The central tenet of Taoism is balance. For years westerners scoffed at this simplistic sounding concept. They poked fun at anybody who promoted the idea of harmony; only a dimwitted hippie or a utopianistic dreamer would think something like that could solve any type of problem!
Beginning in the 6os though, the Yin-Yang symbol started to work its way into American pop culture. It became cool or chic to talk about the I Ching or to have a Yin-Yang bumper sticker on the back fender of your VW bus. Mind you, few people seriously contemplated the intricacies of the concept of balance, but at least the outward manifestations of it did become more accepted.
It's such a shame this basic concept hasn't been able to establish a foothold in the American consciousness. If people would objectively look at the world we'’ve created around us, it's readily apparent that a great deal of the pain and suffering that most of us experience is due to the fact our planet and society is so far OUT of balance.
Much of the blame for this sorry predicament must be laid at the foot of the western capitalist system. Capitalism is defined by two extremes: 1) A never ending drive to accumulate and 2) It's a decidedly egocentric philosophy.
As I discussed in the entry immediately below this one, capitalism creates stress by constantly driving us to crave more. No goal that a person, family, company or nation achieves is ever enough. As soon as you scale one peak, you immediately focus on the next highest one.
This constant drive to achieve more and more creates a constant state of tension or stress. It's something few can escape from. It follows us around like heavy ball-and-chain we must drag from place to place. It's like a constant yoke around our necks, squeezing away the ability to enjoy life for its own sake.
Since we must deal with its continual vise-like grip on our souls, we have a tendency to focus solely on our own needs. It's like having one of those monster headaches. Who cares about anyone else, their wants or needs? All we care about is getting rid of the damn headache!
Of course, the medicine we reach for to relieve capitalistic stress is the precise thing that fuels it! We think to ourselves, “If I can just work a little harder or make a little more money, then I can ease off a bit”. Unfortunately, this remedy never works because, as soon as we get to where we think we want to be, we realize there's an even BETTER place somewhere up ahead.
Because we live on the proverbial treadmill, we must necessarily concentrate on our own short-term needs and focusing on our own short-term needs too often conflict with the most basic principle of nature -- balance.
You see, capitalism only concerns itself with one side of this two-sided equation. The mantra of capitalism is more, an increase, to accumulate. Opposed to this philosophy is the reality of the universe which stipulates that an increase in one place or aspect means a DECREASE somewhere else.
In other words, if you increase an aspect of your life in one area, some other area will suffer a corresponding decrease. A classic example of this is increasing your workload. People who tend to put their careers first encounter deficiencies in their family life. They spend so many hours working (8, 10, 12 or 14 hour days), it leaves little time to get to know your spouse or children. And, despite the financial security such work might create, it's not uncommon that your spouse and children will greatly resent it!
In part III of this discussion (Finding Balance), I'll discuss the reasons why we each should willingly jump off the treadmill to work to create harmony in our individual and collective lives.