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STAYING SUPPLE – Letting Go of Extreme Opinions

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 282 - November 2022

 

"All things carry Yin and embrace Yang. They reach harmony by blending with the vital breath."

Lao Tsu

 

The Rigid Mind Set

Several months into the first year of the Covid pandemic I was getting out of my car when a smartly dressed stranger came up to me asking for directions to a local street. Having pointed the way for her we exchanged pleasantries and went on to share our concerns about the pandemic. Without any encouragement on my part she then told me how much she was looking forward to getting the soon to be made available Covid vaccine (the first round of vaccines was just starting to be released) and asked me if I was similarly happily anticipating getting vaccinated. When I replied that maybe I wouldn't get the shot she responded by unleashing a torrent of criticism, abuse and insults at me before angrily storming off. Her opinion was obviously very important to her but I sensed that beneath her anger she was no doubt intensely fearful of contracting the disease.

We were all shaken by this unexpected pandemic and our feelings of insecurity and fearfulness increased as the disease spread. Deaths, lock downs and job losses soon followed and as economic difficulties increased, all of this, along with enforced separations from loved ones, and the often stressful aspects of working from home, created huge swathes of physical and emotional suffering for many people. We are not out of the woods yet as Covid 19 is still with us and moreover we are faced with climate change and at the time of writing, the war in Ukraine, a change of government leadership, fuel and food price rises and a possible economic recession. All of these changes are challenging for most of us and feelings of fearfulness, anger and sadness are appropriate in the circumstances. However during the pandemic and even still, many of us responded to life's changes by inappropriately defending extremely rigid opinions.

Its human nature and perfectly natural to cultivate opinions and of course it is important to freely debate issues but throughout the pandemic in the news, on social media platforms, amongst friends and neighbours, many of us seemed to become increasingly divided in our opinions – often taking quite aggressive standpoints. Whether it was a discussion about government Covid policies, Covid vaccinations, mask wearing, how our children should be schooled or issues unconnected to Covid such as the BLM movement or transgender issues, many of us seemed to get stuck in polarized positions one side viewing itself as utterly “right” whilst perceiving the other side as totally “wrong”. ‘Trolling’ became commonplace and debates became heated to the point where people were ‘cancelling’ others for their opinions. It felt to me as if many of us had become infected with a mental virus separating us from each other and leaving us with a rigidity of mind. This was happening at the very time when we needed to soften, open up and come together to care for and support one another.

 

https://pixabay.com/vectors/yin-yang-eastern-asian-philosophy-1817575/

Courtesy: GDJ  on Pixabay

 

Lao Tsu in the Dao de Ching teaches flexibility in mind and body and suggests that yielding is not, as many think, a sign of weakness but instead is a sign of strength. Letting go of our opinions, yielding to meet others with tolerance does not mean we necessarily accept the others viewpoint but it does mean we feel strong enough to be open to other opinions rather than feel threatened by them. Sadly, an inability to tolerate other viewpoints means we can lose a sense of our connectedness – feeling threatened by another opinion exacerbates differences between us and all of this may leave us feeling divided, tense, stressed, and ultimately unwell.

Daoism has a wise perspective on the issue of polarised thinking through its understanding of Yin and Yang and it is with this perspective that we may find a way back to being tolerant and kind towards each other.

Yin and Yang

Whilst we may embrace an opinion as ‘good’ and spurn another opinion as ‘bad’, whilst we may judge a situation or behaviour as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ Daoism sees both as two extremes of a single spectrum and aims to maintain balance and harmony between the two.  This view can be seen through the Daoist terms of Yin and Yang both of which, although positive and negative poles, are in fact inseparable – you cannot have one without the other and the universe has manifested through their interaction. Yin is sunless, dark, female, cool, passive whereas Yang is sunny, light, male, hot, active. These aspects appear to be opposites but are in fact interdependent, they give rise to each other in the natural world as they interrelate to one another. In life light and dark are inseparable – it is the nature of existence that they cannot be separated. By rigidly sticking to one opinion as ‘right’ and rejecting the other as ‘wrong’ we are inviting a state of imbalance and disharmony as life in fact is one undivided whole where everything belongs and works together.

The Daoist story of the farmer and his horse shows us that it is helpful to let go of fixed opinions about events or issues. One day the farmer's horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbours came to visit. “Such bad luck,” was the general opinion. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse came back bringing with it three other wild horses. “How marvellous,” the neighbours exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the farmer. The following day his son tried to ride one of the wild horses and fell off breaking his leg. The neighbours saw this as an awful event. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The next day soldiers came to the village to conscript young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

Often we make a judgement, have an opinion on whether something is good or bad, lucky or unlucky when we have no idea how that will eventually turn out. The farmer in the story experienced life as one undivided whole where everything belongs together – he kept an open mind, he accepted each turn of events philosophically and in doing so retained his equilibrium and mental health in the face of challenging changes. .

Everything is composed of cycles of flux and change, everything is supple and moving –nothing ever remains the same. Once we truly recognize and accept this, we can relax as we realize there is no fixed and certain reality – everything in the universe is in a state of energetic movement, waxing and waning, rising and falling as Yin moves into a Yang state and vice versa. We may create firm ideas and opinions about ourselves and how the world should be but the fact is that everything is in a process of change and flow. Letting go of entrenched ideas, freeing our minds we cultivate a sense of balance and harmony. In this way we regulate our stress hormones and return ourselves to a state of mental and emotional wellbeing –and thus become more supportive to each other in spite of differing opinions.

Tips for Staying Supple

  • Let go of getting involved in debates on media platforms. These cultivate extreme black and white positions and discussions can became very heated. Let go also of viewing overly opinionated news channels;
  • When voicing opinions or hearing others do so, recognize the connection between your body and your emotions. Breathe out, relax your shoulders and let go of any and all strong feelings as they arise without getting attached to them. Tune in and listen to the calm inner voice of your intuition;
  • Be patient and practise listening with empathy rather than getting ready to voice your opinion. If you feel passionate about an issue be interested in other perspectives and choose to see issues from a viewpoint other than your own. This does not mean you choose to agree or go along with a certain opinion but listening with openness to another opinion cultivates balance. From this balanced position solutions can be found;
  • Practise compassion – in Daoism this is the highest virtue and opens our Hearts to all life without judgement;
  • Cultivate a daily practice of Tai Chi or Chi Gung – a flexible body encourages a flexible mind.

Comments:

  1. Tom said..

    There have been dozens of fear-based pandemics and none have resulted in killing off mankind. I will hang on the my extremely solid anti-vaxxer stance...it may be an extreme opinion, but there are NO scientifically based facts backed by true evidence that supports ever getting any vaccination for anything.

    I will never tell others what to do and respectfully submit that they will never control my decisions.


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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984. She practised acupuncture in Scotland until the pandemic when she retired. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living is an ‘inside out’ way of thinking about and managing Post Polio Syndrome (PPS). To purchase A Balanced Way Of Living please visit  www.postpolioinfo.com/balanced_way.php  Vicki may be contacted via vickimckenna51@hotmail.co.uk   

 

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