Unlike the polarities or other mythologies, Yin and Yang are not at war. They are not opposed in an endless struggle such as, the light against the dark, Ahura Mazda and Ahriman of Zoroastrianism or God against Satan, Good against Evil, Osiris against Seth or even the Norse knowledge against ignorance. Progress in most mythologies is depicted as an ever upward conquering of the bad and ascendancy of the good. These paradigms rely upon a linear view of life and progress, though they vary as to which side ultimately wins. Yin and Yang are more like the – and + of electricity, the North and South of a magnet or as their earliest meanings suggest, the shaded and sunny sides of a mountain which of course swap roles during the day. One’s path does not progress from one to the other, but one tries to walk holding them both in balance, constantly adjusting one’s route to correct for deviations too far to one side or the other.
In the study of human health, homeostasis is the line of harmonious balance. The body has a natural tendency to re-balance when anything is out of true, whether chemical, thermal, nutritional or whatever. Too much carbon dioxide and the body increases its oxygen, too much sugar and the insulin shoots up, too cold and shivering warms you up, too hot and you sweat so the evaporation can cool you down. The beauty of the system is that maintaining a balance is not like walking a tight rope, but more like following a path at the bottom of a valley, as you drift to one side and up the slope, gravity brings you gently back to the path. Of course if you insist on pursuing a path up one side of the valley eventually you will find yourself dangerously high up a mountain side and when the natural correction comes it will hurt. Imagine deciding that being awake was better than being asleep, so you aim to stay awake. How long would it be before your body encouraged you that sleeping would also be good? Without both the effort and rest of the heart, there would be no pulse. Without both poles of a magnet, there is no motor. Understanding the principles of this polarity will help prevent absurdities in your choices. Feasting is good, but without fasting it leads to imbalance and poor health. Exercise is good, but without rest and recovery, it only makes you weaker. Career ambition and drive are fine things, but without relationships and family, they will leave you dry and burned out in a desert. But being entirely immersed in the role of parent and home-maker can leave you stifled in the cloying darkness of the forest floor.
The psychologist Jung writes of the animus and anima, the male element within the female and the female element within the male. These days we might speak of a man being in touch with his feminine side, or vice versa. This idea is symbolised by the black dot within the white and the white dot within the black. Without the opposite element within each, men and women would be virtually aliens, but with it, they can empathise and stay in touch with each other.
All progress must be in cycles, we head upwards in a helix. We grow in one area then while that area rests and confirms its changes another catches up, even overtakes, and so on. Our focus will change from one aspect of our lives to another. This is how walking works, one side progresses then the other. Don’t expect to always be progressing in every aspect all the time. Understand this and you will be able to find more patience with yourself and others.