By Sorcha Hegarty
In Western culture, we’re used to thinking of opposites as being in conflict with one another. A lot of our stories are about Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark, Hero vs Villain. These opposite forces are in opposition (see, it’s right there in the language!), and each one has the goal of completely annihilating the other. They are framed in such a way that we understand that one is better and the other is worse, even if it isn’t immediately apparent which is which. We expect it to be so. Good, after all, is just better than evil!
We aren’t used to thinking about opposites as being in harmony, or needing one another to exist. And yet, without understanding their fundamental interconnectedness, the concept of Yin and Yang is difficult to grasp.
Yin and Yang are opposites, and they constantly consume one another. We can see this in the famous Taijitu symbol, which looks as if it’s in motion even when it’s still. Yin, the dark half, is still, passive; associated with night, the moon, and the feminine. But in its centre, Yin creates a little point of Yang. Yang is dynamic, active; associated with daytime, sun and the masculine; but in the heart of Yang, it activates a little seed of Yin. Neither one can exist without the other. Imagine if you had to choose between never being still or never resting: you couldn’t do it. And even if you could, whichever option you chose would quickly become unbearable. The two principles have to exist in harmony, in balance.
There is a regular progression in the world where Yin takes over from Yang and Yang from Yin. At this time of year, in Ireland, Yin’s deepest point, midwinter, has passed, and a little bit of Yang is coming back into the world. We can see it in that slight stretch in the evenings, a little bit more sunshine seeping into the wintry days. The cycle of the seasons; like the cycle of days; follows the pattern of Yin/Yang, in stately harmony. Yin and Yang goes beyond the subtle energy, or qi, that we discussed in previous posts; Yin and Yang is the interplay of all the opposite elements that make up existence (though of course, qi has a Yin/Yang aspect to it, too.)
Taichi can be seen as a way of applying the principles of yin and yang to the human body. It balances movement (Yang) and stillness (Yin); attack (Yang) and defence (Yin). The circular patterns of tai chi movements are said to be based on the Taijitu symbol itself; so that every motion made echoes the harmonious duality of the universe.
© Sorcha Hegarty, 2014