the yin-yang

(content added at end, 10/20/09) Here’s some more to chew on regarding such an old Taoist cosmic concept: the taiji or yin/yang. Hopefully it makes sense, although it is my opinion.

taiji1. It’s a metaphor: a means of attempting to explain or find a pattern to what’s “out there” in the real world. 

2. The dot represents the presence of the opposite quality: a bit of yin within yang. The seeds of the opposite are contained within. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a natural, living system. The seeds of death are within life, but the seeds of life are within death. The exact same thing won’t spring up again, but something else will. Regarding tai chi, when you’re doing it, you should be relaxed, yet keeping a bit of alertness within your relaxation.

3. As far as I can tell, this model only applies to natural processes, not abstract concepts. Natural processes involve animals, weather, people, and so on. For example, the seeds of a civilization’s death are contained in its birth since it’s made up of people. Now, don’t worry: reinvention is a kind of death, and not that big a deal …

4. The yin/yang of something can occur at different scales. Many sub-processes within an system may be in or out of balance, and that system may be seen as in balance or out of balance in its entirety. For example, civilization can be seen to be out of balance because one component, its citizens’ health, may be out of balance. Can one component be too yang, while another is too yin, restoring balance? I don’t think so — the overall organism is still out of balance. 

5. In this context, qi (ch’i) can be viewed very generally, as the driving force behind any processes in a system. It can also be viewed as the force behind any changes in a system. Qi is like any force: intangible, though with tangible effects. I hope that makes sense.

6. In a system, things are always changing at some level. The diagram shows this if you imagine traveling around the circle. You change from yin to yang, with the yin diminishing and yang increasing. When Yang reaches its maximum, the dot of yin appears, beginning the increase of yin, which can be seen creeping around the corners of yang.

7. It’s not useful to attempt to categorize half the universe as yin, and half as yang. For example, grouping feminine, negative and down together doesn’t make any sense, since they do not relate to each other and have no effect on each other. Instead, each pair of qualities (e.g. masculine/feminine, or positive/negative) is only relevant in its own context. One is the opposite of the other, and bears no relation to any quality in another context.

8. Although … there are some common qualities to yin and yang forces as generally defined: yin is stop, contracting, inward, static, while yang is go, expanding, outward, dynamic. This is best applied in a Tai Chi context. For example, you need root (yin) to express force (yang).

9. This model is very useful in reducing stress, believe it or not. If we imagine that change is inevitable, we will avoid attaching ourselves too much to any outcome. Also, once we become aware of the patterns of change inherent in a system, we can better prepare ourselves for the upcoming changes. And if we are truly a student of change, we won’t attach ourselves too much to those patterns either, since they are likely to change at some point.

10. Change is hard-wired into living systems. All living things are born and die, but they’re also constantly changing at some level, even when standing still. Movement within stillness.

10. The diagram can be oriented as “rotating” clockwise or counter-clockwise. I don’t know if the concept of “clockwise as normal” was around when the symbol was created.

11. Nature seeks balance. So it’s possible that a system can move toward balance and remain there, without needing to satisfy this metaphor and change to a state of imbalance. 

12. Taoist cosmology states that this state of taiji (“grand opposites”) was born from the state of wuji: “no opposites”. The diagram for wuji is a plain circle. One of the goals of Taoism, as I understand it, is to restore a system to a state of complete balance, equanimity or equilibrium. This would be the wuji state, where there is no longer any need for changes to occur to restore balance. Maybe to return to wuji, if the practitioner keeps aiming for balance, the changes required (amplitude?) grow smaller and smaller until balance is achieved.

13. Now … sometimes these shifts from one state to another can be stimulating, especially to those who love drama, so I can see how achieving complete balance may not be very appealing to many. Although … maybe most of us might benefit from actually trying to determine what we are seeking: it may be balance, and we may not know it.

I hope that makes sense. Thoughts?

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