Either and/or Both

Eleanor Deckert

Opposites. We use them every day. Hot and cold water. Lights on and off. Up and down the stairs. Clearly, we need both.

But sometimes opposing forces need to be governed. Income is limited, but our desires are unlimited. When we go shopping, we need to choose between one or the other. 

I remember, when studying anatomy and physiology, being fascinated with the idea of equilibrium within the body. Air must come in and also go out. The body warms itself and cools itself to maintain a state of equilibrium. We need work and rest. Pressure from outside and pressure from inside.

Equilibrium. Now there's an interesting word. It has a Latin source. Aequi meaning ‘equal’ + libra  referring to the scales of ‘balance.’ The dictionary states equilibrium is: 

a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.

equal balance between any powers, influences.

mental or emotional balance.

(Chemistry) the condition existing when a chemical reaction and its reverse reaction proceed at equal rates.

Balance keeps us safe. Balance makes everything work. One doesn't dominate the other. Both are necessary, often first one, then the other. Together, the whole is in balance.

Yet sometimes we want one to be more than the other. After all, everyone knows that a full wallet, a full refrigerator and a full gas tank is better then an empty one. Wait. Think about it. If they stay full, and never empty, they have no value. If the gas tank remains full, you haven't gone anywhere. You might as well not even own a car! There must be a continuous filling and emptying, hopefully in a predictable sequence, to create an over-all purpose, balance and satisfaction.

Sometime in my late teen years (we're talking the 1970s here) I had my first look at the Yin and Yang symbol. It was everywhere. Yoga and other Eastern practices, clothing and foods were becoming popular. I studied world religions. But, I didn't much like it when I read the list.

Yang seemed like all the 'good' stuff. Life, movement, sun, hot, hard, light, aggressive, dominance, strong, big, affirmative, love, and (there it is) masculine!

I quickly skimmed the Yin list. It seemed to me to be all the 'crummy' stuff. Death, stillness, moon, cold, soft, dark, passive, submissive, weak, small, negative, hate, and (why am I not surprised) feminine! It actually made me feel angry.

Sure, I get it, we need both. But, really, why do I get all the less valuable side of the list? I don't want to be negative, small, weak and submissive.

Like most teenagers, I listened to the radio. 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' was a favourite. Pete Seeger's song written in the 1950s was a big hit when recorded in the ‘60s by the Byrds. It seemed to make sense out of all these opposites. The folk/rock style of the song was somewhat in contrast to the source of the lyrics. The rebels, singing against the establishment, had the weight of authority since the lyrics were a direct quote from the Bible. Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 is believed to have been written by King Solomon a thousand years BC.

“A time to be born, a time to die,” continues with a long pairing of opposites, either one is the 'right thing to do' in turn at a certain place and time. Seedtime and harvest, weep and laugh, keep and cast away. These cannot happen simultaneously. A person has to decide to do either one.

And so, I got married, moved out west, built a cabin, raised a family, volunteered, found my place in the valley.

Still, that 'Yin' list sometimes bothered me. Yes, I accepted the feminine role in the home. But, when the kids left home, I wanted to take on more than perpetual scrubbing and baking. Is it OK for a woman to take action on the 'Yang' side of the list? Is it creepy or disorderly or off-balance to make that attempt?

Fortunately, I have a very respectful husband who wants me to share my expertise, extend my influence, expand my contacts and excel. And, in order to expand outward, I also need to go way deep inside to find the motivation to try.

John Denver came to my rescue. In 1982, he teamed with Arthur Hancock to pen 'Relatively Speaking.' The song pairs: dreams and fears, laughter and tears, rich and poor, sinners and the pure of heart, all to show that the opposites are not in conflict or competition for which dominates or is more desirable. We each need both 'Yin' and 'Yang,' not outside ourselves, but inside, too, to be who we are…

I need you exactly like the ocean needs the land...

Relatively speaking I'm nothing without you...

Relatively speaking the contrast makes it go.

Every action taken is related in the flow.

Stars and losers, kings and fools go dancing hand in hand…

Relatively speaking you make me who I am

It's not so much 'both' as in one after or beside the other. It's more like being intertwined. Inseparable. The white dot within the black swirl. The black dot within the white swirl. OK. I get it now: Yang and Yin within Yin and Yang.