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Chinese Numerology: the Yin and Yang of Numbers

Yin-Yang SymbolRegardless of what you think of Numerology per se: I thought it would be fun to share some ancient Chinese principles about the significance of numbers — to teach you a little bit about Yin and Yang, and what it has to do with the ebb and flow of daily life.

Chinese philosophy and medicine, which are closely intertwined, display a profound understanding of the energetic web of life. One of the ways this can be expressed is symbolically, through numbers — much like the binary code of zeros and ones that has become the basis of our computer age. (Think: computation, numbers…) At some level, this schema is less about the numbers themselves, and more about the natural movements of life, its somewhat chaotic yet orderly nature. So here are some basics — and if you think you know this next part, please enjoy as you hum along…

Yin and Yang (and, by the way, Yang rhymes with ‘long,’ not ‘bang’) –  Observing the natural world is the bedrock of Chinese medicine. So I’ll use everyday examples:

What happens when you stand on 1 leg? Wobble a bit?? Have to eventually put that other foot down??  – Yes, eventually you will move toward the desire to balance, and you can then shift your weight between 2 points and find a comfortable “middle.” The number 1  has a natural dynamic going on, as it seeks to move into greater balance, becoming 2. Are you with me so far?

Now, some basic definitions: Yin and Yang are relative concepts; that is, what affects one, implicitly affects the other. (Action -> receiver of action -> reaction…) Yang is our #1 – dynamic, radiant, activating, warming: sunshine is a common symbol for Yang. Yin is its complement – our #2 – steady, stable, contracting, cooling: like stepping from sunshine into shade.

Now, let’s shift our example, using these basics: Imagine a sheet cake…that’s the Yin = the steady foundation. And the woo-hoo candles on the cake! — that’s the Yang. And notice: the Yang (candles) need to be rooted in the Yin (cake). The dancing flame can’t just hover over the cake — it needs support. And what does the Yin need? A little excitement now and then! An invitation to change its steady state. And together, this step-by-step process moves the Universe — and as part of that star-stuff, it moves you.

The I Ching (“Yì Jīng”) or Book of Changes is an important Chinese classic text that takes these Yin-Yang dynamics to the level of quantum calculus, setting out an array of 64 archetypal situations which can arise in life, through combinations of Yin and Yang movements  — situations which themselves may be in either a changing state, or a relatively steady one. Through the tossing of 3 coins x 6 throws, chance (or some might say fate) maps the possibilities arising from the interrelationship of these natural forces. Over 6 throws of the coins, the first 3 represent the inner dynamic, while the other 3 throws describe external events occurring. Thus, Change is viewed as a constant interplay of the personal, dancing with the external situations of life that arise. Like any model of reality, it is only an attempt to capture the essence of a greater truth. And this is what I’m pointing to.

Every day, we move through what we perceive to be linear time, trying to achieve a dynamic balance of the polarities in our lives. And yet, just when things seem steady – something else happens – and so, we must accept the inevitability of change, and learn how to be in harmonious accord with it. This is true in all dimensions of our life: our relationships, our health, our actions in the world.

We must grapple with the ultimate question: How should I be, to dance with life as it comes? 

So here’s a personal story that I’ll share, to illustrate these principles. This really happened!

In my undergraduate years, long before I knew I would ever study or practice Chinese Medicine, I became a student of the Ching. It was like finding the perfect geography book of life: one that charted universal dynamics, understood possible outcomes, respected randomness – all, amidst the flow of natural forces. As a 20 year-old, what was more remarkable to me was the ethical teaching on “right relationship” – how to respond to opportunity, or its correlate negative pole, trouble.

I had just finished my Bachelor’s degree in English — after having made a decisive shift from 3 years of pre-med, Biology-major madness. I just couldn’t stand it anymore… and so, I achieved a better balance in my education, but with a less-certain sense of my trajectory. But just before graduation, I had spied a poster for the Peace Corps – and knew immediately that it was my path ahead. I would teach English…somewhere. I made my application, and waited for a response. Yes, they wanted me – but I would have to be matched to a particular country. I had requested Afghanistan – but no, all slots were filled. Next, I had a chance for Morocco – equally delightful, I thought. But no, all the positions had been claimed. I waited 2 more months… and one day, the call came.

Would you like to go to Swaziland? the woman said. I’ll admit – I had to think about where this was – southern Africa, yes? Yes, that’s right. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to finally go — but needing a moment to decide the path of my entire life (or so it seemed) I said: Can you give me a half-hour? She agreed.

I put down the phone, and threw the coins of the I Ching. Never before, and never since, have I had the result I got in that moment of decision:  6 Yang lines. The equivalent of a string of green lights all the way across town! I didn’t need to interpret its message. I picked up the phone, and said YES. And I knew it was going to work out. Life’s door had opened, and I was leaping through it!

So, if we recall the excitement of November 11, 2011 – seen in the abstract as 11-11-11: we see a string of Yang numbers that not only present themselves like a triad of goal posts in the end-zone… but also the explosive energy to race downfield, and know you’re going to get to the end. Fast, quantum-fast! There is the suggestion in these symbols of a tremendous activation of potential to spring forward — a moment in Time that says Go! Go!! Go!!! And if we do it consciously, understanding that the Yang state contains a knife-edge of unpredictability, and that we will need the grounding of Yin to balance this wild-child, forward movement each step of the way — then we can achieve what the numbers suggest: accelerated transformation. Manifestation. 

Not everyone is likely to feel on top of the wave of energy I’m talking about. You may feel at the effect of it — carried along by external forces you can’t control or quite measure… precipitous, indeed. It helps to be nimble and quick, to deal with the pace of transformational change. So wherever this moment finds you, at the top of the wave, or taking a drubbing in the sand — I’m glad to be surfing with you. Life bringing its relentless waves of change… change is the constant.

It’s always good to take time for some look-in-the-mirror honesty, to see who and what you really are — not your image of who you think you are or want to be — but how you show up in the lives of people, or don’t; time to acknowledge the secrets and fears that keep you stuck. Feel those murky feelings, the stuff you steer around… till there’s nowhere to step.

Two choices at that point: stay stuck — or move out of your comfort zone. The Universe sets up a time to move forward…SO TAKE IT. Decide which wave you will choose. And let’s see a happy dance in the end-zone, when you arrive!