One recent morning, the ground beneath me shifted. I was reading a book by 曾仕强 Zeng Shi-Qiang, a prominent scholar in Chinese thought and cultural wisdom. While reading, I encountered a four-character phrase, something that is common in the Chinese language. The phrase is 静观其变 (jìng guān qí biàn).
The message in the writing
I mindfully contemplated the four-character phrase in front of me, considering each character’s meaning to unlock a deeper significance. Breaking the phrase down in my mind, I started with the first character, 静 (jìng) silence; the second, 观 (guān) observe; the third, 其 (qí) it; and the fourth, 变 (biàn) change. A surge of clarity rushed over me as the concealed meaning of the phrase enlightened my mind. And I realized how directly these four characters spoke to my plight.
In English, the four characters may best translate as, “In silence, observe the change.” My mind flooded with various thoughts and images of Chinese characters while the ever-widening significance engulfed my being. As the specific meaning of the four characters targeted my reality in that moment, I lingered in awe at universal wisdom and the precise vagueness of the Chinese language.
Sitting in contemplation of the phrase, “In silence, observe the change,” it urged me to be calm and experience the happenings in my life without judgement. I recognized the call of wisdom to accept things as they presented themselves and not judge them according to my will.
Shades of change
Change is a concept not completely engrained into the English language nor embraced by American culture. What we understand as change is, many times, detached from reality. Change is something we have become conditioned to battle with and struggle against, something we feel a need to control. Uncontrollable change is reminiscent of the weather or vacillations of thoughts, but the wisdom of change is profound and permeates everything.
When I observe change in silence, I recognize how to embrace and work with change.
Perhaps you have heard of “The Book of Changes,” also known as the I Ching, or more correctly, the Yi Jing (易经). The Yi Jing is one of the earliest Chinese classics. They based it on the concepts of change observed in nature by Chinese ancestors — the founders of early Chinese culture. In fact, the Yi Jing is foundational to Chinese thought, culture, and worldview, more commonly referred to in Chinese as “universe view.” The Yi Jing was already in use when they created the Chinese writing system. Therefore, the Chinese writing system sustains a language infused with concepts of the Yi Jing and yin-yang. It’s a writing system where the reader visualizes meaning through imagery more than through sound.
Observe and learn
Legend tells us that Fu Xi (pr. foo shee), the legendary first Chinese emperor, not only involved himself in creating the Chinese writing system but is also the founder of Chinese cultural practices such as hunting, farming, and animal husbandry.
Fu Xi meticulously observed all the directions. In doing so, he gained insight into interactions taking place, interactions maintaining to certain conditions that induced change. Fu Xi noted the influence of energies that harmonize yin-yang opposites, like night and day, cold and hot, moon and sun.
This balance of opposites is what we understand as the concept of yin-yang. Yin, the feminine energy, and yang, the masculine energy, are universal ripples of opposite energies maintaining a harmony induced by non-aggressive opposing energies. Universal energies are not in sync with human desires nor worldly expectations, therefore, when we adapt to the fluctuations of life, a sense of harmony emerges within us. The application of this universal wisdom is a catalyst for balance, notwithstanding outcomes.
When we observe and understand how non-aggressive opposing energies interact to cause balance, we understand the forces of life that work for or against us. Insight into the affects these non-aggressive opposing energies produce is resident in our hearts and minds. We need only be open to seeing it in our lives and surroundings to recognize its existence.
Throughout each day, we consistently make subconscious choices to accept or resist the ripples of change that flow through our lives. Frustration and contentment are the outcome. The decisions we make, the directions we move, all set the tone for what emerges from the energy of thoughts and stories created in our minds. These creations set the scene for how experiences unfold — in harmony or disarray. Energy of acceptance works as a catalyst to balance outcomes. It does not change outcomes directly but can induce into them the energy of change.
For me, the key to acceptance is through my thoughts — awareness, and the practice of thought observance. Following a pleasant outcome, I reflect on the how it gained support through energies I control. After a negative result or frustrating experience, I reflect to discover how my energies influenced that outcome, and where I can shift to accept the results. Just as Confucius’ student Zeng Zi said, 吾日三省吾身 “I contemplate my thoughts and actions throughout the day.” In doing this, I see how my thoughts and choices affect outcomes; I learn to think better thoughts and make better choices.
When I observe change in silence, I recognize how to embrace and work with change. Even when the outcome is not desirable, I strive to sustain a harmonious state of mind. Now, fostering contentment, the midpoint between anger and happiness, is within my control as I adjust my thoughts and inner energies.
In all things, change is the logical result
I recognize a core Yi Jing phenomenon in the expression 物极必反—When energy reaches a pinnacle it must switch. This prompts me to watch change as a process of one energy reaching climax, then flipping to the opposing energy. I consider this the burning out of one energy giving way to the opposite.
When we don’t govern our energies, they may reach a climactic level and burn out, reverting to an alternative energy. This could be the envisioned outcome. Yet consider becoming consumed by the yang energy of anger and rage, the result is mental and physical exhaustion followed by introducing yin energy such as sleep or rest. Nature imposes balancing mechanisms for when we lack skills to manage the energies ourselves.
When we see the wisdom in change, we experience a liberating sense of contentment.
Learning self-control resonates in the phrase, “In silence, observe the change.” Silence is the proper state for mastering self-control and observance is key to learning. When applied skillfully, contentment is the fruit of acceptance and supports healthy happiness.