Monday, March 16, 2009


I've been in a Daoist mood recently, practicing some chi kung (Daoist energetic cultivation) and doing some reading. Pulling the Tao Te Ching off my parents' book shelf was my first encounter with Eastern philosophy (thanks parents!), and even before that I found myself inexplicably drawn to the yin-yang symbol. Perhaps I was a sage in a past life...

I find the philosophy of yin-yang compelling, elegant, and useful. It offers a way to understand the nature of dualities - light and dark, expansion and contraction, heat and cold - and how they interact within and without. One of the main principles is that when something is taken to an extreme, it transforms into its opposite. For example, hard physical labor requires rest. Cold weather produces a fever. Rapid movement often comes to a crashing halt.

As the recession continues, and the populace cries out "How could this happen?", the Daoist is not surprised. The economy had reached such an extreme state - trillions of dollars in CDO's based on a mathematical fantasy, hyperinflated real estate prices, endless consumption supported by endless debt - it was inevitable that Nature would balance herself out. When the Yang Bull is over-leveraged, it turns into the Yin Bear. In retrospect, to think that our economy could continue to grow forever was akin to thinking summer would never turn into winter.

Our economy has become so disconnected from Nature. When everything is reduced to numbers/screens/images/words, it's easy to forget material reality (exhibit A: climate change). Now as our economy flips from one extreme to the other, many are forced to confront the inconveniently physical needs of the body: food, shelter, healthcare.

But in this return (recession) to the material basis of things, there is great opportunity to create new patterns. Our actual needs are quite small, no matter what advertisers may tell us. I am hopeful that this time of anxiety and uncertainly will inspire us to collectively and individually seek balance, rather than just a return to previous extremes. The Dao guarantees that this time of recession will once again transform into growth, but if we try to return to how things were just a few years ago, the yo-yo effect will continue. The Middle Way may not be as exciting, but it's a lot more peaceful.

To close, a related quote from the latest issue of Yoga Chicago, by Swami Kriyananda:

"All that is needed to break free from past karma is to learn the lesson of this lifetime: to master the mind's infatuation and obsession with excitement."

(To read a entertaining, accessible, but accurate translation of the Tao te Ching, follow this link.)

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