Yanantin: Dancing with Duality

I have always been happy to suspend my beliefs in order to dance with opposite concepts, such as the Everything and the Nothing, the Infinite and the Instance, Self and Other, good and evil, or spirit and physicality. With some investigation it is apparent that seemingly intractable dualities are intricately, deeply connected – perhaps just different expressions of the same thing.

The Q’ero shamans of Peru have a word for this. I was thrilled to discover their concept of “yanantin”, which is the harmony of complementary dualities, because it speaks to me at my core, and I’m sharing these words in case someone else would be just as enthralled.

I think that situating myself in reality means being aware and present within the whole picture: the yanantin that encompasses both what seems “real” to us and what doesn’t. The truth is everything is real. (Remember the physicists who are happy to say that in an infinite universe, everything you imagine and everything possible must actually manifest in physical reality.) Dancing with opposites situates us in the bigger picture of potential and wholeness.

As Hillary S. Webb writes in her excellent book, “Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World” (a book she was kind enough to send me at a difficult time in my life when I legitimately couldn’t afford it):

“Similar to Chinese Taoism, Andean philosophy views the opposites of existence (such as male/female, dark/light, inner/outer) as interdependent and essential parts of a harmonious whole. Because existence is believed to be dependent upon the tension and balanced interchange between the polarities, there is a very definitely ideological and practical commitment with indigenous Andean life to bringing the seemingly conflicting opposites into harmony with one another without destroying or altering either one.”

At its best, the concept of yanantin expands our awareness and challenges us to go deeper, to think beyond dichotomy and live in the balance between body and spirit. Yanantin can teach us to be in better relationship with things like giving and receiving, ego and selflessness, and so much more.

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