‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ is a proverb probably most of us have heard in response to dark times or situations we’re going through, where if we search hard during the experience or after it, we should be able to detect some hidden advantage, benefit, or source of hope. Every bad situation should have some good aspect within it to discover and maybe learn from. John Milton is supposed to be the first to use the expression in a book entitled Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634:
Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
But have you ever turned the saying around? Where within wondrous silver linings there could be some sable clouds of sadness, conflict or problems to tarnish the shining experience?
One of the first quotations I learned by heart was a saying from Tolstoy, simply because I loved the plaintive sound of it, ;>)
”Pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy.”
And as I’ve got older I know exactly what Tolstoy means, because I’ve lived it and learned for myself that it is indeed true, and it would seem to have a strong parallel bearing upon clouds and silver linings. Interestingly, this line comes from within War and Peace, the social states of war and peace being another two polar opposites as we understand them.
Which brings me to the polar opposites of positive and negative, which we use a good deal today in life coaching, psychology, interpersonal chat, and heavily within social media, to separate negative attitudes and behaviours from positive ones. We are encouraged to develop a solely positive mindset, to be proactive not passive, to go and get instead of giving up, to be full of joy and give sorrow its marching orders. We must be positive, we must be totally happy. But is it really possible to be 100% in one state or the other? Well Tolstoy apparently didn’t think so and I think it can do us harm if we have the expectation that there is such as thing as total joy or total sorrow. We can have far more emotional and psychological strength and flexibility if we can develop the habit of searching for the hidden benefits within a negative unpleasant experience, no matter how terrible, and acknowledge the drawbacks or hindrances to being in a state of bliss. The two states define each other in a way. It would seem likely that we can learn to appreciate through feeling deep sorrow just how wonderful joy feels in contrast (and of course vice versa) And that there surely cannot be a thick dividing wall between the two, but more like a permeable membrane, where the two states can cross over and influence each other at any time.
And maybe for these inter-relating images of positive and negative, silver linings and clouds, we can appropriate the yin and yang Taoist symbol to visually demonstrate that in the midst of joy (light bright positive silver lining) there can be sorrow (dark negative clouds), and that in the midst of sorrow, there can be some joy. The contrasting black or white dot in each half can remind us of this and to remain flexible and develop emotional intelligence, so we can bend like a reed in the wind within either states of joy or sorrow, instead of remaining rigid in our attitudes and feelings and more disposed to psychological damage or pain through resistance.
Here’s a reminder of the basic principles of Yin and Yang
Yin and yang, in Chinese Taoist philosophy are two principles, one negative, dark, and feminine (yin) and one positive, bright, and masculine (yang) whose interaction influences the destinies of all creatures. All things exist as these inseparable and contradictory opposites, where everything in nature should be viewed as part of a whole, and that opposites are complementary forces that balance themselves out.
So as this article points out :
‘Everything in nature can be expressed as the opposition of yin and yang. It is the energizing force of all aspects of nature. It is dynamic and the basic foundation for change in nature. Yin and yang are also relative terms: A forest fire is more yang than a campfire; a campfire is more yang than a spark. Nothing is purely yin or yang; it is always a matter of comparison.
Yin and yang are interdependent. Even though yin and yang are opposites, one has no meaning without the other. For example, day would have no meaning without night; heat cannot be understood without knowing what cold feels like; fever and chills can’t be determined without experiencing the normal body temperature.
Yin creates yang; yang creates yin. Numerous examples of this principle can be seen in nature. For example, on a hot summer day (yang), there is a sudden thunderstorm (yin). A person may get symptoms of chills and a runny nose (yin) that turn into a fever with a sore throat (yang).
Yin and yang mutually control each other. This is the basic mechanism of balance in nature and the human body.’ ‘Any phenomenon within nature can be understood in relation to another; one will always be yin or yang in comparison with the other.’
In other words, just like the mutual relationships between silver linings and clouds, joys and sorrows.
The opposite coloured dot placement within the yin and yang functions as a seed to remind us that Yin can become Yang, and Yang can become Yin. Night takes place of day, and vice versa. What goes up, comes down. When people see beauty, ugliness is created as a defining point of comparison. The main point of Yin and Yang is that everything contains its opposite, and everything must be balanced.
So once we take this to heart, we can learn to survive the negative, knowing it will have some kind of pay off while being realistically grounded about the positive, and not expecting perfection. It’s like instead of thinking one must be positive all the time instead of negative all the time, we can choose to align ourselves where the two halves of yin and yang touch each other, and walk a pathway of being open to positive wonderful experiences, without expecting them or yearning for them – if they come, that’s fine, you can enjoy them while they last without attachment – and being accepting of the negative experiences of life, which we are all bound to experience in being human, but to remain philosophical and to search for what we can learn, or what may be a hidden benefit therein.
I just happen to be reading Jordan Peterson’s book Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos at the moment, which a volunteering friend of mine put me onto, and came across Peterson’s interpretation of yin and yang being representative of chaos and order respectively . But what is interesting here is that Peterson says the white and black dots within each half of the symbol indicate the possibility of transformation. So just when things seem secure (in the white), the unknown can loom (through the black dot inside it) and conversely, just when everything seems lost (in the black) a new promise or order can emerge (through the white dot within).
And here’s what I really like – he says ‘For the Taoists, meaning is to be found on the border between the ever-entwined pair. To walk that border is to stay on the path of life, the divine Way. And that’s much better than happiness.’
Despite the theme of this post, I’m not experiencing any clouds of my own at the moment, only more literal ones with the minibeast from the east hitting us with more snow blizzards. But I am looking forward to the silver lining of spring, which will be all the sweeter for having had this oppressive cloudy weather lingering for so long, where the daffodils are seriously wondering whether the time is right to burst forth. But we must trust they will know when that is.
Wishing you silver linings and some spring delights too!
(you’ll see in the comments that a fellow blogger has written a post very much in line with this one, with more food for thought – here is the link if you are interested
(Both pics from pixabay)