What's Your Yin?

2009-06-30

I've been meaning to write this post for months, but reality has always intervened in one way or another. Today my e-pal Sunni posted some thoughts on the topic, so I've finally been spurred into action.

The basic idea is one aspect of my book-in-progress The Tao of Roark: that a complete philosophy of life requires a healthy balance between reason and emotion. In the language of Chinese philosophy, you need both yang and yin. These are slippery concepts (or clusters of concepts), which I tend to think of as follows...

The yang is that which is more rational, Apollonian, objective, public, well-known, bright, scientific, logical, explicit, lucid, clear, hard, dry, etc. If you want to get Jungian or even Homeric about it, the yang describes that which is related to the sky gods, to high mountains, to Olympus. I see Rand, Aristotle, Confucius, Spinoza, and the great march of Western scientists as yang thinkers (yet also certain artists, such as Bach).

The yin is that which is more emotional, Dionysian, subjective, personal or private, unknown (not necessarily unknowable!), shadowy or dark or dusky or crepuscular, perceptual, implicit or tacit, opaque, soft, wet and watery, earthy, etc. In terms of archetypes, think the gods of land and water, of things that are earthy and oceanic. I see Lao Tzu, Buddha, Epicurus, Emerson, Hugo, Whitman, and most of the great artists of history as yin thinkers.

I freely admit to being a yang sort of person. I mainlined Ayn Rand during my teenage years, I basically majored in Aristotle in college, I listen to Bach all the time, I like science and numbers and hard facts, I work in technology, etc.

Yet the yang is not everything. There are aspects of life that I would describe as irreducibly personal, perceptual, or emotional -- the kinds of things that are hard to put into words but that instead must simply be experienced: music, painting, sculpture, dance, architecture, gardening, nature, manual labor, athletics, exercise, physicality, sensuality, breath, yoga, introspection, reflection, contemplation, reverence, awareness, observation, perception, the senses, beauty, adornment, pleasure, relaxation, "just being", spontaneity, friendship, love.

These phenomena, these manifestations of yin, have their philosophies, too: Taoism, Buddhism, Epicureanism, aestheticism, gnosticism, neoplatonism, organicism, naturalism, yogism, spiritualism, and so on. I have not yet explored all of these philosophies (let alone their associated practices), but I know that some of them provide important insights into the meaning of life. The difficult thing is to find unity in diversity, to achieve a harmony of opposites within oneself, to attain a balance among the forces and qualities represented here. This is not easy; indeed it is one of the supreme challenges of living. Yet one cannot even think of trying to climb that great mountain of wisdom if one clings to the idea that any one system of ideas has all the answers. One must be, not the hedgehog who knows one big thing, but the fox who knows many things (and who has many ways of knowing). And one must be open to experiencing life, to recognizing what one truly values even if it does not comport with some intellectual theory -- in short to finding your yin as well as your yang.

Good luck in that quest.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal