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More steps when stuck

I was writing on Saturday about a reading kindly shared by Eric Bryant of I Ching Insights (‘petrosianii‘ here at Clarity). He asked about the effect of purchasing some nicotine-free cigarettes as an aid to giving up smoking; he received first Hexagram 25 moving to 41, and then Hexagram 37 unchanging. I’ve ‘adopted’ Eric’s reading to talk about what you can do when you get stuck with an interpretation.

After starting with the first answer, having patience, and reading the hexagram names, my next suggestion is an old hobby-horse of mine: try to listen to the voice of the oracle itself, and don’t rely on pre-existing interpretations. The reason is very simple: the oracle is addressing your question; the old interpretations are addressing an amalgam of previous experience. Sometimes they’ll apply, and sometimes they really won’t.

Oddly enough, this suggestion comes in just as useful for ‘old hands’ as it does for ‘newbies’. Newcomers to the oracle might be inclined to rush around looking at lots of other people’s interpretations, not trusting their own understanding. But old hands can develop a mental picture of each hexagram, and get that so firmly stuck in their minds that it starts to – well – fossilise a little. And this (speaking from personal experience…) can get in the way of hearing what’s really being said.

So, the next step is to go back to the text, and listen to the conversation as if every word were new:

‘What would be the effect of purchasing those substitute cigarettes?’

‘Without entanglement.
Creating success from the source, constancy bears fruit.
One who makes no corrections commits blunders,
Then it is fruitless to have a direction to go.’

‘No ploughing, reaping.
No cleared land, ploughland.
And so it is fruitful to have a direction to go.’

‘There can be constancy.
No mistake.’

‘Disentangled’s affliction.
No medicinal herbs, there is rejoicing.’

‘Offering, with truth and confidence.
From the source, good fortune.
Not a mistake, this allows constancy.
Fruitful to have a direction to go.
Asking why, what is its use?
Two simple platters make the offering possible.’

On a first quick scan of the text, these substitute cigarettes don’t seem such a bad idea, do they? They can help with Disentangling, which is exactly what he’s looking to do; the Decrease involved is a positive one. There are ‘corrections’ it’s vitally important to make, if it’s to be worthwhile having any direction in mind (such as a smoke-free existence) – but then line 2 specifies that it is fruitful to have  a direction to go.

(Aside: if the line text appears to contradict the main hexagram text, the line takes precedence. It’s because it’s more specific to your particular situation – as if the hexagram said ‘this is a desert’ and the line said ‘here is an oasis’, or the hexagram said ‘it’s a clear, straight road’ while the line said ‘there’s often fog in this dip at this time of year’.)

There are several possible interpretations of the very few words of line 2:

‘No ploughing, reaping.
No cleared land, ploughland.
And so it is fruitful to have a direction to go.’

The one that comes to mind for me here is that you can reap without ploughing, or plough without first clearing the ground. How is this possible? Because someone else has already cleared or ploughed, and you are following close behind them, blessed by their strength. (The line changes to Hexagram 10, Treading.)

The opportunity has been created for you, the hardest work is already done and a clear way laid out, so your own direction and purpose can more easily bear fruit. All this sounds to me like the people who invented nicotine-free cigarettes, and gave smokers who want to quit (who ‘have a direction to go’) a ready-made first step.

Line 4 –

‘There can be constancy.
No mistake.’

– sounds like a very direct answer to the original question, relevant to anyone trying to bring about a permanent change. Interestingly enough, this line connects with Hexagram 42, Increase, the pair of our relating hexagram here, offering further reassurance about this ‘direction to go’.

So thus far we have reassuringly positive answers: this is a good start, and it’s something you can sustain. Line 5, though, is more of a challenge:

‘Disentangled’s affliction.
No medicinal herbs, there is rejoicing.’

The illness and anxiety of disentangling… could this have to do with withdrawal? At all events, this is an affliction that will heal without medicinal herbs – as we might say nowadays, without medical intervention. The commentary on this line says that ‘testing’ or ‘experimenting’ is not permitted. There’s the desire to ‘bite through’ (Hexagram 21), to tackle the problem decisively, but this shouldn’t be allowed to translate into experimenting with ways to ‘fix’ it.

This sounds not nearly so encouraging for a ‘device’ like a substitute cigarette, so how does it fit in with the previous two lines?

I think it’s coming from a different perspective. Eric originally had two questions about these cigarettes: will they help him give up, and would they be a good thing to promote? The answer to the first question is that yes, as an aid to his own ‘direction to go’, they will. They have their practical use. But here at line 5, it’s not just about ‘what works’, it’s about what you identify with and what you choose. What’s the ultimate objective here? Not to ‘cure’ anything, but to return to a natural state of health. I wrote about this line in Change Circle‘s WikiWing:

“Just because there is something wrong, an anxiety or illness, doesn’t mean you need to concentrate on what’s wrong and how to fix it. No need to go in search of remedies. Instead you need to return to health, which is something your body already remembers.”

I’ve a feeling that Eric’s being encouraged to get the benefit of these things for himself as a step along the way, but not to embrace them as something to promote.

That leaves the relating hexagram: 41, Decrease or Offering.

‘Offering, with truth and confidence.
From the source, good fortune.
Not a mistake, this allows constancy.
Fruitful to have a direction to go.
Asking why, what is its use?
Two simple platters make the offering possible.’

This, of course, is all about his experience of this: for him it’s going to feel more like giving something up, making a sacrifice, than a simple return to health. Giving things up, says Yi, brings good fortune when done with truth and confidence – wholeheartedly, with true ‘presence of mind’. (When done reluctantly, in two minds, fighting yourself, or because you feel you ‘should’, it doesnt’.)

It works best when you have a direction to go, a good personal vision of why you’re doing this and where it’s taking you. And although you probably resist the idea, and part of you is probably still asking, ‘How can I possibly…?’ – in fact this is a very simple thing to do, and well within your means.

And what about his second reading, Hexagram 37? Well, like I said in my previous post, one occasion when I would half-expect Yi to ‘change the subject’ is when it’s answered the question already. So I’m not sure what 37 is about.

Still, what if it were talking about purchasing those cigarettes?

‘People in the Home.
A woman’s constancy is fruitful.’

That raises questions… and I think it’s meant to raise questions; unchanging hexagrams, in my experience, often are. This one seems to me to be asking: what do you want to live with in your home? That would be your body, your space and your time. What belongs in this space where you live, where you safeguard what is valuable to you, where you lend support and energy to grow all its possibilities…?

One response to More steps when stuck

  1. […] A nice web master added an interesting post on More steps when stuck | Answers I Ching blogHere’s a small excerptHe asked about the effect of purchasing some nicotine-free cigarettes as an aid to giving up smoking; he received first Hexagram 25 moving to 41, and then Hexagram 37 unchanging. I’ve â??adopted’ Eric’s reading to …. Search. the blog: … […]

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