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The Treasures of Our Yin (Shadow) Side

In religion and spirituality, we often talk about light and love as being good and desirable.  The dark is ignored or discussed as undesirable, often equated to evil.  Is the distinction really so black and white?

My background as daughter of Chinese immigrants means that I view darkness from the perspective as providing balance to the light, as in yin to the yang.  According to the yin yang notion of dualism in Chinese philosophy, light cannot exist without dark, and visa versa.  They are also integrated within each other.

For example, I would say the untimely illness and death of my beloved husband, Christopher, shortly after my sister Sabina passed away, was the darkest time of my life.  The losses only felt dark (yin) because I had experienced the light (yang) of our beautiful relationships; thus, the dark and light swirls of the yin yang symbol.

Recall that within each swirl of the symbol is a circle of the opposing color.  For example, the downside (dark) of my beautiful marriage to Christopher is that sometimes comfort breeds complacency.  We’re not going to learn and grow as much as when we have friction and challenge.  Alternatively, the light circle in the dark yin swirl represents the opportunity for learning, growth, love, and light, that is inherent in all challenges.

The dualism of the dark and light coexist at all times, and one is not possible without the other.  There is nothing inherently evil or bad about the dark, for just as when the sun shines on one side of the mountain, the other side is enveloped in darkness. Nighttime turns into day, and visa versa.  It’s natural and inevitable, as long as both sides are in balance.

Woo-woo types like me often focus on bringing love and light and we sometimes forget that the dark accompanies the light.  When we forget, we may have a tendency to repress and bury the dark side of our feelings, beliefs, past actions, etc, where it can then take on a life of its own because of imbalance.  The more we repress or deny the dark, the more we create a risky situation, similar to an unbalanced tire wobbling off its axle.

I know that this is true for our unpleasant emotions or feelings.  For example, grief or sadness are dark side emotions that grow and fester when left to smolder without proper acknowledgement.  Ignoring the feelings causes them to intensify and create imbalance, resulting in either an outward explosion, inflicting anger on others, or an inward explosion, inflicting damage on self as depression or anxiety.

In terms of our interpersonal relationships, I refer to my relationship with Christopher.  If we refused to acknowledge the dark side of our relationship, ie, the unresolved issues and resentments, then those resentments fester and seep out in ways that avidly avoid the main issue.  I might get snippy, complain about him leaving the toilet seat up, or perpetrating some other unremitting, senseless, and recurring argument that allows me to vent my anger without addressing the heart of the issue.  Shining a light on our dark feelings and beliefs deflates them to surmountable and manageable hurdles and provides a chance to restore balance.

I believe that such dynamics also occur on a community level and even in our relationship with Earth.  Our unresolved emotions about past mistreatment and injustices of human and non-human others can cause us to repress our feelings, which otherwise come spilling out in unexpected and unhealthy ways.   When we are unconscious in our harm of others, we subconsciously create feelings of guilt that erupt inexplicably as internal or external anger or rage and for presumably other reasons.

We don’t have to be slaves to these unconscious feelings, beliefs, and behaviors that create conflict and depression.  We can become more self-aware about how we process our feelings and beliefs, and more intentionally explore our dark side.

When we are aware of negative feelings or beliefs, we can maintain balance by going through the feelings and beliefs, instead of getting “over” them.  Going through, by naming and feeling the emotion and/or belief, allows one to preserve the existing balance.

As we go through feelings and beliefs, we can uncover the dark’s gifts and lessons and bring them into the light.  The bigger the challenge, the bigger the gift available to us that can be used to enrich our lives.  The more frequently we dive, the greater our confidence and resilience in bouncing back from these challenges.

2018 was the worst year of my life, and by 2019 I was left to pick up both the pieces of my life and the gifts of my trauma.  The gifts were my spiritual journey and starting the Foundation for Family and Community Healing, both providing meaningful work and a sense of purpose for my losses.

A What the he** attitude didn’t hurt either.

Collectively we are experiencing loss of all kinds:  health, jobs, financial loss, homes, autonomy, and even loved ones. Many of us also have some discretionary time where we can go hunting for treasure buried in the darkness, silver linings galore.

Have you explored the yang (silver lining) for your yin (loss)?  If not, say What the he** and join me on these travels.