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Posts Tagged ‘divination’

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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Mawdesley DawnI began my journal entry this morning with a description of the dawn. I’m on holiday at the moment and would normally have been setting out on my commute, so it was a pleasure instead to look out through the window and begin my day in a contemplative frame of mind with my diary, instead of negotiating a tiresome traffic jam.

The weather is  strange – wild and stormy one moment, breathtakingly calm the next and lacking any general theme, any fixed direction. It had been another black December night, a night of howling wind and horizontal rain, my sleep disturbed by the rattling of the chimney pots. But looking out this morning, just after eight am, I was greeted by a perfectly still dawn, and a bright moon, just past full, rising sedately into a pale sky, all delicately streaked with vanilla and pink striated clouds.

Then I thought: what am I doing sitting here, indoors, writing? So I grabbed a coat, a camera, a pair of bins and set off in the direction of what I call Diana’s arrows, a triangular formation of wind turbines out on the Lancashire plain. I’ve lived in West Lancs for twenty years now, and still have trouble with it. I find the the plain to be such a dreary place – more open air factory than open country, and stinking just now of cabbage and sprouts and mud. In contrast to much local outrage at the time, I welcomed the erection of the wind turbines a few years ago, if only to give me something to look at, and set my internal compass by. I’ve adjusted somewhat over the years to life on the plain, but only by developing an appreciation for the dynamism of the sky, which is by far the most dominant feature here – a full 360 degree horizon and at times quite breathtaking in it expressiveness.

Like the weather, my thoughts have  been thrashing about, torn from safe moorings one moment, and becalmed the next, and like the sky this morning there’s also a unpredictable current to them, no firm direction. By the time I’d got under way, the striated clouds had congealed into a blue grey blanket of overcast nothingness – and the land bore no contrast, no shadow. There was just a flat, uniform and rather dim light under which the muddy plain seemed to shiver and shrink. And there was no life, at least not within the sweep of my glasses – just a couple of wood pigeon pecking at fresh shoots of winter wheat, and a lone woman taking her mongrel dog for a dump.

I felt let down, for the dawn had seemed to promise much, but now, like the land, I felt flat, restless for a defining mood. But the sky would not yield and the sun whose munificence I had anticipated was now a presence only hinted at by a few stray rays bursting from behind that bank of steadily thickening blue-grey nothingness.

But then it happened. The sky shifted, it breathed and released the sun. At once the land was transformed – the flat meadows now revealed in all their intricately furrowed detail, the almost luminous green of the winter wheat set in stark contrast against the fertile soil, black as coal and freshly tilled. Suddenly there were stories here, and ghosts to walk with. I snapped the picture, and turned for home. There was a dynamism, a direction indicated by the finger-pointing of long shadows westwards. Likewise my thoughts began to take shape, pointing me along an unexpected course, linking me back to works undertaken a long time ago, and to names I’ve not heard or thought of in forty years, but who seem now to be hove in sight, arrayed on my horizon like galleons of old.

I turned for home and finished up the diary, then reached for the Book of Changes, but it could tell me nothing I did not already know. It seemed the sky had already prepared me for the way ahead and the attitude I must adopt. I’ve no idea what those galleons mean, whether their guns be to clear a path for my escape into a new adventure, or to level chain shot at my masts, and scupper all my hopes, but whatever their meaning, they will not take me by surprise. I raise a flag in friendship, but keep my eye on the tide and on the way the wind is blowing.

Of course, when I’m up to my eyes in the day-job I cannot think this way, I am straight-jacketed within the narrow confines of rational thought, pressed down in a place where I drown in mediocrity, just one insignificant man eternally subdued by the overpowering sense of his own obscurity.  Only when I am free to seek augurs in the sky, like this morning, and allow with impudence my inner self to indulge in them, do I live as I believe a man should.

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