It is said that a Taoist is a “short-term pessimist and long-term optimist” because he knows things are always changing and that when balance is lost, it will eventually be restored. So Taoist thought is a balanced blend of optimism and pessimism, seeing the sunny side and the stormy side of life as part of One Thing whose moods and energies are always circling.
The symbol at the top of this page is the classic Yin/Yang symbol, also titled the “Taiji” or “Grand Ultimate.” The dark Yin represents a vast array of concepts and forces including the passive, receptive, soft, yielding, quiet, and fallow. Likewise the light Yang is used to represent energies that are active, penetrating, hard, rigid, loud, and growing. This is, of course, an oversimplification. There are actually infinite nuances to the interaction of these two universal energies; from the proton and electron within atomic structure to the comings and goings of stars, planets, and galaxies. Yin and Yang are essential compliments of each other. The existence of one necessitates the existence of the other, and without both there would be no cosmos, no matter, nothing in existence. This is why, in the symbol of intertwined dark and light, there is a light dot in the middle of the dark, and a dark dot in the middle of the light. Yin always contains the seeds of Yang. Yang always contains the seeds of Yin. The dance of the two is eternal.
I watch these two processes and feel the paradox of optimism/pessimism in both the social and the personal arena
In the social arena:
Yin – I see the workings of a Yin energy that is working to restore balance within our world. I have no doubt that our social and political systems are feeling this massive Yin movement. We have been forcing an unsustainable Yang upon our physical and psychological resources for centuries. Decades ago we reached the inevitable turning point. Everyone is now blaming everyone else and insisting that only their own solutions will arrest the decline and disintegration. All sides are deluded. Nothing will stop the deepening purposeful chaos of Yin from returning balance to the world.
Yang – Within the decline and fall of our culture remain the seeds for the next Yang movement. Many people are, like trees in the winter time, dropping excess baggage and turning their attention toward deepening their roots in the earth. They are planting the seeds of spiritual maturity and from these seeds, in some manner unknown to me, will grow a new culture founded on more appropriate and realistic values.
In the personal arena:
Yin – I am growing older. My own turning point was reached years ago. I eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, remain active and productive, but I am no longer in a season of spring growth. I am heading into my own winter – the Yin season of my life.
Yang – The seeds of light remain within my life and are beginning a Yang cycle of their own. I am growing more content, more satisfied with simple things, and I am expressing myself more clearly and creatively than ever before. My spouse has established an entirely new career as a traditional bookbinder. I am painting in the Taoist tradition and expanding my writing styles and publications. As the winter comes, a different kind of spring is beginning deep inside that brings me joy.
Each of us, at some level, realizes the hopelessness of our society’s ambitions and paradigms. We are each trying to find our own personal response to the Yin energy we know is engulfing us. Each of us also knows that all too soon we will experience the final Yin of our personal existence. In both the personal and social arena, it is important that we look closely at the Taiji symbol and remain aware of the small seed of light that is always present in the dark. Even when we face the end of all illusions and the darkness deepens, we remember that there is never, ever, a Yin that does not contain a seed of Yang. The dance goes on. Who knows what might be coming next?