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How divination transforms decision-making

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.

7 responses to How divination transforms decision-making

  1. Hi Hillary – a thought about using the I Ching and decision making from my experience – – I forget where I read it on using the I Ching, but the advice was not to ask a question when one already knows the answer. As for consulting the Ching when I am ambivalent, the I Ching is weirdly right most of the time. By that I mean, often I want to get a certain kind of response and get an answer that I either don’t want or do not understand in terms of the question. But if I check back later, the answer always makes sense. I find the I Ching a lot like dreams. By that I mean, because both are so full of symbolic content, they point to things and events not necessarily explainable in the rational moment.

  2. Hi Hilary,

    I’m a newbie to this blog, and here I’m jumping right in…

    In addition to “the din of internalised ’stuff’” and external pressures, there is another way to look at making decisions: from your heart-felt commitments and what you want to stand for in the situation (= the values and/or outcomes you hold dear.) ‘What you want to stand for’ means what you’re committed to keep working for, even when you don’t know how, and even when there’s no agreement from others.

    For example, I am standing for peace, love, and mutual respect in my whole extended family. (This is on my mind as I get ready to head down to a big family gathering.) When I make decisions big or small regarding any of them, my way becomes clear when I remember this stand.

    (Of course we have less positive commitments, too: I used to have an unconscious commitment to being right — no matter what! — that got in the way of my bigger commitment to peace, love, and mutual respect. No surprise there…)

    I love the idea that “divination acts as something like ‘training wheels’ for the intuition.” This seems just right to me. And I think our “intuition” and our “natural direction” involve our awareness of these underlying commitments and stands — which we may not have articulated, but which divination helps bring to consciousness.

    It is becoming aware of what really matters to us, and articulating it, that allows empowered decision-making. It’s great to know there are ‘training wheels’ for this challenging but liberating process.

  3. The points mentioned make sense for me. Sometimes divination may reveal circumstances that are unknown to us,though. Yijing has come into existence as a helping hand for the ones that need to be oriented about the steps to the best change. It takes some time for us to learn how to see the light!

  4. Thanks for all the good thoughts.

    Adele, I agree about not consulting when you know the answer already – but there’s knowing and knowing, it seems to me. When I talk about learning what you already know, I’m thinking of intuitive knowledge that you don’t quite believe in, or can’t quite recognise as real knowledge.

    Dilson –

    Sometimes divination may reveal circumstances that are unknown to us,though.

    Absolutely. Specific facts, sometimes, like ‘he’s already married’ or ‘there’s structural damage to the roof’. Or reassurance that turns out to be based on facts you didn’t know, like ‘not selling the house now is not a big disaster’ (this just before the house price boom).

    But there are lots of readings where Yi doesn’t impart this kind of information, and yet the effects are just as profound…

    Hi Pamela! And good luck with the extended family.

    That’s a very good point, about decisions arising from an underlying commitment, conscious or not. Though I hadn’t quite worked that one out, I think it reflects in one of my favourite decision-related questions for the oracle:

    “What would it mean for me to do this?”

    That brings out the personal meaning of following a particular path. The great value of that is the way it taps straight into deeper awareness: is this what I want to create? the story I want to live? You can see this (well, if you divine for other people you get to see this) in the different ways people respond to the same hexagrams. It’s not a question of getting a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reading, but of recognising a path as your own, or not.

    I’m not sure about my ‘training wheels’ comment. It implies that one grows out of divination – I’m sure that’s true for the occasional sage, but somehow doubt it’ll happen for me in this lifetime.

  5. You’ve made some great points about opening up our intuitive ears when making decisions. I don’t often cover that particular area, but it’s important. Even the hard headed materialists I know will ultimately lean heavily on their intuition when things really matter. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “I just had a hunch” with regard to business decisions. Formalizing one’s access to intuition through the use of the Yijing, a deck of cards, a pendulum or other method can be a powerful way to open ourselves up to more information than we ordinarily “know” we have.

    Excellent article.

    Cheers from sunny Japan,
    Charles

  6. Thanks for coming by, Charles, and for your original article.

    ‘Formalising one’s access to intuition’ is a workable view of divination; I think it helps people who might otherwise find the whole thing altogether too weird to try it out. (Next question – where does intuition come from?)

    Is it always sunny in Japan?

  7. […] How divination transforms decision-making | Answers I Ching blog 16 Nov 2007. In another sense, you're stepping outside the problem: that is,.. You've made some great points about opening up our intuitive ears when making decisions.. lean heavily on their intuition when things really matter. How divination transforms decision-making | Answers I Ching blog […]

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