“Harmonizing opposites by going back to their source is the distinctive quality of the Zen Way: Embracing contradictions, making a synthesis of them, achieving balance.” -- Taisen Deshimaru
Awareness of our motion with universal forces has ancient roots. Reflected in the world of form as much as the inner lives we lead, there is deep wisdom within the insight that light and dark co-exist more than oppose. The symbolic interdependence is vast; just as night cannot exist without day upon an earthly plane, the solid, structural elements of our bodies interact with the fluidic to encompass the whole; all of which is reflected in an echoing of our interior, emotional worlds, the interplay between our conscious and unconscious lives.
Interdependence over opposition lends itself to the creation of something altogether greater and more encompassing than any one singular force could illuminate on its own. One of the less fortunate aspects of the human mind is its temptation to settle into bifurcation, as is often the case when we find ourselves enduring spiritual and emotional fatigue. Polarizing ideas about seemingly “opposing” forces, pitting themselves against the other, dim our capacity for greater growth. Overly simplistic definitions are more akin to the pursuit of disconnected forms of “knowledge” than the combinative grounding and openly curious that is held within more integrated, sometimes elusive, experiences of life.
Without the understanding of interdependence, elements that are meant to intermingle become split off and imbalanced. Singularity at the expense of what is often a more complex whole is misleading. We have perhaps become accustomed to an imbalance in this sense, reflected in our inner, interpersonal, and collective lives.
Yin and Yang are two interwoven elements meant to dance in harmony with one another; never really, in truth, existing one without the other. Each are both distinctive and overlapping; interdependent in their connection to one another, creating something greater than mere the sum of their parts. They are an embodied whole.
Their interplay is often reflected beautifully in the realm of emotionality, and our bodies. While a single emotion or emotional state may emerge, it is the balancing forces of the interplay of the strength and softness that stems from Yin and Yang energies which stewards our process of engagement, and embodiment. The dynamic of these elements will have as much to do with how our emotional expression is played out, as with how we move; just as it does with whether those gestures motion toward healing or destruction.
One of the more damaged emotional states we as a collective have been struggling with surrounds our relationship with anger. Our interaction with this element of our lives has been on a course that continually misuses, misunderstands, and expresses itself in more perverted forms. It has been heavily involved in the motion of our collective imbalance; mirrored in our intrapsychic and interpersonal lives, and our bodies.
Everything we experience is meant for engagement and expressivity. When we have lost touch with genuine engagement, our expressions exemplify more woundedness -- and wounding -- than actual healing. Perhaps this stems from the perpetual dismissiveness that results from the polarization and splitting of “good” and “bad” feelings, for which we have collectively become so accustomed. It has led to incredible damage; avoidance, repression, eruption, pathology, illness. Our understanding of what it means to interact with our state with balancing interconnectivity has become veiled, and separated.
When we think of the impact Yin and Yang have with our emotional states, we can see the balance that will result when these two elements inherently interact, and that their ongoing interconnectivity is perhaps deeply crucial to whether our expression is healing or wounding. Their symbolism is illuminating. Where we require gentleness, softness, and fluidity, the “femininity” of Yin nurtures the boundless waters within us. Where we require boundarying of our minds, spirits and bodies, strength and structure, Yang supports us in its outwardly expressive, “masculine” nature.
Yin is inward, deepening, the moon, unconscious. Yang is precise, agile, conscious, the sun.
It is worth considering whether our collective misuse of anger has to do with the offsetting interactions of the imbalances we experience with regard to these interdependent energies. While anger is often a response to a varying themes -- a hovering above and avoidance of rawness of feeling, grief, sadness, violations of our boundaries, lack of perpetual and ongoing maturation over the life course -- the feeling itself is not the problem. We have become so accustomed to its perverted forms of expression, and imbalances, that we have in fact dismissed and invalidated the experience altogether.
People need to feel safe in order to express their tenderness. We require grounding and centeredness in order to express our anger well.
Anger in the hands of imbalanced properties of Yin and Yang will express itself differently. Lack of boundaries in fact exists on both ends of the spectrum, but the origin of the imbalance will lend itself toward different forms of this expression. On one end, a lack of boundaries will ensue through passivity, repression, lacking connection to feeling. This is an overuse of Yin. On the other, it is perhaps more a lack of containment that constitutes the over-mechanization of Yang -- strength becomes aggression, overpowerment, a lashing out. Both are wounded in their disconnection to one another.
Whether we embody it or not, we are constantly seeking balance; whether we attempt to split elements off from one another or integrate them, the elements themselves are always in dance with each other. It is how this dance plays out that illuminates the underlying interaction. So where there is an overuse of Yin, there will eventually be an inevitable over-activation of Yang.
At some time or another, our emotions and bodies find a way to compensate. Hyper-reactivity, heightened aggression, violence, and harm will often attempt to re-balance what was previously a passivity that lent itself to a lack of strength and expression, because the interplay between gentleness and strength within the expression of ourselves is always in motion. It’s interesting to note that some of the most seemingly “gentle” individuals are often, on some plane, the most violent, and enraged. Similarly, some of the most violent are in fact the most sensitive. Both of these variations of expression exist intrapsychically, as much as relationally. Tenderness without the accompaniment of strength results in too much openness and passivity, and the violation of boundaries tends to increase anger, and rage. Compensatory balancing ensues...
Yin and Yang are different petals of the same flower, and they both share the qualities of strength and softness. In fact, it takes great grounding strength to be soft and fluid in our movement, and we cannot blend power and precision together without an inherent understanding of where to let go.
Whatever we experience -- joy, grief, anger, or any other emotion -- it is not meant for dismissal or stagnation, but motioning and movement, safe containment, and honest engagement. Yin and Yang manifest in our spiritual and emotional lives, our bodies, and our relationships with ourselves, each other, and the greater whole, as they ebb and flow -- oscillating from balance to imbalance, over time. It is easily forgotten, but important to remember: remaining in balance requires us to motion out of it for a time, in order to form a newness of ground, and the rebirthing of new integration, growth and creativity. We step out of balance, and find our way back again; over, and over, and over…
About the author: Christina Kemp has a deep heart for embodied movement, healing, dancing and writing, and enjoys integrating these within her own personal work and various teaching platforms. She holds a Master of Arts in Psychology.