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Why reading for others can be hard

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This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Reading For Others

I wrote before about why we want to do readings for other people – in essence, because we want to help, and we know what Yi gives, and we want to share that. As I prepare for the Reading for Others Class, I’ve really been learning a lot from the in-depth responses people have sent me to the preliminary survey – about why they wanted the class, what they hoped it would cover, and where the sticking points were for them.

Here are a few of those sticking points, and some pointers on how to get unstuck:


When you read for yourself, you naturally recognise how the answer is speaking to you. Recognising even a small part of the reading (‘ah yes, that line is exactly how I feel when this happens…’) gives you a doorway into the whole.

When you read for someone else, recognition doesn’t work in the same way. It might not happen at all. You might be unsure whether you’re truly recognising the person in the answer, or just your own preconceptions and/or baggage around this kind of question. And sometimes you’re going to recognise the answer as something you need to hear yourself, which can be thoroughly disconcerting if you weren’t expecting it.

Two things help here: really listening to the person talking, and taking time to ensure that the question they put to Yi is the one they’re really asking.

In your own relationship with Yi, you might have become quite relaxed about questions: you might be able to ask for a yes/no answer on the understanding that Yi will answer the question behind your question; you might not normally use a question at all; you can probably recognise those moments when Yi isn’t answering your question, but instead addressing a deeper underlying concern that you maybe should have asked about in the first place.

This is all beautiful, and none of it’s likely to work with someone else’s reading. To hear Yi answering their question, a beginner needs to hear the question they’re asking. And being able to hear the conversation is vital for you, too, as interpreter – it gives you a more solid place to stand, as you work to separate out your own preconceptions from what Yi’s saying.


An interesting thing about that survey – I asked, ‘Why are you interested in a class on reading for other people?’ and people talked about wanting to help, and wanting to share the experience of relationship with Yi. There’s the ‘aha’ – whether all at once, or unfolding over months – the inner shift, when the pieces fall into a new kaleidoscope pattern. That unique, individual experience of meaning is what we cherish and want other people to have.

Nobody wrote that they wanted to tell their friends, family or clients what Yi says. I think that’s because we know they need to hear Yi say it.

It’s one thing to understand someone’s reading, and another to be able to give it to them. So there’s a whole section of the class dedicated to this – I’ve called it the ‘bucket’ (poetic, I know…), because it’s about the container for the reading.

When you look at a reading, you may see multiple layers of meaning: hexagram text, hexagram shapes, trigrams, perhaps nuclear hexagrams, perhaps some associated myth and history, perhaps some reading experiences of your own that paint the whole thing in vivid emotional colours. And here is someone asking you, ‘What does it mean?’ and you need to somehow distil all that richness down into an essence they can take and use, so it’ll make a real difference for them.

The temptation here is to follow in the footsteps of the ‘simplified I Ching for modern times’ brigade and try to explain what it means – to say ‘making a transition’ instead of ‘crossing the great river’ or ‘being very careful’ instead of ‘treading the tail of the tiger’. Advice: don’t. Abstractions are forgettable; tigers are not.

You will need to invite your querent in to the imagery, encourage them to make themselves at home in a world where nothing travels faster than a horse, tigers are protector spirits that also eat people, and wading rivers is dangerous. You may need to choose one image from among the many you can see in text and trigrams. But giving a reading always means giving imagery.

One other tip: be clear in your own mind about the basic structure of the reading: what the primary and relating hexagram represent, how the diverse moving lines work together. This is essential to the health of your ‘well rope’ – the interpretive skill with which you draw out a reading’s meaning – and so I’ve provisionally sorted it into that part of the class (though what we work on in each week’s video meeting will depend on the questions participants have at the time). But it helps in communication, too, to be able to say things like, ‘This one is your hexagram,’ or maybe even, ‘This line gives a voice to your inner teenager.’

Keeping your head above water

Five years ago, I was burned out and had no idea whether I would ever do readings again. I’d been ‘open for readings’, barring a week off here or there for family responsibilities and emergencies, for over ten years, and I’d run out of everything and needed to crawl away and spend a long, long time sitting with an old oak tree and having no plans at all.

It’s true that divination is significantly different from counselling or coaching, because the real source of help is Yi, not the diviner. (That’s probably why I lasted 10 years, not 10 months.) All the same, being the conduit for its help is work. So yes… don’t do what I did, and make yourself absolutely unconditionally available to carry absolutely anything and everything for everybody at any time, indefinitely.

I dare say you, like most people, would have the common sense not to put yourself in that situation in the first place… But even if you’re only reading occasionally for family or friends, you still bear a weight of their expectations – maybe that you’ll come out with something succinct and wise on the spot? – and of responsibility.

I don’t have any universal answers about this – I think the best I can do is share some of the big questions and the personal answers I’ve found. Your answers may be different, but you should probably go looking for some before you do many readings.

How do you need to look after yourself?

I need time outdoors, I need time off from full readings, I need sky and trees, and occasionally if I’m worried about the person I’m reading for I need someone to share my worries with, in confidence.

And you…?

How do you understand your responsibility as a diviner?

I’m responsible for giving them the reading, as completely and as well as I possibly can.

If the querent doesn’t get it, I must keep on trying new ways of communicating until I’ve run out of ideas. If they resist what it says now, I must do my best to make it memorable so they can use it later. If they miss calls, I’ll write up my notes and email the reading. If someone requested a refund before the reading, I’d send it – and I’d also send the reading. Someone else’s reading in my hands is sacred, and I must do everything I can to give it to them. If the zombie apocalypse happens when I’m working on someone’s reading, I suppose I’ll just have to write it out on paper and get on my bike.

And… I’m not responsible for what happens next. Not even for how the person understands the reading – and absolutely not for what they decide to do. I trust the Oracle to do its thing, and I trust the person to walk their own way. Or at least, this is what I keep trying to do.

(And you…?)


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5 thoughts on “Why reading for others can be hard”

  1. Dear Hillary, wonderful text!

    I spent 20 years doing readings to my students of Inner Alchemy and others. It is really a challenge.

    What I always do is:
    1- Listening to them explain why they came to ask advise. And asking them to talk about the situation, people involved, the past steps they did to solve the situation and what kind of trouble these things are causing in their life.
    2- I advice them to make the right question, and for this I usually ask many many things to understand deeply what they want, how the circumstance are working outside and what they expect from that situation.
    3- After they say yes,, this is the real question to me, them I guide them in a meditation so they can freed their mind and personal thought and feelings, a assure they are open to receive the Yi answer evem if they do not like them.
    4- After draw the hexagrams and its mutation, I spent tome as long as it is necessary to see in these hexagrams and lines the inner and outside reality based in what they told me about the circumstances.
    5- During the interpretation it is important to see the relationship of the two hexagrams and more important; the lines and its relationship (yin and Yang combination- solidarity or complementary. If these combination are positive or negative.
    5- the last step would be the analogy; What is on top is like the one below.

    If I am truthful and sublime when interpreting the I Ching for others, the answer comes correct and helps a lot if the querent is sincere and knows how to listen without resistance the answer can change immediately the situation and move them to the right action or attitude to solve the situation.

    I never forget this ancient advise;

    The master said; In ascent or descent there is no fixed rules, except that one must do nothing evil. In advance or retreat no sustained perseverance avails, except that one must not depart from one´s nature. The superior man fosters his character and labor his task, in order to do everything at the right time. Therefore he makes no mistake.” pg 381 On line in the fourth place Creative (the minister represents what we are as interpreters.)

    Ta Chuan the Great Treatise – I had learned how to interpret the Yi studying this book. It is not ease at the beginning but as soon as change becomes our life it becomes easy and all the secrets are clear and no mistakes can happen. Love your work!

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