The Yin Art of Listening

The idea of Yin and Yang is a universal concept that can be used to look at all different aspects of life and all phenomena: personally at levels of mind and body and more broadly at the whole world around us.  It is a way of looking at individual parts, and at the same time recognizing the whole.  It is a way of understanding dualism, how dualistic parts relate, transform into each other and at times consume each other.  This duality can be seen through concepts of woman and man, darkness and light, earth and heaven, in and out, sinking and floating, softness and hardness.  The concept of Yin and Yang also exists in cycles through time, such as planetary cycles around the sun, the seasonal cycles of the year, and the daily cycle of day and night.

We see the parts while recognizing the whole.  For example, during the different phases of the moon while see only a thin crescent, we understand that the moon in its entirety is still there, mostly in shadows.  And during the full moon when we can see only the light side, we recognize that the dark side also exists, and is a part of the whole.   Yin and Yang also exist in our physiology as well as our own physical movements, as well as in the way we interact with others.

We become aware of this concept on the individual level when we practice Taiji or Qigong and on an interactive level when pushing hands or interact with others.

One of the key ideas of yin and yang is that nothing can ever be all one or the other.  Everything is a combination of both, and that combination is always dynamically changing, never stagnant.  At any given moment in time, something may seem all Yin or all Yang, such as the winter and summer solstices respectively, but this is never the case.  Even at 99.99% yin or yang, there is still the capacity to change and become its opposite.  Yin transforms into Yang, and Yang into Yin

Similarly, nothing is ever abiding permanently at 50% Yin and 50% Yang.  Again, although it may seem that way for a moment in time, such as the balanced day and night of Spring and Autumn equinox, this is only the illusion of taking one moment out of time and forfeiting the whole fluid movement.

In order to be ready for the unexpected, it is necessary to see both Yin and Yang in everything.  Within all things and situations there is the seed of its apparent opposite.

Mentally and physically, we are at our most awake and present experience of being when we can change at any given time.  We explore balance between extremes of any situation, a balance that is dynamic and changing.

Softness and hardness are important aspects of practicing taiji.  Not only does softness and hardness apply to our physical movements, but also to our mental way of being.  One who is too hard may not ever want to lose.  Accepting loss is a form of softness.

When someone offers a negative comment or criticism and we are able to receive it with appreciation, this is an example of a Yin reaction to a Yang action, thus balancing yin and yang in our interaction with others.

Another way we can be lack yin receptivity is by not listening.  By having an answer ready before someone is finished talking, we have too much resistance, too quick of a defense.  In this way we have locked our own minds, similar to a martial arts joint lock in which the opponent becomes immobile.  This is a type of mental na.  Listening is a skill that we can learn and practice actively and mindfully.  To learn to embrace the culturally under-appreciated Yin aspect is to learn to listen without resistance, to listen without prejudice or defense, to listen with appreciation, even when the subject is challenging or when we feel reactive or triggered.  This demonstrates respect and love.  If someone is angry, their Qi has risen.  If we interrupt them and respond defensively, this likely will aggravate their anger, and potentially raise our own Qi as well.  This is responding to Yang with Yang.

To show respect when someone is angry, we may make every effort to truly listen to all they have to say.  This also supports the Qi by allowing it to sink again.  In this manner it is possible to respond with one’s own thoughts or opinions later in a more conversational and less confrontational manner.  Through mindful practice, we learn to embody both Yin and Yang, on many levels, including through fully listening before speaking or even forming a mental response.

(thanks to my Sifu Gene Chen for his introduction to and inspiration on the subject)

2 Comments

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2 Responses to The Yin Art of Listening

  1. percy

    do we really understand the truth of listening something to think about love this article

    • admin

      that part came straight from sifu, believe it or not. aren’t we all human and, dwelling in samsara, always have room to practice truly listening better… i love the quote from suzuki roshi, paraphrased “everything is perfect as it is, and there is always room for improvment”. great to see you today

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