Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Book of (real) Change

I’m running a free call this Sunday (10th) about the I Ching as ‘book of transformations’. This is all part of the preparations for this year’s I Ching Class: I’m trying to use the free calls to give a flavour of what it’s about, as well as some practical suggestions and techniques you can take away and use.

This call’s about divination beyond fortune-telling. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the I Ching can’t predict the future, because ‘can’t’ turns out to be a remarkably silly word to use of this oracle. (Also, it can – I’ve seen it happen.) I’m saying that this isn’t the true value of it – in a way, it’s a distraction. “I Ching” translates into English as “Change Book”, and change happens in the present moment. 

To start looking at this on a small scale – because this is how the I Ching works, one question and one (usually small and subtle) inner shift at a time - 

On the face of it, it’s obvious how consulting with the I Ching can bring about change. You ask for advice -

“What would be a good approach here?”
“How can I achieve that?”
“How can I cope with this?”

 - and you receive it. The answer contains suggestions for ways to act that you’d never imagined, or that you hadn’t quite had the confidence to try; you try them; the situation changes; so do you.

But I doubt the I Ching would have been quite so popular for the past 3,000 years if its answers only gave advice. Advice, after all, is of limited usefulness:

“‘How can I possibly cope with this hugely stressful situation?”
“Stay calm.”

Well, gosh, thanks, why didn’t I think of that?

Advice – especially advice about making inward changes – inevitably tends to be abstract. There is no world shortage of this kind of thing.

(In fact, ‘simplified versions’ of the I Ching – you know, the ones that scrupulously remove all that ‘difficult’ old imagery – only add to the supply. When someone tells me they’ve made an I Ching reading and been left wondering how to do what it advised, the chances are they’ve been using one of these, and never had the chance to hear what the I Ching had to say. But that’s a whole other rant…)

The I Ching’s advice comes in the form of stories to inhabit and imagery to step into. Seeing the same situation in a new image is a superb way to transform the situation – starting with your experience of it, and spreading ripples of change out from there.

The I Ching is full to overflowing with mini-parables and vivid characters. You might be invited to become a crane calling her young, or a king, or an apparently-powerless second wife, or a farmer, or a suitor, or a tiger. You might get to see your situation as a tiny vignette (a ram butting a hedge, a cart’s axle coming adrift, an illness that needs no medicine), or it might be revealed as part of a great mythic arc. It’s possible to talk about what these things represent – but not to reduce them to that.

To take an example I might have shared before… that “How can I possibly cope?” question. I asked that one at a time when I’d been congratulating myself on how well I was handling all the stressors – until just one more arrived, and the camel’s back broke with a resounding crack. I felt exhausted, hollowed out, with nothing left to cope with even one more thing. So I subsided to the floor, grabbed the beads, and asked Yi how I was meant to cope.

Yi said:

‘The Well. Moving the capital city, not moving the well.
Without loss, without gain,
They come and go, the well wells.
Almost drawn the water, but the rope does not quite reach the water,
Or breaking one’s clay jug,
Pitfall.’

This overturned my whole way of thinking – the idea that I had my own resources to draw on, and now they’d run out. The inner resource, said Yi, had not gone anywhere – in fact, it could not be diminished. The only question was whether I was reaching it.

That’s basically what I learned from the reading – but only a pale reflection of what I received. There was an abrupt, complete change in how I experienced that inner hollowness and darkness (a well is a deep, dark pit…) - that is, my physical awareness of my own emotions changed. And so my way of responding also changed, on some indescribable energetic level.

So… that’s one way (of many) that the Change Book sparks and nurtures change. More examples, and some suggestions on how to tap into this kind of potential, will be in Sunday’s call: here are the details.

There’ll also be time on the call for me to answer questions about the I Ching and how to work with it as a ‘Book of Transformations’. Please could you send me your question in now? That way I can fit it into the call and include it in the handout. Post your question in the comments, or use the Q&A box on the call page

Thanks!

8 Responses to “Book of (real) Change”

  1. re5ga Says:

    What is the best way I may economize for the month of June?

  2. Hilary Says:

    Hi Rega, and thanks for posting! I might do another call in future with readings, but this one’s for questions about the I Ching rather than to the I Ching.

  3. Enmedio de la Tierra Says:

    The Yijing says: “In that it [The Book of Change] serves for exploring the laws of number and thus for knowing the future, it is called revelation”

    The Yijing says: ““The Changes illumine the past and interpret the future. They disclose that which is hidden and open that which is dark. They distinguish things by means of suitable names. Then, when the right words and decisive judgments are added, everything is complete.””

    Tthe authors of the Yijing, what can they know about the REAL value of the Yijing? ;)

  4. Hilary Says:

    Well… the authors of the Dazhuan aren’t the authors of the whole book, of course, and I think we’re allowed to mention things they didn’t say.

    They did say some remarkable things about the nature of Yi, though…

    Opening the book at random:

    “Yi, being aligned with heaven and earth,
    can wholly set forth the dao of heaven and earth.
    Yi looks up to observe the patterns of heaven,
    and looks down to examine the veins of earth.
    Thus:
    it knows the causes of darkness and light, origins and ends;
    it comprehends the meaning of birth and death,
    how form and essence fuse in an entity,
    lasting until the soul departs in alternation.”

    (Richard Rutt’s translation, from his Zhouyi.)

    I think I’m going to re-read :) .

  5. Chris Willmot Says:

    If the I Ching is a book about changes, an obvious question to me is, “Which changes?” Change is everywhere, from oscillating air molecules making sound through to the rising and flattening of mountain ranges. Even assuming this book is tuned, optimised, for human-scale change, that is still mind-bogglingly extensive.

    It seems unreasonable that the same 64 hexagrams apply equally well to details that change in a breath as to the sweeping changes worked in us over a lifetime. So my question is, “Which scale of changes is Yi best suited for?” For example, emotional questions come and go quite quickly — over in an hour or two; whereas political questions may take years to formulate, talk through, become the consensus view and finally be allowed to happen.

    Of course, that begs the questions of (a) contexts (What range of contexts are most appropriate?) and (b) historicity (Would that be the contexts the words were written for, or does Yi work in the (eternal) Present Moment?). But then its always easier to come up with questions than the answers, isn’t it?

  6. Lisa Says:

    “This overturned my whole way of thinking…”

    Would you be willing to go into more detail about *how* 48 unchanging changed your reaction to the stressful situation and enabled you to cope? Did you maybe see it as an affirmation that you really did have the inner strength you needed?

    I suspect if I’d gotten the same reading in a similar context I would have seen it as the sort of shallow, not-terribly-useful advice as “stay calm” – i.e., “dig deep.”

    Either that, or I would have focused on the negative aspects: “…breaking one’s clay jug, Pitfall.” It may have even seemed like Yi was yelling at me for losing it!

  7. Hilary Says:

    Chris – nice questions! Given that Yi can talk about any context and any timescale, I’d never given much thought to what worked best. It might be more a question of what human attention span and openness is best suited to, though, don’t you think?

    Lisa – I’m not sure what more I could put into words. Yes, it was certainly an affirmation that the strength was (always) there – but it also interfaced in some strange way with my physical experience of the emotion, and changed that. That was the experience I was trying to convey – that there’s more to the reading than just its content of ideas.

  8. Hamming Says:

    This is my first post here. I never heard about I Ching before. After reading several posts, I think it’s really interesting. It talks about “change”. I’ll try reading as many posts as I could to understand I Ching better.

    PS. What a nice website you have?

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