...life can be translucent

Bread and butter readings

Bread and butter readings
This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Part of the furniture

The second line of Hexagram 37 (and the second thing Yi suggested I write about) says,

‘No direction to pursue,
Stay in the centre and cook.
Constancy, good fortune.’

Hexagram 37, line 2

This line places us, and our readings, firmly at the foundations of Maslow’s pyramid:

Maslow's pyramid: physiological needs at the bottom, then safety, belonging, esteem & self-actualisation
Chiquo / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

There’s no call to charge off and explore the world; just stay home and put the rice on to boil. In other words, it is OK to ask about the ordinary, everyday stuff of just getting by.

changing to

Changing this line points to Hexagram 9, Small Taming: a hexagram for the small farmer waiting for better weather. It’s a time when there are – often frustratingly – no openings to do big things; small work is all there is to be done. But you can do your small work in alignment with heaven’s purposes: hoe the next row, chop the onions, and ask small questions about today’s small concerns. You don’t need grand plans and broad visions to talk with Yi.

That may be counter-intuitive: this is a vast, splendid oracle, so isn’t it meant for the big questions? ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is my calling?’ ‘What are my gifts?’ ‘How can I serve the world?’?

And it’s true, it is for these questions – and for the everyday. People need limitless explorations, and they also need to be fed; Yi responds to our needs.

I’m fond of saying that each reading needs a clear intention behind it. (What will change as a result of this reading?) Only… that intention could be to decide whether to spend $30, or to find a way to have a better conversation, or to get through the next 24 hours in one piece. If your immediate intention is to decide which phone to buy, then that can be your next reading.

At the heart of these ordinary, domestic readings, there’s a rare gift: they can tap into deep wells of meaning.

To access this potential, you need to avoid getting stuck in an endless cycle of, ‘What about option a?’ ‘What about option b?’ readings. I’ve found that those can become quite arid. They might just stop speaking to you, as the feeling of connection to an oracle dries up. Or they might still make sense, be useful, but nonetheless feel empty and dry, like the husks of real readings.

What works better for me is to take half a step back and ask a broader question. Maybe…

  • What’s a guiding principle for buying a phone?
  • What would I really be doing, if I signed up to this?
  • What to remember during today’s meetings?

This creates an opening to deeper meaning, allowing the everyday stuff to become more nourishing.

It’s interesting to look at the paired line of 37.2 – that is, the same line, seen from the opposite angle when you invert the hexagram –

turned upside down is

‘No direction to pursue,
Stay in the centre and cook.
Constancy, good fortune.’


‘Regrets vanish.
Your ancestor bites through the skin.
Why would going on be wrong?’


Paired lines can tell a story. Here, it seems the membrane between worlds, between mundane and profound, small and great, is no match for the ancestor’s teeth. Cook at the centre, and perhaps he may come in to your table.

2 responses to Bread and butter readings

  1. The 5th line of 38 talks about ancestors eating the meat offering that is given to them as a sacrifice. If this line connects to 37.2 then 37.2 might point to the reason behind the preparation of food that it talks about: the character 饋 used in that sentence can also refer to ‘offering food to others’ – in this case the ancestors that were still regarded as part of the family. Kui 饋 is more than simply ‘cooking’ – it might refer to a whole ritual of entertaining guest and ancestors with the proper food, at the right time and circumstances.

    • Aha… well, it’s not just ‘connected’, it’s the same line (if you stand on your head), so this all fits together nicely. Thank you!

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