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Not interpreting the I Ching

Not interpreting the I Ching

This is a challenge I set for Change Circle members in the first week of our Imagery Class: to find a way to respond to a reading without interpreting it. The idea is to create a space where we can interact with all the layers and facets of the Yi’s imagery from the ‘inside’. Instead of dry theorising about the various things an image might represent, we can have an immediate, visceral experience of the reading. Then the imagery-experience resonates with our lived experience, and the oracle gets to work.

For me, this is a way to escape from the trap of ‘knowing what it means’. This hexagram is about overwhelm, that line is about defensiveness… yes, maybe (and also maybe not), but what is it saying to you now? It’s horribly easy to slip into doing a ‘what I already know this means’ reading instead of a Yijing reading.

For a comparative newcomer to the oracle, the same strategy – respond first, interpret later – might be a way to escape reliance on commentaries. That’s just another variety of ‘knowing what it means’ before you have time to respond to the reading, only with the idea that someone else knows when you don’t. Any such advance knowledge, yours or a commentator’s, puts distance between you and direct experience of your reading.

So Change Circle members have been coming up with ways to connect with a reading and defer interpretation. First you experience the imagery in its own terms, from the inside; then you start to ask what this experience reminds you of.

This week’s experiment involves telling the story of a hexagram or line, in the first person, from the inside – without trying to apply it to the question. For instance…

‘The disaster of disentangling
Maybe someone tethered a cow –
Travelling people’s gain,
Townspeople’s disaster.’

Hexagram 25, line 3

‘I promise you I tied Daisy up to this post just like I always do, I used the same good old knots that my father taught me, and now she’s gone! How was I supposed to know something like that could happen?’

‘People in harmony at the outskirts altar.
No regrets.’

Hexagram 13, line 6

‘Well, here we all are! Look at that great dome of sky… it’s so good to get outside. Spread out, now, there’s plenty of elbow room for everyone. Bring the sacrifice! Start the singing!’

‘The vessel with upended feet.
Fruitful to get the blockage out…’

Hexagram 50, line 1

‘What am I doing? I’m cleaning out this vessel is what I’m doing. Yes, I know it’s not exactly ritually correct – OK, so it’s unspeakably disrespectful – but that gunk stuck in the legs was making everything smell odd, and do you think the ancestors appreciate that? No, nor do I. Now if I just give it a couple of sharp taps with this wooden spoon…’

Your stories will be different, of course, and different again each time you come back to a line – and that’s as it should be. The oracle is alive, and there’s nothing set in stone to tell us what its words mean.

I Ching Community discussion

4 responses to Not interpreting the I Ching

  1. I absolutely love this and we talk about this in our home a bit ( between my wife and I ) . The whole purpose of the oracle is to give the intellect a rest and rely more on the higher faculties of intuition that the I Ching taps into. So it helps to stop getting into ” I know what this means” and more into “let me feel and understand what this is saying to me right now”. I love this, thank you.

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