Wednesday, June 29, 2016
The Illusion of Conflict
I love the taiji (yin yang) symbol. So much so that when I saw these bowls at the pet store, I couldn’t resist getting a pair for my dog. I smile every time I fill them with food and water. Although the significance of this symbol is likely lost on Rosie, it is a daily reminder to me of the perfect harmony of nature.
You are probably familiar with the design in which two curving shapes create a perfect circle. The two curving shapes represent yin (darker) and yang (lighter). Yin and yang are sometimes thought of as opposites, each with various associations–yin with the receptive, mysterious, feminine, earth; yang with the creative, manifest, masculine, heaven.
Rather than opposites, however, the symbol reveals the complementary wholeness of the circle as the two shapes eternally flow one into the other. This is emphasized by the small dots (represented by pawprints in the bowl), a light dot in the darker shape and a dark dot in the lighter shape, showing that the essence of each is contained in the other.
The Tao Te Ching teaches that the complementary movement of the Tao and the “ten thousand things” (the universe) is one of manifesting into creation and returning to mystery.
Nature reflects this in the seasons. The first day of summer is the longest day of the year. As summer progresses, however, the days get shorter, heralding the coming winter. I’m always uplifted on the first day of winter, knowing that as we enter the period of cold, rainy months, each day is getting longer, promising that summer will come again.
Joy and sadness cycle in their turn, yet each is part of the whole process of opening the heart.
Even our breath reflects this, as each inhale and exhale flow in rhythmic exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
When faced with an apparent conflict, this symbol helps me shift from a stuck adversarial perspective. It teaches me to look for the movement of complementary ideas, each reflecting some common value. Instead of using force against force, yielding allows the cycle to turn, creating openings for other ideas naturally to emerge. Harmonious resolution is then possible, and if not achieved, then at least my inner harmony is maintained.
I witnessed this recently when two parents were arguing about whether their water-averse child should take swimming lessons. One parent said that the child should not be forced to swim if she was afraid of the water. The other parent said that lessons were important to help the child become comfortable in the water. They were stuck in what they perceived to be opposite, immovable positions.
What I saw was that both parents were in total agreement on the key points. They both loved their child, both wanted their child to be comfortable in the water, and neither believed that forcing the child into the water was the way to achieve this. When they finally recognized their common ground, they quickly agreed to provide opportunities for the child to be around water with a skilled teacher who could (hopefully) gradually and gently help the child learn to enjoy the water. There never really was a conflict.
And really, there never is.
The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang. They achieve harmony by combining these forces. ~Tao Te Ching