The Yin and Yang of Our Livesby Saul Levine August 24, 2017
Has your life ever felt like a roller coaster? We might blissfully enjoy a period of serenity when changes suddenly occur, with twists and turns, rises and plunges. Whether pleasurable or painful, unexpected changes are part of our journeys.
Life can be joyful or sorrowful, benevolent or brutal, as we weave our complex stories of love and loss, joy and sorrow, serenity and conflict. We all live unique personal dramas, with fascinating plot lines in which we are the lead actors.
We’ve been happy, yet known despair; generous, yet sometimes selfish; courageous yet tasted fear; and we’ve had successes and failures. Each of us experiences, exults and endures, as represented in the “Yin and Yang of Life.”
The Yin and Yang depicts ancient Chinese life forces believed by many as inherently opposite tendencies of all human experience, feelings and behavior. When extremes of achievement or suffering confront us, we might be prone to jump to conclusions about the quality and direction of our lives. In times of success, we can get carried away with overconfidence about ourselves, our lives and future. And when we face setbacks, we might become pessimistic and despairing.
What is of more significance than our varied experiences, however, is how we deal with these changes. “Ride the waves,” we are advised, but we are sentient emotional beings. When unwelcome physical or emotional pain occurs, we might shed tears, but we must keep in mind that time and helping people will make things better. After the initial shock and feelings of helplessness, we regroup and gather our thoughts, and we use our strengths and our resources and relationships to overcome and recover.
When we experience peace of mind or success, we enjoy the accompanying “glow,” but we should beware of hubris: Just as loss is never an ultimate defeat, success is never an ultimate triumph. The present is a mere snapshot in our varying journeys, and does not reflect how we’ll be in the future. In periods of calm, we need to cherish what we have, because blips will occur on our radar screens. How we courageously confront setbacks and graciously accept successes are good indications our self-worth and our wisdom.
While transient changes on the road of life will inevitably occur, we can be assured that our journeys will eventually return to a state of stability and calm. As Rudyard Kipling poetically (and insightfully) put it, “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters[!] just the same, you are a better man than most, my friend.”
We are measured in part by whether we handle our achievements with grace and our setbacks with courage, and especially how we treat others. When we traverse periods of sadness and loss with planning and hope, we show how grounded we are within ourselves, our families and communities. When good fortune smiles upon us, it is our gratitude and generosity of spirit which determine our worthiness.
Thriving entails feeling comfortable with our “Four B’s,” our senses of Being (personal), Belonging (social), Believing (spiritual), and Benevolence (altruistic). These augment each other and enhance the quality of our lives. Together with our resilience, they enable us to create a Positive Emotional Footprint, the summation of our effects on and legacies to others.
In addition to appreciating our unique journeys, thriving involves having empathy for the triumphs and tribulations of others. By sharing our humanity, we ennoble our own lives, as well as theirs.
Our personal odysseys also benefit from having a sense of awe, an awareness of our infinitesimal yet vital place in the cosmos. Life can be a meaningful journey, a quest for personal growth, stimulation, love, security, serenity and wisdom. Rather than “making the best of it,” let us instead “make it the best it can be.”