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Know Thyself

In pursuit of personal growth and improvement much effort is put into learning and inculcating positive values and character traits. As it should be. For me this means studying stoicism, Christianity, buddhism, and leader/hero biographies… among other teachings. The positive principles given in religion and philosophy are certainly worthy of study. But I believe some time, if not equal time should be spent on one’s dark side. What I mean is not “growing” your dark side, but “facing” your dark side. Acknowledge it. Self help gurus don’t spend much time on the dark traits we all have.

In fact we actually need are failings, misfortune, mistakes, let downs, and dark days. Without dark would we ever realize or even know what “light” is? Without pain and suffering would we know what comfort is?

Ever have a simple but nasty coronavirus (a cold)? Then 10-12 days later when your head clears feel incredibly grateful for your health? I have… and I bet you have too! Respiratory viruses are very common!

Ever have an amazing supervisor at work then a few years later get a terrible one? Or vice-versa? I bet you have! Once this course runs for you…it is unlikely you will take for granted good leadership again!

My point here is to recognize the yin and yang of life, both internally and externally. The ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang points out how opposites are actually complimentary and interdependent on each other. So “Want a great life?” “Want wisdom?” “Want to be your best?”…. Well you will need both the yin and the yang. Just like a fit physical body needs weights to lift, pushups to do and hills to climb.

We all know folks who were born with the silver spoon and grew up in a soft spot with apparently mostly yang and not enough yin! Or that form our physical body takes when we avoid the physical yin for the couch and the potato chip bag! Or the direction our minds take when instead of challenging our minds we scroll social media, talk radio or trash tv (this includes things like Rush Limbaugh, MSNBC, NPR, FOX NEWS, CNN, Twitter, ETC.)

In the physical and mental we need both the yin and yang. So why do we spend so much time and effort in an attempt to minimize or totally avoid the yin? That’s easy- “it sucks!”

The pull up bar sucks! The jump rope sucks! Running stairs sucks? That pain in the butt boss sucks! Snow and ice suck! Having a cold sucks! Divorce sucks! Death sucks! Pain sucks! Losing a career sucks! Not validating our political leanings suck! etc etc etc!

But just as the pull up bar, jumprope and even a cold build our physical bodies so too do mental challenges.

But unlike the pull up bar or jumprope the mental challenges are most often not intentional! Often they can come out of no where as a sucker punch! No one plans on getting a cold, or a suck boss, or losing a friend or loved one or a career. No one gets married planning on divorce. This surprise, tragedy aspect of mental challenges or “life events” makes them particularly challenging! But as such they also provide great opportunities for growth.

Realizing this one can begin to incorporate what I call the “yin growth opportunity” into their practice. Like I said… spend time on the positive attributes you wish to cultivate… but also intentionally face the negative attributes you have. Take out your “bad habits” your less than stellar attributes, your difficult past life events and face them (internal & external yin). As a mental exercise.

Don’t just face your yin…INDULGE IN YOUR YIN. Understand it is necessary. Without some lazy times I could not strive for more productive times. Without some procrastination I would not know to strive for promptness. Without some negative thinking I would not even know what positive thinking is. Without making that weak, selfish choice I would not know to strive for the selfless, strong choice. Without being broke I would not appreciate a positive bank balance. Quit burying your weaknesses and face them, they are necessary. Quit burying your bad breaks and relive them! Remember that feeling when you were sick, or before the surgery, or before the healing. Understand you will have failings and hard times but accept them and grow from them. Appreciate them as necessary and even required. Do not ignore the bad traits or your external bad events- depression, anxiety, cancer, obesity, bankruptcy, divorce, career loss, your inner naysayer… embrace them! Square up to them so you can better fight! Look back with gratitude!

Pull these out from my past and embrace them! Square up to them. Embrace the SUCK! Because they hold massive opportunity! And to relive things from your past is to recall how they were such pivotal events in life!

I look back in my mind…. when I overcame depression I raised my arms like a champion! When I overcome divorce I raised my arms like a champion! When I beat arthritis I raised my arms like a champion! etc. etc. etc.!!! All of these help build my character and who I am today! These are my HERO stories I can pull out and use!

Today I split my time between Humboldt Kansas and Chiefland Florida. Both places being the geographic center of much yin and yang in my life! Honestly it would be easier to just avoid both places. But I need to indulge and square up to the yin and yang of each! So too should we all indulge in our inner yin. The self destructive side of myself is just as important as the positive side! My pain in both of these locales propelled me to who I am today… it sucks but I am blessed because of it. I wallow in that suck! So too should we accept our own personal yin. Our own self-destructive self.


Indulge in your pain… in the gym and in your inner self. Because you know it will make the yang all the more better! Immerse yourself in that loser place… relish it. I know I sucked, or failed… but it will provide the measure for me to improve!

When you fully accept your yin and all the yin in your life… you begin to become a master. When you visit that painful place both geographically and mentally you walk like a warrior. Love this side…be grateful for the yin. The internal and external yin.

Love the rain. Love the Florida sandhill at noon in July. Love the arctic wind. Love the loneliness. Love what your ex did. Love the hateful people. Love your own shortcomings. Love when you let yourself and others down. Love the bad traits you have. Accept it all. These will always be there.

Do the inner work.

Spend time thanking the yin and you can easily do the push ups, stairs and pull ups when no one is watching or making you. Spend time in your personal yin and you will spend less time judging others in your false righteousness. Acknowledge your yin and use it, appreciate it and love it. Accept your dark and light.

Accept thyself first. Know thyself. Then stand up like the badass warrior you are!


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