Wouldn’t it be nice to be done?
To arrive at the place of peace, comfort and eternal safety. The place where we effortlessly breeze through our human experience of life. No deep gaping wounds or nasty surprises. No nights spent cupboard cruising and belly abusing. No hiding who or how you are. A sense of arriving here, home, to your best self and your best life.
This day isn’t forthcoming. In the meantime, most of us are pushing, pushing, pushing. Desperately grappling our way towards the promised land of better, faster, stronger.
What I’ve noticed within me is the impulse to GET LIFE DONE. This impulse creeps into my consciousness as a subtle kick up the brain. This energy is very yang, very masculine. It’s a drive to move, to get going, to achieve and succeed. At school, university, and in all my jobs, this energy has been lauded and applauded. Efficiency! Productivity! Tasks ticked off the list! Well done, you most useful of humans.
Isn’t this particular force driving most of us, most of the time? Doesn’t this cloud our eating too? Get it done! And now it’s over… get ready for the next task! Tick, tick, tick! Modern culture is a form of worship at the altar of yang. Busyness is a badge of honour. The Protestant work ethic? Your human worth is equal to the work you do and the success you achieve. End of story.
Those of us who struggle with disordered eating have come to fear the empty moments. Solitude. Quietness. Empty spaces between the achievements. Without a project, our minds flail around helplessly, and often take us to sad and dangerous places. The painful memory you buried. The creeping sense of dread you crushed. The squirming pit of worms in your belly because you know how excruciating it would be if you were truly, deeply honest about your hurts, your humanity, your struggle to be here.
Jeannie Zandi, a spiritual teacher I love, says that in our modern culture, we are yang-poisoned and yin-starved. We have lost a sense of balance between these two energies that drive life, the masculine and feminine principles in nature.
The shift from yang to yin is huge. Most self-improvement I explored, before I created IEWIN, was very yang-focused. You’re bingeing? Get a grip. You need some self-care? Smash out a plan bitch and stick that shit on the fridge. Feeling tight in the belly? Do some intense deep breathing, massage the hell out of it, show that tension who’s boss! Even with seemingly loving actions, we can push these through with an agenda of ‘I don’t want to feel this. Make it go away. The sooner the better.’ We identify so deeply with ‘good me’, the one who copes with life, and we do all we can to banish ‘bad me’, the one who gets too overwhelmed, who is deeply sensitive, who falls back down the hole of unconsciousness and eats in destructive ways. Control, dominate, eliminate. Yang all the way.
And we fear yin, because we associate acceptance and surrender with failure. If I don’t fight the binge, does that mean I just give in to my disordered eating? If I don’t busy myself with a ton of healthy activities, then am I just leaving the door wide open for disorder to come waltzing in again? No, I’ll keep pushing on thank you. I’m taking back control and I’m not about to let that go.
And there’s another reason why we fear yin. Most people associate rest and integration with laziness and stuckness. We have banished yin from our minds and bodies in fear of not meeting our expectations of what ‘good’ humans should do and be. I say that being a ‘good’ human isn’t all about productivity, efficiency, task completion. I say that being human is far more ambiguous, subtle, and deeply nuanced than that.
Yin, the feminine principle, is what I invoke when I find myself going round in circles. Managing symptoms for a few weeks or months and then returning to unsupportive coping mechanisms. Yin breaks these cycles of feeling in control and then losing control, ad infinitum.
Yin isn’t interested in self-improvement programmes or symptom management. Yin isn’t interested in controlling what you eat or how you feel. Yin is deeply interested in the reality of what’s arising, here, now. What’s alive for you in this moment, underneath all the busyness, the tasks, the agenda and the projects.
Yin says – I get it baby. I know you’re scared to be with yourself. I know it hurts to be here, inside your own experience. But we can hold it. Just a tiny bit at a time. We can reside here, in the body, in non-doing, in just being. We can just tend the soil for a moment. No need to worry about what’s growing yet. Stay at the ground level, lower your expectations, and let go of your ideas about everything you should be by now. I just want to hold what’s here for you. I don’t want to deny you this opportunity to be here in reality. Maybe reality feels burdened with all the truths we couldn’t say, all the hurts we didn’t want to feel, all the crunchy places we have resisted for so long. But this is you, my sweet one. This too is you. And we can’t keep running forever darling. Rest here, on this ground of your being, and recognise the truth of who you are. Recognise that there’s a wholeness here that’s deeply human. Recognise the beauty in your own unfolding. We humans are so sensitive, so tender, made of flesh and bone and heart and gut. Don’t go pushing so hard on all these soft places. The darkness of the unknown is not here to frighten you. The darkness is here to hold you while you rest into the uncertainty and mystery of being a soft and beloved human person.
I wonder what our world would look like if we had a little yin impulse that also drove our thoughts and behaviour, like my yang voice that pushes and pushes me to ‘get shit done.’ The yin voice would soothe, soften, invite us to rest and settle.
It’s important we don’t get into either/or here. Yang energy, having a sense of drive and movement, is not wrong, it’s just been allowed to run rampant without its counterpart for too long. Jeannie Zandi calls yang the ‘holy impulse to move… to take a stand… to stand for something.’ Healthy yang rises from yin, is born of her cradling. Just like the seed in the soil. Doing is rooted in non-doing. Movement is born of stillness. Receptivity lays the ground for intelligent action to come forth.
How much can we ever make anything happen? How much control do we ever have? Yang fools us into little life-tyrants, believing that we are running the whole show. Why are we so afraid to surrender, when control over life was never really ours anyway? If you could have arrived here more quickly, more efficiently, and with less suffering, then surely wouldn’t you have made it so? Did you really need more will, more drive? Or did you need more cradling, more gentleness, more allowing?
If you’re eating your way out of the present moment, that’s a good indication that you could do with growing a greater capacity to reside in stillness, in non-doing, in yin. Not a bigger capacity to dominate, to crush, to improve upon. A bigger capacity to hold yourself with tenderness. A tenderness that says – sweetie, you’re eating. I know that isn’t because you’re bad, or wrong, or lacking. It’s because you can’t be here right now, without your substance, your behaviour. I’m so sorry you feel that way my beloved. How can I hold this for you? How can I tend the little creature inside that wants to run and hide from life?
Make your brain a soft and cosy place to rest with soothing and loving thoughts. Make your belly a soft and cosy place to rest with warm and liquid foods. Make your home and soft and cosy place to rest with snuggly textures and dark spaces.
This is how we transform. We tend the soil. We stay low to the ground. We drop the agenda and listen to what’s here. We stay close to the reality of this moment now. We validate the felt-sense and make it known that what we feel is trustworthy. We bring some yin to our yang. We settle into our being, and then perhaps we move with a righteous YES! But the movement comes when we accept that we don’t know when or how we might transform. And we may need more patience, more love and more forgiveness than we are willing to offer right now. Wanting to change and rushing to get there is not wrong. It’s a beautiful and beloved sign of yang-centred aliveness. But don’t poison yourself with incessant and compulsive striving. Feed your yin so she can balance our yang culture. Rest, settle, let be. And notice how much stronger those shoots will be, growing in that well-tended soil, receiving the nourishment of the winter months. Don’t believe the quick-fixes, the rapid transformations. Tend your creature and give her time. And grow into a place that really feels like YOU, not just a projection of who you think you should be. A place that requires no effort to maintain. This is sustainable change. This is lifelong change. This is bringing yin to yang and reaping the rewards of balance in motion.
As always, go gently, dear one.
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