Two things came together to make this post: first, what I’ve been learning from people telling me how they work with an oracle; secondly, a nice, sensible article from Charles Burke about decision making.
He gives intelligent advice, some of which you may have heard before. Draw up a list of the pros and cons; ask your friends; do something safe, or alternatively do something unprecedented; toss a coin if you have to, but get moving. The important thing, he says is to take some decision and get moving. The opposite of deciding is being stuck and going nowhere; at least if you’re in motion, you can change direction.
I’d agree about the importance of deciding (though choosing to allow yourself to be carried by whatever comes up is also a decision!). And listing what you know – or at least, what you know you know – of the pros and cons, and adding in a few extra perspectives from what other people know they know – well, at least all this should clarify things a little. Hopefully.
The awkward thing is that it’s possible to follow all this eminently sensible advice – except, maybe, for the final step of tossing a coin – and still be no closer to a decision. None of it helps you to get out of your head and into what the decision actually means. For instance, you can draw up a lengthy series of pros and cons, and your friends’ advice can help you to make it still longer, without any of the points actually engaging with what matters to you. There comes a point when list-making and advice-gathering aren’t a support to reaching a decision, they’re an alternative.
How can you go through all the right processes and still be stuck?
Because you’re a bit more complex than they are. In particular, there are many different parts of you, and they often say different things. A real decision involves unanimity, or at least some kind of harmony, between those different inner voices, not just giving one of them extra volume (in the form of a longer list of ‘pluses’, for instance) to shout the others down.
Maybe your rational mind reaches a conclusion, but you can’t quite bring yourself to act on it. Or all your friends say one thing, and part of you agrees they’re talking complete sense, but another part refuses to accept it. In theory you’ve got the answer, but it doesn’t feel complete – and you’re still stuck.
What difference does divination make?
First of all, it can give you a more complete understanding. Talking to people about how divination helps, this seemed to be what they valued most: the way it gives them a larger perspective. Interestingly enough, people don’t tend to characterise this extra dimension to their awareness as ‘better’ or ‘more accurate’ (though that can certainly play a part): the important thing is that it’s bigger. It expands your insight beyond the small circle of the conscious mind and reveals more important patterns.
In a sense, by divining about a problem you’re going into it more deeply, gaining direct access to what matters. In another sense, you’re stepping outside the problem: that is, you’re bypassing all the inner clamour of emotion and rationalisation and entering into a completely different conversation.
From this much calmer place, you can reassess those inner voices. The one that tells you not to take the risk: is it the voice of reason, or the voice of your mother when you were three? Are you drawn to follow your friend’s advice because the advice resonates with your own heart, or because you’re reluctant to argue with your friend? As you get an understanding of where all these things come from, you’re on much firmer ground when deciding which to trust.
(In an I Ching reading, you may have the opportunity to hear these voices individually in the fan yao, the lines that reflect back your moving lines from the more subjective realm of a ‘step of change’.)
One outcome of all this is that you reconnect with your more complete, deeper self, and she (or he) can choose. Sometimes a reading shatters preconceptions, but often it comes as reinforcement for what you already knew, but weren’t quite confident of knowing. Words and images from the oracle resonate with your own wisdom – and divination acts as something like ‘training wheels’ for the intuition.
There’s a popular misconception that divination somehow detracts from personal autonomy – that you’re ‘doing what it tells you’ instead of ‘deciding for yourself’. But in fact, people who actually work with oracles know it enables them to choose more freely.
They’ve realised that ‘deciding for yourself’, purely from within your own mental resources, doesn’t automatically mean you’re acting freely. You can be just as much controlled and manipulated by the din of internalised ‘stuff’ (expectations, norms, desires, fears, beliefs…) as by anyone standing over you, telling you what to do. Divination has the potential to disentangle you from all of that, leaving clear space for your natural direction to emerge.