I recently bought a new notebook and took myself to a coffeehouse in the city centre, wanting a little time to myself. In it, I wrote the following:
There are, at least, two very different sides to my self.
One is warm – Yang. He is kind, outgoing, intelligent, socially-conscious, empathetic, emotive, and generous. He wants others to be happy, to thrive, and to enjoy what he enjoys, or at least be free to enjoy what they like. He cares – for those within his social circles, and beyond.
The other is colder and much darker – Yin. He is entirely selfish, only interested in his own enjoyment and pleasure. He wouldn’t go out of his way to be cruel or vindictive, unless he has been crossed – then it’s fair game in a show of ruthless strength. The win is not to be the better man, but simply to win. He is often the only one that really matters to him, save for a few close loved ones, in which case, he yields reluctantly to Yang’s better judgement. He sees others as commodities; having some use or value, or none at all. If it’s the former, he’ll channel his charm to get what he wants. If the latter is the case, you won’t know, because he won’t bother with you.
I feel lately that it is the darker side of me that has taken hold, and I have no desire to reset the balance. The darker side drives me to be more hedonistic, more carnal, more focused on what I want…
I stopped writing at that point, because I got distracted, but there was something cathartic in putting that onto paper – something I don’t find surprising, because writing has always been theraputic to me, especially handwriting. It came as no real surprise to me, either, that I was able to describe that darker side in much more detail while I was under its influence, a persona that ranges from the uncaring to the nasty.
It’s a very weird, liberating, yet uneasy feeling to feel your ‘real’ self detach from reality, and let a darker version take over. But that is what has happened to me recently.
For years, I’ve felt that there are many sides to people; the public side and the private side; the clean and the kinky; the reserved and the vulgar; the yin and the yang. I’ve also had a quote, or a line from some unknown source, planted firmly in my mind for years: The brightest light will always cast the darkest shadow. It means, to me, that a person cannot be entirely full of light without darker parts of themselves, hidden or not. It taught me that in others, and in myself, there is forever a shifting balance between noble and ignoble impulses.
The pandemic has easily shown the best and worst in us all, albeit at very different levels. During the height of lockdowns (speaking from experience here in Ireland, at least), we cared more for our neighbours, our families, and our communities. We checked in on elderly or vulnerable people we knew, in case they needed shopping while they were isolating at home. We made the effort to give others extra space, both for their safety and our own, but also to be considerate and kind to each other. We taught our older relatives and friends how to use Zoom or Skype, so that they wouldn’t feel more detatched from us and the wider world. We baked bread. We slowed down. We cared again.
At the same time, we also saw fear, selfishness, suspicion, and resentment. On a global level, the divide between rich and poorer countries became evident as the vaccines became a reality and went into production, and eventual distribution. We saw protests in various countries against the safety measures governments and authorities put in place, the vast majority of which were arguably done in good faith. Riots took place in some major cities, adding to an almost apocalyptic feeling we had during 2020, and a considerable part of 2021. Indeed, if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that not all of us are good, and not all of us are bad, either – although that is certainly so broad a generalisation that it’s almost a given.
What struck me recently, though, is that the emotional energy it took to keep up one’s spirits and resolve during the pandemic and its various related lockdown was enormous. We all eventually stopped having the same enthusiasm for staying connected through Zoom parties or other calls, and the desire to reach out died away. Like a dying star, the outermost layers of our social and personal energy had been spent while trying to stay positive during the worst of the pandemic, and since then, we were becoming cooler, more selectful in how we used what was left of our fuel, knowing that it wasn’t replenishing as it should. I thought it might’ve been just me, feeling this increased selfishness in a state of dying energy, until my friend recently said it to me in passing: “I’ve become too tired to care anymore“.
I know that in my notebook excerpt, I used Yin and Yang incorrectly, yet they were the two names that came to mind to describe my two very different internal energies. Traditionally, Yin & Yang are both sides of the same spirit; they are not separate, nor are they opposing forces. Yin is energy that is perceived as cool, calming, feminine, tranquil, meditative, soothing, and soft. Yang is fierce, bright, active, warm, masculine, strong, surging, and loud. All are traits that exist in varying levels in each of us, yet how they naturally fall to create a balance that is recognisably, naturally, “you”, that is a constantly evolving experiment, which we regularly notice and check. Or, at least we should be able to notice and check.
After my friend said that empathetic line, and after we had a relaxing weekend during her visit to our home, I noticed the balance in myself return, with “Yang” taking charge again. But here’s the thing; I needed Yin to recover.
During the last while, I focused only on myself. I was purely hedonistic, because I needed any source of fun and enjoyment I wanted to feel alive after what had been such a draining and isolating 18 months. I did what I wanted with little regard for anything else, because my instincts told me to heal, often without me knowing it at the time. There were some moments where my coldness went too far, which led me to a bit of a social media detox, but it taught me to recognise when the “Yin” becomes too strong for my own wellbeing. It proved to me the truth in Warren Buffett’s quote: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
So, here’s to being selfish and caring, cool and kind, hedonistic and considerate. Yin and Yang, in better balance.