...life can be translucent

Who should cast the hexagram?

I had this conversation again with a client the other day. Which was better, for me to cast the hexagram on her behalf, or for her to do it herself? Some people are concerned that if they cast for themselves, their own desires might somehow make the oracle ‘go wrong’; they want the hexagram cast by someone more objective. A few are concerned that if I cast for them, the reading might not be purely theirs.

In the very select group of Yi-bloggers, Allan Lian has opened this debate by asserting that it’s utterly unprofessional to ask your client to cast their own reading. “If they could cast accurate oracles in the first place, there was no necessity for them to call upon your services.” To which Harmen Mesker replies, sensibly, that “being a Yi consultant involves more than throwing coins,” and he himself would ask his clients to cast for themselves to make clear that the responsibility is theirs.

My own view is that it genuinely doesn’t matter. Your reading is your reading – the oracle talking to you through the lens of your question – no matter where it’s cast. I don’t believe that the power of this connection is contingent in any way on physical contact or proximity. However, it is contingent on the quality of our awareness – and since we experience ourselves, by and large, as physical animals in a single location, having a different person cast the coins will feel different.

Personally, I’m not used to having other people read for me, but when they do I find it harder to connect with a hexagram when I didn’t watch it ‘grow’ myself. And when I’m reading for someone face to face, I typically hand them the beads and show them which stone corresponds to which kind of line. (Though I certainly agree with Allan that the moment of crisis when someone consults the oracle is really not the moment to teach her the yarrow stalk method!) On the other hand, many people I read for actually feel more relaxed about accepting a reading I cast for them, even when they’re quite familiar with the procedure themselves.

So I simply leave the decision to the client. I always allow as long as it takes to immerse myself in their situation and way of seeing, so we can arrive at the most natural question, and so that I’ll be able to immerse myself in their reading in the same way. And then if they don’t want to consult for themselves, or don’t know how, I would always ask, formally, for permission to consult on their behalf.

Harmen’s post continues with a very interesting outline of his own procedure for reading for others. It sounds good to me: dialogue-based, without presumption, and fuelled by a desire to get people consulting for themselves. I would agree wholeheartedly with all of this – I can’t imagine a better outcome than a client who quietly buys her own books and opens her own conversation with Yi. (Which is why I have an I Ching course as well as providing readings – since the moment when you most need a reading isn’t necessarily the best time to start studying methods of interpretation.) And I like his insistence on asking questions: it’s been my experience that pretty much any reading works as question as much as answer.

I’d add, though, that part of the consultant’s job is to nurture those first connections between querent and reading. Sometimes they’ll spring into being as soon as you offer the names of the hexagrams. Sometimes, though, it takes a little more care the diviner’s part: “You mentioned feeling trapped, didn’t you…? Well, the name of Oppression shows a tree hemmed in on all sides by walls…” Or, “You know you were saying you’d fight for your relationship? Well, about Hexagram 7…”. And there is so much to be gained from a reading, that this work of finding yourself within it – finding a place to stand, where you can see the whole landscape – is an essential first step. Without it, you’re liable to drown your querent in floods of information overload.

For more approaches and perspectives on reading for other people, have a look at this I Ching Community thread from last year.

One response to Who should cast the hexagram?

  1. In a lesson to counselors and friends, Tsze-yu said, “In serving a prince, frequent remonstrances lead to disgrace. Between friends, frequent reproofs make the friendship distant.” (Analects 4. 26)

    Therefore one seldom remonstrates with my boss or client unless he seeks my advice again. If the boss or client has every intention to slam his head into the wall, no remonstration can stop him. As his corporate adviser, I can always make suggestions to rectify his mistakes afterwards. One also rarely reproves friends – they are wise enough to make their decisions and take responsibilities for their actions. Unless they transgressed upon what is right and just. For example: a Daoist friend trying to lay the blame on Confucius for past woes in China!

    Harmen acting like a Junzi thinks of the sanctions of law (Analects 4. 19), how can one fault him? After all, it is a known fact that the West is more litigious than the East, therefore his concern is valid. If one continues the debate in a single entry, one could be accused of spoon feeding Yi aficionados and consultants. And kind teachers like Hilary could be out of a job! See, it is always difficult to remain blameless.

    Therefore it would be better if one makes entries over a span of time to support why it is important and professional to cast for our clients. Not forgetting how to phrase questions, and interpreting the Oracle for clients. That is if I have not forgotten how to! But do remember, if the Yi does not speak to us or has never done so, then the entire consultation is superfluous.

    (If you want to see how the Yi speak to a sincere Yi fellow, access ‘The Useless Tree’ blog of Professor Sam Crane. He asks the Yi more ‘down to earth’ questions than me!)

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