Balance has often been considered a controversial subject in Chinese medicine. Like all human concepts, balance as a value may be used for good or evil. No doubt the Confucian ‘Doctrine of the Mean’ was utilized throughout Chinese history to suppress the excesses necessary to creativity, to change, and to revolution. This doctrine, which provided history with a social system of unprecedented stability, was a great levelling force. However, its creation of an unchanging society led to remarkable rigidity and mediocrity in many areas of Chinese life throughout the past 2,500 years.

According to the more ancient conceivers of the yin-yang construct, balance was never something to be ‘achieved’. Daoist cosmology is concerned very much with balance, with duality amidst unity. Early Chinese philosophers began with wuji, a pre-primal concept of the ultimate, symbolically represented by a circle: a wholeness. The idea of primal origin, and the beginnings of the universe as we know it, were then represented by a line or ridgepole – taiji – which divided the cosmic circle into light and darkness, yang and yin, in two equal halves. While they are connected by their unity in the circle, and kept separate by taiji, they are also granted oneness by this shared axis. Yin is within yang, and yang within yin.

Yin and yang are two opposing forces in a constant state of tension. They are the same whole, but perceived from different directions. Together, they complement each other, and, although they will seek always to find balance in their union, their relationship is not static. It is dynamic and ever-changing, in infinite movements of ebb and flow. If one diminishes, the other increases, but as balance must be maintained, the relationship will seek to restore equilibrium. Through their movements and their dance of balance, yin and yang make up the cycles of the universe, of nature, and of man.

We have, therefore, two conflicting constructs around the issue of balance: one which extols it and the other which abhors it, but both of which are necessary. It is the opinion of some that extremes of energy imbalance are necessary for greatness. I have come to no conclusion about this point, because I have no way to test it. Some have expressed the view, for example, that Einstein could not have “sat for twelve years” waiting for the inspiration which led him to the theory of relativity, had he not had a massive excess of Kidney yin and a serious deficiency of Kidney yang. Certainly, the fact that he had enormous puffiness under his eyes supports this theory. However, I would rush to point out that many people “sit for twelve years” and accomplish absolutely nothing, and, while the capacity to wait is essential to creativity, so too are imagination, intelligence, a coherent and organized ego, a capacity for awe, and profound grounding.

Disharmony, in my opinion, is an extreme of normal function. Human beings have a limited repertoire of behaviour, so that even the most abnormal and bizarre conduct and cognition are recognizable in the most ordinary person. Hallucinations and ordinary fantasies (or daydreams) are of the same fabric. The former, however, lack the essential ingredients – strong and clearly-controlled boundaries – that characterize the latter as healthy, creative activities. While the extremes that accompany a loss of clearly-controlled boundaries are sometimes necessary in life and in history, for brief, dramatic moments, in order to initiate or complete a desired change, in my experience, extremes as a way of life are always destructive.