A Spiritual Almanac – October

October 14, 2009 at 2:24 pm Leave a comment

CONTRACTION

Hexagram: 41 Sun

Mountain above Lake

After yang reaches its peak in the summer solstice, it reverts to yin. Expansion comes to an end and a slow contraction begins, the energy reversing and turning in on itself. The sap sinks from the branches of the trees, draining the vibrant green life from the leaves, drying them to burnt brown and yellow. At last the sap contracts into the earth, just as our own energies contract inwards, preparing us for the long winter’s rest.

The annual death of nature reminds us of our own mortality, and it is easy to become depressed at this season. The warmth of summer recedes in the memory and we have only the bitter cold of a long winter to look forward to. But the knowledge that Nature’s death is only temporary, and will revive again in spring gives us an insight into the cycles that dominate our lives: the contrast of day and night, the ebb and flow of the seas, the revolving seasons, the moving stars and planets, the cycles of the moon all embed us in a cyclical yet ever-changing universe. All of these cycles of nature are patterns of energy. And our body and mind are also made up of these same patterns of energy, expressing themselves in cycles: the contrast of in-breath and out-breath, the heart beating fast and slow, the cycle of digestion from food to waste, and the entire arc of our lives from birth to death, are demonstrations of energy patterning. In our bodies we are aware of this energy as prana or chi, and its free circulation determines our health and longevity.

We long for a vision of wholeness, of perceiving and living a unified life, being at one with all of creation. But this oneness can only come through an understanding of the dualities that are in us and which surround us, and make up the world of appearance that confronts us every day. Just as the Chinese believe that the endless combination of yin and yang are the two forces that make up all the universe, so the forces of duality that we live amongst make up our earthly world: love and hate, war and peace, conflict and co-operation, stress and tranquillity, aggression and compassion, profit and loss, fear and joy, sorrow and happiness, wealth and poverty, health and illness. We are surrounded and embedded in dualities, but our task is to understand that all these qualities are polar opposites leading to a higher unity that encompasses and transcends them. These dualities, since they too are expressions of energy, must represent the same cycles of energy that the universe demonstrates on the larger scale.

Our culture impels us to want to live with the yang side of these dualities: we would prefer health, wealth, joy, happiness, co-operation, tranquillity, but it is not possible to avoid the opposite yin side of things. To want one without the other is to misunderstand the nature of the universe and therefore the nature of our mind, body and spirit. The Tai Chi Chuan master Cheng Man Ching said to his students, “You must have the fearlessness to suffer loss.” For a long time I didn’t understand what this teaching meant. Why should we want to suffer loss? But I came to understand that Cheng Man Ching meant that we must not one-sidedly seek out the positive and desirable parts of life and avoid the negative, but must accept both equally and be prepared to take in the more painful and suffering side, since there is really no way that we can avoid it. If we want yang without yin, we will not succeed in life. There must be the cold of winter to insure the heat of summer. As he said, “It’s only when a person is able to suffer great loss that in the end he will have great gain.” If we want to be whole we need to become aware of and accept the dark shadow side of life, and that also means the dark shadow side to ourselves. In the end we must accept contraction as well as expansion, which means accepting and coming to terms with our inevitable death. As the Tao Te Ching says,

Recognise the white

But hold on to the black

And be the world’s guide.

Being the world’s guide

Don’t stray from ancient virtue

Not straying from ancient virtue

Be without limits again.

When someone asked Cheng Man Ching, “What is the most important reason to practise Tai Chi Chuan? “ he said, “The most important reason is that when you finally reach the place where you understand what life is about, you’d have some health to enjoy it. “ One can repeat this about yoga practise and study – when yoga helps us to finally come to an understanding of some of life’s meaning, it also gives us the health and energy to enjoy and revel in it. When Jews celebrate together, the toast we make is ‘L’Chaim’ – To Life – and the decision to always choose life means to choose the path of spiritual life rather than death, to choose light rather than darkness, to always try to do the right thing, and in all of life to seek out and follow the truth of our own being, as far as we are able. It is only by following this true path that we can find any happiness, satisfaction and true meaning in life.

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Entry filed under: Spiritual Almanack.

From my Journal – April 13 2002 What Is It To Be Enlightened?

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