I’ll start with the principle of Um and Yang (Korean version, Yin and Yang for the Chinese version) which demonstrates how the apparent opposites of hard and soft, light and dark, etc. are really two interconnected parts of the whole. There is no light without dark and no dark without light. Any attempt to separate them (in nature) becomes an exercise in futility and frustration.
As a martial artist, my goal in training and learning to fight and defend myself is to never have to use those skills and avoid fights where possible. Through my martial arts I started learning meditation. This exposed me to more harmonizing opposites such as setting the goal of stilling my mind but not focusing on and chasing the goal.
Over the years I’ve discovered many apparent opposites that were in fact dependent on each other to form a cohesive whole. This, I believe, is the underlying task when dealing with duality; figure out how opposites are truly connected.
My first experience with this was around my martial arts training and applying practical self-defense. In not wanting to accidentally hurt someone, I was often too timid in applying and practicing techniques. This led to the techniques being ineffective and a more bruises than I cared to count.
This led me to explore what it meant to be a pacifist, or at least what I understood it to be at the time which led me to find I had moved towards inaction; and since I’m not someone who likes to sit on the sidelines, that didn’t work out. What I eventually came to find was a quote from the Dalai Lama summing it up for me;
“I consider non-violence to be compassion in action. It doesn’t mean weakness, cowering in fear, or simply doing nothing. It is to act without violence, motivated by compassion, recognising the rights of others.” – Dalai Lama
Coming to this understanding allowed me to get out of my own way in refining my techniques. I’m still careful and do my best to avoid hurting my practice partners, but I also recognize that running up to that edge and (if our skill levels are roughly equal) going full tilt have benefits that shouldn’t be avoided.
I’ve found that reaching into the yoga bag and using non-attachment (I learned it as aparigraha) as the lens to see how the opposites harmonize. I get frustrated when I’m not able to reach my goals and it only makes me focus more on reaching that goal; and that has always led to more pressure and stress. This leads to obstacles in achieving my goals because now I have the extra weight of stress, pressure (all self-induced) which saps my energy.
Working to detach myself from the outcome while still working towards my goals (opposition as promised) has been a challenging discovery. It’s not easy, but the benefits of getting out of my own way are well worth the effort I put into it. How do I do it?
Dissect why it I put so much importance on the outcome
Self-examination, self-examination, self-examination. Holding up that mirror to see why you are attaching to something and understanding the emotions that are brought up. Once you have that understanding, you can start to choose if you are happy with that reaction, or if you want to change it.
It just isn’t possible to change something we aren’t aware of.
It sounds like common sense once you hear it, but it took me some time to come up with that on my own. Take the time to make space and not judge the reactions you have, but to experience them and decide if you liked what you felt. If you liked it, keep going, if not, you are now aware of that and can consciously choose to change either the situation or how you react to it.
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
– Andy Warhol
I’ve found these techniques work well no matter what I am exploring. I hope you find these useful in your daily life as I have. If you have other techniques or thoughts to share, I encourage you to leave comments here.