Yin & Yang: How Contrast Creates Balance


Photo: Adrien Olichon

During my time in art school, one of our prerequisite classes was Photography, which focused mainly on photo composition and was meant to help us as new students begin to find our creativity and explore a medium that is so commonly used in design these days. I personally really enjoyed the class. Specifically that it gave me the ability to discover all sorts of new areas within the city of San Francisco that I was residing in. So many mundane yet unique features of the urban landscape to capture amongst the rooftops and the fire escapes of downtown.


One of the most integral parts of learning the art of photography was to create an overall balance within the frame of the image that allowed for a sort of comfort and ease when taking it in as a viewer. Regardless of the symmetry, it needed to have a sense of even contrast. And we quickly learned that images without this balance actually created an intentional discomfort and friction for the viewer. And although this intentional uneasiness may be a wonderful tool for photo journalism, it became a pretty clear metaphor for a chaotic and deregulated life.


Whether it's in a still frame capture or your daily routines, balance is the thing we as modern day humans chase the most. It seems we are a society obsessed with finding work-life balance, or that sweet spot of social-family lifestyle, and for good reason. However, a perfect balance of even parts might never be fully in reach for all of us. And it is important to understand that we can find this ease and cultivate well-being in our lives by first looking at our priorities and beginning from there.


Your perfect balance might not look like your neighbors or even your spouses. And that's perfectly okay. Social media and other forms of comparison might tell you differently, but I am here to let you know that you can find peace within the daily tasks and routines that you must carry out by reorienting your outlook to something more easily defined yet even more flexible. Enter yin and yang.


Yin and yang are the opposing forces that work and exist within all things. This method is taught commonly in Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Daoist principles and many of us are familiar with its evenly contrasting symbol often associated with peace. That's because balance creates peace, both within us and in the greater environment around us. And we can learn to foster this concept in our lives for greater enjoyment and ease over time.


The beautiful thing about yin and yang is that although they oppose one another, they are also both inextricably linked and necessary for the other to exist. Yin honors the inward and internal motions of our lives and of the universe around us. It is often described as a spiral that travels continuously inward until it inevitably must begin to return its motions outward to begin expanding once again as yang energy. We can think of this as related to our breath. You take a full breath in, where it travels deep within your chest and working its way down into your belly, and as you breath out you are circulating that energy back upwards and out into the world and the cosmos. It is all a return, a give and take of the energy you are receiving. It reappears as renewed as it completes its cycle.


Often I see many things resembling this cycle. I believe that creativity honors this cycle, as one might find a spark of inspiration, and it is then our work and journey to emit that inspiration we have received back into the world for others. A give and take. This is explained beautifully in Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, where she describes inspiration and creativity as a fluid force that can travel from one person to another until it finds the soul that is ready and open to receiving it and allow it to flow and be birthed consciously through them.


And similarly we need time with ourselves, time in stillness and rest, which reflects the yin in our lives, so that we can replenish ourselves and build our energy to then go outside of ourselves and reenter our communities in times of the yang energy that drives us and our society. And it seems there is an epidemic of this imbalance, where we have forgotten altogether about the yin that is required to sustain the yang. We cannot give endlessly of ourselves unless we have the ability to continually refuel our depleted resources. This will always lead to burn out, which has become the culture we live in.


I was reminded recently of how deeply partnership must honor this yin and yang balance. Often our chosen partners reflect a piece of the puzzle that we feel we are lacking and we seek to bring that energy into our lives. This can also explain why partnerships are so challenging. As we learn to live with and welcome in the flow of an energy that is often foreign to us and our own unique nature. Yet the innate challenge of partnership is a constant learning curve of finding balance and harmony with another, with another energy, that we are often deeply in need of in our lives. This can teach us so much about ourselves and the world we live in, if we allow it the space to grow and be seen fully.


The seasons also honor this shifting of energy, with winter being a time of rest and replenishment, even contemplation, with the cold entering our lives and the life outside beginning to slow. Then spring and summer arrive and we feel the urge to lighten our layers and shift our focus to spending time in nature and socializing with friends as the seasons heat rises, giving us the energy to do so. It is so beautiful to see how everything exists within duality and is therefore related and connected.


So how can we use this concept of yin and yang to balance our own lives? Well, with every motion of your life you see as heavy, dark or isolating, begin to question how you can find its opposite. If you feel that your time is spent mostly working away at a project or job tirelessly, seek the lightness of yang energy, with time spent outside in nature or creating movement through exercise to find balance. If you feel your time is fully focused on caring for the needs of your children and running from school to after-school sports to playdates, begin honing in on what time spent inwards looks like for you and how to build the yin energy in your life for solace and rest.


It doesn't have to be perfect, but both must exist for us to find mental, emotional and physical well-being as well as show up for others in our lives. Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Because you can't power through forever.


Your body and circumstances will find the opportunity to sound the alarm for balance to reenter your life.


This may come in the form of physical discomforts or hormonal imbalances, or pieces of your life beginning to feel chaotic and fall apart. Many experience this in middle age as they begin to question what happiness and balance actually look life for them, sometimes for the very first time. And if you want to begin before the crisis comes, I encourage you to find the time to reevaluate the activities and things that fill your time and drain your energy and look for ways to rebuild and sustain that energy. And if something isn't contributing to the overall give and take feed, throw it out.


Simplifying and minimizing the demands we put on ourselves is often a great place to start. It is going to be easier for you to find balance if you are working with less. Less mental clutter, less physical items, less commitments, less on your to-do list and so on. Think of your life as a juggling act. The more balls you have to juggle, the harder the act becomes. So allow the room for clarity and peace to enter by finding the big ticket items that fulfill your needs and desires, and work to release the other things in your line of sight distracting you.

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