Awhile ago I was asking my nephew about his next tattoo. He responded that his tattoos didn’t have any specific meaning and he just got whatever seemed cool in the moment. I don’t know that I actually believed that, so I suggested that he get a tattoo of the yin and yang. Turns out that’s a pretty lame suggestion to twenty year-old. Despite his firm objection, I tried unsuccessfully to explain to him why the yin and yang have gained great importance for me. 

In his book, The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer attempts to merge the philosophies of the East and the teachings of the West to present a way forward in this challenging life. In one of my favorite chapters he expounds on the Tao te Ching as one of the “deepest of all spiritual teachings.” Taoism comes from the teachings of Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher and teacher who lived around 500 BC. This philosophical path has evolved over the years to embrace pacifism, humility, and harmony, but its central focus is on “The Way.”

Singer states, “So where is the Tao? The Tao is in the middle. It’s the place where there is no energy pushing in either direction. The pendulum has been permitted to come to balance concerning all things. Everything has its yin and yang.” 

Opposing forces must be balanced the right way to achieve harmony. Being in the center brings calm to your life.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to recognize that peace exists in the middle. For years I lived a life of religious rigidity that led me to be judgmental of myself and others. A more compassionate and loving view of others has brought me tranquility. At times recently I’ve gotten caught up in the political fervor that has overwhelmed our country. Now I recognize that there are some really good, productive ideas on both sides of the aisle and arguing solves nothing. When I was first married, and for longer than I’d like to admit, my point of view was the only one that made sense. Now I see the beauty of compromise and understanding and the joy that comes from mutual respect.

Consider a pendulum that oscillates back and forth across a central point. Life is like this. When we have an action or a thought, we often have opposite actions or thoughts to try to balance us out – binge eating and crash dieting, intense periods of work followed by prolonged rest (likely wasted time), anger followed by remorse. I think there are numerous examples in life where we try to find balance but I’m not sure how often we find “the Way.” If our path swings back and forth it takes much longer to get to our destination.

Perhaps the most damaging aspect of our move away from the middle is the energy it requires to maintain the extremes. It’s like having to hold the pendulum up and never let it move back towards the center. At all. Our current environment is pushing this approach in all aspects of life – politics, culture, religion, sports, social media. Life itself! So much time and energy is being poured into maintaining opinions, status, and activities that there is nothing left to find solutions. Those solutions almost always exist somewhere in the middle.

Paradoxically, the more we move from the center, the more we become like those we oppose. “The extremes create their opposites: the wise avoid them.”

What thoughts are taking up most of your energy? 

How much of your valuable time are you using to entrench yourself in your current views, rather than trying to gain new perspective and understanding? Do you spend significant amounts of time consuming politically charged propaganda? Are you addicted to social media? Are you easily angered? Do you constantly find fault with others? 

Any time spent like this will rob you of precious opportunities to find stillness and live in the present.

We live in a world of extremes right now – a world that lacks peace and tranquility. But most feel overwhelmed by the noise that surrounds them and are unsure how to get out. If you think you can maintain opinions of hate, disgust, frustration, and still find peace, you’re wrong. I think many are scared to consider what would be lost if they gave up those beliefs. But that is exactly the solution. We must let go and come back to the center, where we will find new energy for life. “When you move in the Tao, you are always present. Life becomes absolutely simple”