Sunday, September 28, 2014

What is the I Ching?




"I Ching, therefore I am!" 

-- So reads the tagline to this blog. My longtime friend Yvonne coined the phrase, and it stuck with a giddy ring of truth. I've been studying the I Ching since 1981; its wisdom is woven into my bones.

The question, "What is the I Ching?" is one thread in the weave ... a question that I can't answer simply (I wonder if any of us can). Translated into English, I Ching -- or Yijing, a more modern transliteration of the Chinese -- means (The) Classic, Book of Change, The Book of Changes, The Changes of Chou (Chou being a tribal people of ancient China, c. 400 B.C.), Change Book, and (The) Classic of Changes. 

One word, one theme, keeps recurring ... Change. 

The fact of perpetual, unchanging Change is the unifier; it is the constancy of change that the Book addresses through 64 Principles most commonly known as Hexagrams, which are sequenced arrangements of lines, based in a basic binary understanding of existential laws that after 33 years of study, I still can't make much sense of.

However! ... One of the fundamental beauties of the I Ching is that its wisdom reveals itself through so many avenues of intelligence. Each reader, each student of the Book, will come to understand it in a completely unique way. My understanding leans to metaphor, psychology, intuition, poetry, and dialogue. Others' grasp of the oracle (an oracle being a source of wisdom) tend to the mathematical (Here's a site by digital/software artist Antonio Cortez -- Inspired by composer John Cage, he's created  a series of 3D hexagrams which, in his words, "capture the spirit, form, and meaning of the original hexagrams"), visually artistic (Cortez again ... and here I think of J.S. Bach, whose music reached a pinnacle of mathematical beauty and expression), historical, cultural, symbolic, and linguistic. There are as many understandings as there are people who delve into study. This is one of the gifts of the I Ching ... Its wisdom speaks through so many voices (as does the wisdom of the Bible and other holy books through their many translations).


(Art: a teaser-chart of Antonio Cortez's 3D I Ching creation)


With all this in mind, I'm going to jot some "first thoughts" that anchor me in meaning to this oracle that has been one of my constant companions through the changes of the last 33 years. Perhaps my thoughts will spark your own; I'd love to read your meanings and hunches about what the oracle is to you.

The I Ching is ... 

* a wise guide through the constant inevitability of change -- through every passage and possibility of human existence
* a conversation; a dialogue between a person and an oracle (oracle = source of wisdom)
* one of the voices of God ... of Existence, of Life, of our Source and Sustenance
* one of my primary modes of prayer
* a book that Carl Jung revered (he called it "both a supreme expression of spiritual authority and a philosopical enigma ... For lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom -- if there be such -- it seems to be the right book.")
* a natural complement to the Tao te Ching of Lao Tzu and the works of Confucius
* a mirror of the moment
* an engagement between now ... and then
* one of China's most ancient and revered guides to ethical living, as sacred to people of the Orient as the Bible is to people of Judeo-Christian heritage
* the sanest book on my shelf
* a consistently benevolent, universal, sensical, and humane philosophy
* a practical and immediately applicable manual for living that addresses, with exquisite simplicity, the core questions we have always asked about existence and about the human condition
* an oasis in which to consider questions of relation (To whom do you belong?), location (Where do you belong?), and vocation (To what work/vocation do you belong?)
* sometimes, a scathing wit (and always a humane one) -- I've fallen over laughing several times. Once, in a fit of frustration, I asked the oracle, "What am I supposed to let go of!?" -- The response: Hexagram/Principle 59 -- Dispersion!  
* a soul-mirror of the present moment and of possibilities
* not a human voice, nor an inhuman one ... It is the voice of Wisdom
* not a predictor; not a "fortune teller." The Book offers a snapshot of a moment, its underlying dynamics, and possibilities for behavioural and existential movement; for engagement with what is into what might be ... a platform from which you can change your life in any moment
* a way to propel imagination and intuition into action
* a way to gather mindfulness and mercy into your situations and concerns; a way to hold, behold, and befriend what irks you ... into what might inspire you
* a way to understand how the natural Elements of existence interrelate and act upon all that is
* a distillation of witnessing, wondering, musing, grappling, testing, and apprehending
* a compendium of natural elements, processes, and laws (as Jack Balkin writes in his masterpiece, The Laws of Change, "What are the laws of change that govern human fortunes, and how can human beings understand these laws and learn to live in harmony with the changing world around them?") ... and a means whereby to understand them -- to the point that any person can!
* an engagement of human meaning and mastery with existential Mystery

What is the I Ching to you?


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Change Itself

Change alone is unchanging.
(Heraclitus)

We humans have a paradoxical relationship with change; we welcome it, dread it, fight it, deny it, egg it on, thumb our noses at it ... We tend to perceive and judge change as this Big Thing always outside ourselves; a Thing that sooner or later will pounce ... an X-factor, a wild card, a snarling tiger, the monster under our bed, the bogeyman, the enemy ... The Unknown.

I see change as something akin to gravity: it just is. Change is not a thing; it's a process ... it is simply Life, moving ... Change is the nature of Nature; the ever-shifting ground of being. Sometimes the shifts are subtle, as in Hexgrams 57 (THE GENTLE), 5 (PATIENCE), and 52 (KEEPING STILL). Sometimes we are broadsided, knocked off our feet, stunned by change -- Hexagrams 51 (SHOCK), 28 (EXCESS), and 29 (DANGER) all can indicate a condition of overwhelm and crisis. Sometimes we are called to be agents of change -- Hexagram 10, CONDUCT, invites us to consider how we will act, and Hexagram 32, PERSEVERANCE, advises us to relate and act with a certain trust in the constancy that underlies constant change.  

As I sit here right now, musing and typing, I become aware of so many tiny changes. My thoughts rove through possibilities as my brain composes. My bare feet paddle each other -- a long-time gesture of self-comfort and bodily awareness; I sense a gurgle of hunger in my belly, and a flush of heat sweeps over my skin -- today is a scorcher; my eyes shuttle between the hazy sky, the computer screen, and my teacup. I lick my lips, close and open my eyes while thinking, and I breathe. A fly skitters across the screen of my window; a songbird flashes across the sky on the screen's other side. My eyes blink. I breathe ... I breathe ... I breathe ...

Perhaps our fundamental pivot point of change is the breath. 
Every living being, in its manner of transpiration with Life's basic elements, 
is the changer, the changing, and the changed. 
All at once, all the time.
Can we live more at ease
with this truth?

Even a stone changes, though not to our naked, fleeting eye. Lichen filigrees its minute way across a stone's face ... A single grain of forest soil, borne by a breeze from its recent sojourn in a fallen log's crevice, skitters like a diminutive tumbleweed over the stone; a shaft of sunlight captures the whisking, before shadow and stillness mute earth into earth and another geologic chapter has been written in the long span of a stone's life.

Does a stone breathe? I don't know ... but it acts in perpetual exchange with the world around it. The perpetual exchange of elements with one another is the root of all change here on Earth. We, too, are elements in perpetual relation with all that exists ... whether we are aware of this constancy or not.

As we breathe, we change; every breath is a change. When we choose to be at home with this essential process, we become more at home with change itself; we no longer see it as the dreaded monster under the bed.

We act -- our most basic act is to breathe -- and we are acted upon. Always. Each of us is a change agent -- a catalyst -- just by being.



(Jody Uttal, "Breathe -- You Are Alive")

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mission Accomplished: Forgiveness (Principle 40, Liberation)




A serenity of cracked
granite, softened
to crumbles
sifted through fingers
extended beyond
all parting

All regrets
have died
to this strange
surprise of gravity
freed of gravitas


(Photo: "Dust" -- unknown artist)

Friday, January 31, 2014

What to do with the question?

We approach the oracle with a situation, a concern ... a question. The oracle advises. I got to thinking this morning, "What could be one or two words of advisement for each response that the oracle gives?" Here, intuitively, are the responses of each hexagram / principle:



(Photo by marekuliasz, via shutterstock) 

 1. Create it.
 2. Embody it.
 3. Grapple with it.
 4. Learn it.
 5. Abide it.
 6. Spar with it.
 7. Command it.
 8. Unite with it.
 9. Restrain it, lightly.
10. Conduct it.
11. Be at peace with it.
12. Let it sink.
13. Befriend it.
14. Reign over it.
15. Moderate it.
16. Dance with it.
17. Follow its example.
18. Heal it.
19. Aspire to it.
20. See its entirety.
21. Give it justice.
22. Beautify it.
23. Let it die.
24. Let it return.
25. Awe it.
26. Restrain it, mightily.
27. Nourish it.
28. Bear it.
29. Sink into it.
30. Fuel it.
31. Attract it.
32. Persist with it.
33. Retreat from it.
34. Empower it.
35. Progress it.
36. Dim it.
37. Embrace it.
38. Contrast it.
39. Surmount it.
40. Free it.
41. Release it.
42. Bestow it.
43. Resolve it.
44. Encounter it.
45. Gather it in.
46. Ascend it.
47. Endure it.
48. Ensoul it.
49. Change it.
50. Cook it.
51. Shock it.
52. Contemplate it.
53. Develop it.
54. Submit to it.
55. Bask in it.
56. Let it roam.
57. Gentle it.
58. Enjoy it.
59. Dissolve it.
60. Limit it.
61. Revere it.
62. Detail it.
63. Culminate it.
64. Question it. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Hexagram 3 ("at this moment" poems)


It's all splitting open now

The mother of all is

splitting open wide

wide wider to pain

without bend


Mother and other
convulsing as one

become

two.


Writhing,
and rabid

for release

Neither knows yet


itself,

a flower

struck
from one root.



Art: Salvador Dali, "Birth of the New Man," from http://www.meaus.com/index.html

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A perennial question ... and a perennial response (Hexagram 36, CONCEALMENT)


(Photo: Photopathica, "Obscured Light")

"Thirty-six," I thought, "Again." ~ Reader, do you ever notice how one hexagram arises again and again in response to your queries? Do you wonder if somehow, your soul is asking the same question over and over, seemingly disguised as other questions? Is it possible that the oracle is prodding you into an awareness that you haven't yet, can't yet ... won't yet see? Does a singular hexagram seem to replay a theme for you, as if it's a song whose melody you keep forgetting; a theme that might underscore all the currents of how you live day to day?

Are you snuffing out your own light, or protecting it? Is someone else attempting to darken your life, your volition? Remember this:


Sun in the mouth of day,
Moon in the teeth of night -- 
Taste everything, they say;
Swallow nothing but light.

(Robley Wilson, "Envoi")

There is the setting sun, whose light falls away from our eyes, every day. Night is a natural, cyclical concealment. All is dimmed, for a while.

There are the lights that we turn off every night, in accordance with Life. Night has come; we rest; we sleep.


Look at the darkness, giving birth to the sun. 
(Kahlil Gibran)

Then there are the forms of protection, our deliberate dimmings: 1. Natural, as a plant in seed. The husk is hard, impenetrable, so the living can begin within. Intentional obscuring for the purpose of later revelation. 2. Self-protection, for good or ill.  One is in hiding: concealed, eclipsed; protecting the core; veiling the light. 3. So we don't forget: sometimes to be in hiding is simply to play hide 'n' seek: it's a form of play. 




Every fire needs to be put out, eventually, so it doesn't consume what contains it.

Jack Balkin (The Laws of Change) : "Anyone who thinks that the sun will never rise again has lost touch with reality. The same is true of your situation."

Think of Carl Jung's two psychological shadows. One, he thought, was entirely natural, operating in accordance with natural laws (as in the sun's course through a day). The other shadow ... This, he believed, was self-created. Some know it as the monstrous shadow. It is our shame; our concealment of being. This is the shadow that we must work with, deliberately. 


Swallow nothing but light. 



The arc of the sun (Hexagram 35, PROGRESS)


It might seem strange to begin a post about Hexagram 35, PROGRESS, with a quote about "bumps in the road" ... but Hexagram 39, OBSTACLES, is the nuclear (inner; implicit; embedded) principle within 35.

They'll always be there ... the bumps, the challenges, the seemingly implacable inner mountains that so often are the molehills of a life. Some of those challenges are with us for as long as we live. Even so ...

PROGRESS. An easy arc of movement, like the sun arising at dawn. Both an upward movement, and a lateral one. Thus, the arc. We might think of a rainbow.

It's been a long time since I've posted here. Grave challenges have hindered my health over the last few years, including basic abilities like ... thinking a thought all the way through! Even as some challenges have not eased, and indeed have worsened, there is an arc arising.

Inevitable dawn. We so easily forget the dawn during deepest night.

It's fitting to return to this blog with the principle of PROGRESS; my very first post was about it, too.

PROGRESS. It implies:

A Sunny Day
A Sure Sense Of Direction
Appropriate Expansion
Dawn In Progress
Ease of Movement
Effortless Effort
Flow
Full Steam Ahead!
Mutual Advancement
Preparing for Recognition
Refined and Worthy Work
Steady Gains.

Wilhelm's translation of the oracle's Judgment for Hexagram 35 states that "the powerful prince is honoured with horses in large numbers." I think of those "horses" as vital energy, intrinsic power (which is the theme of Hexagram 34). 

Wilhelm again: "The light of the sun as it rises over the earth is by nature clear. The higher the sun rises, the more it emerges from the dark mists, spreading the pristine purity of its rays over an ever widening area ... Clarity rises high over the earth." Progress radiates in all directions. 

"Everything that has a will to live seeks the light," writes Frits Block. Light seeks us, too. The two trigrams that make up the PROGRESS hexagrams are Fire over Earth -- natural elements in their natural placements. Sun over Ground. The "sun" of our mind, illuminating all that we do, if we choose to "shed light on [our] values and clarify what is most central" (Jack Balkin). 

My most recent divination -- a question about receiving spiritual direction from a particular person -- yielded PROGRESS with no changing lines. A huge "Yes!" Hua-Ching Ni, in his masterful translation of the I Ching, writes that "the most important progress to be made is the development of virtue ... by responding to high spiritual influences."

What an affirming divination to receive in early November, just after we've switched back to "standard time", when the world is darkening for Winter's deep sleep. 

Follow the radiance ... and be it.

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