The Yin & Yang of Friendships
“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Depending on their dynamics, friendships can be enlightening or exhausting. You may find yourself butting heads with your bestie, or sparking brilliant collaborations. The ancient Chinese Taoist philosophy of yin and yang was founded by Lao Tzu, author of “Tao-Te-Ching” (c. 500 BCE). In its most basic form, it refers to the nature of duality; think sun and moon, that seamless way daylight fades into evening over and over again.
Yin is said to be dark and feminine, while yang, light and masculine. So what does yin yang have to do with the nature of friendship? It beautifully illustrates how two halves of a whole, can be active and continually engaged. One flows into the other, just like the light into darkness.
It’s true, opposites do attract. The principal of yin and yang shows that opposing forces are invaluable — each needs the other to coexist. When you align yourself with another person and invite them into your orbit, it’s a meaningful two-sided gift.
Friends as Teachers
Think of friends as life collaborators. Each person brings their particular strength, weakness, and vision to the relationship. Together, you create a cycle of learning.
In her book, “The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together,” visionary choreographer and dancer, Twyla Tharp writes about how two can burn brighter together than even the most brilliant person on their own. Instead of finding someone with the same ideas, Tharp emphasizes finding a partner that will challenge you. "In a good collaboration, differences between partners mean that one plus one always equals more than two.” The same could easily be said of friendships.
The Joy of Clashing
The idea of yin and yang shows us that differences can lead to harmony. If you release attachment to wanting to be right, these differences can be intriguing and expand your point of view. In his book, “Yin & Yang: Understanding the Chinese Philosophy,” Martin Palmer explains how “Balance comes from handling conflict and tension.”
Like a brainstorm session, friends feel safe enough to throw out original ideas, disagree, and reveal their true selves. In other words, embracing healthy tension gives way to breakthroughs that spiral into growth.
Find Your Tribe
It may seem like friendships happen when we aren't looking; that’s the illusion lack of awareness creates. Even if they occurred on a subtle level, there were always choices and actions. So be mindful. Decide what kinds of souls you’d like to surround yourself with. Then, notice if those were the people you’ve previously gravitated to. If not, think about why.
Become curious. Remember, when you spend time with a person you absorb more than just their words. So pay attention to the energy that different folks radiate. Think about qualities you’d like to develop and those you want to shed. As you seek out new friendships, be brave. Rather than clinging to similar personality types, explore interactions with those who appear vastly different, and see where the experiences take you.
The Gift of Listening
To be a good friend and learn from one another, it’s essential to be emotionally generous with more than just your time. That means offering your friend genuine, focused attention. Listening requires shutting off your phone and mind chatter long enough to hear not only what’s being said, but more importantly, what’s not being said and why.
Without the ability to offer an open sensitive ear, you can’t ask the appropriate questions and gain true insight. So practice listening whenever possible in a clear way. Hone your skills and share them with those you care about.
Embrace Your Dual Nature
It’s not always easy to be a good friend. You may want to be happy for someone else’s success, but that's challenging when it brings up feelings of insecurity in your own life. You may even experience joy and jealousy simultaneously. Not to worry, those yin yang forces are not just outside, they also are within and ever-flowing.
With self-awareness you can look at those parts of yourself and shine a light on them. In the words of, Lao Tzu, “When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compete, everybody will respect you.” Once you come to terms with the roots of your feelings, it gives you freedom to decide how to channel your energy. Instead of being conflicted, you are empowered to make your own positive choices.