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A framework for readings

A framework for readings

When we approach a reading, we generally have some principles in mind for how the parts of the answer will fit together and work as a whole. In the beginners’ course on this site, I outline the framework I’ve found works best: the cast hexagram’s the basic answer, the relating (changed) hexagram underlies this and is typically ‘what it’s about for you’, the changing lines are the heart of the reading and the most immediate answer to your question. (And yes, you can expect Yi to answer your question.)

I’ve been thinking about this again as I teach the ‘Reading for Others’ class – encouraging people to begin their readings with an overview, so the querent won’t get lost in a sea of imagery, and sharing a lot more detail of the structures and relationships that help me draw out what Yi’s saying. And I’ve also been wondering at the unique relationship each person has with Yi, and thinking it might be possible to impose too much ‘framework’. There do seem to be pros and cons to this…

The pros: why you need a reading framework

The framework tells you – and anyone you might read for – where you are. This is true at every point in the reading journey, even before it starts. Before you open the book, you need to know what kind of question invites a clear answer – but even before you start to think about putting your question into words, you need to know that Yi answers questions (and that’s why it’s important for you to understand what you’re asking). And when you look at hexagrams, and lines, and trigrams, and maybe line pathways and nuclear hexagrams and change patterns and nuclear stories and shadows and complements and the arcs of the Sequence… you still use your framework (maybe quite a complicated architecture by now) to know where you are.

That’s a first benefit of a framework: it’s what lets you interpret the reading at all. And as you get into the detail, it’s your awareness of ‘what goes where’ that keeps you from being baffled by ‘contradictions’ within the reading.

It also makes it harder to understand your reading selectively, as in, ‘I like the sound of that fan yao/ the look of those trigrams/ the text of this oracle, so I’ll take that as my answer.’

In all this, I think another word for ‘framework’ is relationship. This is about having a dependable, real relationship with Yi, a sense of an agreement between us – almost a contract. (Like being able to ask for walnut bread and not expect tentacles.) “I have a rapport with Yi, so we can have conversations. So long as I’m sincere, clear and thoughtful, I can expect Yi to answer in a way I can understand.” Without this, there’d be no readings.

Cons: how a framework can get in the way

The trouble with frameworks is that they’re at least somewhat rigid. Our most valued relationships typically aren’t the ones mediated by contracts. The purpose of a contract, after all, is to leave nothing to chance and not to depend on trust.

Too much ‘framework’ and not enough trust leaves people fretting about ‘getting the question right‘, or denying their intuitive response to a reading because it doesn’t fit the rules. Or starting sentences with ‘You must…’ or ‘You can’t…’ or – most absurd of all – ‘The Yijing can’t…’.

And it can lead to formulaic readings: asking yet another ‘how can I?’ or ‘what if I?’ question, treating the oracle as a mechanism to dispense answers.

We might get the idea that we tell Yi what to do: respond to a certain question with a certain kind of answer for our use. Worse, we might get the idea that Yi tells us what to do. Small people doing readings with a small oracle – what happened to the mystery?

As this is what we need, with Yi: a living, spontaneous, spacious conversation. We need to be able to ask questions no-one’s ever thought of before, and hear the answer as if the words were being spoken for the first time, and allow Yi to say something strange and utterly unexpected that changes everything.

So on the one hand, we need to retain our intuitive response: maybe just the hexagram name on its own, or its trigrams, or one of the lines, will give you the answer you need now. And on the other hand, we also need a framework that holds the reading open, as it were, for long enough that we can receive, honour and learn from the whole answer, not just stop at the most easily-recognisable thing. That’s part of the relationship, too: when I ask, Yi will answer; when it does, I’ll listen to what it says.

(I don’t have a tidy conclusion for this post about how we can all achieve this synthesis. I think it’s a unique, individual process, as relationships with Yi always are.)

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