Hilary Barrett, I Ching

I don’t know the first thing about the Yi

March 17th, 2015

Well, here I am getting started teaching week 1 of the I Ching Foundations Class, so it’s hard to think of a better title for a blog post…

Oh, I know quite a few things about Yi. I know some of its history and the stories behind its words, and how its components work together, and how to interpret what it has to say. Ask me what connects 48.3 to hexagram 29 in particular, or what to make of a reading where you receive it along with lines 1 and 5, and I could probably give you a sensible answer. Ask me about all the structural-interpretive tools I enjoy using, and I could probably write a book.

The first thing about Yi, the one I don’t know: why these words with this line?

Some millennia ago, some people somehow took patterns of lines and oral traditions of myth, history and omens, and put them together. They could look at

 

:||:|:

 

and know that this meant ‘Well’.

They somehow brought about a confluence of many streams of wisdom, and so they created something between a great work of art and a force of nature.

I play in orchestras, and I have trouble imagining how someone like Sibelius or Mahler conceives of new worlds of sound, never heard before, in his mind’s ear. But the mind that did this? I haven’t the beginnings of an inkling; I do not think I have the right kind of thinking apparatus. If I were in the least inclined to believe in visiting aliens, they’d come in very handy here.

As an aside – yes, I’ve read Wilhelm Book III and much more along similar lines, purporting to explain the line texts in light of line correspondences, trigrams and nuclear trigrams. This is a tremendously ingenious post-hoc patchwork of explanations: there is a wheel in 9.3 because the trigram qian is round; there is a wheel in 63.1 because wheels are associated with kan. The horse of 26.3 is there because of qian, the horse of 59.1 is there because of kan – and so on. Marvellously thorough and detailed work, but not (remotely) the answer to my question, ‘How was this made? How did they know to put these words with this line?’

We can imagine words and traditions gradually coalescing around lines. An obvious example would be the threads of Zhou history that found their way into the book – but which do look, pretty clearly, like threads woven into an existing fabric. Perhaps someone cast those lines at those moments and the divination stories became part of the tradition. We do something like this nowadays, after all, sharing and remembering the more vivid stories of our experiences with the lines. But this is still a long way from perceiving for the first time that

||:|::

is the Marrying Maiden.

How is that done? I thought I would ask Yi. (Really, can you think of any other source to ask?)

I didn’t want to ask this one sitting at my desk – I took the beads outside so I could stand on the ground under the sky and ask.

Yi, what happened at this confluence of myth, tradition and gua? How were you made?

 

 

‘Flow.
Small goes, great comes.
Good fortune, creating success.’

(A bird started singing as I reached line 4.)

‘3 coin casting’ video

February 25th, 2015

I’ve taken my courage (and three shiny 10p pieces) in both hands and created another video. This one with my face in…  hiding

It’s about how to consult the I Ching with three coins. I had wondered whether to include this in the Foundations Class, when most people are already familiar with it, but not everyone is. Making this available free ahead of the class seemed a good solution.

Also, it gives me the chance to include a couple of extra downloads – a quick reference, and another booklet on ‘ways of casting’ from yarrow to donkeys.

If you’ve only ever consulted through online readings, this is for you. Hexagrams and lines make a lot more sense once you’ve cast a hexagram yourself.

 

Foundations for confident readings

February 18th, 2015

Thinking about the I Ching Foundations Class has got me thinking about what’s actually necessary to be able to interpret your own readings with some confidence – not with a cast-iron assurance that you’ll never make a mistake, just enough confidence that you can have a useful, creative, supportive, working relationship with the Yi. There are a lot of things it’s fascinating and tremendously helpful to know, a lot of tools that can transform understanding of a reading, lots of insights from long experience – but really, what’s the minimum you need to interpret your own readings? As that’s what I need to include in this class.

jigsaw

This reminds me of a story Jill Bolte-Taylor told, of how – as a grown woman – she found herself utterly baffled by the task of putting together a simple jigsaw. She’d had a major stroke – you’ve probably come across her Ted talk or her book about it – and had everything to relearn. Her mother looked carefully at how she was struggling, and told her she could use the colours to match the pieces. This, Jill says, made her aware of the colours – previously, she hadn’t registered their existence. All at once, jigsaws became a lot more possible.

To put a jigsaw together, you need just a few things: an awareness of the shapes of the different pieces; an awareness of the colours of the picture. Imagine for a moment trying to complete the task with one of those things simply missing from your awareness. But with them, more strategies become available – like putting all the edge pieces together first, or comparing with the picture on the box.

Interpreting a reading is similar. You need to be aware of the colours and the shapes – of how the oracle responds to you in imagery, and how the pieces of the reading fit together. Without either of those, you’re going to be badly stuck; with them, you have foundations on which to build your own style of interpreting and your own relationship with Yi.

I’ve spoken to a few people recently who have both the gifts and the training to understand imagery, but then find their readings look like a jumbled pile of image-pieces: primary, relating, lines, more lines, assorted texts… lots of bits that show no sign of fitting together. The image-pieces can and do still help, but the picture’s missing.

And then there are people who come to a screeching halt when Yi starts talking about kings, feudal lords and marrying maidens, none of which – of course – exists in their world. This is the colour, the imagery – and there are a few simple, learn-able skills to relating to imagery that will make readings a lot more possible.

Is there anything else you need for readings? Probably only some insight into how to ask clear, true questions. (I think this is where my jigsaw analogy reaches the end of its useful life – er, unless having your question in mind is like looking at the picture on the lid?)

How to learn these basics? Some well-chosen reading, years of experience and an abundance of trial and error work fine. I think the Foundations Class will be good, too.

 

A final note. The stroke survivors I’ve got to know from volunteering at the local Stroke Club are tremendously warm, courageous, ingenious and resourceful people, dealing with ridiculously hard problems. The umbrella organisation to support survivors in the UK is the Stroke Association.

 

Hexagram 44, insect bites and nuclears

February 12th, 2015

Here is a remarkable article from Alexa over at the Quotable I Ching, about Hexagram 44 and desire – and, yes, insect bites. Remarkable for how she captures the spirit of the hexagram – and without mentioning the ‘powerful woman’ even once.

:|||||She says the ‘encounter’ of 44 is like the encounter with a biting insect that leaves an itch – an irritation, invitation, temptation and chaotic force. ‘Trouble brewing under the skin’, she says – and you can see that in the shape of the hexagram, I think, with its insignificant-looking little opening in line 1 .

So where does ‘the woman is powerful, do not take this woman’ fit in? Perhaps she represents the strength of desire and the object of desire, and taking the woman is like – well – scratching the itch. It misses the point, because she has further to go. Trying to bring her under control in this way not only works just about as well as scratching the mosquito bite, it also misses the potential, fails to see where this could go. Alexa writes, ‘Often, what we want right now is a scratchy shroud over what our soul longs for.’

Actually, the beginning of her post reminded me of Hexagram 31 as much as 44. Which is interesting, because 44 is the nuclear hexagram of 31 –

44in31

– folded within it as potential, so that 31 shows one way in which the challenge of 44 can be worked out in living experience – through opening to influence, creating space and being moved.

And the other hexagrams of which 44 is the nuclear – the other ways of living it out?

In Hexagram 49 – through radical change, changing the form of government, changing skin. Hidden at the heart of such change is the force that demands it, with an implicit warning that it might not be quite as under control as you think.

(I think Rilke wrote about the 49-experience of 44 in his Archaic Torso of Apollo. Here’s the German original, and an English translationSomehow, an intense encounter with a work of art – that ‘glimmers like the hide of a predatory animal’ – becomes an extraordinary imperative: you must change your life.)

In Hexagram 13, through going out beyond the familiar walls and into the wilds to meet strangers-and-allies. (What if they’re completely different from us? What if they aren’t?)

And in Hexagram 33, through retreating – up the mountain, away from the threat, but still carrying the inner itch with you. (You never know what might visit you, up in the cave.)

Clarity in 2015

January 31st, 2015

I haven’t made a post like this before, but I can see the wisdom in making public commitments, so here goes… this is what I intend to offer you through Clarity this year.

I Ching classes

I’ll run a series of live online classes – using a combination of live calls and private forum for support – through the year. The first will be in March, and I’m thinking of starting with a class for absolute beginners – though that depends on whether there’s sufficient demand.

I’ll send an email to ‘Friends’ Notes’ subscribers soon to ask for your advice and help to design this and future classes. (I just need to create a survey that asks all I need to ask without being stupidly long!)

I’ve pencilled in more advanced classes for June and September – it all depends on what people are interested in – and I expect to fit in at least one more opening for individual readings inbetween the classes. Each class will be for a small-ish group of maybe 20 people, and Change Circle members will have first claim on places (and a discount).

Readings

I’ll open for readings at least once more this year. Exactly when depends on energy levels and other circumstances, so I won’t promise a date for those.

Change Circle, er, changes

Well, no very enormous changes: we still have the private forum, Reading Circle (for posts you would rather not share with Google), and WikiWing, the experienced-based, member-created hexagram-by-hexagram commentary. And assorted useful downloads, discounts and such-like.

I very much appreciate (and depend on!) Change Circle members’ ongoing support, so I keep looking for ways to show it. This year we’re trying something new, where I’m available for 20 minute personal Skype/phone chats each week for any Yi-related questions. These are on Saturdays during February, starting on the 7th. (Details and booking link are here.)

Also, WikiWing is expanding – I’m adding articles on different parts of the ‘diviner’s toolkit’ (like pairs, nuclears and so on) which we can fill out with more examples and experiences over the coming months.

If you’re not already a Change Circle member, would you like to join? You’d be very welcome. Here’s the sign-up page :) .

Hexagram 63 continued

January 16th, 2015

‘…and now the conclusion.’

So as I was saying… trigrams, in Hexagram 63. On the inside, li, fire and light: vision, awareness, lucidity. As an inner trigram, li tends to mean insight into the nature of the time. On the outside, kan, dark depths and unceasingly moving waters that can flow anywhere and take any shape. Everything unpredictable, ungraspable, unknowable – its only constant quality is that it changes.

The trigrams show awareness inside the stream: on the inside, the centre is open, listening and looking; on the outside, the whole stream of stuff keeps on happening, and we keep on acting and adapting.

The two trigrams are complementary – that is, they match up; you can imagine fitting them together like mould and cast, with the firm central line of kan fitting into the open space at the centre of li. In the same way, the noble one’s awareness is ‘fitted’ to the flow of experience. Awareness within the flow means the noble one has some powers of anticipation, and asks not only ‘Now what?’ but also ‘What could go wrong?’

‘Stream dwells above fire. Already across.
A noble one reflects on distress and prepares to defend against it.’

The characters for ‘reflects on distress’ are  (the links are to the Chinese Etymology site). As you can see, both characters contain ‘heart’, and ‘reflection’ is made of heart and head – full awareness. (It’s also intriguing that Richard Sears gives the meanings ‘remember, recall, mourn’ for the character – suggesting it has to do with looking back – in this case, perhaps as a way of looking forward.)

Projecting this constant, open-hearted anticipation into a flow of action is the noble one’s way of always beginning, not falling into the chaos of endings. I think this is not obsessive cogitation about what could go wrong, but more of a compassionate awareness of flows and tendencies – not unlike the noble one’s powers of anticipation in Hexagram 54, as the Marrying Maiden.

And this is followed by practical steps to prepare and defend. The defences, incidentally, are the same word as in 62.3: earth embankments. Perhaps we should be thinking in terms of flood defences.

(This might mean that in my excitable planning phases – those I mentioned in my last post, that are generally followed by a slither down a muddy bank – I need to think not only about all that’s possible with all this energy and enthusiasm, but also what I’ll do when I run out of that.)

The similarity to Hexagram 54 isn’t altogether coincidental. There are quite a few links between 53 and 54, the marriage hexagrams, and 63-64.

There’s the thematic link: you cross the river on the way to your marriage.

There’s a structural link: Already Across and Not Yet Across are a special kind of hexagram pair, what Schorre and Dunne call a ‘river crossing’ pair, formed both by inversion and complementarity. (That is, turning 63 upside down gives you 64, but so does changing every line of 63 to its opposite.) There are only four such pairs: 11-12 (whose nuclear hexagrams are 54-53), 17-18 (whose nuclear hexagrams are 53-54), 53-54 (whose nuclear hexagrams are 64-63) and 63-64 (whose nuclears are 64-63).

And there’s also a link in the zagua, the tenth and final Wing of the Yijing, which begins with hexagrams neatly arranged in their contrasting pairs, and ends… well… chaotically, with apparently unrelated hexagrams jumbled together in a tangle of rhymes. 63-64 are among these: instead of appearing as a contrasting pair, they show up like this:

‘Nourishment is correct; Already Across is settled.
Marrying maiden, a woman’s completion; Not Yet Across, a man’s exhaustion.’

That ‘completion’ is the same word as ‘endings’ as in ‘endings, chaos’. Also the ‘maiden’ herself is etymologically-speaking a ‘not-yet woman’ – as in ‘not yet across’.

The concepts of these hexagrams are utterly intertwined – rather than trying to disentangle and arrange them tidily, I think it’s better to point (with a certain amount of enthusiastic hand-waving) to connecting themes: completion and incompletion, ways and ways of being settled*, different kinds of strength, male and female (archetypally so rather than biologically, I think), and how they’re adapted to handle (in)completion.

* The 63 way of being ‘settled’, by the way, shows a footstep arrived under a roof – the kind of ‘settled’ you have when you’ve arrived home, perhaps once you’re married and ready for ‘happily ever after’. 27’s ‘correctness’ shows that footstep simply arrived. A fully realised 27-situation would be a self-sustaining, self-balancing ecosystem of mutual support. 63-ness… not quite the same.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could create smooth, logical transitions and evolutions between one part of this post and the next? I suppose that was never really going to happen. Ah well. Other things I find intriguing about hexagram 63…

Its nuclear hexagram

I do love the way 63 and 64 – as well as being one another’s complement and inversion – are also one another’s nuclear hexagram. Each contains the other, in a kind of infinite matryoshka doll regress. At one extreme of the Sequence of Hexagrams are pure absolutes that are their own nuclear hexagrams: the Creative is the Creative and Earth is always Earth, no matter how you slice them. Here at the other end, we have something absolutely human, with the struggle to hang on to gains and stay afloat, slippery muddy banks and of course the fine balance between too much alcohol and just enough. What’s complete is incomplete is complete is incomplete; what’s done is undone is done is undone… . These are hexagrams for housework, or the email inbox, or (heaven help us) ‘life lessons’.

Its smallness

Already Across follows – maybe surprisingly – from Hexagram 62:

‘Going past others naturally means crossing the river, and so Already Across follows.’

That’s ‘going past’ as in ‘exceeding’ in the name of Hexagram 62, which means transgressing, crossing the line, going beyond. If you keep on going a bit beyond what’s normal and doing a bit more than the ‘done thing’ – always just a bit, always small and down-to-earth – you find this amounts to crossing the river: a real commitment and real progress.

The smallness persists, though: being already across creates small success, or shows a small offering accepted. And in the fifth line, the Zhou people (the Eastern neighbour) are making a true spiritual connection through a small scale offering.

This attention to the small stuff is all part of keeping on beginning. The lines are also mostly small-scale: a wet tail, a lost carriage screen, leaks to be plugged. Expect difficulty, don’t get sidetracked, safeguard your gains, stay afloat, stay connected, don’t get carried away. (One of King Wen’s reproaches to Shang in the Song I quoted: it wasn’t heaven that got you drunk.)

The third line, of course, is not small scale –

‘The high ancestor attacks the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and he overcomes it.
Don’t use small people.’

That’s a large scale and long term military undertaking, and not for small people. Yet it’s this line’s change that shows the connection to Hexagram 3, Sprouting – or ‘Difficulty Beginning’. (This 60-hexagram gulf, by the way, is the largest distance bridged by a single line-change anywhere in the Yi.)

It’s a very apt zhi gua (anyone would think someone designed this…): the moment where Already Across encounters Difficulty Beginning. That’s the anxious line 3 moment: peering out across the threshold, asking ‘What could this actually mean in practice?’ 63 might say ‘We’ve arrived!’ but 3 knows it’s only beginning. 63 might have conquered a great realm and founded a grand new regime, but 3 experiences this as just a tiny garrison camp in the middle of strange territory.

Hexagram 63, Already Across (a beginning)

January 6th, 2015

63 seems a good choice of hexagram to write about at the turn of the year, with its theme of endings-and-beginnings.

Hexagrams 63 and 64, of course, stand at the very end of the Yijing, and they deal with themes of completion and arrival – or not. Their very order in the Sequence – Already Across first, then ‘finally’ Not Yet Across – is a giant, Yi-scale joke. Despite all that’s been written about hexagram 63 showing everything complete, everything in its right place, it turns out to be all about how we are not finished and had better keep moving and looking forward.

The name of the hexagram is ji ji, already across. As you can learn at LiSe’s site, the character for ‘already’ shows a man turning away from a food pot, already fed. And ‘across’ has two parts: the river, and a sign for what is neat, together, complete, like a field of grain ready for harvest. Together, the word means ‘cross a river’ and also to help or rescue. (Though I’ve yet to see the ‘rescue’ meaning in a reading – anyone?)

River crossing is a big, important image in the Yijing, of course, with the expression ‘cross the great river’ describing a significant and risky commitment. Crossing rivers in old China was perilous in general, not something you’d undertake if still unsure of your direction. And the image also has two more specific roots: one military, one  marital. The Zhou people had a great river to cross to enter the territory of the Shang regime they were called to overthrow. And as part of marriage rituals, men and women would cross rivers to be with one another. Both of these provide useful ways of thinking about what kind of commitment ‘river crossing’ can represent in readings now – in the ‘cross the great river’ idiom, and in hexagrams 63 and 64.

So when you’ve crossed the river, you’ve made a commitment and come to a new place – and this means you have begun, not that you’ve finished. In readings, it points to something already decided or already present. Unchanging it can say, ‘This is not a real question, because you’ve already taken the decision.’ As primary hexagram, it draws your attention to the commitment you’ve already made: ‘here’s what you have to work with now’. And as relating hexagram, it often seems to be saying, ‘There is no external place where you could stand to look at this: you’re inside the process.’ It’s already running – something like a background process on a computer, or maybe like the operating system.

Because of this strong feeling that 63 is about something ongoing, Stephen Karcher in Total I Ching actually translates the hexagram name as ‘Already Crossing’, and his first keywords for the hexagram are ‘begun, underway, in progress.’ There are two aspects to 63: something irrevocably decided, hence ‘complete’, and something ongoing, definitely not finished.

The oracle of Already Across –

‘Already across, creating small success.
Constancy bears fruit.
Beginnings, good fortune.
Endings, chaos.’

– finds an echo in Song 255:

‘Mighty is God on high,
Ruler of his people below;
Swift and terrible is God on high,
His charge has many statutes.
Heaven gives birth to the multitudes of the people,
But its charge cannot be counted upon.
To begin well is common,
To end well is rare indeed.’

(The words used for ‘beginning’ and ‘ending’ are the same, and ‘charge’ translates ming, mandate.)

After this thundering exposition, the remaining verses of the song recount the warnings of King Wen of the Zhou to the corrupt Shang, telling them to mend their ways. He concludes ominously, ‘A mirror for Yin [ie Shang] is not far off; It is the times of the Lord of Xia.’ The Xia had begun well, and ended badly, ousted by the Shang when they fell into corruption. Now the Shang had gone the same way and would suffer the same fate at the hands of the Zhou.

So the Shang found their mirror in the Xia. Now in Hexagram 63, the Zhou have crossed their river and begun well… could they too have a mirror? A hint might be found in the paired lines 63.3 and 64.4 (one of the most clearly ‘mirrored’ line pairs in the book):

‘The high ancestor attacks the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and he overcomes it.
Don’t use small people.’

‘Constancy, good fortune, regrets vanish.
The Thunderer uses this to attack the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and there are rewards in the great city.’

The high ancestor was a Shang ruler who subdued the Demon Country (Guifang); the Thunderer most probably a Zhou general working for a subsequent Shang leader, who had to subdue them again.

The Zhou have fought bravely, crossed the river, assumed the Mandate of Heaven… now what?

‘Beginnings, good fortune.
Endings, chaos.’

But in practice, this isn’t a doom-laden, ‘It’ll all go pear-shaped in the end’ – it’s better read as an alternative: if you are beginning, good fortune; if you are ending, chaos. The Tuanzhuan (Commentary on the oracle) elaborates:

‘Auspicious at the beginning, softness gains the centre [there’s a broken line in the second place]. Stopping at the end means confusion; this dao is exhausted.’

It’s the stopping that creates the disorder. If you decide to stand still when you’ve scrambled half-way up a muddy river bank (see line 1!), there’s only one outcome. And conversely, there is a sense that moving forward is what creates the path, so that as soon as you stop moving, the path runs out.

So in readings this can say – never lose your momentum. Always be beginning.

However, it can also say – expect mess, because only beginnings can be tidy. (It doesn’t say ‘endings, pitfall’, after all.) The character for ‘beginning’ shows a knife cutting cloth: for me, it’s that lovely moment, usually at the beginning of the year, when I plan things out and can see with perfect clarity the shape I intend to create. I achieve inbox zero, I work efficiently, I have beautiful insights.

And then item 59 on the 132-item checklist turns out to be something I haven’t the foggiest how to do, and items 60 through 70 make like enthusiastic bunnies so it’s really a 337-item checklist, or maybe more, who on earth knows? and I lose heart and grind to a halt and end up covered in river-mud by February. (Looking through my journal, I do mostly get 63 as primary hexagram about work. I’m still learning to be always beginning…  appropriate, I suppose…)

The decision, however epic it feels at the time, is the easy part.

The trigrams provide another way to relate to th

capybara on muddy bank

(Capybara © Nuzza | Depositphotos)