The Yin and Yang of Perception
The fundamental concept of Feng Shui is based on natural law, as expressed by the Yin-Yang and Five-Element theories. These theories are derived from observations of nature, as well as of human society, over thousands of years.
Observation is the source of all human knowledge and the key to all understanding. Scientific discovery begins with observation. How we observe the natural and human order will directly affect our perceptions, which in turn shapes our conduct and behavior as well as the choice of what path we will follow.
People often stress the importance of seeing things from all possible angles, to get a full picture and to guard against partiality. But even when people try to do this, they will often derive different “facts” from the same events – and with that comes differences of opinion, which sometimes even leads to conflict.
How and why does this happen? What is the right way to observe? The key is to get back to the fundamental concepts of Yin-Yang theory. A wholesome approach must see things from both a Yang and a Yin perspective. When we see an object – a potted plant or a chair, for example – we usually attend to the object itself, its color, shape, and so on. In artists’ terms, we are using the left (Yang) side of the brain when we do this. If we also use the right (Yin) side of the brain, we will attend not only to the object but to the space around the object, so we will have a much more comprehensive picture. We will notice not only the flower but the fact that the flower exists in a particular spatial configuration. This is a much more complete picture.
Artists find that they can draw much more effectively when they do this. The same method can be applied to arranging furniture in a house: attend to the space around the furniture as well as to the furniture itself. In this way, we see things from the Yin as well as the Yang perspective.
But this is just the beginning. This kind of Yin-Yang perception can take place on many levels. When we ponder whether to put a flower in a particular place, or a chair in another, we are doing so from our own perspective: how we would feel if the things were placed there. In applying Yin-Yang principles, we should also try to see from the perspective of the flower or chair. In this case, the one who sees embodies the Yang aspect and the one who is seen embodies the Yin aspect. So in addition to how we see the flower, we might try to see how the flower sees us, and whether or not the flower appreciates being in a particular place. In the same way, when we build a house, we are very concerned about the view – the perspective from the inside looking out. Since a wholesome approach relies on Yin-Yang concepts, we should also pay attention to how the house appears from the outside, how it fits into the particular environment and into its neighborhood, and how the house feels about this placement.
People often wonder how we can do this. The answer to this question is another: have we even thought of doing so? Most people haven’t really considered the possibility, let alone actually tried. In this consideration, is there a difference between a flower, which is obviously alive, and furniture or a whole house, which are thought of as “dead”? It is important to remember that all objects in the universe, when seen from an atomic level, are spinning and vibrating; all have an abundance of ch’i; all are equally “alive”. By taking this viewpoint, we extend our awareness into an additional level of Yin-Yang perception.
Furthermore, natural change and human living are dynamic processes, never coming to a halt. We should not limit our focus to the present, even as we observe events unfolding around us. When we witness social and political events in the present, we need to see them as part of the continuum from past to present to future – not isolated in time. In the context of past and present, the past is Yin and the present is Yang; in the context of present and future, the present is Yang and the future is Yin. In this way, we see a much bigger picture: the natural and continuous transformation from Yin to Yang to Yin, and so on.
The goal of seeing things from a Yin-Yang perspective is to see the bigger picture, the complete picture, which gives us a more wholesome understanding so that we can adopt a more wholesome approach. We should apply this approach in our daily living – but we should also apply it on larger scales: as a way of viewing our educational system, our economic system, our foreign policy, and so on. There is often bickering and argument because people see things from a Yang perspective and do not also consider a Yin perspective. There is no balance of Yin and Yang in such an approach, and it is naturally not wholesome. This approach is crucial for leaders in all fields, especially political leaders, who have a larger impact.
When we can see events in the perspective of Yin and Yang, then we can begin to understand how the present (Yang) is rooted in the past (Yin) and gain some insight into how the future (Yin) will come to be out of the present (Yang). In this way, understanding the connections between the past, present, and future gives us a picture that is both bigger and more dynamic. It also gives us the understanding we need to live more wholesome and complete lives at every level.
Learning to perceive things from the Yin-Yang point of view, from the perspective of both Time and Space, provides us with a way to see into the true nature of the reality of things.
However, in addition to the way of perception that we have discussed, there are two other factors that can affect the quality or reliability of perception. One is how truthfully the thing we perceive is presented or shown to us. The other is the reliability of the vehicle we are employing for perception.
We often do not have much control over how things are presented to us. But we do have some control over the vehicle of perception.
The vehicle of perception is our five senses. Sensory input gives rise to certain thoughts or ideas. But our senses have imperfections, and they vary in sensitivity. In addition, we all have prior experiences that can interfere with the processing of the information that come in through our senses. To bypass these imperfections, we need to find a more direct method of perception. One way to do this is to perceive from the heart.
In our life experience, we find that is not always necessary to see with our eyes or to hear with our ears. Sometimes, from looking at speakers’ faces or expressions without hearing what they are saying, we can get a better sense of whether what they are saying is truthful or not. What we do in such moments is channel our outward perception directly to our inner perception – directly to the heart.
But, at the same time, perception through the heart is also not without problems, since the heart also contains the traces of prior experience in this and earlier lives, and tends to resonate with our existing feelings and biases. This is why the ancient Taoist sage Chuang-Tzu said that we need to learn to perceive with ch’i.
Chi is the energy of what is present, in its actual form. It resonates through time and space; it cannot be hidden or distorted. All reality manifests through ch’i. If our own ch’i can resonate with the chi around us, we will have a true perception of the reality behind manifestation.
How do we perceive with chi? We first need to free our minds from any barrier, any sense of separation – as though a building had no door, window or wall separating the inside from the outside. You may object that a house without doors, windows or walls would not be a house. This is exactly the point: a “house of no-house” or a “mind of no-mind”. The only essence that remains is chi – and what connects everything in the most truthful way is chi.
In practice, we start by paying attention to what is closest to us. The thing that is closest to us, and also most vital, is our breathing. We need to learn to be constantly aware of our breathing. From there, we can learn to be constantly aware of our mental activity, and we will then begin to clear up the static of our habitual mental activity. From there, in turn, we will become free from obstacles and partitions, creating an open space in which chi can flow. At that point, we can begin to connect with true information, the true reality of the universe. It is at that point that true perception takes place.
As we stated in the beginning, perception directly affects our conduct and behavior, and our responses to circumstances. When, through cultivation, we clarify our perception of the clutter of past experience, so that we perceive directly, this does not mean that our behavior is then completely produced by the energies around us. It means that we are at last free to base our actions on what is really there, rather than on our preconceptions and illusions.