How the ancient Yin and Yang symbol could have a powerful impact on your mental health
Climate disasters, pandemics and wars are becoming more common features of modern-day society. As the world is becoming more noticeably unstable, so is our mental health. Now, more than ever, we are looking toward ancient philosophies for the tools to live a balanced and meaningful life.
As far as ancient symbols are concerned, none is more prevalent in western contemporary culture that the yin and yang. In the ’90s the symbol found its way into the fashion industry and it was even one of the decade’s most popular tattoos. But, more recently, the symbol has lost its cool and its time that it is reclaimed for its meaning, rather than its design and image.
What is Yin and Yang?
The essence of Yin and Yang is hard to grasp at first, but once it clicks, everything makes sense. The principle of the philosophy is that “everything contains the seed of the opposite.” Meaning that everything in life is connected and inseparable. Whether it’s dark-light, male-female, hard-soft or old-young, the pairs of equal opposites attract, compliment and are relative to one another.
According to Britannica, Yin is the symbol of earth, femaleness, darkness, passivity and absorption. Yang on the other hand consists of heaven, maleness, light, activity and penetration. Both elements are represented by the black and white of the Yin and Yang symbol and both are complete as a circle. In the black, you will see a white seed and in the white, a black – which demonstrates how both are dependent on one another.
In your day-to-day life, you can see Yin and Yang everywhere. John Bellaimey’s Ted Talk explains the philosophy well, by using the analogy of Star Wars. Darth Vader has the potential for goodness, and Luke has the capability to follow his father to the dark side. But, Yin and Yang can also be applied to less obvious areas in everyday life: in the ocean the crest of the wave is yang, and the trough is yin; a car’s brake is Yin, and the gas pedal is Yang; an egg shell is Yang, and the egg is Yin.
Origins in Taoism
Yin and Yang dates back to the third century BCE in China and has a strong influence on every area of Chinese society: from medicine to culture in general. The symbol belongs to the spiritual teachings of Taoism. Taoism believes that there is the ultimate power in the universe that’s called the Tao (the way). Taoists believe that living in harmony with ‘the way’ is the truest way to live. If you attempt to go against the natural forces in everyday life, then you will run into trouble and cause suffering: as swimming against the stream is always more difficult than swimming with it.
How can the Tao help me?
If you incorporate the tao (the way) into your everyday life, then you may ease suffering. Most of the suffering of the world comes from the thought, and not the thing itself. How many times have you cancelled a meeting with a friend, and lay awake at night thinking about their reaction? ‘Maybe they won’t want to meet with me again,’ ‘maybe they were looking forward to it,’ ‘maybe they were going through a tough time and they needed my support.” Well, nine times out of ten, the friend will message you back the next day saying that it really doesn’t matter and that they were tired anyway. But even if they were upset with you, your worrying thoughts at night will not change the facts. Your friend will feel what they feel anyway, so there’s no point in causing yourself to suffer. Basically, each day has a natural flow, the more you follow it, the easier it will be.
Most importantly, the symbol of Yin and Yang represents balance. It’s a reminder that happiness needs sadness and sadness needs happiness. Think about it, how many times have you had a weekend of partying with your friends, and when it’s over, you feel intense sadness, emptiness, and loneliness? This is your indication that you have had a wonderful time, as you can’t have one without the other. So, next time you are sitting at your office desk, hungover and sad, just remember, that this is natural, accept it, and move on.