Yin and Yang in everyday life
(From Shifu Damir’s ‘Desperately Seeking Yin: Tai Chi Chuan as the Masters-of-the-next-level-see it’)
Making the most of life means achieving duality: completing tasks and getting closer to fulfilling the purpose.
...Making the most of life means completing the tasks imposed by society and its requirements, while at the same time remembering and striving in the area beyond the material. If, preoccupied with worldly activities, one neglects to re-establish contact with one’s soul, life will be nothing but futile toil. Likewise, if – preoccupied with establishing contact with the soul – one neglects worldly duties, one’s efforts will be equally hollow, nothing but an empty theory, an illusion.
People have tasks, and they also have a purpose.
They always have both.
Always in life, at any given moment, they have Tai Chi.
The duality of living.
Dual orientation, dual choice, not choosing one, but two.
Because they have tasks, and they also have a purpose.
One does not exclude the other, but includes it. Each needs the other. Some people are attracted to our proposition that the purpose of life is re-establishing contact with the soul. But if the pre-requisites or, let’s say, the structure and backbone of this purpose are missing, it remains just an unviable philosophy, an idealistic vision.
A realistic vision will remind us there is always duality in life, both tasks and purpose. Tasks entails things like skills and qualifications, employment, and family responsibilities. These can be seen as chores or, on the other hand, as something interesting, even as something that represents a person’s only meaning in life. Either way, these things belong to the area of tasks. And they should be formulated and designed in such a way that they can support the purpose of living, which is a different story altogether.
The completion of tasks, with no awareness of purpose, remains an idle motion.
Likewise, the purpose of living, the re-establishment of contact with the soul, often expressed in such cliches as ‘getting in touch with the inner self’, or ‘centring yourself’, or ‘awakening your inner self’, remains quite nebulous, unless it is backed up by the structured completion of tasks.
By coordinating the two, by balancing and intertwining one’s efforts, completed tasks can assist in realising the purpose – and such a life becomes meaningful.
Shifu Damir: There is no yin without yang, no yang without yin…
Master Ananda: Once you distinguish one from the other, and tackle both with the same degree of commitment, recognising the right moments, or best points, to bring them together.
It would be foolish to tell a primary-school child that the purpose of living is the evolution of the soul. In the same way, it’s foolish to talk about the soul to one who is too deeply bogged down in the material. We have to seize the moment when people are sensitive to the missing element. People’s expectations are always, like a curse, fixed on either one or the other. In their general attitude, they are either far too material or far too spiritual.
Both orientations are equally disappointing.
That’s why people are so sad, so deeply dissatisfied, so often depressed. Life has meaning only if it forms a whole, if it is completed through duality.
Shifu Damir: So there is nothing wrong with pursuing a career or having a family, but there is a problem if all activities are concentrated in one area or stay in a single category.
Master Ananda: Day and night. There is no need to explain it in convoluted theories; everybody knows day and night, work and rest, waking and sleep. Now just extend that obvious duality to everything else. A single activity is a futile one. Imagine yourself in eternal day, or in unending night – what a horror! So why do you allow your life to become an endless night – even though it might be mistaken for a continuous day, illuminated by success, by wealth, by parenthood, by status, yes?
Only well-designed and balanced activities find support in one another.
One enhances, inspires, defines the other. Each is nothing by itself, but might become precious if coupled with its opposite.
Yes, whatever they choose to do, they can do well, but if there is no counterbalance, it’s utterly futile.
And that’s the sorrow of the world. This futility.
By chasing speedy achievement and excellence in narrowed-down expectations.
One can start by examining one’s own expectations. Knowing it's illusory to expect spiritual growth and prosperity without any material footing. As we often see in those ‘floating’, impractical, hippie-like creatures, endearing but quite useless. Because they are unable or unwilling to make a concrete effort, because they refuse to recognise they live in a world whose rules must be followed to a certain extent. That is unavoidable; and then, what is unavoidable can be employed to serve true priorities. A genuine spiritual seeker never ignores the world.
But the materially orientated person should also examine their own mechanism of deception. Acknowledge how easy it is to be seduced by comfort or success, how quickly they can be distracted from working on the opposite. A better understanding of one's own deception-mechanism increases one’s empathy for others and their personal weaknesses, which trap them in a particular way of life.
The attraction of either orientation can be so overwhelming, or the effort required so huge, that most people feel they have to make a choice and embrace either one or the other. Balancing them seems far too difficult – impossible, really.
But balancing is exactly what we are interested in.
Regardless of how slow this process might be. It is always slow.
It is always much faster and easier to focus single-mindedly on a single task or goal.
Results come quickly, but such results might be just an apparent advance.
An advance in one direction, if accompanied by stagnation in another aspect, is regression.
That's why, for our aspirants, the balancing of life is the top priority.
A material being, preoccupied by the physical realm, needs to be reminded and drawn to the spiritual. And vice versa: the spiritual being needs to be brought down to earth.
We teach those who are grounded to soar, and those who are floating to find anchor.
Sounds simple enough. But in reality it proves to be very difficult, if not impossible, as people mostly feel “stuck” in one or the other. We see those ordinary strugglers who say: How can I get involved with the spiritual when the demands of ordinary life drain me out? I have no time or energy, it’s such a struggle even to carry on with what I have to do, let alone introducing something else, some ‘spirituality’; I've got no time for such nonsense.
And we see others, who frown upon the hard-working battlers, conceitedly saying: I have higher goals and aspirations, I am not going to waste my time on low, materialistic goals.
Diametrically opposite choices – same mistake. Because each without the other is incomplete and meaningless.
Single-mindedness is not purposeful. It only appears to be so. An illusion.
Every single orientation is an illusion.
If it were not so, it would be far too easy. And the human being is not here to have it easy.
Shifu Damir: One can understand it now, while it’s being explained, but how can we maintain that awareness? Often we think we understand, but then we forget. Can daily exercise, or a different kind of training, help in fully understanding the imperative of balancing, of introducing the missing element in our life?
Master Ananda: Once it’s understood, it has to be worked on. Through recognition of what is missing, and selection of appropriate activities. Allocating time for both heaven and earth, for both worldly and heavenly affairs.
Otherwise, one cannot claim to have understood. If that moment of understanding was not strong enough to prompt one into a ‘balancing act’. Every true understanding is followed by action. To claim to have understood, and do nothing, is not possible.
When an aspirant claims to understand a particular issue, we always ask: What have you done in accordance with that understanding? And this is an indication of how deep the understanding is. How it is reflected in real, everyday activities.
Shifu Damir: How can we make it easier for people?
Master Ananda: There is an abundance of resources and references available for their perusal. We present complementary activities: Damir teaches tai chi, not in order to keep your students coming back to Anan-Do, but to inspire them to make room in their lives for the missing activities. For reading, or walking, or solitude. Teaching them to jump over, to oscillate, to ‘change gear’. To switch off, to meditate, to pray, to value moments of silence.
Teaching them silence.
Silencing the world.
First we have to create silence.
Then we can start filling the silence with activities that further enrich it. Such as tai chi chuan. Such as walking. Such as solitude. That’s why we like it so much here in these mountains. All of that can be found here.
We remove noise, we create silence, and then we can fill it with higher melodies.
People fear silence.
And they fear solitude.
They fear duality.
It frightens them too much.
If they try, they are likely to give up before long, because they feel guilty, as if they are doing something that might be labelled a waste of time, self-indulgence. We want them to break free of that pressure to be doing something really useful all the time, to be keeping busy, always on the run, constantly. People know busy. They’ve learnt that one well. In the work-orientated world, they’ve learnt to be part of that.
Now they have to learn separation from that, by suspending all that rattling. Not by becoming bludgers, but by becoming detached, creating moments for themselves, for work on one’s self, without guilt.
People fear they might be missing out on something. In order not to miss out, they believe constant racing is the only answer.
Shifu Damir: That’s why we’ve pointed out there is also yin within Tai Chi, and clarified the meaning of the S-curve. As the universal symbol, it shows that everything must have its opposite, so such moments of ‘suspended animation’ shouldn’t be viewed as a waste of time. But people are usually looking for a short-term goal.
Master Ananda: People are trained to live in the fast lane. They try to pack in as much as possible. Without pausing to think what “as much as possible” actually means.
To make the most of life, what does it mean?
To make the most what? The most money? The most fun? Or to accumulate assets and have heaps of children so that something can be left to someone in your will?
Is that what it means, to make the most of your life?
We find this obvious in people's obsession to make “the most of my day”, “the most of my abilities”, what does it mean?
If they’re asked, they don’t really know.
When people die and we meet them, of whom do we say they made the most of their life, and of whom do we say they wasted theirs?
We can say those who make the most of life are those who are concerned with the eternal, without neglecting the temporal. Who recognise the need for duality in life. Who complete tasks and get closer to fulfilling the purpose.
The purpose is much harder to define than tasks. Tasks we can define in time and space, with deadlines and framework, which makes them much more attractive. That’s why it is so easy for people to immerse themselves in tasks, to find themselves entrapped. The purpose is not so easy to define, so we talk in terms of “getting closer”, of bringing a well-defined aspect or realm, on one hand, into balance with a vague and mysterious realm on the other, a realm where achievements are not measured by any standard means.
people die after accomplishing great things on just one plane, the earthly,
they arrive crippled. Of little use. Good only to be sent back, to learn
to work on the opposite. So they go back. But they often overcompensate:
they neglect the area that was their domain in the previous life, and
get stuck in the opposite one. The same mistake – excessive attachment.
So they again arrive useless, and are sent back again. As many times
as it takes. Until they learn to balance…