Friday, October 11, 2013

Yin and Yang

My mother is in Argentina right now, and has had something of a monastic two weeks by herself to contemplate and meditate.  In her weekly letter to family, she included this brilliant piece about Yin and Yang.  It's worth a read, and will give you some food for thought for your weekend.  With her permission, I share it now.
In prayer and reflection time, I've thought of the concepts that eastern philosophies have words for the energy balances we need in our lives--yin and yang (my feng shui teacher insisted that we pronounce yang in a way that rhymes with "song," not the orange breakfast drink!) Life would probably have been easier for me if we had words for them in English. As I understand them, they acknowledge that a balance of both energies in each system (a life, a family, a home, a country, etc.) is ideal for well-being. 

Yin, known as the female energy, is receptive, quiet, nurturing, characterized by listening, hearing, understanding, mercy, beauty, winter, the moon and night. The male yang is a bright energy of activity and growth, action, and justice. It is dynamic and powerful, characterized by the sun, speaking, acting and giving. These characteristics should not be confused with the genders they represent, as all people have, or should have elements of both in their being, though the gender association is surely not accidental. In my unofficial observation of marriages for example, I think that in some cases the wife is the more yang and the husband more yin of the two. It probably doesn't matter.

They both sound good to me in my own extremely yin season, and yang sounds especially good at the moment.

Together, they represent perfection (think of the yin/yang symbol). But each energy in its excess leads to dis-ease. Yin can cave in on itself, and implode in sloth and inaction. Yang is hurried and competitive. Unmoderated, it leads to enmity, thoughtlessness, aggression, insensitivity and violence. Ultimately, it explodes. Consider young men at war. (Hugh Nibley's article "Matriarchy and Patriarchy" has informed my thinking on this, and is probably another way of looking at the same energies). It's interesting to consider the tendencies toward violence and ugliness (in my opinion) of very yang societies which repress or pervert yin energies, such as some in the Middle East. According to Nibley, yin societies stagnate.

As I have considered this tension, I believe one of the reasons that the world is heading toward its prophesized violent combustive ending is that yang energy is generally (but not completely) ruling the world, and increasing. Eckhart Tolle has mentioned this (see A New Earth). In some corners, yin energy is growing, as seen in the growing popularity of yoga, and meditation.

But generally, we are in a period of increasing speed of almost everything, including travel and communication, and living in general. We no longer recite or listen to poetry, sit together, visit one another, go for walks, or watch the sun set.We don't even write much, generally. (Most TV watching seems the worst of both worlds--utterly useless inaction spent watching an aggressive, self-focused yang world.) This has been coming on for a long time now, and much of it is due to technology, (which I mostly adore), but which obscures the natural rhythms of life--the gathering of darkness in winter, the cold which drives us inside to be together, to talk, to read and to listen. Now, it's always daytime, and we can always, day and night, tell and hear some new thing (Acts 17:21). Some may think this is not to be regretted, and candidly, I'm not sure how many poetry recitations I'm prepared to sit through at the moment. But I do think we are off balance when sensitivity, gentleness and growing things like marriages and children take too much time, as we rush headlong through hard and often thoughtless, activity-driven living; likewise when, as Elder Christofferson mentioned, women characters have joined the killers in video games. (And, to be current, when somehow it is weakness to negotiate compromises in a representative government, so that shallow, unexamined ideologies and enmity rule.)

My thoughts today have been that in the gospel, the Lord honors both yin and yang energies, and asks us to do the same. The Savior, with only three years in which to teach the gospel and organize His church, resorted often to personal prayer and reflection, often leaving the masses of people who wouldn't leave Him alone. (Sometimes He left them miraculously.) He made time for quiet conversation with individuals at the edges of wells, and in the midnight hour. He took naps on boats! His yang activities were mighty--cleansing the temple twice, feeding the multitudes (probably also twice), preaching at the temple many times. But He sought time with His Father always. The prophet Joseph Smith, the kingdom builder, also took much time for meditation and prayer. How he ever did anything but appear in court with the hundreds of accusations thrown against him is a mystery to me!

In the gospel, the sacrament, scripture study, prayer and temple worship are surely critical yin activities. Missionary work, service of so many kinds, provident living, and much of family life are usually mostly yang. All are essential. I think that yin energy may be growing in the Church, to its great benefit, as yang grows in the world, as the role of women in the family and society is celebrated as it was by many speakers in this conference, including Sister Stephens and Elder Christofferson and others. The importance of yin devotional time ("Abide with Me") is pared with yang work and energy ("Put your Shoulder to the Wheel"). We heard messages of "Never look back at what you have done. Look at what you still have to do," with "If you don't take time to be well, you will surely take time to be sick." And we are taught to take time to make sure we have the Spirit of the Lord with us as we engage in the yang work of teaching, serving and doing missionary work.

This weekend, I have felt the Lord's assurances that in my life, both yin and yang energies are essential, and that the Lord will allow time and strength for both, if I seek them, regardless of what my responsibilities now or in the future may be.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I've been pondering similar topics for a while, and this has given me some much-needed insight into the balance of masculine and feminine, yin and yang,--and the necessity of both.

  2. This was very timely for me as well as I too have been studying and pondering, particularly in the last two weeks, energy and how it relates and acts in my life.

  3. I need more yin. As evidence, it is five months since you wrote this and I am only now reading it.

    Lark, you are a song to me. I love your writing, love your heart. We are, all of us, constantly spinning plates to keep our worlds in balance. (My plates do swivel so.) I know you are one of us. But you are an example to me of grace, balance, and beauty. I consider you one of my primary mentors, and guardians.