Yin Yang philosophy and mental health
The concept of Yin and Yang is an ancient Chinese philosophy that says there are always two opposing yet interconnected energies that affect our minds and bodies. Yin and Yang is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy, medicine, and culture in general. The Traidtional Chinese medicine classics, “Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor” (Huangdi Neijing), said:
Yin and Yang are the laws of heaven and earth, the great framework of everything, the parents of change, the root and beginning of life and death, and the source of all mysteries.
In other words, whatever exists can be described in terms of Yin and Yang.
What Are Yin And Yang?
The Yin and Yang principle dates from the 3rd century BCE or even earlier. The principle of Yin and Yang from Chinese philosophy is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites. Examples of Yin-Yang opposite forces are female-male, dark-light, and old-young. Even though these two energies are often depicted as contrary to each other, they are never in conflict with each other. They are balancing energies that complement each other.
Yin and Yang is a concept of dualism. It means that all things have two facets: a Yin aspect and a Yang aspect. Nothing is purely good or purely bad. The circumstances change with different parameters like time, location, function, etc. One force might be more dominant at a certain moment but this dynamics could shift and the same force become weak. Yin and Yang depend on each other, control each other, and transform into each other. This interaction and dynamics of forces create the universe. Such beliefs play a central role in I Ching, Taoism, and Confucianism philosophies.
A quote from Tao Te Ching (道德經), written by Lao-tzu (老子) best describes the Yin Yang relationship:
When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad. Being and non-being create each other. Difficult and easy support each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. Before and after follow each other.
Yin And Yang Balance And Its Importance in Mental Well-Being
The field of Western psychology has long focused on an isolated approach to mental illness, often viewing mental health as the absence of illness and pathology. In recent times, however, psychologists and mental health practitioners have begun to take a more positive approach drawn from traditional Eastern approaches to psychology which emphasize the idea that wellness is about much more than simply not being ill. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.
There are at least three basic principles of acceptance necessary for our well-being: (a) Accept life in its totality or the whole of life, not just the parts we like; (b) the whole is always made up of opposites or polarities, such as good and evil, positive and negative; and (c) opposites depend on or complement each other, thus, light depends on the existence of darkness.
By applying these principles of acceptance (the Yin of coping), we will be in a much better position to commit ourselves to pursue valued goals and personal growth (the Yang of adaptation).
Be aware of Toxic Positivity
The wisdom of Yin and Yang not only contribute to Chinese philosophy, architecture, martial arts, and traditional Chinese medicine, it has begun to find a place in western psychology too. It could be an antidote of the overwhelming positive psychology that spin into toxic positivity.
Positive psychology is a branch of the study of the human mind and behavior that focuses on positive emotion, traits, experience, and institutions. It tends to be about optimism and resilience in the face of life's challenges. While it sounds completely engaging and reasonable, our obsession with positivity could lead to toxicity. While feeling happy is a good thing, overemphasising the importance of a positive attitude can backfire, ironically leading to more unhappiness.
Toxic positivity is the pressure to only display positive emotions, suppressing any negative emotions, feelings, reactions, or experiences. It invalidates human experience and can lead to trauma, isolation, and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
The key factor in toxic positivity is not positivity itself, rather, it is how a person’s attitude to happiness leads them to respond to negative experiences in life. The prospect of experiencing pain, failure, loss, or disappointment in life is unavoidable. There are times we are going to feel depressed, anxious, fearful, or lonely. This is a fact. What matters is how we respond to these experiences. Do we lean into them and accept them for what they are, or do we try to avoid and escape from them? Here is where the Yin Yang theory comes in. This theory helps us understand the concept of holism and embrace changes. The concept of toxic positivity is already described in I Ching as “overactive dragon bring regrets” (亢龍有悔). It means that even though a dragon is powerful, getting over the top could be dangerous. It is a reminder to us that we should always keep things in moderation and keep our power in control.
Creating Your Yin And Yang Balance
Yin-Yang teaches us the two fundamental qualities to build a meaningful life: (1) Accepting the dark side of life as an inevitable part of the human condition, and (2) Reading beyond an isolated side of positives or negatives through Yin-Yang dialectics. Some ways that you can utilize the ancient philosophy of Yin and Yang to help restore balance to your mental well-being include:
Find Balance Between Self Improvement And Self Acceptance As the Prayer from Reinhold Niebuhr goes: Accept the things I cannot change (Yin). Have the courage to change the things I can (Yang). Guide by the wisdom to know the difference (The whole).
Find Balance Between Conflict and Harmony Conflict is an inevitable part of life. It is bound to emerge when your own goals, wants, or needs are incompatible with someone else’s. If you are in some sort of conflict (excessive Yang), you can rebalance by practicing forgiveness, letting go of your pain, showing empathy toward others, and compromising when necessary (all Yin energies). Doing this will bring harmony to the inner turmoil and give you the peace and clarify to Think Win-Win (The whole).
Recongize The Negative Emotions And Their Meaning When you’re overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety (all Yin energies), you can create balance by first accepting your negative emotions. Then acknowledge yourself that feelings can change and take action to empower yourself to change (Yang).
Identify Your Personal Space And Our Role In The Society Everyone would need personal space and look for their best interest. And yet, what is best for one does not mean the best for the whole and in return hurts the individual. Try to maintain connections while preserving your autonomy (Yin-internal) in the face of social influences (Yang-external). At the same time, cultivate healthy relationships and create a interdependent and mutual benefit environment.
Have Control To Your Desires Excessive individual desires (excessive Yang) are often viewed as the underlying cause of mental health problems according to the Buddhism and TCM. When you feel your desires and wants overpowering your needs, you can balance them out by practicing gratitude, helping others through acts of volunteering, and living life in the moment. This will also help you to have a bigger picture of life and hopefully stop the self-obession.
The goal of balancing Yin and Yang is not just about maximizing positivity, but to achieve a balance thus creat contentment and harmony. It is an emotionally liberating and transformative practice, once we learn to accept and appreciate the reality of opposites or the principle of Yin (negative and passive) and Yang (positive and active). We could become more non-judgemental, tolerant and resilient. All of these properties are the cornerstones of a fulfilling life.