A meditation on yin and yang energy. Or….don’t just do something, sit there!
I am guilty. Guilty, guilty, guilty. I have become so over committed and in-action in my life that I am unable to properly meet and honor the commitments that I have to myself, my family, my present and my future. What with moving to the new office space, getting the school through the state’s licensing process and then getting ready to teach students in the fall, my speaking schedule, my weekly load of 12 to 18 client sessions, and two committed book projects, yes, I am stretched WAY too thin.
Mind you, it’s not the first time I’ve found myself in this situation. I am a naturally busy, active person who likes to see things accomplished. I love the sense of creating something new, of serving others, of setting goals and meeting them.
But I also love the feeling of doing nothing. And I realize that without this quiet energy, this “yin” time, the active time, the “yang” time, takes on a different feeling. Rather than effortlessly flowing through projects and being in the moment and joyful throughout what I do (and I really do love what I do), without enough “yin” time in my schedule I find myself feeling pressed, pressured, forced, and resistant.
Maybe you can relate?
I also know from experience that when I build more yin time into my life, that my yang time not only feels better, but the results are better: my clients are happier, my family is happier, I am happier. And I sure can do without that feeling that life is going so fast that it’s over before it begins.
What is this yin and yang energy? They’re both necessary; it’s when they get out of balance that you find yourself in trouble. And I see it over and over in my clients. Even taking on too much of activities that you love becomes too much.
Yang energy, most people think of as “productive” energy. But both yin and yang are productive energies. Yang is your outwardly focused, immediate, “see what I accomplished” energy. Yin is your quiet, inwardly focused, calming, creativity-releasing energy. Spend too much time out of balance without enough yin time and you will find yourself feeling stressed out and when you are stressed out, a whole cascade of not good things starts to happen. Cortisol increases and doesn’t decrease properly; your thinking becomes more scattered and less focused; your decisions are poorer; your physical, mental and emotional health start to suffer.
When did this happen to us, anyway? People used to sit on their front porch and just sit and sip something. Without texting, or Tweeting, or emailing, or talking on the phone. Yin time is unplugged time. Americans have become busier and busier in recent decades, and that extends to time that used to be leisure time but is now committed to being connected. In her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One has the Time, Brigid Schulte says, “As for multitasking, one 2012 survey found that 38 million Americans shop on their smartphones while sitting on the toilet. And another found that the compulsion to multitask was making us as stupid as if we were stoned.”
The remedy? Blissful time spent doing nothing. And I mean literally nothing. Take a glass of something yummy, find a nice chair where you can see nature, and sit. Watch raindrops falling into puddles or bees visiting the flowers. And do nothing. Sounds easy? Not really. Believe it or not, doing this builds a skill. Because here’s what I bet will happen. You’ll sit down to do nothing and within 3 minutes or less, your yang mind will start to nag you with what you “could” or “should” be doing. Tell that part of you “thank you, that’s a great idea, but not now.” If you do this a few times, reentering yourself in the moment, your yang mind will get clever and start to feed you ideas that feel very creative, things you would enjoy doing. And you’ll be tempted to think, “aha!” I’ve tapped into my yin energy, there’s that creative spark, and that’s something I can do right now!”
Moving back into motion right now is what your yang mind wants you to do. If you fall for that, you’ll never build up the skill to sit for 20 minutes, and you’ll never reap the tremendous benefits of doing so. There’s an old proverb that says, if you don’t feel like you have time for a half hour a day of meditation (yin time) in your life, then what you really need is an hour! If you’ve really created such a time monster through over commitment that you can’t find 20 minutes a day of yin time, then you really need to re-evaluate your priorities. What is this overly busy life you’ve created doing to you? What are you getting out of it? Are you using busy-ness as avoidance? Or have you just succumbed to the American paradox? (The American Paradox is the idea that the more we have and the more we achieve…the LESS happy we are.)
So, be daring, bold and resolute, and tell your clever yang mind, “that IS a great idea. Keep it for me for later.” And return to your yin time. If it helps, keep a notebook and jot down the ideas, but resist the urge to turn this into journaling time. That is another ACTIVITY. It’s a great one, but it is truly different than this.
You may also have the kind of yang mind that tries to guilt you into action after a few yin minutes. Be prepared for that to happen. “You COULD throw in a load of laundry, THEN come back and sit here.” No. This is sacred time. Resist the urge to make it double-up time. Part of the challenge, the growth, of this practice is to recognize a different kind of productivity.
You may have to build up to 20 minutes, and that’s fine. Start with 5 minutes a day for a week, then add 5 minutes at a time, each week, until you reach 20 minutes. The fact that you find this challenging and that it requires dedication should underscore for you that it IS in fact a skill to take this yin time, and as so it does literally change your brain’s wiring.
As you become proficient at taking your yin time, you will find yourself feeling more focused, more calm. You may find that you are naturally letting go of old coping mechanisms, like nail biting, snacking, etc. You may find yourself become more creative and intuitive. Again, yin time IS productive time, and without the yin, the seeming productivity of the yang quickly reaches a point of diminishing return. Think yin time isn’t time well spent? Blogger Michelle Garrett notes:
Writers, songwriters, actors, inventors and philosophers have all been known to get their best ideas while doing nothing. Whether it’s a nap, a shower, driving, yard work, or cleaning, creativity is often at its peak when we allow our minds to not focus on the problem we’re trying to solve, but instead let it rest. Problems get solved, final acts get written and songs get composed.
Stephanie Meyer says the concept for her Twilight series came to her in a dream. J.K. Rowling says the world of Harry Potter came to her fully formed while she was riding a train. The song “Pretty Woman” was written when Roy Orbison was just playing anything that came to mind. His wife said she was going to go to the store, his partner, Bill Dees, made a comment and Orbison sang “Pretty woman… walking down the street.” The song was finished that day, recorded a week later and a week after that the song was out.
So, do yourself a favor. Don’t just do something–sit there. Create balance in your mind and in your life. In making this commitment to yourself, you may find that you need to release some previous commitments. Do so planfully and with love, and remember sometimes self-love is tough love. I’ve worked with many people who think they “can’t” reduce the number of commitments in their lives, people who were literally overworking themselves into poor health, obesity, disease. Make a commitment today–start small–just 5 minutes a day. Build it up over time. Feel the difference. Remember, you are responsible for your life and health–and responsible means, “able to respond.” If you’re feeling the stress of over commitment, how will you respond?
So, I admitted I am guilty, guilty, guilty of letting my yang energy get carried away. And I am making the commitment to be responsible to myself–to my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. I am committing to starting with 10 minutes a day and I am building up to 30. Starting right now. You can check with me on it–I welcome you as my accountability partners! Will you join me?