Fire and Ice

Once again this week, one of my nerdy tendencies has inspired this blog.  I’ve been reading an extraordinary book about Antarctica (called “Antarctica: an intimate portrait of a mysterious continent”).  And no, I don’t get any sort of kickback if you decide to rush out and buy it…

Naturally, as a scientist at heart, I love reading about all the projects, exploration, etc, that’s going on in this place- but I’m also impressed with how very blatantly the Chinese Medicine concept of “Yang within Yin” keeps creeping to the forefront of my mind as I read.

“Yang within Yin” is the concept that, because life requires movement, any time a certain aspect of life gets as “Yin” as possible, if you look closely enough you will notice that it is already turning into something more “Yang.”

As a quick digression, “Yin” in this context means cold, hard, silent, hidden, dark, slow-moving; it also has to do with the polar regions, the farthest from the warm, steady daylight areas of the equator.  Water, in terms of the Five Phase paradigm, is also the most “Yin” phase.

So Antarctica, as a huge, cold continent holding most of the world’s fresh water in the form of ice, surrounded by cold oceans and almost entirely situated within the Antarctic Circle, is about as “Yin” as a place can get.

The “Yang within Yin” idea creeps in at a few different junctures: first, the way that scientific bases and expeditions work Down South embodies an idealized (and therefore very seldom realized) “Yang” environment.  Workers and scientists can be intensely competitive, but according to this book, anyway, there’s a pervasive spirit of cooperation.  In Antarctica, the growth and realization of each project benefits the entire scientific community, if not the entire human population.  This typifies the “Yang” spirit of the Wood Phase, which seeks growth and development of each individual, as well as ideally kindness (although anger is also associated with Wood).

But there’s another part of the continent that displays “Yang within Yin”, and it’s actually inside the continent itself.

There’s so much heavy ice pressing down on the continent that, along with the bit of heat that radiates up to the surface from the Earth’s core, the friction of the ice against the ground is enough the make liquid water.  And it’s not just a little slick of water that the ice sheets slide along: there are entire huge lakes, rivers and wetland systems in Antarctica- we just can’t see them from the surface.

This particular example is actually the most perfect example I’ve yet found of “Yang within Yin.”  The bit of Yang that’s there is quite literally nestled within the Yin.  Which is, of course, a very Yin thing: hidden and quiet.  It’s also very Water phase (which is the most Yin phase) in that the directionality of the Water phase is sort of zig-zaggy, around in circles like a tight scribble.  And that’s just what this liquid water does: it moves from lake to lake, wetland to wetland, sometimes moving uphill or around and around.  It’s not necessarily traveling to the ocean.

But here’s the kicker: it’s Yang within Yin, as opposed to just really Watery water, because it’s that bit of spark and movement that is needed to begin the cycle of life all over.  It’s not “Yang,” it’s still quite watery and cold and deep and mysterious, but the very coldness and hardness of the gigantic piles of ice on the continent at the bottom of the world, the very “Yin-ness” of this place is what compresses the ice into the Earth enough for it to melt, which is a very “Yang” thing to do.

Yang within Yin; Fire within Ice.

Posted in Chinese Medicine, Five Phase Theory, Science.