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Grasping the scale of an I Ching reading

One of the trickier aspects of interpreting an I Ching reading has to be working out what scale the oracle’s using. By which I mean, if it says ‘good fortune’, is that a lottery win or a pot of jam in the raffle (for instance)? Does ‘misfortune’ mean mild inconvenience, or threat to life and limb?

This is one of the reasons why it’s not helpful to label a hexagram ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and why instead it’s better to understand the shape of experience and feeling they represent. When Hexagram 47 says ‘there are words, not trusted’, this might represent a catastrophic relationship breakdown amidst complete mutual distrust. But it can just as well represent a tennis player contesting line calls made by a machine. (The character for ‘trust’ contains the elements ‘words’ and ‘person’; he was reacting against calls made with no person behind them.)

I’m just emerging from a gem of an experience of ‘scale’ myself, and I’d welcome your comments on it.

When I was choosing which web designer to hire, none of the readings about individual designers was exactly promising, but the ‘least bad’ option was Hexagram 54, with the first line moving.

With Hexagram 54 I knew I would be abdicating control, and I’d probably find this stressful. I knew I wouldn’t be at the top of his list of priorities. But the moving line –

‘Maiden marries as a younger sister.
Limping, can still walk.
Setting out to bring order: good fortune.’

– made the reading much more promising. There might be limping, but there would still be progress: this wasn’t 54’s ‘default’ where I would be powerless to change things. I was prepared for this to be a challenge, and looked forward to working through it. After all, I’d already enjoyed talking to the man, and he was a fellow ‘solopreneur’, so it was natural to assume he’d provide good customer service.


Three months after the original deadline passed 😯 , I’ve just sent the designer his final payment. The work’s not quite complete, but I can get the rest done without too much difficulty, and I’m pleased with the templates he’s prepared for me and their flexibility.

On that priority list of his, though, I turned out to come below his more illustrious clients, his daily marketing activities, and his kitchen renovation.

The warning was there in the reading; I even understood it and took notes on it. What I didn’t appreciate (oh, the joys of hindsight!) was the scale of the thing.

Could I have done a better job of interpreting, and saved myself all these months of frustration, uncertainty and missed opportunities? Yes, I think I could. I needed to take the reading as my cue to ask more questions until I was sure I understood.

By ‘ask more questions’, I don’t necessarily mean going back to the I Ching, though of course I could have done. ‘What would this experience of “limping” feel like?’ might have been a good one to ask… . But I could just as well have sought out people who’d worked with him before and learned from their experience. I could have read between the lines a little in his first emails to me, where he talked about what an overload of clients he had. And so on.

What I’m learning from this so far is that it’s important in divination, as in any other conversation, not to assume too much. When I’m reading for other people, I’m always conscious of this. The first thing I do is to recognise my assumptions about the situation and ‘bracket them off’ from the work of interpretation, so I can approach the reading with an open mind. Maybe this is harder to do when reading for oneself?

So anyway – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What’s the divination lesson I should be learning from this, in your view?

14 responses to Grasping the scale of an I Ching reading

  1. “…his daily marketing activities, and his kitchen renovation.”

    Younger sister…or youngest? I’d say the scale of this was beyond what you could reasonably have expected.

    That would be what I gathered from your experience and how the reading applies to it. It’s one thing to see it on the scale of other clients taking priority over you (which might or might not matter depending on your own needs and schedule), but entirely another to see it on the scale of coming in last to things that shouldn’t interfere with business at all. Yeah, he’s got a life outside work, of course, but it’s unprofessional to take on too much and then just let it hang fire. It’s hard to expect or be ready for that, even with a few clues.

  2. Thanks for the comforting response! But… part of divination should be being able to see past or through ‘reasonable expectation’. As I was saying, I think this is something that’s easier when reading for other people: maybe I assume less to start with, or maybe any assumptions that come up are easy to spot when they arrive in response to learning about a fresh situation. Or maybe I just take more care 😉 .

    I just visited your site – never knew dragonflies had names like that! Very occasionally, half a dozen will suddenly show up over our lawn, rattling around like miniature prehistoric biplanes. Now I’ll have to run round after them trying for a closer look, so I can find what kind of dragons we have here.

  3. Hexagram 54 is always one to be wary of, simply because of the degree of difference between the judgment and the lines. The first line echoes the judgment, in that journeying is a disaster in the judgment but auspicious in the first line. But clearly in the first line we have two not entirely satisfactory situations. A woman marrying as a concubine rather than as a primary wife (nothing ‘wrong’ with that, but implies ‘not first choice’), and you have a lame man trying to walk and managing. So then it comes down to the prognostication, which is the opposite of the judgment, yet what has changed?

    Personally, I would never base a decision on a prognostication text alone. It is only two characters and could easily have been jumbled up in the assembly of the text, especially when the judgment is the opposite and the imagery of the first line is not an obviously desirable state of affairs (particularly when that lame man appears in hexagram 10/3 with the identical wording [bo neng lu] as 54/1, but where the prognostication there is indeed disastrous). Also, a judgment prognostication usually applies to one of the lines, there is often a repetition of text from the judgment in the lines. Here, though, it is not clear which line the judgment could be related to. It is either the top line (which repeats wu you li), or the first line, which shares a zheng prognostication.

    I would only base a big decision on some imagery that internally resonated as a good reason to go forward, not merely because a prognostication (journeying auspicious) gave a thumbs up or down. The only imagery here is of people not being at their best, so should we allow a mere two characters of the prognostication, which there is reason to doubt, to sway us? I wouldn’t. As you say yourself, you went for ‘least bad’. There’s your clue, doesn’t that mean ‘none of them’? It would have been better to postpone making a decision, and perhaps later present a different selection of designers for consideration.

    As for the scale of a reading, that must always be related to the scale of the question. If you’re asking about going to battle you could win or lose but the scale depends on whether you commit a million men or a hundred. The scale is always related to what you have to lose, which is always how much you are prepared to put into it.

    You bet on a hampered man, knowing him to be hampered. Would you do that if he was running a marathon? I’m not sure you misinterpreted, so much as pressurised yourself into making a decision there and then (the assumption would be that it has to be one of these). It seems to me the situation played itself out as the oracle said it would, but you overtrusted the prognostication and allowed it to sway you into the decision to choose one rather than choose none.

  4. Yes… I think you’re right. I’d been trying for some months to find enough designers even to get a shortlist – if their portfolio looked good, and the code behind it didn’t turn out to be a dog’s breakfast (it usually did), then they generally didn’t answer their email. I was determined not to take the time to learn css positioning etc for myself – there’s got to be something better I could be doing with my time – and really wanted to get on with things. Heh.

    I think the prognostication on line 1 is accurate. When I did set my mind to ‘bringing order’ – when I took the initiative, set deadlines, etc – these were the times I got a good response. Not-wanting-to-be-pushy and waiting instead for him to get back to me contributed a lot to the delay.

  5. Well, the prognostication here is really only about whether or not to go ahead with the proposed venture, not *how* you go about it, since that presupposes you’ve already decided. In other words, the prognostication deals only with whether you employ the fellow or not, not whether you take a reticent or bold stance with him. So, was it the right decision to employ him?

  6. Not as far as I can tell, no.

    However, prognostications do say more than just ‘good/bad if you do’. They can also say, ‘Good/bad if you do it this way.’

  7. Yes, they can, but not the one in question.

    You have to ask yourself what the ‘disastrous’ prognostication of the contextless judgment of hexagram 54 actually refers to. I think it’s probable that it actually applies to the first line, the ‘auspicious’ prognostication given there a mistake.

  8. Wasn’t really meant to be “comforting” – just realistic. I know I don’t go into a business association assuming the other person is going to behave completely unprofessionally; I can only guess that if this person made your shortlist, you weren’t assuming it, either. People generally don’t, and probably shouldn’t.

    The hexagram, IMO, didn’t in any way tell you to expect that kind of near-complete collapse. You were warned about problems – even major ones, possibly – but not warned away entirely. I’d have certainly read it as “I’m not first priority here, and it might being very slow, but the work will be done in the end,” rather than “It’ll wind up three months overdue, I’ll be neglected for personal matters, and I’ll have to actually finish it myself.” Maybe that’s there in hindsight, but personally, I don’t see it, not to that degree.

    Did you do any readings during the design process? I’d be curious if the situation changed drastically at some point. And out of further curiosity, how bad were the readings for the other shortlisters? (Nosy am I. 🙂 )

    (And as for dragonflies, yes, the names are absolutely amazing. As I understand it, within taxonomic limits, if you ID a new one you get to name it, and the standard is to be creative and even downright florid. _Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies_ makes a super companion to dragonfly-spotting, btw; very easy to use, limited to species you’re actually likely to see in a backyard or park, and includes some damselflies as well.)

  9. The work is getting done in the end, and I didn’t strictly speaking have to finish it myself – I just decided to, because I wanted to be able to set myself a deadline. Besides, I enjoy doing it. (Apart from creating graphics… just realised I need to do some of that… argh…)

    I ended up with a vanishingly tiny shortlist, as there were only about three people who answered emails. I don’t remember the exact readings, but I think there was a 12 and a 23. Nothing to make the heart leap with joy. The suggestion of doing the job myself got me 47 unchanging, and I allowed myself to be deterred by that at once, because I was determined to learn to surrender control (54 is a good one for that) and outsource.

    There were indeed other readings, mostly about how best to communicate. A couple of those were instrumental in helping me to finish up on good terms, and happy with how I’d handled things. (Yi issued warnings, I recognised what they meant and kept out of trouble. Pretty much how these things are meant to work!)

  10. Sometimes the situations we encounter only make sense to us after some time when we become more keen to understand life signs. As a diviner you received the hint about the situation and its possible outcome. Being a human being also means to be learning with whatever GOD puts along our way. So do not get sad if you weren´t able to decode/get the extent of the signs . That experience could have made part of your learning in this life. There are some things we must necessarily experience. Thanks for inviting me to join and learn through this site,Hilary!

  11. Dear Hilary, sometimes it is necessary for me to go through with a project, plan, whatever, because there is something I must learn and there is no other way for me to learn it, or something like that. Sometimes, “Trouble is a letter with my name on it.” But, sometimes I just screwed up. Usually it takes a while to figure out which scenario applies and often it depends on whether I actually made the effort to learn. Almost always one of the lessons is that my head is getting harder with the passing of time. Oh well! Also, Thank you and the participants very much for “Answers”, it’s fun, intelligent and educational. Also helpful, interesting, insightful and many other positive adjectives.

  12. Thanks for the encouragement!

    This is definitely in the realm of ‘learning experience’. I’ve got to learn how to outsource… and on this occasion I’ve learned exactly how not to, which has to be useful, right?

    Next question for me to divine on, I think, is ‘What to learn?’

  13. I find that there are two scales or dimensions the I Ching uses. One would be the ‘magnitude’ dimension you describe. What is the prominence or actual ‘size’ of what it says. The other one I would call a ‘symbolic dimension’. A continuum which goes from the totally concrete and literal to the very abstract and well, symbolic. I have had several recent readings where it has been very clear that ‘what you read is what you get’ and attempts to go deeper just seem to dilute the immediacy and relevance of the answer. Of course there are times where concrete and symbolic meanings coexist (most of the times I would say).
    As for me these literal and symbolic layers seem to have two different and complementary roles. While the symbolic aspect of an answer is a powerful gate towards understanding and insight, it is from its concretness and literalness that I really get a feeling of wonder and awe. That nourishing feeling of being known and understood. It is something not unlike the response people often get when attending medium seances, and somebody hears the medium saying “your grandma says she really liked the red carpet you bought last week”. Nothing very deep or symbolic there, but if it really describes the situation, WOW…I’d better pay attention to what it has to say.

  14. I think you just hit several nails on heads. It’s that “Hello, talking to you!” factor that really comes through in the literal answers.

    Oddly enough, there’s a thread at the I Ching Community right now that talks about this same dimension: Absolutely literal.

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