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mending clock 1I was browsing a junk market, looking for an old clock. All I needed was a decent case for a mechanism I’ve had kicking around for years, so the clock didn’t need to be working. I thought I’d be able to pick one up quite cheaply, and the project would keep me out of mischief over the Christmas holidays, while I pondered my next literary adventure. Funny things though, old clocks; broken ones of the mechanical variety still fetch decent prices, while broken quartz ones don’t even make it to the the junk stall – they just end up as landfill.

Modern, consumer grade quartz clocks can look a bit cheap, tending to be housed in frail plastic cases. They do what they were designed to do, namely tell the time, and for a fiver you can chuck it out and buy another when you’re bored with it or it no longer matches your decor. In fact I’ve read recently that most of the consumer-grade stuff we buy is thrown away within a year – even if there’s nothing wrong with it. Society is just designed that way now – indeed the entire global economy relies upon it.

mending clock 2There were a few quartz clocks on the junk stalls, all looking pretty cheap to be honest, costing little and ticking away quite merrily, because unlike their mechanical brethren, there’s not much can go wrong with them. Meanwhile the mechanical ones sulked mostly in mute disgrace – missing pendulums, mangled balances, busted mainsprings and missing keys. They were out of my price range anyway – I’d set myself an arbitrary limit of a tenner. Some of them had good looking cases, but it would have felt wrong to push the budget only to throw the mechanism away and replace it with a battery one. Call me odd, but some things just aren’t right, and I’m not tooled up these days to tackle any of the number of ailments an old mechanical movement might be suffering from. Better to let someone else have the pleasure of that kind of project.

There was just one decent looking quartz clock, and at £8.00 it came in well under my budget. It bore a label that said it was busted, but it was a nice looking case and would probably do for what I wanted. When I picked it up though I felt this busted clock had more of a story to tell. It was heavy for a start, so it was higher end consumer grade. It spoke to me of brass and screws and a way of making things that’s nowadays reserved only for rich men’s things, because that way of making clocks is now just too expensive for the everyday mantle-piece. I’m not saying it was an undiscovered treasure – it was still a consumer grade clock, just from an era when we made things differently. Brass and screws also meant I could take it apart and tinker with it.

mending clock 3I didn’t know the brand, but it said it was English and this dated it considerably because, without being cynical, we’ve not made consumer stuff here for a long time now. How old was it? Well, the only clue was inside, where the ubiquitous little black- box battery movement told me it was of West German origin – so, in truth, it was a bit of a hybrid then, this old clock. West Germany also ceased to be on the eve of reunification in 1990, so the clock was at least twenty five years old. Solid state quartz mechanisms began appearing from about 1980 onwards, so at most it was thirty five years old – old, yes, but not exactly antique.

It was tarnished and a little sad looking, but brass plate polishes up like new and I reckoned I’d done okay for what I paid, though I must admit it didn’t sound like that when I was explaining to the Lady Graeme how I’d been out and bought a broken clock. Anyway, I dug out my tool kit and stripped it down. Sure enough, I discovered generous gauge brass plate and screws – nothing glued, so it all came apart like a flat pack kit. For good measure, I popped open the black box mechanism. Usually there’s not much to see with solid state electronics – at least nothing that makes a visual kind of sense to a mechanical engineer – but this one had a curious electromagnetic actuator that gave the gear train a kick every second, only it wasn’t kicking right because it’s designed to run with the actuator in the six o’clock position, and someone had fixed the mechanism with it pointing to three o’clock. I sorted that out and off it went. Suddenly we had a runner!

mending clock 4So, I spent a happy afternoon with metal polish and an entire roll of kitchen-wipes, polishing the muck from those brass plates and all the other bits and bobs – the machined columns, the turned feet and fixings and handle. They all came up like gold. When it was back together I had a clock worth a hundred pounds. Let’s say it’s about thirty years old – not a bad innings for a consumer item – but it was the manufacturing methods and the materials used in its construction that saved it from the junk bin, and which makes this old ticker among the last of its kind. This is a clock that will still be around in another thirty years, even if it goes wrong, because the quality of the case makes it worth fixing, and it’s easily fixable.

Consumer grade clocks aren’t made out of solid brass plate any more – not in England anyway. It’s not an expensive material, but it takes man-hours to machine and polish and tap and screw, which is why that kind of construction is nowadays reserved for the luxury market. Sure, you can still get higher end consumer grade clocks made of solid brass but they’re made where the hands that put them together are cheaper. It’s not that the necessary skills are scarce or difficult to learn. We have millions of kids now in dead-end burger flipping jobs who could easily be taught to make things this way again. But we don’t teach them, because even on minimum wage their hands are still too expensive, and the companies that made this sort of thing all downsized and moved up market, or went to the wall a quarter of a century ago, ran slap bang into an eastern tsunami of disposable technology coming the other way. That’s why we’ll never make a consumer grade clock like this in England this again.

mending clock 5

I feel a curious affinity with this old clock. We both had our genesis in a bygone era, and although the world has moved on, and indeed looks upon us both these days as embarrassing hangers on from a long obsolete economic paradigm, we’re both still here, still ticking, doing what we were made to do. The clock tells the time, while I ponder both its meaning, and mine.

A sprig of holly.

rivington lakes (1877) - frederick william hulme

The Rivington Lakes – Frederick William Hulme 1872

It’s that season again when the wheel of the year turns to the bottom, or the top, depending on your point of view. November t’ May-brew. In northern climes it’s when our many of our elderly depart for the next life, and we who remain are left nursing the memories of their lives, and of their going. It might be for that reason my steps were drawn to the Yarrow reservoir on Friday – memories of walks with those who are no longer with us. Or it might have been the wind – cold with a kind of hungry despair, and something wet and snowy in it persuading me to stay away from the hill.

It’s about 3 miles round, starting in Rivington village and a favourite walk for when I’m out of sorts, and I can’t tempt myself any further or any higher. I’ve even done this walk at dead of night, with a torch, when I was feeling hemmed in by winter and incessant wet.

Begun in 1867 by the Liverpool Borough Engineer Thomas Duncan, and completed in 1877 by Joseph Jackson, with a bit of help from a nameless and forgotten army of largely Irish labour, the Yarrow is one of a series of reservoirs supplying Liverpool. They were considered a marvel in their day – a combination of Victorian Engineering prowess, and sylvan beauty. The painting by Frederick Hulme (1872) depicts the nearby Anglezarke and the upper and lower Rivington Reservoirs, and though somewhat romanticised, it’s not a bad representation of what you’ll see today if you make the climb up by Lester Mill quarries. The Yarrow reservoir (still under construction at this time) is tucked away, a little higher up on the left of the picture. Nowadays the plantations are much more mature and the reservoirs have bedded into nature nicely. Only in the dry season, when the levels run low do they become ugly.

round rivingtonI prefer a circular walk. There’s something philosophical about it – travelling out, never covering the same ground, yet by a trick of navigation we wind up right back where we started. I’ve a feeling life is like that too. For weather I had hailstones and greenish skies setting out, clearing to brief intervals of a gloomy grey.

There’s a holly tree I know en route, all berry bright, by which I paused, thinking to clip a seasonal sprig. The legality of this is debatable, with townies being surprisingly more pedantic about it than us country folk. I know if everyone clipped the holly there’d be none left to admire by Christmas, but in a couple of weeks that bush will be stripped bare anyway, the holly stuffed into wreaths for sale on the market at £20 a go. Well where else do you think it comes from? So what harm in snipping a sprig for my hall table?

There’s a lot of pagan lore about the holly, and like much pagan lore, dates to about 1954, most of it rather a beautiful, romantic nonsense. It’s a pretty thing at this time of year – the sharp, shiny leaves and the red berry, pitched against the unremitting bleakness of the season. It is about the only thing to brighten our days as the light dims and darkness comes creeping back by mid afternoon. The berries are a terrible purgative – though I do not speak from experience! The wood is beautiful – greenish when stripped, but dries white like bleached bones.

hollyA shaman will leave behind an offering when taking something from nature – a pinch of salt perhaps, or a palm of grain for the wild creatures. But I’m not a shaman, and had brought nothing with me other than my contemplative mood. Should I take the holly? I would be careful with the tree – use a good, sharp knife, take only a few, symbolic sprigs for my hall table. There would be no bark-stripped like a stepmother-jag for infection to seep in – though I surmise the wild holly is a hardy thing and would not take offence.

Just here the land is farmed. A public way crosses the meadow, but the holly bush is tucked down in a little hollow, away from the path. It is, I suppose, for the land holder to strip the holly bush and sell as he pleases, just as his sheep grow fat on the meadow’s sour grass. Even to admire it as I do and take its photograph, involves a short trespass. To actually clip a sprig would be to deprive the holder of his due coinage, and therefore constitute a robbery. He might be an understanding soul and turn a blind eye, or he might not and instead call down a rain of pedantry on my head. But the cops would be a while in coming; it’s remote up here and windy-wild. They might have sent a chopper I suppose, but at around a £1000 an hour I wager they would not think a sprig of holly worth the scramble. I’d be sure to make it home Scott free with my prize.

I imagine the ancient ones decorating their huts with holly as the days slide down to the solstice. Similarly I imagine they decorated their huts with heather in late summer. Perhaps they uprooted the slippery white bluebell bulbs from the woodland to plant around their huts too. Nature would have been more to us in those days. It would have been our only calendar, accurate to plus or minus a week or so and good enough for the times. Nowadays nature is nothing – the wide spaces fenced off and, in monetary terms, useful only as a resource for sheep to graze upon. Meanwhile we wander blind, not even knowing if the moon runs to dark or bright.

Well do you?

The reservoir was mostly empty – a grim tide-line of stones, sucked down in ugly mud, a shallow puddle of brown at the bottom. Terrifyingly deep, these reservoirs, when you see them drained like this, and deathly cold. The embankments are grassed and neatly mown. I spied a courting couple sitting out upon the Turner embankment, as if for a summer picnic. This was a bolder trespass than mine, though I would be the last to tell them.

My mother would pick holly each November to decorate her little house. She did it as a girl in wartime, and it was a tradition she carried on until her later years, when arthritis finally rendered walking even to the kitchen sink a terrible ordeal. Yet she would insist on brewing tea for my visits, brushing aside all offers of assistance.

Sharp. Prickly if not handled with respect. Hardy. Bright eyed.

Like the holly.

Yet I recall she was not so disabled that “Authority” saw fit to grant her the ease and dignity of a blue badge, then she might have parked closer to the doors of the supermarket. If the kitchen sink was a struggle, what was two hundred yards of busy carpark? Twice she was rejected, and even further rebuffed with advice that any appeals would be futile. I remember it well – also her stoic acceptance, and saying she would manage somehow. I can only think those who carry their blue badges, yet seem able to walk into the supermarket perfectly well, were more articulate in their application than she. Still, these are hard times for authority – budget cuts and all that. She was a proud woman, my mother – that she even applied for the damned thing was a measure of her need. She died as she lived: quietly, independently and invisible to the world, except to those she loved. It’s a good way to be.

A strange season of life, this: both parents gone on ahead of me now.  By chance I had my pocketknife with me. Grand things Swiss Army knives.

rivington village green

Rivington Village Green

by fall of night cover smallAt last, I’ve nailed the final sentence of the final draft of my latest novel, By Fall of Night. It’s been a hard one to crack, hard to explore these esoteric and speculative concepts of mind and meaning, and present them as a story anyone would want to read. So I’ll call it a romance and hope for the best.

What’s it about? Well, an asteroid is about to strike the North of England and usher in a second mass extinction like the Cambrian event, the one that wiped out all the dinosaurs – only this will probably take the humans with it. You can forget sending nuclear missiles to deflect it. It’s too late for that. There’s nothing we can do and it looks like the lucky ones will be those sitting right under it when it hits. For newly met lovers Tim and Rebecca this looks like a serious case of bad timing, but it turns out the end of the world may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Dreaming, visions, Shamanism, Christianity, mass surveillance, tick box culture, teaching, dancing, tai chi, meaning of life, the multi-dimensional nature of reality, time travel, muse psychology – I touch on a lot of stuff in here, but something’s changing – age perhaps. I’ve felt it coming on as I wrote the story, that although the concepts I deal with here are of vital interest to me, I’m aware very few people really give a damn about this stuff any more. Those black Friday scenes of fights over TV sets are still haunting me, and are a humbling reminder of a battle for the soul of man, one that seems all but lost now.

Huxley cautioned us that the most successful form of prison is one in which the inmates already believe they are free. They are happy to incarcerate themselves in a frame of mind that is void of depth, robbed even of an innate spiritual awareness. We no longer look at the world and question it, no longer bother to seek enchantment – only entertainment, sex and more and more stuff.

By now you may be getting a rough idea of what By Fall of Night is about. It’s a small oasis in the wilderness of popular thinking, and not much on its own, possibly even ridiculous, but I remain hopeful that if enough of us make a stand, things cannot help but change. As a wise lady once said: it is better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. It’s live now on Smashwords, and like all my other stuff it’s free. You’ll find it in the margin on the right, also here.

I won’t be writing another novel of this kind for long time because it’s bent my head out of shape, and I need some breathing space to straighten it out again. It’s lifted me to a level of personal mythology that’s hard to back-track from and, as far as my own journey goes, it’s been more than worthwhile. But I’m going to rest the heavy stuff here for a bit, and maybe tackle something more light hearted next time.

Thanks for listening.

Marauding Murmurations

slaidburn nov 2014

Slaidburn – November 2014

Slaidburn is the self styled touring capital of the Forest of Bowland which this year celebrates 50 years of being designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. Bowland is a vast tract of peat upland in northern England, mostly wilderness, dotted with occasional rounded hills which lend a gently soaring splendour to bog and windy bleakness. It’s also grouse country, much of the land hereabouts being owned by a few wealthy individuals for farming and shooting – one of them being the Duke of Westminster.

Slaidburn also styles itself as a centre for hillwalking, but I’ve never thought of it that way. Indeed I am from a generation of walkers for whom Bowland was never much on the radar due its aggressive attitude set against public access. Rights of way have always existed here, but they were sparse and I always found them to be of little use for a day’s walking, tending more towards the impossibly remote and leading to nowhere you could easily get back to from a parked car. Attractively named peaks: Wolfhole Crag, Wards Stone, Nicky Nook, and many others were simply out of bounds. Interesting walks – horseshoes, rounds, and any genuine, intimate exploration of this so called  “area of outstanding natural beauty” inevitably involved trespass.

As an apprenticed walker I grew up on tales of a past generation for whom forays into Bowland had the air of a special forces raid, avoiding local spies and gamekeepers in order to bag the peak and brag about it afterwards. A friend of mine was once run to ground among the crags of Ward’s Stone by the keeper’s dog. He befriended it by sacrificing his packed lunch, which kept the dog happy while he made good his escape, losing the keeper in the mist. This story is possibly a myth, but a good one. For myself I preferred to avoid conflict and usually headed on up to the Lakes, or the Dales instead where the ways were more certain, the peaks loftier, and the welcome more assured.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 did much to secure access to Bowland’s upland regions, but actual walkable paths are still sparse. There are some permissive routes, all liable closure at short notice. I’ve had a day’s walk cancelled by local restrictions – access to Ward’s Stone peremptorily closed because of a shoot. That day I remember watching as a convoy of glittering black Range Rovers crossed the russet moor like a fleet of galleons. Inside were quaintly dressed gentlemen with guns. I’d driven 50 miles, so turned around and drove 50 more back home.

Slaidburn was always more of a place to bring the kids for picnics on the green, not usually to walk, but there are a number of lowland routes you can enjoy from here without trespassing, though you need good navigation skills and keen eyesight to spot the way markers and, where the markers have “disappeared”, a fair amount of imagination and a magnanimous attitude to failure.

A foggy day in November isn’t the best of times to visit anywhere, but Slaidburn put on a good show today, managing to look homely and quaint. Mostly sixteenth century and with very little modern development, this attractive, unspoiled village – formerly in the west riding of Yorkshire – has a timeless quality about it. Photographs of Slaidburn are best dated by the style of the motor cars. Shoot in sepia today and the village still has a timeless air about it. Built from a mixture of locally sourced limestone and sandstone, it has a picturesque quality, aided by the lack of road-signage, telegraph poles and powerlines that festoon other places. By contrast modern developments do not respect the local character of a place, indeed their building materials may well have come from China. Not so Slaidburn. This is definitely England, and northern, and very, very old – so old it is, in part, still Feudal.

My walk for the day took me past the Hark to Bounty pub, following the little road, Town End, northwards, out of the village, where I picked up the first of a series of farm tracks and then fast vanishing footpaths that threaded their way across upland meadows, back towards the peaty glide of the River Hodder, at Newton. Hill fog and near 90% humidity made for a steamy walk with misting spectacles and rather poor views across the Bowland Fells.

Newton in Bowland 1There’s a bleak grandeur about this landscape, something that stirs the heart, but I have to admit my heart wasn’t exactly on the walk today so much as it had been on the drive over Waddington Fell from Clitheroe. I’ve crossed that fell dozens of times in hatch-back commuter-mules, playing eye-spy with the kids to keep them occupied. Today I’d driven alone in a little roadster that’s been making every journey I take in her something really special. She was down on the carpark, waiting for me, muck splattered, and to be honest all I was thinking about was enjoying the drive home again.

I am not as attached to Bowland as other walkers are. I suppose it’s had its back to me for too long, and to be frank there are other places more understanding of and amenable to my motivations as a hill man. I was open to inspiration of course, as ever, but it was slow coming.

But then, sometimes, the unexpected happens, like fetching up on a dour, black, wind-blasted farm, sunk in mud, like something from a Gothic novel. And there were birds – great murmurations of birds, like smoke, wheeling about, rendering alive the aged roof of the byre in which cattle sulked in muck, birds perched brassily long their backs and heads, robbing feed and bedding – a mad cacophony of shrill birds and lowing cattle.

Lonely places, these, a hard living from the earth, hunkered down among decaying farm detritus and, for the walker, always something intimidating about it when the path turns through the yard, and the dogs are barking, and the black windows of the farm are staring at you in accusation. And the tractors look tired and rusty. I would have liked a friendly face, a cheery wave, someone to point me in the right direction, but there was no one about and I had to guess my way. I’ve had a chill feeling in my gut all weekend, thinking about that place – a place ravaged by marauding murmurations of birds. And loneliness.

The paths became less helpful as I went on, markers missing, ladder styles that lured you into the wrong meadow – meadows from which there was no escape without a long back tracking – and all this shenanigans with GPS and Sci-Fi navigation app on my ‘phone to mark the way. No, this is hardly a popular area for pedestrians, and I wondered what had brought me there other than curiosity. Sometimes the way could only be discerned by a bit of rubber insulation over the electric fences, then giving on to long trackless runs where it appeared neither man nor beast had trod in centuries. If you like your waking lonesome, then Bowland is for you. Come November, midweek, you’ll feel like the last man alive.

dunnow hall

Dunnow Hall – Slaidburn

I was glad to pick up the surer way of the riverside path at Newton, by the Hodder, a path that led me back to Slaidburn across the wide, landscaped, sheep cropped meadows, and under the multifarious windows of the imposing Dunnow Hall. I had been walking for a couple of hours and seen not another soul, but came now upon my first encounter with fellow man – a muddy Landrover patrolling the fields.

I got a wave and a friendly nod as I made way through thickening mist and a light rain. Tough life, farming, summer sun and winter rain, here as anywhere and enough to do without having to maintain a footpath network as well, so the occasional blundering pedestrian can cross your land without getting lost. Loneliness is a state of mind. We are all lonely. Looking for connection, for a friendly face.

I appreciated that wave. Good to know Slaidburn is still a friendly place. Seek it out sometime; take a picnic on a sunny summer’s day, some bread for the ducks. But walking?

Nah,..

Now, driving on the other hand:

mazda slaidburn 2014

Mazzy – Slaidburn, Late November 2014.

 

 

Yes, as a touring stop-off, a quick coffee in the cafe and even a look at the Church of St Andrews (est in the 1400’s) and which I highly recommend, Slaidburn’s your place. But unless you’re coming here in a Mk2.5 Mazda MX5, designed in Hiroshima, Japan,… I’ll wager you won’t enjoy the drive half as much as I did!

:)

Goodnight all.


The News told me it was Black Friday – insisted actually. Today is Black Friday, it said. Everyone is buying stuff! Cameras point to scuffles in ASDA and Tescos to demonstrate the collective decline in morality as devoted consumers fight over discounted televisions and other tat. But I was already on my way somewhere else. I was going to Slaidburn, taking to the hills for a walk in the mud and the fog of the Forest of Bowland. This is a remote and impressively bleak part of Northern England. By the time I came home it was all over and I’d missed it. Never mind there’s always Cyber Monday!

I don’t think so.

If you did watch the video, thanks very much. Glad to have you along for the ride!

Goodnight all.

Scent and Scentability

girl smelling flowers 2I’m either heading for a breakdown or I’ve tapped a richer vein of words than usual, so much so I’ve decided to split the blog and spare my followers a too regular dose of the Rivendale Review, which could easily be several times a day at the moment and, I imagine, annoying. To this end I’ve begun another blog called Scent and Scentability, where the aim is to focus on, well, scent and the sense of it, or rather the lack of it in my case.

It’s of interest to me, not only because I suffer from anosmia and am keen to explore therapies for curing it, but also because I believe scent to be one of the most emotive of the senses, and vital in maintaining our awareness of the world about us, both physically and emotionally – also of course as an associative trigger and recorder of memory.

The spur in all of this is I’ve recently begun a fresh short course of steroid medication which ought to get me back to smelling things again pretty soon, so I wanted to record that experience, which, having been through it before, I know is wholly positive. The trick though is to maintain the sense of smell once the steroids are finished, which isn’t so certain a thing. Indeed, there will probably be a decline, which I must be prepared for, but I wanted to record that part of the journey as well – and that’s why I’ve subtitled the blog: journeys into and out of anosmia.

One cannot live a life on steroids, which is a pity because they give you one hell of a lift, and may be the reason behind my almost manic creative spurt these past days! This time last week I was feeling pretty late-autumn morose, no energy, lethargic, and wanting to hibernate until spring. Now I’m up for anything. Maybe I was just born a little low on corticosteroid, because this feels more like the real me, even though I know it isn’t.

I do have high hopes for some newly discovered alternative therapies, so it’s by no means inevitable I shall be hitting the buffers of total anosmia again, and risking burning the candle at both ends on yet another dose of steroids. Alternative therapies are legion and I’ve been through most of them, and all to no avail, but it’s always better to be interested in something, than interested in nothing.

The early days of Scent and Scentability has also shown me how far the Rivendale Review has come since I began it in 2008. We shouldn’t get too hung up on the stats, but RR is up to 90,000 hits now, about 3000 a month and rising – still a fairly quiet backwater, but it keeps me busy and stimulated with all your comments and feedback, which I very much appreciate.

Scent and Scentability went up at the weekend, and has recorded 5 hit. Suffice it to say it takes a while for blogs to gain proper traction and find genuine, interested readers, but I consider this a good start and I’m looking forward to the journey.

The Rivendale Review will of course continue unabated, featuring the same eclectic content.

i chingThe idea of a life’s path is central to ideas of human development. But it’s not obvious what that path is, especially when we can only say we’re on it when we’re not deliberately trying to steer our course. And Ego likes to steer, likes to gain knowledge, skill, and to compete against other egos for positions of control in order to secure wealth and power. These are the aphrodisiacs of the material world, a world that divides us into predators and prey. There can be no other way, it says – no surviving life without combat.

Not true, says the Yi Jing.

The Yi Jing, or Book of Changes, is a strange text, one that first appeared in China’s Shang Dynasty, around 1600 BC. It came to the west in the late 19th century as a cultural curiosity, and was taken up by the psychoanalytical movement on publication of the influential Wilhelm (German) edition in 1923. It then became a companion to 60’s counterculture, and is still widely used today. While its core structure has remained untouched since antiquity, the language of its interpretation changes to suit whatever culture it finds itself taken up by. I have several versions of it, and wrote my own interpretation, available here, as a way of furthering my grasp of its curious concepts.

What we normally think of as our life’s path, says the Yi Jing, the path we can see and plot and manage, isn’t really our path at all, but simply our life situation. Our true path is more of an internal journey towards awakening. Our life situation is only relevant to the extent that we are able to adjust our relationship with it in order to prevent it from subverting a more vital inner path. The material world is a world asleep. Hold solely to its values, and you will remain asleep also.

The Yi Jing is unlike any other book you have read. You can talk to it. You ask it stuff, and it answers. The answers are complex, perceptive, and personal. There’s a lot of debate about exactly who or what it is we talk to when we talk to the Yi Jing. Some deify the book, picturing in their minds the spirit of a wise old sage, like Lao Tzu perhaps, or even God, and that’s fine if it’s how you want to see it. But everyone’s relationship with it is going to be different. My own feeling is that when we consult the book, we open a channel to a deeper part of our selves. We ask our question and are then directed to certain apparently random passages and subtexts, the combination of which form a narrative for reflection and interpretation. The answers then emerge in our own minds, riding in on a wave of sudden insight.

I don’t know how it works, and to be frank, I no longer think about it. The ego cannot crack it, but neither can it accept the Yi Jing without explanation, so there opens a divide. On the one side we have explanations that range from the vaguely plausible to the crackpot, and on the other a sour scientitsic rejection of the book as merely the work of an emerging, pre-rational culture. Others say we simply read into it whatever we want to hear, and that’s fine, though this does not explain the fact that if one is open enough, one always rises from the Yi Jing knowing or feeling something one did not know or feel before. Another of its characteristics is that it will never shy away from telling us what we don’t want to hear.

When I read back to my earliest conversations with the Yi Jing, I come across as a very different person, my questions very much concerned with my place in the world: job, relationships, house, kids, cars, holidays, financial ups and downs, struggles for publication,… and the answers read like repeated attempts to make me see I had the whole world upside down, that actually, none of it mattered, that the confusion and the frustration we so often feel in life is based on faulty thinking, and a resistance to events over which we have no control.

While we have no choice as beings in flesh but to operate at the material level of reality, the Yi Jing tells us we should always do so in cognizance of its inherent limitations, and the knowledge that greater understanding of the meaning of “being” comes from exploring the shifting patterns of our inner selves. As a guide to such things, the Yi Jing is without parallel. It is a text that remains as relevant today as it was in Neolithic times.

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