Most people are familiar with the Chinese yin-yang symbol, which has come to represent concepts like duality, balance, and opposites. But we rarely bring this philosophical symbol down to a practical level to use it to observe our culture & its institutions, our relationships & careers, and especially our daily behaviors & relationship to our Self.
So why do I keep eluding to Yin as the missing link?
The Symbolism of Yin & Yang
First, let's do a quick review of the symbol itself. Compiled from various sources, these are the qualities yin and yang are said to represent:
Yang | positive, active, masculine, the sun, overt, brightness, fire, daytime, upward seeking, restless, producing, assertive, leftbrained, analytical, attacking, leading, movement, mind, linear
Yin | negative, passive, feminine, the moon, hidden, darkness, water, softness, nighttime, downward seeking, slowness, cold, receptive, rightbrained, intuitive, defending, following, stillness, heart, circular
Now, take a minute to reflect back on your life.
Which qualities were valued by your teachers? Parents? What about your peers? Bosses and supervisors?
What were the consequences when you embodied yin traits as a child? (being slow moving, emotional, soft, a non-linear thinker, better at art than math and science, etc)?
I know in my school experience, I was told: SPEAK UP! Don't be shy! Don't cry! You're overreacting!
I was a caricature of yin.
In grade school, teachers consistently told my parents that I was not speaking enough and needed to participate more. In reality, I was truly paralyzed in fear - teachers screaming, mean little kids running around me in circles. It was a yin kid's WORST nightmare!
Thankfully I was not in school during the days they smacked left-handed kids with rulers... (studies show left-handed = right-brained, a yin quality)
In high school, the jocks didn't like me - I think something about a girl who was both unpopular and self-assured ruffled their feathers. Teachers were suspicious of me, as if I had some trick up my sleeve and I was waiting to unleash it. But most just kept their distance. Looking back, it's funny how simply embodying feminine (yin) energy in a religious school could cause one to stand out in such a negative way. I felt like a heretic, and admittedly, had some fun being a rebellious brat.
Of course, it probably would've benefited me to develop some more yang qualities. But how often do authority figures push us to become more yin? You never hear kids being told, "You better honor your emotions! Are you exploring your creativity enough? Are forming meaningful friendships based on mutual understanding?!"
Lol nope.. I never heard that sentiment once.
Eventually I got so burnt out and sick that I took my first yoga class. Only then was I introduced to the idea that yin wasn't a character defect.
But Isn't Yang Energy More Important!?
Particularly in the United States, society was founded on 'divide and conquer' - take others' territories, get as much money as possible, don't pause to reflect, defeat anyone standing in your way - This is not healthy yang, but yang on steroids. There are so many subtle and not-so-subtle examples of this in government, education, media, mental health treatment, etc.
Yang itself is not bad. It's when we overuse yang to compensate for the jobs that yin is supposed to be doing. (Feeling depressed? There's no time to nurture yourself or get curious about it. Just FIGHT your symptoms!)
I've noticed a troubling pattern of many people talking about "fighting" their mental health problems and "beating" them (yang on steroids). They mean well, but they don't realize that they are fighting themselves. This is why the fight never seems to end, and unfortunately even some mental health professionals tell their patients that they will simply have to fight their symptoms forever.
Hallmark Symptoms of Yin Deficiency
One of the most pervasive signs of yang dominance I have found is workaholism and burnout. Those with sensitive systems are more susceptible to the burnout aspect, but over-working oneself is an incredibly common experience because we're in a culture where this is normalized and often applauded.
Think of all the times you were praised for your hard work. Yes, working can be a good thing, but have you ever in your life been praised for taking a rest? ....This is what I'm talking about. The imbalance is so ingrained in us that praising yin sounds ridiculous.
Other symptoms might be:
- feeling depressed, heartbroken, empty, apathetic, or bored
- a vague yearning for re-connection
- a yearning for nature & the outdoors
- an inability to feel inspiration or connect with intuition
A yin-deficient society or individual is starved of creativity, meaning, and emotional depth - the magic of life is drained.
The results of a yang-only society are the same as the results of a yang-only
individual. Needless to say, when most individuals exploit their own yang & stifle their own yin, the culture begins to reflect this in a broader sense. In the best case scenario, yin is simply forgotten. In the worse case scenario it is invalidated, judged, or even ridiculed.
This is why we have derogatory terms like "woo-woo" "airy-fairy" and "new-agey" to describe more feminine, intuitive studies. Many still believe that the notion of "intuition" is completely made up because they are so detached from their own.
Self-compassion also falls to the wayside. Essentially, if we only value ourselves when we're producing and achieving, we ask our minds and bodies to function robotically. If we can't remain assertive, can't keep up a 'sunny' disposition, or don't make linear "progress" quickly, we go straight into self-blame and feel worthless.
Self-compassion is probably the greatest loss of all. We stop giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, stop pursuing our creativity because it has no "use." Our self-esteem plummets because we never feel whole or present - There's always more to do before we can rest. Our identity becomes what we've achieved, and our being stops mattering (e.g. When we meet someone new, the first thing they want to know is, "So, what do you do?")
In a yin-deficient society, rest becomes a dirty word. Self-care becomes selfish because we've forgotten what immense value is birthed during receptive phases - this is the literal life-giving nature of the feminine.
This pattern is heartbreaking in such a literal sense. We avoid our hearts and forget how they even work. We're too busy "crushing it" and "hustling" and all the other things that are worshipped in this culture - but the emotional fulfillment just isn't there.
As the yin-yang symbol firmly reminds us, one side of the energy wheel is not enough. We need wholeness. We need to feel like ourselves & have unique identities outside of what job we work, what role we play in our family, and how much money we earn.
We are not robots, ever-marching forward to earn, strive, fight, achieve, do better, be more, and own more, straight into our graves.
There is an entire other side to life that we, particularly in the Western World, have forsaken.
We need the softness, the slowing, the creating, and the receiving from intuition.
We need the vast wisdom of the darkness - the subconscious.
We need our collective mother ... Yin.