It’s easy to become preoccupied with how beautiful, subtle and complex the Yijing is – there are endless layers and dimensions to discover – but more than anything, I keep coming back to its kindness.
For example, the readings I cast when a close friend had just been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. I looked up the prognosis, of course, and found it was very poor.
What could I do to help? There must be something, surely? Could I somehow ‘lend’ her my time, energy and brain-power as she researched possible treatments? (This was probably not quite as ludicrously inflated an idea as it sounds, since her oncologists didn’t have any very strong recommendations. Though yes, quite ludicrous enough.)
What, if anything, would be a good response when she wanted to know how she had ‘manifested’ this? (Should I be trying to discredit that whole way of thinking before it caused her to doubt – or blame – herself?)
Yi’s first response to my first ‘How can I help?’ question was Hexagram 47, changing at line 3 to 28. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound like a kind answer:
‘Confined by stones,
Grasping at star thistles.
Entering into his house, does not see his wife.
That’s not a picture of anyone helping with anything.
In fact, I think it was a picture of me: walled in by my friend’s grim prognosis, grasping at ideas of ‘being useful’ – which was significantly less use than grasping at straws. What happens then? The closest support is not seen. Pitfall.
I went back to the drawing board and asked again: ‘What can I give her?’
(This is one of those questions that sounds the same, but isn’t. It would be hard to pinpoint a logical distinction between ‘How can I help?’ and ‘What can I give?’ but this was a new question because it came from a quite different place. Not, ‘There must be things I can do to help; I can think of several; which would be best?’ but ‘I have no idea – please show me.’)
Yi this time gave me Hexagram 20, Seeing, changing at lines 5 and 6 to 2, Earth. Seeing, with the qualities of Earth: being open, sensitive and responsive.
‘Seeing. Washing hands, and not making the offering.
There is truth and confidence like a presence.’
What could I do? Nothing. It wasn’t time to ‘do’, but to wash my hands and oh-so-busy mind clear of all that, and be present.
How to respond to the whole ‘manifesting my cancer’ idea?
‘Wind moves over the earth. Seeing.
The ancient kings studied the regions,
Saw the people,
And established their teachings.’
No need to adopt a position. Wait and see. (I waited, and saw that she was using the idea skilfully, as I might have known she would. I followed her lead.)
‘Seeing my own life.
The noble one is without mistake.’
Self-awareness was a very good place to start. Recognising my own kneejerk reactions, I could at least manage not to kick anyone with them.
‘Seeing their lives.
The noble one is without mistake.’
And the key, of course, most of all, was to See my friend. As she grappled with treatment decisions, I was able to witness her power and reflect it back to her – tell her that I knew what she chose would be right. (You probably had to know her to understand how true that was. Her way of knowing blazed like a sun.)
I re-read Sophie Sabbage’s The Cancer Whisperer (an extraordinary book), and came across this quotation:
“The ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”David Whyte
Some four months after this reading, my friend told me she’d realised that her ‘love language’ was quality time: that she knew she was loved when people gave her this. And a month after that, she was gone.
I hope this gives an idea of why I love this oracle. Would most people have known everything that reading had to say without needing an oracle to tell them? Very probably, yes. But I wasn’t there, I didn’t get it, and Yi was kind enough to help me. This is what it does.