Ah – experience. People phone me up to say they’d like an interpretation from someone who has more of the stuff. We gather it in journals (and Change Circle’s WikiWing); it crystallises into a clear inner sense of what lines and hexagrams mean; it’s worth more than any 20 commentaries put together… so naturally I have to be contrary and write about its dangers.
Here’s one danger – after you’ve done a few hundred readings for people, you start to recognise their situations. There are patterns of human behaviour that are very, very recognisable – like, for instance, the man who hangs onto two women by keeping each one believing that, one day, he’ll commit to her alone. So when you hear the seventeenth woman explaining how loveless his relationship with that other woman is, and how he only stays with her because it feels safer, or because she entraps him with guilt, or something… well, you recognise the pattern.
And there lies the giant pitfall: that you (and when I say ‘you’ I mean ‘we’ or just ‘I’) start to read whatever hexagrams are cast through that pattern you already know. The insidious thing is that most of the time you’ll be quite right to recognise the pattern, it’ll lend you easy insight, and people will be delighted with how ‘accurate’ you are. But you are still basically engaged in a pattern-matching game, not in divination.
And here’s another – subtler and more difficult to check, I think. You have a powerful experience or two with a line; this goes into the journal and into your hexagram notes (if you keep such things), and it makes a tremendous impression on you. You come to ‘know’ that this is ‘what the line means’, and for all subsequent readings you will be looking for that same meaning.
Unfortunately, this is a bit like seeing two red cars and then knowing that all cars are red – which is not very helpful when crossing the road.
What’s the answer? It does help to have more examples, to build a real experience-based understanding of a line. Working on the book, I took whatever experience I’d already garnered over the years – and then went off and gathered a further half dozen readings or so for each line to check my ideas. (Interesting!)
But much more important than the collecting is somehow distilling the experience to its essentials. It’s easier to see this process with hexagrams than with individual lines, I think. Take Hexagram 23, Stripping Away: I’ve seen it in readings referring to surgery, and to death. What it means isn’t either of these, though, but something more like having what is no longer viable cut away. So 23 in a reading could just as well indicate that it’s time to shed some part of your self-image, or to replace the staircarpet.
Naturally, with a hexagram, any extreme misconceptions are likely to be corrected quite soon by other readings. With a line, that you might see only once in several years, we need to be that much more wary.
I don’t really have a conclusion for these ruminations beyond the obvious: divination is something that happens quite independently of experience. You create a clear, clean inner space where you can bring together person, question and oracle – a unique meeting – and you watch/sense the connections as they arise. Then experience comes in, to enrich your awareness.