Take a Risk: Balancing Your Yin and Yang
I had this post all done and ready to upload when Jim made this comment. I thought it and my answer fit in so well that I wanted to include it here.
Really enjoyed your post. I live in a house, but have always envied those who don’t. Never understood why!?!? I feel isolated from the real world and burdened by stuff. My wife does not feel the same way. The truth is, she is not happy living in a house managing all of her stuff, but she can’t see past the security or tradition that comes from house living. Most people would be happier living in a small space with less stuff, but will never take the leap. Only the brave actually do it!! Jim
Jim, you are very right! Most people are contented to live a barely acceptable life as long as it is safe and comfortable. Pursuing happiness is risky, and today we hate risk. You are right, only the brave do it. I wasn’t one of the brave ones. I was unhappy my whole life, but never unhappy enough or brave enough to do anything about it. Then, suddenly, circumstances forced me out of my comfort zone into mobile living kicking and screaming. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. Bob
Jim’s story and mine are very common. Most of us truly do live lives of quiet desperation, too afraid to do anything to change it. You may think I am exaggerating, but you wouldn’t if you got my email. I frequently get letters from people who are like me; circumstances are forcing them out of their comfort zone and into vandwelling. Many of them are worried that it is very risky if they become vandwellers. They write me to see if it is really safe.
That just fits into a general pattern I see everywhere around me: our country is obsessed with safety. Everything in our society is designed and planned with only one thought: making us safer and eliminating all possible risk from our lives. From the cradle to the grave the government is involved in every tiny aspect of our life searching out every possible risk that might present even the most remote chance of danger. And they have been very successful; we live very, very safe lives.
You would think the result would be a great upsurge in happiness and we would be a contented and happy people. But just the opposite is true. The rates of depression are skyrocketing among every group except the Amish. By all measurements we are becoming tremendously alienated from each other. Most of us spend all out time inside the four walls of our homes quietly unhappy but much too afraid to do anything about it. If you get sick of that life and decide to move into a car, van or RV and live a mobile life, most people will respond that you are crazy because it is much too risky. They are convinced you will be robbed, raped, or killed. In today’s post I want to explain the philosophical foundation of why most Americans are virtually paralyzed with fear over their safety. By understanding why we are so afraid, we can work on a solution.
One of my favorite books is the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. In the second chapter we find this introduction to the Oriental concept of Yin and Yang:
When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.
I think this is a brilliant introduction to one of the most important concepts in my life, the ancient Chinese idea of Yin and Yang. A greatly oversimplified definition is that like a coin must have two sides, everything in the universe is composed of two opposites. Here are some examples:
In the west, we are aware of this dualism but interpret it very differently. The opposite sides of the coin are seen as in a constant battle and we must choose sides. We judge one side as good and to be loved, and the other as bad and to be hated. So we curse the darkness, but love the light. We love birth, but fear and despise death. We treasure our safety above everything else and are paralyzed with fear of danger. Americans are taught from birth to embrace one side of the coin and reject the other. The two must not be mixed or mutually embraced.
At first glance you may think that this is an interesting intellectual idea but it has little practical value. But I have found just the opposite is true. Think about it this way, when you cherish one side of the coin, and despise the other side, you end up hating ½ of everything in existence. That’s a lot of hate, and makes it much too easy for society to institutionalize hate. It’s very easy to find examples:
- If darkness is bad, it’s okay to turn black people into slaves;
- If male is good then female should be seen as second-class;
- If civilization is good and Native Americans are savages, we can slaughter them and steal their land;
- If heterosexuality is normal, then homosexuals can be hated and denied their rights.
- If only the spiritual is good and physical matter is bad, it is perfectly fine to destroy the planet because it is inherently evil.
A right understanding of Yin and Yang can solve all of these problems because it teaches us to embrace and honor both sides of the coin.
“We are sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement.” Herman Hesse
All right, that’s enough theory. Let’s apply these interesting ideas to our own lives. There are three things that most of us are terrified of:
Of course we are all naturally afraid of death, pain and danger, they are very unpleasant. But if we totally reject them and fail to make room for them in our lives then we give up all hope of ever actually living or knowing true safety or comfort. To live in constant fear of death is to nerve actually live, to have a constant fear of pain creates a life filled with the pain of fear; to be consumed with safety leads to a paralysis that is much worse than any danger we will ever face. The bottom line is that the effort of constantly avoiding risk, death and discomfort is much more painful than the things you are suffering in order to avoid them.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Anais Nin
Most of us live in houses because we hope they will protect us from the danger that we perceive is all around us. In our insane pursuit of safety and comfort we run headlong into our homes. They become our fortress to lock out any those horrible, awful things, lest they somehow get us. But humans were never meant to live that way and instead of becoming a fortress of safety our houses have become a prison of fear. They become a strait-jacket that sucks all the joy and pleasure out of our lives.
By becoming a Vandweller you automatically begin to balance your Yin and Yang. When you move into a car, van or RV, you are consciously embracing risk, discomfort, some danger and even the possibility of death. Let’s face it, it is riskier to live in a van and not nearly as comfortable as living in a house, but it is worth it to you because you know it is the only way to fully embrace life.
Balance your Yin and Yang. Take a risk!!
“Everyone has a ‘risk muscle.’ You keep it in shape by trying new things. If you don’t, it atrophies. Make a point of using it at least once a day.” –Roger von Oech
“The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.” –Leo F. Buscaglia
“He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.” –Paul Tillich