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Foundations for confident readings

Thinking about the I Ching Foundations Class has got me thinking about what’s actually necessary to be able to interpret your own readings with some confidence – not with a cast-iron assurance that you’ll never make a mistake, just enough confidence that you can have a useful, creative, supportive, working relationship with the Yi. There are a lot of things it’s fascinating and tremendously helpful to know, a lot of tools that can transform understanding of a reading, lots of insights from long experience – but really, what’s the minimum you need to interpret your own readings? As that’s what I need to include in this class.


This reminds me of a story Jill Bolte-Taylor told, of how – as a grown woman – she found herself utterly baffled by the task of putting together a simple jigsaw. She’d had a major stroke – you’ve probably come across her Ted talk or her book about it – and had everything to relearn. Her mother looked carefully at how she was struggling, and told her she could use the colours to match the pieces. This, Jill says, made her aware of the colours – previously, she hadn’t registered their existence. All at once, jigsaws became a lot more possible.

To put a jigsaw together, you need just a few things: an awareness of the shapes of the different pieces; an awareness of the colours of the picture. Imagine for a moment trying to complete the task with one of those things simply missing from your awareness. But with them, more strategies become available – like putting all the edge pieces together first, or comparing with the picture on the box.

Interpreting a reading is similar. You need to be aware of the colours and the shapes – of how the oracle responds to you in imagery, and how the pieces of the reading fit together. Without either of those, you’re going to be badly stuck; with them, you have foundations on which to build your own style of interpreting and your own relationship with Yi.

I’ve spoken to a few people recently who have both the gifts and the training to understand imagery, but then find their readings look like a jumbled pile of image-pieces: primary, relating, lines, more lines, assorted texts… lots of bits that show no sign of fitting together. The image-pieces can and do still help, but the picture’s missing.

And then there are people who come to a screeching halt when Yi starts talking about kings, feudal lords and marrying maidens, none of which – of course – exists in their world. This is the colour, the imagery – and there are a few simple, learn-able skills to relating to imagery that will make readings a lot more possible.

Is there anything else you need for readings? Probably only some insight into how to ask clear, true questions. (I think this is where my jigsaw analogy reaches the end of its useful life – er, unless having your question in mind is like looking at the picture on the lid?)

How to learn these basics? Some well-chosen reading, years of experience and an abundance of trial and error work fine. I think the Foundations Class will be good, too.


A final note. The stroke survivors I’ve got to know from volunteering at the local Stroke Club are tremendously warm, courageous, ingenious and resourceful people, dealing with ridiculously hard problems. The umbrella organisation to support survivors in the UK is the Stroke Association.


3 responses to Foundations for confident readings

  1. Great to be involved in the evolution and spread of I ching . I also have a strong interest in learning more about the Taoist philosophy. And one of my puzzles is how to interpret hexagram # 4 if you get it as a transformation of a primary hexagram. One has not asked again but the i ching says you are asking the same question again????
    many blessings

  2. Hexagram 4 is always a little disturbing. Non ?
    My interp as a progression is that the sage may not know the outcome, as it falls outside the current work.
    In the first line we are reminded that the teacher pupil relationship is in time reversible. The difference in understanding not as wide as we assume.
    Maybe the sage is saying
    You know as well as I ? And we both don’t know.
    It doesn’t matter how many times you ask. I still don’t know.

    Be the sage here and decide the outcome. As this situation is outside the teachers influence or responsibility.

    On another level hex 4 to me is reconsidering the attitude you hold for the sage.
    Are you expecting more than is possible ? Are you taking responsibility for yourself and not palming it off to the sage ?

  3. Hi Francine – I’m sorry I didn’t see this comment of yours before. And thank you David for your wise response!

    Hexagram 4 isn’t always about asking the I Ching the same question again. Sometimes – usually, I find – it’s about asking and asking in search of certainty that isn’t available. You might be asking the I Ching, but you might also be asking another person, or the cosmos at large. Hexagram 4 can be a teenager bugging her parents for a new phone, or me repeatedly asking a tech support department for a sensible response, or someone constantly texting her estranged boyfriend. In all cases the same basic pattern applies: you want more clarity, but the more you ask the muddier it gets, usually because of emotional reactions on all sides.

    Often the feeling behind it is, ‘I have to get the answers before I can act.’ Hexagram 4 says you learn from experience, which means you have to act before you know the answers – just as the water of the stream doesn’t wait to know the whole course of the river before it starts flowing.

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