Reading a book about healing, I came across two diagrams of the relationships between external events and emotional response. The first, very simple, diagram, showed our common misconception. It had two boxes, one for ‘external events’ and one for ’emotional response’, and an arrow pointing from events to response. That’s our everyday idea of how it works: ‘he made me so angry’, ‘public speaking is frightening’, and so on.
The corrected version of the diagram has a third box added – ‘interpretation’ – and arrows leading from external events to interpretation, and from interpretation out to emotional response. But the diagram’s also gained an extra dimension: it’s divided horizontally into conscious and unconscious, and the ‘interpretation’ box is below the threshold of awareness. All we’re aware of, in the normal run of things, is the two boxes above the surface: ‘external events’ and ’emotional response’.
It occurred to me that the third, ‘interpretation’ box is where Yijing readings act: dynamically reshaping our response with entirely new images and stories to think in – and not only emotional response, of course, but actions, beliefs, and maybe eventually our whole being.
Of course, there are plenty of ways of working on that ‘interpretation’ box. But most of them involve a kind of fishing expedition, using questions as hooks to haul up as much interpretive thought as we can. (Why is public speaking frightening? Because everyone will be looking at me. Why is it frightening to have everyone looking at you? Because they will judge me. Why is it frightening if they judge you? …and so on, perhaps back to some primal survival instinct about being excluded from the tribe.) Then we can assess its truth, and experiment by trying on alternative interpretations.
All this is valuable, and it can all happen in a reading: asking on the basis of one interpretation, receiving an image that forces you to stop and think and rewrite your ideas. Maybe the relationship that you thought of as a trap is a Vessel – or vice versa – or the objective you’re pursuing is like a fleeing horse. Or – I’ve had this one a couple of times this year – maybe the people you’re struggling to build friendship with are best described by Hexagram 44, and not interested in any such thing. ‘Aha!’ moments ensue, thinking changes, emotional response and behaviour follows.
However… I’ve found that a lot of what happens with the oracle stays inside the image; it never surfaces above that threshold of awareness. As a couple of people I read for recently said, ‘I haven’t exactly been working on the reading, it’s more that it’s been working on me.’ It’s like ‘dream work’ – which for me has at least as much to do with allowing the dreams to do their own work as with any interpretation I might come up with. (And then, of course, dream imagery and hexagram imagery may be one continuous fabric.) I had my eyes opened to this aspect of ‘Yi work’ years ago, when a client told me that the whole situation had transformed utterly since her reading – and she couldn’t remember a word of my interpretation.
Readings happen both above and below the surface.