Friday, January 27, 2012

Assertiveness and Receptivity I

Scott Bradley

In "A Heart Like a Meadow" (yesterday's post) I found myself faced with the prospect of advocating what would appear to be a one-sided view of the human response to being-in-the-world. Everything happens to a meadow; a meadow does nothing. Yet, the meadow is an event of wonderful fecundity. The meadow is Yin.

Yin and Yang are concepts which I have assiduously avoided for the simple reason that, within the literature of Chinese philosophy, they seem to have become things-in-themselves, actual forces at work in the cosmos; they have become entities in a purely speculative cosmology which I have no desire to adopt or promote. For the same reason, I have not given much time to their study; nor have I thought much about them. Yet I find myself confronted with the same kinds of issues from which the concepts of Yin and Yang arose. So, I am going to wade into this swamp knowing full well I will soon be out of my depth and swimming to I know not where.

Ego is Yang. Yang is assertiveness. Yang proclaims itself to be. Yang insists on itself as opposed to others. Yang must occupy space. Yang confronts the world because it is not the world and in that confrontation affirms itself.

Can an ego exercise some appearance of Yin? Of course. But it can never actually be it. The ego can only surrender or exercise receptivity for egoic purposes, the purposes of Yang.

Yang, it would seem, is the foundation of human self-assertion and the norm of human interaction with the world. Taoism, like every religious philosophy, assumes the problematical nature of this reality. That there is a problem, psychologically, sociologically and ecologically is a given of our experience. We need not endeavor to 'prove' it. Taoism's remedy for this problem is to suggest the way of Yin.

Yin is receptivity. Yin is acceptance. Yin is surrender. Yin is wu-wei. Yin is non-confrontational. It is the way of water, which follows the path of least resistance and gladly fills the lowest places which Yang disdains. It is the way of the valley, which receives and channels all the waters of the world.

The way of water is one of powerlessness. And yet this powerlessness is most powerful. Water transforms by virtue of its giving way. And Taoism understands all true transformation as similarly realized. And Taoism believes that such transformation actually takes place, both within individuals and in the societies in which those individuals dwell.

I subscribe to this way of Yin and in writing about it, exercise Yang. And of this, I will yang more in the next post.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. If there were a crack and water went into it then the crack was yin in this case and the water yang. Should the water freeze it may yang more so and even yang seeming rock could crack. I don't know that we can say water is yin or wu wei is yin. I don't think anything can be yin or yang but an expression of both intermingling.

  2. You can't really analyze yin and yang like this so easily; that's why the next step is wuxing, the interplay of the five "elements" which describe how change occurs. (And then the bagua..and the hexagrams.)

  3. I love the openness and receptivity of yin - and how it works as a wonderful counter to the striving eagerness of yang - it is life in all it's differences and wonder. Thanks for your writing it really helps me see a new viewpoint on some ancient concepts.


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