At the darkest moment, the sun came back
Today is the winter solstice, the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Winter solstice is a day which has been celebrated for generations and generations by different cultures all around the world. For me, what I really like about this day is that it serves as the reminder of how two things which seem so opposite of each other can actually work together and co-create one another. The day that is the shortest and we are embraced in the darkness for a longer period of time, is also the moment when the light starts to come back, and slowly each day after get longer and longer accumulating to the longest day of the year at the summer solstice.
The yin and yang of the dark and light
In Chinese Medicine we often times use the theory of yin and yang to create balance in the body, thus promoting a state of harmony, well-being and homeostasis. Yin and Yang are two elemental forces which exist within everything that is alive. They are often times described as the opposite forces of each other, such a light and dark, night and day, male and female, up and down, inward and outward, rest and action, morning and evening, etc. and make up not just the medicine but all of cultural and fundamental beliefs about life in the Eastern traditions. These energies, or qualities of being, are governed by three rules.
They co-exist together and exist only because the other one exists.
They are co-dependent (interdependent) on each other, meaning one creates the other and vice versa, one does not exist without the other.
Neither one is static or absolute. This means that they are constantly changing, transforming and within each one exists an infinite number of other qualities that are opposites, basically a continuum of further yin and yang.
Yin and Yang theory and way of understanding life was first developed from observing nature and the way nature exists within itself, including all the micro and macrocosms within it. It is for this reason, that I feel on the day such as the winter solstice we are given an opportunity to deepen our understanding of these opposite yet complementary qualities within our own life. By reflecting on that point when the dark becomes the light we are able to learn more about our own selves, the way we interact with the world and in our own life, allowing us to create a greater sense of ease and well-being.
Applying the principles of complementary opposites in our own life
There are many ways we could apply the theory of yin and yang in our life, from our physical health, to our relationships, to our mental, emotional or spiritual health, to our careers, jobs and even money. No matter the area of our life that we are examining we want to start with one first fundamental and super important step:
Mindfully accept where you are for exactly what it is!
Most of us fear acceptance of our situations because sometimes the situation is not what we want, or at times it is outright harmful to us, so we fear that if we accept it, we will resign to it and will not want to change it, that we will suffer with it forever. Mindful acceptance is actually something quite different. To mindfully accept where we are exactly as it is means turning on the lens of hard truth and seeing all the stuff that is not working with the equal honesty as seeing all the stuff that is working. Both can be hard to be honest about. The things that are not working are hard to be honest about because perhaps we may not want to accept them, may not want to accept that things could be that way. On the other hand, accepting what is actually working also can be challenging because it can be difficult to receive the blessings in our life. Humans have a natural tendency to be drawn to suffering, it is one of the most powerful ways we learn and what so much of our world has been built on, in response to, or in-spite off. So stooping to celebrate the blessings, the successes, the triumphs, the things which are easy, can sometimes be as hard, if not harder than seeing the pains, the troubles, the concerns, the harm in our life. This is when the principle of mindful acceptance comes into play.
Try it out for yourself. Take a pen and paper and answer these two questions
In the last six months list all the things in your life which have caused you pain, all the things where you feel that life fell short, or you have failed, or someone has failed you, all the things that keep you awake, or give you those annoying pains, all the ways you feel you are suffering or have been suffering, all the things you want to change. Write it down, notice how you feel when you write it, what emotions come up, what resistance comes up, what other thoughts come up.
Now write down all the things for the last past six months that were amazing in your life, all the little or big blessings life had given you, the moments you felt joy, ease, happiness, peace, love, laughter in your life, the triumphs and the successes, the ways you felt you were expressing yourself and loved it. Just like in the first question, as you write it notice what you feel, what resistance there is, what emotions or thoughts come up.
Now re-read the two lists but this time pretend you are reading a list of someone you don’t know. Someone you just met at the coffee shop, or on the subway, or at an event, and you asked them how their year was. Imagine these were their answers. Can you read it as if these things are not part of you and your life? Can you create space for judgment to fall away and just be with what was, not making it mean neither good or bad? It could help to do this exercise with someone else and than have each the other person read out your list as if it were their own , and you just listen, without any involvement or investment in it.
This exercise is a good way to start practicing observing the differences that co-exist in our lives without making them mean something. The moments we get lost in the darkness, or get blinded by the light are the moments we stop looking at the other side. In this moment we become so attached to only having one experience, that we forget the reality of that experiencing not being able to exist with out its opposite. Remember, yin and yang are interdependent, co-create one another and keep changing constantly. Something which we thought was the hardest thing in our life, sometimes becomes the greatest lesson and point of positive change. Something that we were super excited about and thought was the best thing in our life, becomes the source of our pain.
Life is always unfolding and recreating along these lines of co-existing opposites. Perhaps if we stop to acknowledge this and see this in our day to day, we won’t take the pain too seriously and won’t get too carried away by the shine of the light. Instead we can find the middle way, the road of balance, the road of understanding and being with the changes as they happen, trusting the process and knowing when to act and when not to act, what to say, and what not to say, when to stay and when to leave. That wisdom is within us, we just have to find that middle road leading us back to it.