Every article and every commercial email nowadays says something about ‘these challenging times’ or ‘these uncertain times’. And of course, we know an oracle for that: Yi is made for challenging, uncertain, bewildering times when none of our normal responses or resources is helping.
Talking with Yi lately, and seeing other people’s readings in the I Ching Community, I’m reminded that while this may be our first pandemic, it isn’t Yi’s. I actually find it obscurely comforting that Yi has such a store of clear, apt language to describe our experience now.
There’s been plenty of Hexagram 51, unsurprisingly, lots of Hexagram 59 to describe what’s happening to everyone’s plans, some Hexagram 5 for advice (‘the noble one eats, drinks and relaxes with music’!)… and then there’s Hexagram 20 on hand washing (though 20.2 – ‘peeping through the crack in the door’ – was maybe a bit too apt for comfort), 29.4 about the need to isolate, 55.6 about people’s reluctance to go ‘back to normal’ after lockdown, and so on.
Still, despite all this, I’ve been finding it strangely hard to know what to ask. On the one hand, what I felt I wanted to know couldn’t be clearer: when will this end? But there are a couple of problems with that…
In the first place, the traditional Yijing isn’t one for giving dates: normally, you might ask how things would develop within a named timeframe, or – the option I prefer – how you’ll recognise the time for x to happen. (Here’s a reading along those lines about when this’ll be over – nicely demonstrating the problem, I think.)
And secondly, I normally prefer to ask with the intention that my reading will change something. Unless I’m just playing, this feels to me like the way I express basic respect for the oracle: if I seek an answer from you, that’s because I’m willing and ready to change my actions, approach or mindset in response. And obviously, when this ends is not something I can change.
So… I needed to do some digging to find a true question, and I’d recommend this to anyone who’s grappling with the same awkward desire for Yi to make the uncertainty go away. (Not how it works…) What helped me was dogged persistence filling in the blank in, ‘I need to know this so I can…’.
I found it was always ‘I need to know so I’ll have a better way to approach or think about x’ (things like food supply, or online relationships). Once I’d realised, ‘Ah – once I get clear about that, I’ll be able to calm down,’ I knew what to ask – and, yes, the readings made a difference.
Let me make an attempt to sum that up in a usable sort of format…
As the Dazhuan says, ‘Those who composed Yi knew suffering and sorrow.’ The oracle was made for times like these; it will help. And giving some thought to what we ask will make its help stronger and more readily available.
- Ask yourself first, what difference do I want this reading to make?
- Before you ask, try filling in the blank in, ‘I need to know this so I can…’.
- Or turn that around, and look for the places where you could breathe more freely if only you knew how to approach them, or just had some idea of what you were doing!
- See if this shows you a much simpler, more direct question you can ask. (Like ‘How can I manage my energy?’ or ‘How can I help reduce tension inside these four walls?’)