It has taken me a long time to grow into my Yin side.
Yin 阴 literally means a darkness, a shadow. It’s made from the same base as Yang 阳, which means sunlight, as seen in words like yangtai 阳台, sunlight-terrace, or balcony.
The left radical (section of a Chinese character) is usually translated as “(left) ear,” as opposed to the same radical on the right side of the character. The other part of these two characters is complementary, in that yu 月means “moon,” while ri 日means “sun.” In this sense then, perhaps we can translate Yin as “moonlight” and associate it more with the calm stillness of night-time, illuminated by the white light of the moon above us.
I’ve always been a very Yang-oriented person.
I love spicy food, I’m an Aries, every stereotype you can think of. More than that, I’ve treasured the more Yang-elements of my personality: being active, assertive, moving forward with energy.
I even feel that for a long time I resented associations with Yin-energies. I saw even the dichotomy of Yin-and-Yang with its literal gender-interpretations of feminine and masculine, respectively.
There is a linguistic link between Yin and female aspects, Yindao 阴道 (shadow-path) means “vagina.” But linguistic associations then lead directly to the use of Dao 道 (path) as the word that many people would recognize as Tao, the way or path that inspired Taoism. Then, the vagina would be named as the shadow-pathway that leads to harmony with the universe.
The feminine energies of Yin took on, for me, much more powerful connotations. Women and men being set apart is so common across peoples, it takes on a natural appearance. Each gender is constricted and as we grow up, we internalize our own culture’s assumptions.
In the West, we often sideline women as they age, and our contempt for feminine characteristics are pervasive, as can be seen in the difference between “he’s just not that into you” and “you’ve been friend-zoned.” My own preference, incidentally, is to popularize “she’s just not that into you” so both genders can be sad together.
It took so me so long to recognize that both Yin and Yang are necessary in each of us, and are important to cultivate for our own health and peace, rather than to fit into something that society is demanding from us.
The reason these symbols and philosophes mean so much to the world still, after centuries, is precisely because they are not truths bound to a particular culture or way of thinking, but instead they are allusions to profound and personal truths that bind us together.
The sense of wholeness that comes with being at peace is exactly a sense of ourselves as a whole. Although the ba gua 八卦sign may seem to promote a dichotomy (female/male; cold/hot; wet/dry; dark/light) it attempts to suggest to us that these dichotomies are nothing more than an illusion.
For although the black and white seem to move around each other, even infect each other slightly in the placement of the small dian 点 or dot, they are in truth part of the same circle. They only appear to be different in contrast to each other. Together they make a whole.
I think this does hold resonance with all of us. In each of us there are many sides that pull us in many directions, and at times we give in to one or another of these aspects and allow them to define us.
Trying to decide between things that vie for our internal validation can feel like a cacophony inside.
We feel contradictions in our desires and our preferences. Do we want to stay inside and read, or go out all night and party? Do we want to be strong, or fast? Do we want to study Arts or Sciences?
If we accept them as evidence of the infinite possibilities of our time on Earth, rather than decisions that must be made in order to assert a particular image of ourselves to the outside world, then there is less conflict. We don’t have to decide what part of ourselves we want to be known as, for all things are necessary for us to feel complete.
It is necessary for us to be both active and passive, to be hot and cold, to be feminine and masculine. We can love being awake long at night, in the dark and the quiet and peace, as much as being up early in the morning to salute the sun and get our blood pumping. We should take time to rest and recuperate as much as create and inspire.
Here, Yin time allows us to consolidate our Yang experience, in much the same way as learning a language requires long stretches of time to either learn or practice new information. Even learning a new piece of music often requires breaks in our concentration, after which the spirit of movement seems to take over from thinking. The resting time allows information to sink in and become ability, more than just simply knowledge.
The importance of Yin, therefore, is the same as the importance of Yang—it shows an extreme, perhaps, of various threads that run through our lives: the need for sleep, the need for calm and quiet, the love of a cool breeze on a hot day, the lemon in my morning hot water, an ice pack on a bruise.
Recently I was looking to have a tattoo done to celebrate my time in China.
I had wanted a tiger, the animal I was obsessed with as a child, but I also wanted a dragon. I thought that the traditional pairing of a dragon and a phoenix, to symbolize the Emperor and Empress, a symbol of power as well as being complementary to the Yin/Yang theme.
As it turns out, tigers and dragons are the animals for Yin and Yang respectively; tigers represent the Yin element, softly pacing through the dark jungles and swimming alone in the rivers.
This whole time I had been grasping at my Yin-ness without realizing.
But what I liked even more was the use of the dragon, the bringer of rain, as the symbol for Yang.
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Assistant Ed.: Moira Madden/Ed: Sara Crolick
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