Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pink Floyd On Yin And Yang

Today was my Saturday qi gong class. Our diminutive master began the class by talking about yin and yang, about how there is always a little yin in the yang and always a little yang in the yin (sounds like some kind of cross contamination, Oh, oh we're going to have to throw out the yang, someone got some yin in it).  The example our instructor used was:  even on a hot sunny day when a mountain is in full sun (yang) the other side of the mountain is in the shade (yin).  Even at night when it is dark (yin) when the moon comes out a little yang is introduced by it's light.

This way of looking at the world does not come naturally to us in the West.  We like our lives cut and dried, black & white, either/or.  It is the basis of our Western dialectic view of the world.  And there is a  static, brittle, polarized quality to this.  Now maybe I'm romanticizing all things Eastern, as we Westerners have been known to do (egads I'm carving up the world into compass points, east & west and assigning value!  My Western roots are showing).

But today I was taken with the idea that, in everything, there is a seed of its opposite.  It reminds me of how dynamic and full of movement the world is.  It's always changing and flowing, just as they've discovered in advanced physics (and I am the last person that should be discussing anything mildly sciencey) particles are not static.  Even though things look solid and stable, at a very base level those devilish little atoms are zinging about.  From a Buddhist point of view this is an expression of  a basic truth. In Buddhism one of the marks of existence is impermanence and change.  Things are always moving, flowing, changing from one state to another even though we may be unaware of it.  We are sometimes surprised, shocked or disappointed when this truth presents itself for inspection.  What  we thought we wanted now bores us, who we love decides to leave us, or our bodies age or  get sick.  Yet if we really understand impermanence we will not be surprised by change.

Within adversity lies opportunity, expresses the idea that everything holds the seeds of its opposite.  Some event or circumstance may seem undesirable to us but if we look deeply at it we can find the opportunity.  We often learn the most from the difficult things in life.  They pull us to an edge that we are not willing to go to otherwise.  They wake us up.  The idea that there is a compassionate side to suffering was surprising to me when I first heard it.  Suffering is just suffering, I thought, something to be avoided if at all possible.  But I have come to see how  it wakes us up, shakes us up and allows us to open to the truth, whatever it is in our specific situation.  It is often said that what brings us to Buddhist practice is suffering of some sort.  

Through our suffering we learn how to be with what is.  Instead of carving our world up into what we like and don't like and rejecting parts of our experience, we get to taste it all, the sweet and the bitter and strangely our lives are fuller and richer for this.  If we suffer from some illness, not only do we get to experience the truth of sickness, (and eventually old age and death) that the Buddha observed but it may soften us up so that our hearts go out to others who are unwell.  We become more compassionate, more empathic,  more humble humans.

When things are tough we can take solace in the fact that what we find difficult, will move and shift just as surely as the things we cling to.  "And this too shall pass," can be a helpful little mantra whether it's a sunny afternoon on the mountain top or a dark night under a new moon (or if you're Pink Floyd, the dark side of the moon).  

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