So what is yinyang?
Very simply, the concept of yinyang (or yin and yang) is one of dualism within unity – everything in the universe has a complementary opposite and together these opposites (yin and yang) represent the whole. The concept of yinyang comes from the philsopophy or ancient mystical tradition or religion (depending on definition) of Taoism.
Not opposites, but complements
So we talk of opposites like night (yin) and day (yang), black (yin) and white (yang) and the two sides of a coin, head (yang) and tail (yin). Male is yang, female is yin. Hot is yang, cold is yin, and so on.
It is easy to see opposing forces in nature and within ourselves. Yet the concept of yinyang, symbolised by the yinyang or Tai Chi symbol, is not so ‘black and white’. In reality, energy flows so that is sometimes more yin and sometimes more yang, but never totally yin or yang. And yin and yang energies and characteristics complement each other – so that we appreciate rest after action, we understand something is soft because another thing is harder.
Not good or bad
While yin is sometimes understood as bad or negative and yang as good or positive, Taoist tradition does not make this value judgement. The yinyang symbol also emphasises the changing nature of life, so that night turns to day, loss to gain etc. Life will naturally be a mix of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, joyfullness and sadness, with balance achieved in finding contentment regardless of circumstances.
Natural forces are also identifed as being more yin or yang – the earth is considered yin, as are rivers and oceans, while mountains and the sky are considered yang, along with the sun (the moon is yin). Again these natural elements aren’t considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’, just different.
Why look at life through a ‘yinyang’ lens?
Practioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) consider the flow of yinyang energy through the body and its impact on our health and wellbeing. Where yinyang is imbalanced there may be ill health, and they aim to bring the energies back into balance.
At a spiritual level, we can look at the yinyang concept as a guide to finding balance and contentment in our lives and harmony and serenity in our world. When we appreciate the ever-changing nature of life and accept things as they are in the present, without attachment or judgement, then we can find peace.
A layperson’s perspective
The above is my understanding and interpretation of the concept of yinyang and how I choose to look at it as a reference to living a balanced life. I truly believe that yinyang in equilibrium is the energy of love, and so I strive to achieve that balance every day.
Other references to yinyang and Taoist philosophy that may be useful include:
The Personal Tao delves into all things yin and yang.
Bob Miglani’s article on Tiny Buddha in which he speaks of explaining to his young daughter that life isn’t good or bad, it just is. I love his explanations.