A Yin Moment In a Yin/Yang World

October 15, 2010

by Jim Culleny

As the website The Big View explains, “In Chinese philosophy, the rhythm of life, which pulsates through the universe, is the action of the complementary principles Yin/Yang.”

A diagram, which is familiar to many of us, represents Yin/Yang as two dolphin-like forms of black and white captured in a circle enfolded in an embrace that suggests cyclical motion.  In this icon a black dot of Yin floats in the white body of Yang and visa versa. As The Big View puts it, “The dots inside the white and black halves indicate that within each is the seed of the other.” Yin cannot exist without Yang nor Yang without Yin. In fact lightness and darkness define each other. This is a basis of perception.  It’s the way things work.

Although things are not so wonderful these days maybe we’re just in a Yin moment. After all Fall’s here, the days are getting shorter and darker, it’s getting cold, the global situation has veered precipitously downward, and our politics are again careening conservatively to the right. These, among other things, are signs of the principle of Yin in the alternating cycle of Yin/Yang.  Here’s a list of some characteristics typical of Yin: dark, night, cold, autumn, winter, right, down, contraction, decreasing, conservative —you see what I’m driving at.

The principle of Yin/Yang is so minutely woven into the tapestry of life that Northfield, Massachusetts poet Art Stein recognized it one day while doing his laundry:


the dryer
my white

Art knows art. I think he’d agree that regardless of the fact that all philosophies dealing with the grand scheme of things are subject to, uh, …question, Yin is as good a metaphor for the present moment as any.  But, if circumstances actually are cyclical the concept Yin/Yang offers hope at least.  It’s way more hope-filled than that classic American one-way ticket expression: going to hell in a hand-basket.  There’s not much hope in that at all.

But hope calls for right perception and right action. There’ll be little chance of hope if we don’t first perceive the Yinness of our situation, and even less chance when perception is immediately followed by sitting on our hands and saying “no” while collecting checks from lobbyists in the manner of the US Congress. Presented in Art Stein’s terms, the trick of life and politics might be: 1. be able to separate the Yin dolphins from the Yang, and having done so: 2., immediately slam the quick-dry button to accelerate the cycle back to warmth and light with a dryer 98% full of Yang.

Ah, Yang! Some of the characteristics of the Yang principle are: day, light, sunshine, summer, spring, up, left,  intellect, active, dynamic, expansion, increasing, innovation, reformation, and so on.  What  true patriot would not want to live in a Yang-principled nation —a nation where progress does not simply mean building another gizmo, but building gizmos wisely, with a planetary vision, with a look to the future well-being of all earth’s creatures, where wealth does not equal money but is counted in terms of fulfilled lives, where the “system” in “ecosystem” is recognized as the ultimate bottom line worthy of primary attention, and where one other essential thing is held in highest regard, namely, moral imagination.

There’s a very good, recently published book by Robert Wright.  It’s called The Evolution of God.  His well documented argument (loads of citations from Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures) is that the evolution of god(s) from animism through polytheism to monotheism is inseparable from the evolution of human inclusiveness, an inclusiveness which requires moral imagination.  As I understand Wright, moral imagination is the ability to disregard for a moment our own interests and explore what the other guy might be perceiving, and to do so dispassionately. It’s a love your enemy (if-only-for-your-own-good) kind of thing.

Where Wright’s book winds up is right where we are today, in a global situation of high stress, economic doldrums, violence and pessimism (a Yin moment that is religiously piqued) which, he suggests can only be resolved by the application of our moral imaginations: the ability to examine where we all are regardless of our own immediate self-interests, and acknowledge (though not necessarily concur with) the perceptions of our opponents with the intention of developing resolutions that are win-win.

To those who immediately point out that you can never satisfy a religious zealot or political ideologue, Wright and I couldn’t agree more.  But, he points out, not all religious practitioners or politicians are zealots.  In fact, Wright says, (for the moment at least) the non-zealots and non-ideologues of all religions (normal people) still outnumber the nuts, and these are the people we have to learn to do business with. These are the ones we have to negotiate and reason with to find a path through a gamut of terrorists and ideologues, to cycle from Yin to Yang by means of our moral imaginations —short of this, on a globe as small as ours, with our technological kill-ability, lies chaos and a very pronounced Yin cycle.

Check out Wright’s book for an eye-opening, sober analysis of where we were, where we are, and how we got from there to here. But be willing to suspend your disbelief for at least 20 well-written and easy-to-read chapters.  It would be very Yang of you.


3 Responses to “A Yin Moment In a Yin/Yang World”

  1. skng88 Says:

    Precisely because there is yin/yang that we just face even the much loved yang situations in preparation for the yin to arise again. Be at the moment and “wu wei,” and not blame the politicians or zealots.
    Have a nice day.

  2. jimculleny Says:

    But is non-doing the same as not doing?

  3. skng88 Says:

    Not in all situations and moments.

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