The way I understand Zen, it boils down to this.
Life is composed of the yin and the yang. The yin is the dark and negative force in the universe, or bad stuff. The yang is the bright and positive force, or good stuff.
But it’s not one versus the other. It’s not a battle of good versus evil, like the South Carolina Gamecocks (good) versus the Clemson Tigers (evil).
Zen as I know it is understanding that one wouldn’t exist without the other. That makes sense, in a Zen kind of way. After all, if everything was good how would you know? What would you compare it to?
The same goes for bad. Without good as a reference point, you wouldn’t know what bad is. And that would truly not be good.
Disclaimer and warning: I’m not saying this is how Zen works, because there are those say there’s no "bad/good" distinction to yin and yang. I’m saying that’s how I understand it, and I admit I tend to understand things only at their most basic, basic, basic level. In fact, I’m that lowest common denominator you’re always hearing about.
Lest you scoff, here’s what I know about electricity, which has been around a while. I know if I flip a switch or mash a button then electrical current will turn on a light or microwave my lunch, but, and here’s the rub, I have no idea how it actually works. To me, electricity might as well be magic, and, having been shocked a few too many times over the years, bad scary magic at that.
That’s why I’m a fan of those wizard-electricians at Georgia Power, Canoochee EMC and Coastal EMC, because otherwise I’d be rubbing two sticks together to be able to see enough to light the microwave to cook my lunch.
Now, back to yin (dark) and yang (light). It seems some folks are supplied with more than their fair share of yin and not near enough yang, while others seem to get only just enough yin to remind them that life’s not all yang.
That means some folks inherit millions of dollars the day they’re born and spend their lives living it up. Others come into this world poor as dirt and addicted to drugs because their mothers are crackheads. They’ll be lucky to make it into adulthood.
Some are born in the good old U.S.A., others in places that’ll give you the trots just by seeing it on the map. Some of us are good looking, others so ugly we’d scare Dracula into running outside in the middle of the day.
Life’s not a level playing field, never has been, and those who tell you it is and all you’ve got to do to succeed is keep your nose to the grindstone are talking out of the side of their neck.
Either that, or they’ve got the field tilted their way and don’t want the swimming pool to get too crowded. In any case, life’s not fair. Opportunity is not equal.
Same with yin and yang.
I was reminded again of the unequal distribution of Zen while talking to the Rev. Jim McIntosh, president of the Liberty Regional Homeless Coalition, a group that works to help those in need — including on this particular day a disabled veteran with two children who was trying to get herself and her kids back to Texas and out of an abusive relationship.
During our discussion of the many matters impacting the homeless, he told me of a terminally ill gentleman who, and I quote, "was disabled and walking around Hinesville last year with an oxygen tank. He was getting a disability check, and was using it to pay for a room at a local motel," McIntosh said. "While this gentleman was staying at the motel, he did not qualify as homeless because he was using his disability check for shelter, but the check didn’t cover a full month’s rent at the motel, so in the middle of the month he was out on the street again. So for half the month he’s homeless, the other half he’s not, then he’s homeless again and the cycle repeated itself."
Now how’s that for the interplay between light and dark, good and bad, yin and yang?
Half the time, the guy’s living on the street with an oxygen tank. The other half, he’s holed up in a motel with an oxygen tank, presumably getting maid service every day and watching HBO.
I bet he appreciated every moment of it.
Sadly the man, who had stage four cancer at the time the LRHC tried to get him into a hospice and off the streets for good, is no longer alive. I hope he’s now in a room where a benevolent landlord doesn’t charge rent and the worst yin he has to deal with from here on out is finding nothing to watch on cable.
And I hope I can remember, on those days heavy with yin, that they’re necessary, sometimes, to keep me appreciative of all the good things in this world.