- General examples: feminine/masculine, mother/father, passivity/activity, dark/light, body/mind, intuition/logic, night/day, soft/hard, internal/external, wet/dry, follower/leader, receptive/creative, and nature/technology.
- Examples from the psyche: shadow/ego, shadow/persona, and unconscious/conscious mind.
- Examples from the natural world: the north and south poles of a magnet, the positive and negative charge of an electrical current, the wave motion of light, and the alternation of winter and summer.
Everything has a complement. These complements are easy to recognize in the contrariness of light and dark, or male and female. But, for example, what is the opposite of a tree? The answer might sound ludicrous, but it is sensible in the study of yinyang: the answer is "non-tree" -- whatever is not the tree, whatever completes the figure/background of this gestalt, whatever defines the tree by being something other than a tree. The Chinese language acknowledges this inseparable reciprocity by having one word -- "yinyang" -- rather than the English phrase "yin and yang."
"Opposites" are not really opposites. Instead, they are two sides of the same thing. For example, health and sickness are two sides of what might be termed "physiological condition"; in another example, life and death are viewed as two alternating aspects of our "eternal existence" (if we believe in reincarnation). We can picture this complementary relationship in various ways:
- We can view the complementary relationship as a cycle on a sine wave. For a while, we are on the positive side of the cycle, and later we are on the negative side of the cycle.
- We can view the complementary relationship in their mutual dependence; yin and yang cannot exist without the other. For people who desire wholeness, this means that we cannot have good without evil, nor life without death, nor growth without decay. Thus, we stop trying to annihilate a polarity's unpleasant half.
- We can view the complementary relationship in the familiar symbol of the yinyang. This symbol contains a black "tadpole" and a white "tadpole," each incurring into the other's half of the circle. As a further incursion into the other's territory, the black side contains a white dot, and the white side contains a black dot. This design signifies the idea that nothing is entirely yin or yang (i.e., everything contains elements of both), and that these polarities are complements rather than true opposites. They are relative to one another.
Why does duality occur? It occurs because the soul wants to study its own nature. Soul is composed of spirit (just a brick is composed of clay); thus, soul is studying spirit. But spirit is a homogeneous substance; thus, it cannot be studied in its totality. Instead, soul uses various functions (which are analogous to our physical senses) to perceive spirit's individual aspects, i.e., its "archetypes." When soul looks at spirit through these "senses," it perceives archetypes as they would appear in various "material dimensions" -- mental, emotional, and physical. In these "dimensions," an archetype expresses itself in a duality simply because of the nature of these dimensions:
- An archetype itself contains dual aspects. Thus, when an archetype manifests, both aspects manifest.
- When something exists in the material worlds, it exists only in contrast to that which is different from it.
- The material worlds are always in a state of balance. Thus, they require the balancing effect of opposites. But this balance is not static; instead, it is maintained throughout the continually changing phenomena. The changes are powered by the energy which is released by the splitting of the one (i.e., spirit) into the two (i.e., the dualities) -- as in the splitting of an atom in nuclear fission.
- We use intuition. Intuition arises from the wholism of spirit; thus, it contains and transcends all opposites. Therefore, its guidance leads us to express and experience whatever we need in any moment; for example, on one occasion it might recommend an action which we could judge as "generous," and on another occasion it might recommend an action which we could judge as "non-generous" (i.e., "frugal" or even apparently "selfish"). If we reflect on a day in which we acted intuitively, we will see that we have expressed many opposite positions. In contrast, the mind develops a plan of action by referring to its defaults (i.e., our habits, values, self-concept, the elements in our archetypal fields, etc.) which are innately polarized; i.e., we default to our habit of being "generous" solely because, for example, our self-concept says that we are generous and not non-generous (even though the circumstances might require frugality).
- We do not exaggerate the natural polarization which occurs in our thinking. One of the useful functions of the mind is to separate and categorize, but we can also allow the equally valid wholistic, integrating perspective. Thus we stop labeling as though any label is definitive and permanent; we stop giving excessive praise when one side of the polarity prevails over the other; and we stop arguing for one aspect of the polarity as if we can stop the natural cyclical process. In this labeling process, the concept of "pain" does not exist at all unless we also label some experiences as "pleasurable." If we leave the situations unnamed, we tend to deal with them directly and intuitively and harmoniously rather than battling them and hating them and pushing them even farther apart in their polarity, thus disrupting their natural cycles and interplay. We can still label and praise and like and also strive for the polarity which we prefer, but we can do it from a transcendental understanding of the yinyang's dynamics so that we aren't fighting futile battles.
- We can acknowledge elements of the unpleasant state within the pleasant state - - the "dot" within the "tadpole." Examples:
- In our preference for dynamic health, we surrender to its opposite -- the body's inherent weaknesses, e.g., its need for sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, etc.
- If we want peace, we submit to the reality of conflict -- the struggles against our own misunderstanding and mismanagement of our ego, our needs, our shadow, our relationships, etc.
- We endure the inevitable failures in our learning experiences, so that we can eventually succeed in business, school, relationships, and other endeavors.
- We acknowledge our preferences. If, for example, health and disease are the polarity, how can health be maintained? Wouldn't the cycle require both of them to be expressed? We can enhance the preferable side of a cycle (e.g., health rather than disease, or happiness rather than sadness) in various ways:
- We can acknowledge that the unwanted condition has a right
to exist; every conceivable state might have a purpose in the
grand scheme (even if only for a "learning experience").
Recently when I was very ill with the flu, I found that
"acceptance" of the condition weakened me; when I allowed,
instead, my genuine anger toward it (because it violated my
boundaries), I felt strong and invigorated because this emotion
separated and polarized me away from the illness. The anger was
a legitimate, balanced, and necessary response to the virus'
attack; this anger gave me the psychological and physiological
stimulation to rise up against the virus. Some polarization is
needed, as compared to an oceanic, boundary-less, open
vulnerability. But we don't need to intensify the polarity by
feeling anger toward disease in general and in times of health;
if we do that, we risk increasing the "pendulum swing" toward
- We are maintaining a stressful emergency vigilance against an enemy which is not present (and thus we suffer from the effects of excessive stress).
- We are attracting the conditions and people which we despise because of the excess energy which we are directing toward them.
- We are implanting inappropriate elements into our archetypal fields. When we indulge a general hatred toward disease, we are not responding to the dynamics of the current situation of health; thus, our highly charged thoughts, images, energy tones, and actions linger in the a-field. To discharge that energy, they must create the conditions which they represent, i.e., the disease which we hate.
- We accept the "tension" of the opposites. We endure any discomfort which occurs from the constant change and apparent instability, and from our ego's frustrated desire to claim one side of the polarity (e.g., its claim to be a "good" person).