Over at his ‘I Ching Insights‘ blog, Eric Bryant’s doing sterling work writing up the whole process of a reading: formulating the question, and interpreting the answer. And in the process, he’s run into an experience that’s pretty familiar to anyone who’s ever talked with the oracle: he’s got stuck on the interpretation.
I’m really glad he’s actually put this online, instead of selecting only those readings where the answer ‘leaps to the eye’. It does no-one any favours, I think, to convey the impression that readings are always transparently clear right away.
Eric’s question was about the effect of purchasing some nicotine-free cigarettes; he hopes they’ll both help him give up smoking and prove to be a good product to promote for a little extra income. He received hexagram 37, People in the Home, unchanging, and writes,
“#37 seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with my question, which question concerns the outcome of a new method of quitting smoking.
Incidentally, I asked the same question a few days prior, and I got another cryptic hexagram, #25 INNOCENCE. I could go either way with that one. #25 changed into #41 DECREASE. Not getting a real strong indication from the I Ching that this new method of quitting smoking is worthwhile.”
He concludes that the answers are most likely about something quite different, and he goes on to suggest some questions to ask to find out what that ‘something’ might be. And these are good questions, and at times this could be a reasonable approach. But I would be very, very slow to assume that Yi isn’t answering my question when I’m not ‘getting’ the answer.
The first step I’d suggest is to go back to the first answer he received – that’s something I generally do when I hear from someone who’s repeated a question, as this is one occasion when Yi frequently does change the subject a little, often in ways it’s hard to follow. The effect of purchasing the cigarettes would be Without Entanglement and Decrease or Offering.
As so often, the names of the two hexagrams are very eloquent in their own right. Disentangling and Decreasing – what could be more relevant to a desire to give something up?
It’s possible to be confused by the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the name of hexagram 25 as ‘Innocence’ – we tend to think of that as a simple, positive quality. Its literal meaning, though, is to be ‘not harmful’, or free from what harms – a good translation of the Chinese characters, not entangled, not caught up in futile things. I’ve received Hexagram 25 in the past describing a way to lose weight – which also meant ‘disentangling’ from an addictive habit.
Then Hexagram 41 is Decrease or Offering, emptying something out, giving something up…
Experimenting with ways to read the two hexagram names together – always my first step in looking at a reading with changing lines – might give us ‘Disentanglement’s (moment of) Offering’ or ‘Disentanglement looking towards Offering’. That brings a couple of possibilities to mind: disentangling from decrease? or through decrease? Holding both in mind, I look through the moving lines (2, 4 and 5)… and they show a pretty clear picture of disentangling through decrease: simplifying, doing and managing less.
So those would be my first three steps towards getting ‘unstuck’ on an interpretation:
- Go back to the first reading you did on the subject, if you’ve done more than one in succession
- Assume that Yi was answering your question, and be more patient with yourself as you try to understand
- Look at the hexagram names and play around gently with ways of reading the two of them together as an answer
The next step, naturally, is to start looking at the text and see how that fits into those frameworks of hexagram relationship you’ve been imagining. I’ll do so in another post.