Hilary Barrett, I Ching

You vs Yi? What if the reading feels wrong?

February 26th, 2016

youvsyiIt’s not uncommon to have the experience of a reading confirming what you already know – even if you hadn’t quite acknowledged that you knew it.

But what when the reading simply goes against what you feel is right? You’re drawn to do something, you’re excited about doing it, your intention’s taking shape… and you ask Yi, and get some unspeakably negative answer. Or – this happened to me a few days ago and got me thinking about this – you particularly don’t want to have to do something, it feels all wrong, but Yi is unmistakably telling you it’s the right thing to do.


So I have a couple of questions about this. First, what’s happening? It’s quite normal for readings to confirm our deep knowing, and thoroughly disconcerting when they go against it. (Or maybe only appear to go against it?)

And second, how to respond? Of course, what we quite often do is to ignore the reading and do what we wanted anyway. We might come up with reasons why this reading doesn’t quite count, or doesn’t quite mean what it says, or quietly ‘forget’ it.

This may surprise you, but I actually feel that this is a good thing. We don’t, after all, consult with Yi so it can tell us what to do. It’s more… so we can be changed – become more aligned with deep reality, live more fluently, something like that. And going against a reading and getting into a nasty situation as a result (can we have a show of hands for people who’ve done that?) has to be part of the experience. It means you’re living your own life.

On the other hand, of course, this does seem perverse – not to mention disrespectful. We also don’t consult Yi so it can encourage us in our own convictions and make us feel better about doing what we planned on doing anyway – at least, I hope I don’t…

But wait.

What actually draws us to consult – why do readings happen at all? I think if you scratch the surface of the intention of a reading, you find a desire. Not necessarily a desire for a particular answer or outcome – though there’s always that, too – but a need to be answered. We want to feel held inside the container of conversation with the oracle – and we want to be encouraged and blessed in our ventures, to experience alignment and harmony, and to know we belong where we are. Somewhere under the surface of ‘Tell me what I want to hear!’ is a deep hunger for spiritual nourishment. It’s that hunger that pulls the whole reading experience into being: it impels you to ask, and draws the Yi to answer.

Now, that might sound as though the oracle were basically inert, until human desire starts things moving. But I think we know from experience that this isn’t really what happens. I quite often find a desire or call to consult simply ‘arising’ in me, apparently out of nowhere. I respond to the call, and cast a reading – and who can say what started this moving? Not I.

A reading is an upwelling of awareness and presence. You can experience that as the potent, benevolent presence of the oracle speaking to you – something that never gets less breathtaking – and as the growth of your own insight and understanding, carried on the same rising tide of presence.

A conversation I quite often have with beginners goes something like this,

Beginner: ‘When I read what it says, I get this really strong, clear feeling it’s saying this – but I’m not very good at readings, so perhaps I’m getting it wrong, so I’ve asked on the forum and read sixteen different commentaries, and the I Ching is really confusing…’

Me: ‘That really strong, clear feeling? That’s your reading happening.’

In that situation, when your understanding rises to meet and meld with the answer, it’s relatively easy to see that the whole ‘you vs Yi’ thing is an illusion: there’s just one emergent awareness. But what when Yi says one thing and your inner self says something completely different?

First, I think you need to recognise that a reading is still happening. Your hunger for connection is still active, still drawing out a single rising awareness and presence. It’s just that this awareness has layers – and they’re a long way apart, not quite ‘talking to one another’ yet.

So instead of the kneejerk response (well, my kneejerk response) of finding ways to distance yourself from the reading, you need to get more present to the whole process – to think about what you’re asking, and why, and what you really sought from the answer.

Bottom line: the answer may feel completely wrong, but it isn’t. The answer may feel alienating, but in fact you have connected with the oracle and you have an answer from Yi – of course this is a blessing; what else could it possibly be? You don’t have to understand or agree with what it says for that to be true. Maybe ask –  what if this answer were kind and benevolent – how could that be?

All of which, you know, doesn’t mean you have to ‘obey’ the reading. I actually asked Yi what it would mean to go against such a reading, and received 28.2.3 to 45. We’d be stepping outside the embrace of the ‘reading container’, acting absolutely independently, investing everything in living out our own story. And this means both living to the full – because we’re connecting with our own rejuvenated will and desire, which might just be revitalised by having a reading go against it so clearly – and also complete isolation and bringing the roof crashing down on our own heads. Which shouldn’t, on the whole, be a surprise.



(As you may have guessed, there’s another reading behind this post – that’s how it can go from initial bafflement to such emphatic confidence. Here’s the question I asked:

When an answer goes against instinct, or desire, or what we ‘know’, what then? What would be a good guideline for responding to such readings?

I think I’ll update this post later with the answer I received. Perhaps you can guess it?)

New Resonance Journal version

February 19th, 2016

Just a quick note to say here is version 1.4 of the Resonance Journal.

(Note: if you already have the software installed, you need to run this updater program instead.)

It has a shiny new random entry option. You simply select ‘Review Random Entry’ from the ‘entries’ menu (or use the keyboard shortcut ctrl+m) to bring up a past entry. I’m finding this to be an intriguing opening for synchronicity: useful reminders, different perspectives on hexagrams I’m living with now, invitations to benefit from hindsight. It makes ‘reviewing readings’ less like homework and more like a game – create the opening, see what shows up.

Also, the software’s now faster and smoother – if you have a lot of entries, you’ll notice the difference when running searches – and has some nice little additions to its general user-friendliness, like the way the entry tree automatically opens to the current entry when you switch there from list view.

This is of course in addition to all the existing features…

  • included translations with commentary (LiSe Heyboer’s and my own)
  • quick ways to enter a Yijing reading – or cast one inside the journal
  • included Language of Change Yijing glossary
  • super-quick ‘cast history’ search (for the ‘didn’t I have that line/hexagram recently?’ moments)
  • tags to track the connections and resonances between readings, dreams and synchronicities
  • advanced search to find basically anything (now faster!)
  • cross-linking entries
  • and so on…

The 30 day trial is free to download. It won’t lock up your readings when the trial expires (because that would be tremendously annoying), but obviously we hope you’ll buy the full version to keep all the excellent search features…


Hexagram 26: Great Taming

February 14th, 2016

Hexagrams 9 and 26 are ‘Small Taming’ and ‘Great Taming’ – the same activity on a different scale. That activity is xu, 畜: rearing livestock, and farming in general. (Stephen Field actually translates these two hexagrams as ‘Lesser Stock’ – mostly goats – and ‘Greater Stock’, namely the horses, cattle and pigs mentioned in the lines of 26.) It involves nurturing, nourishing and raising, and also controlling and keeping in check.

The difference in experience between the two hexagrams is the difference between being ‘small’ and ‘great’. As a small farmer, you feel at the mercy of those gathering clouds, and need to keep your attention on hoeing the next row. As a big farmer, you are responsible for great resources, and you need to think ahead and have an overall vision and sense of purpose for it all.

Hexagram 25, being Without Entanglement, clears the way for Great Taming. The zagua (‘Contrasts’ Wing) says that,

‘Great Taming means the right time; Without Entanglement means calamity.’

In practice in readings, Hexagram 25 doesn’t often mean calamity – but it does mean that you’re not involved, and if there is calamity, the right response is generally to say, ‘Not my doing, not my responsibility – not mine.’

In its line texts, Without Entanglement suggests the mindset of a nomadic herder more than a settled farmer. It’s only a disaster for the townspeople when the tethered cow is stolen in line 3; the frenetic bustle of agricultural activity seems to be being parodied in line 2.

‘Being Without Entanglement, hence capable of Taming, and so Great Taming follows,’ says the Sequence. I think of this as disengaging from what isn’t yours in order to be completely free to engage with what is. The Great Farmer of 26 will say, ‘This is my responsibility: it’s my domain, and I have the power to act here.’

The Oracle of hexagram 26:

‘Great taming,
Constancy bears fruit.
Not eating at home, good fortune.
Fruitful to cross the great river.’

The call to steadiness and persistence over time, or truth to insight, fits naturally with the work of the farmer. And then – ‘not eating at home, good fortune’. Why not eat at home?

Tradition explains that not eating at home means entering public office. It follows from the Tuanzhuan (Commentary Wing) which says not eating at home means ‘nourishing the talented’ or ‘nourishing talent’. (That’s one of the things also nourished in Hexagram 50, the Vessel.)

Wang Bi (in RJ Lynn’s translation) explains, “Here assets garnered by Great Domestication are used to nurture the worthy, which frees them from having to eat at home, so this means good fortune.” In other words… this is about the escape from subsistence agriculture, and how that freedom allows specialisation and the development of culture. That’s an idea you could use in readings: that in a time of Great Taming, you should be able to think beyond questions of subsistence or personal security.

More generally, ‘not eating at home’ implies that what’s nurtured in Great Taming is meant for something more – for use on a higher levelThe animals in the hexagram’s lines are being highly trained, or prepared for great offerings; they’re not just for adding to the domestic stew-pot.

The last two lines of the Oracle belong together: not eating at home is good fortune, and it’s fruitful to cross the great river. This is a good moment to go outside the comfort zone, beyond what’s familiar or safe or normal. Bradford Hatcher puts it best: ‘Not dining at home, and crossing great streams, puts us in a larger world, serving higher powers.’

This makes the Sequence from Without Entanglement look like a kind of evolution of detachment. Not to eat at home is to disengage from your usual preoccupations and supports: you’re saying, ‘This is my responsibility,’ but also, ‘This isn’t all about me.’

Hexagrams 25 and 26 both contain the ‘heaven’ trigram. In Hexagram 25, thunder is below heaven, suggesting an ideal of initiative that’s spontaneously, naturally aligned with all-that-is.

‘Below heaven, thunder moves. All things interact without entanglement.
The ancient kings, with abundant growth in accord with the seasons, nourished the ten thousand things.’

In Hexagram 26, heaven is contained inside the mountain. It’s still responding to the same big question: how can we act and live in harmony with heaven – that is, with the ultimate reality? We can’t hope to create a sustainable way of life, a spiritually-grounded culture, unless we get these fundamentals right.  (The same question and its ramifications run through a whole set of hexagrams that begins here and ends – with the same trigram combination – at 33-34.)

Heaven contained on the inside suggests internalising the laws and power of nature. The great farmer does this, and develops the means to ‘nourish talent’. On an individual level, this is about ‘self development’:

‘Heaven dwells in the centre of the mountain. Great Taming.
A noble one uses the many annals of ancient words and past deeds,
And builds up his character.’

(‘Builds up,’ by the way, is another translation of the name of the hexagram, xu – ‘Taming’.)

Heaven dwells in the centre of the mountain because heaven makes mountains. If you could penetrate into the heart of the mountain, you might see the workings of the creative principle itself. The noble one becomes a kind of geologist of humanity, taming-nurturing-nourishing his character and building up his power by studying the past.

Old Chinese kings knew about this: they would keep some advisors who specialised in remembering and applying examples from the past for present guidance – literate people who must have had a gift for pattern recognition. In readings, in practice, that also comes in useful, for learning from both other people’s experience and our own.

I ran a quick ‘cast history search’ in my journal before writing this post for hexagram 26, and found that five out of its seven appearances in the past few years were directly about teaching. Great Taming points to a store of knowledge and a way of caring for the people learning – and also to a responsibility for cultivating and nurturing something bigger, such as a ‘culture’ of people connecting and relating to Yi.

It also suggests that the teacher, like the great farmer, has some real influence. That strikes me as pretty unusual, when Yi has so many different ways of explaining how you’re not in control and do not get to choose the direction or bring order or set the schedule. (‘“I want” doesn’t get,’ as my parents would have put it.) Great Taming: take responsibility; this is your domain; develop mastery.

Then again… coiled up in the heart of Great Taming is its nuclear hexagram and core work: 54, the Marrying Maiden. Leave home and cross the river, and you may find yourself out of your depth – and however great a farmer you become, nothing ever grows because you made it grow.


Just one thing

February 1st, 2016

I spend a lot of time exploring and writing about the endless depths of Yijing readings. There are those little seeds of meaning hidden in the etymology of individual characters, the long resonances across the structure of the Sequence, the pictures to be painted with trigrams and stories to tell with nuclear hexagrams, the mythical allusions, the many layers of distinction between the cast hexagram and its pair, its complement, its shadow… – and all that just for the single hexagram, never mind the complex tapestries woven by changing lines. No wonder a single reading can provide more than enough to think about and use for a month (or two, or twelve).

However… this kind of very, very deep dive isn’t the only way we use Yi – not even the usual way – and perhaps it isn’t a ‘better’ way, either. We don’t have to understand everything that the reading is saying: we just need to understand one thing, and use it.

For instance…

Anticipating an awkward meeting with feelings running high – advice?

Hexagram 21, Biting Through, changing at line 6 to 51, Shock

‘Shouldering a cangue so your ears disappear.

So I went into the meeting with the one idea of listen better and don’t respond to emotional reverberations by blocking things out. And that was what I needed. (Admittedly, I wouldn’t immediately associate 21.6 with a response to emotional extremes if I hadn’t given some thought in the past to its connection with Hexagram 51 – but that isn’t super-complex analysis, either.)

What if I take on this additional task?

28, Great Exceeding, changing at line 3 to 47, Confined

‘The ridgepole buckles.

Take it on, and you will buckle under the pressure. One look at the reading, one message: dismiss the idea.

Before another meeting, to find the way forward – advice for the group?

Hexagram 60, Measuring, unchanging

One idea: work out Measures sustainable for all. Make no agreements or rules that don’t accommodate human limits.

In each of those cases, taking that one thing from the reading was enough. Now the decision’s made, the meeting’s over, and Yi has made the difference. But even for ongoing situations, that ‘one thing’ is of great value –

A client is making a difficult request and I’m not sure how to respond. What to do?

19, Nearing, unchanging

This reminds me at once, irresistibly, of a dictionary definition of ‘client’ that Sean d’Souza often points to: ‘A client is one who comes under your care, guidance and protection.’ Now, this reading – appropriately enough for the hexagram! – is not at all ‘finished’, because the situation isn’t finished. I need to revisit the idea of ‘ending in the eighth month’, for one thing. But I already have my one guiding principle for the whole interaction.

These are not thorough, comprehensive readings – they’re incomplete, picking up on just a fragment of what Yi had to say. And… if we take that one thing and use it, that’s enough. We’ve done the reading, we’ve reconnected with the truth, and we’ve used it to change something. Divination happened.

one thing

Hexagram 20: the Tower?

January 18th, 2016

::::||Hexagram 20 is called Seeing – but if your I Ching experience began with Wilhelm, then you’ll be familiar with the idea that the shape of the hexagram itself is a picture of an ancient tower:

‘A tower of this kind commanded a wide view of the country; at the same time, when situated on a mountain, it became a landmark that could be seen for miles around.’

Wilhelm mentions a ‘variation in tonal stress’ that gives the hexagram name, guan 觀, a double meaning, and seems to imply that this double meaning is both ‘seeing’ and ‘being seen’. But guan means both ‘seeing’ and – in a different tone – ‘tower‘.

Scott Davis agrees about the hexagram shape –

‘The hexagram shows a raised architectural structure with four broken lines beneath, indicating the tower’s balanced support, two yang lines on top indicating the elevated platform from which one views surroundings from a height.’

– and goes so far as to refer to the hexagram as ‘Tower’. (This wouldn’t work so well in a translation – see the moving lines. ‘Tower my life, advancing-withdrawing’?)

The principal use of such a tower would be to observe the heavens and align human activity with its rhythms. Observatories were built for this purpose in China as early as 2000BC, and Waley thought 20.4, ‘Seeing the glories of the realm,’ might mean observing heavenly portents.

I came across a story of the building of guan towers in Han times, in Picturing Heaven in Early China by Lillian Lan-ying Tseng. Emperor Wu of the Han went to great lengths to meet immortals to learn their secret, without success. His advisor told him that instead of chasing after immortals, he should draw them to him – by building towers that would attract them. And so, in 110BC, Wu had built the guan of Wind and Cinnamon and the guan of Longevity.

Of course this is all from long after the Yi was written – and as far as I know, Zhou rulers weren’t so fixated on immortals and immortality. But isn’t it interesting, this underlying idea that you would construct a tower to attract spirits? To me, Hexagram 20 seems to begin with the power of unclouded attention to draw the spirits closer. ‘Washing hands and not making the offering’ is a way of ‘constructing’ that quality of attention – creating a space with a drawing, magnetic power. The yin lines are open to receive; the yang lines are pulling what they observe into that space.

As for how guan towers were constructed, Tseng says,

‘The mural in an Eastern Han tomb at Anping, Hebei, depicts a sky-scraping watchtower standing in a walled city. The watchtower is a wide-open, one-story wooden structure on an earthen terrace. The watchtower apparently gains its soaring height from the earthen terrace, not from the wooden structure itself. The structure could be a guan tower on an earthen base or a tai terrace with a wooden shelter.’

As she explains it, the technology may not have existed to build a very tall wooden building, and so the height of an observation tower had to come from its pounded earth mound. The mound for the Temple of Longevity is still 6 metres high.

We can surely assume that Zhou guan towers would be constructed the same way: wood over earth, just like the component trigrams of Hexagram 20.

sky at night

Four things I learned about Yi last year

January 12th, 2016

Last March I explained how I don’t know the first thing about Yi (namely, why these line-patterns mean these words).

I’m happy to report that I still don’t, and I’m still lit up with curiosity and fascination for this strange and beautiful old creature we call Yi – and I think there’s something to be said for this state of mind. There is so much to learn it’s ridiculous.

Here are some things about Yi I did learn – or fully appreciate – in 2015.

Trigrams really are pictures

If you start by seeing the yang lines as heaven-force and what acts and the yin ones as earth-space and what’s acted on, a lot becomes clear. I mentioned this in the video clip about xun in this post.

The Yi is literature (also, the Sequence is amazing)

That means it’s an exquisite creation as a whole, with internal structure and correspondences and unfolding themes. I’ve always known this, of course, but last year I kept being reminded of it. There was Gert Gritter’s beautifully elegant discovery about the Sequence, and I also re-read Scott Davis’ The Classic of Change in Cultural Context which is full  of fascinating Sequence insights. Another ‘discovery’: the Sequence is more amazing than I ever imagined. Here are some examples.

(If you’re a Change Circle member you might have seen my long article about every Sequence pattern I know of and how they might be used in readings.)

The ‘literary’ quality is there on a small scale, too. Here’s an example from last month, about ‘theme and variations’ patterns created from simple omen words.

These things have just been sitting there waiting for someone to notice them for a couple of thousand years. All we need is the curiosity to start looking, and they become visible. (That’s something I’ve (re-)learned: to see what’s there, look.)

There’s a reason why we ask Yi for predictions

That’s a weedy sort of subheading, but I can’t quite bring myself to write ‘there’s nothing wrong with asking for a prediction’ – there still is. But there are times when the question we’re truly asking is ‘What will happen?’ Here’s a post about that.

And when facing a decision, it’s best to start by simply asking for advice

– rather than getting too clever and doing loads of readings about options. Here’s a cautionary tale – and its moral:

“Moral (maybe if I repeat myself enough I’ll remember this for next time…): when asking Yi’s help with a decision, ask the simplest, most open question first. Something like, ‘What’s the best way to do this?’ is fine. Absorb this answer into your thinking; use it to think up options. Then, if you even need to, ask about those.”

Sorry, there is no prize for recognising why I chose the following image to illustrate this post.

stream under mountain

The real meaning of synchronicity

January 2nd, 2016

Here’s an excellent article I stumbled across about the real meaning of synchronicity:

Synchronicity and the mind of God: unlocking the mystery of Carl Jung’s “meaningful coincidence”.

A quotation (among many I could have chosen):

“The universe is a reflection of an underlying spiritual reality; all phenomena express the deeper ideas and principles of which they are a “signature,” and can therefore be deciphered for their subtler significance.”

In other words – yes, you can say synchronicity is ‘meaningful coincidence’, but the simple existence of synchronicity is itself meaningful. The fact that your dreams and readings can speak the same language – and more than that, your waking life can be as eloquently symbolic as a dream: what does that say about the true nature of waking reality? (The author of the article, Ray Grasse, wrote a book titled The Waking Dream: unlocking the symbolic  language of our lives – which sounds like something I want to read.)

This underlying truth is something to wonder at and delight in – and also simply something we need to know to work with Yi. Otherwise, things can get very confusing when it shows up:

‘I asked this question about my work/health/relationship [delete as appropriate], but the answer seems to be about my relationship/health/work. Is Yi changing the subject? Why? How can I tell which it’s talking about?’


‘I’m doing this reading for my friend, but the answer is definitely talking to me about the situation I’m in right now that has nothing to do with her. So how can I tell whether the reading is for me or for her?’

In both cases, the reading is both. Both about your work and your relationship, or answering both you and your friend. There is a reason why you have both the work and the relationship issue, or why you and your friend connected over this reading at this moment: ‘The universe is a reflection of an underlying spiritual reality’ of connection and correspondences. You’re experiencing the reality through these many forms – and seeing it embodied in that one pattern of six lines. That’s what Yi does.

It’s a sad sign of the times that our first thought in the face of such synchronicities is that something’s gone wrong, or at best that this is a problem and a puzzle to be solved, whether the reading is about x or y – as if the elephant has to be either a rope or a pillar.