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For the first time

For the first time

I was lucky enough to play in a good youth orchestra with a conductor who had plenty to teach us. One of many things he said that stuck with me was that, when playing something familiar, you should imagine someone in the audience who’s hearing this music for the first time. Play for them.

I was reminded of this recently when I came across the ‘first time hearing…’ reaction videos on Youtube. There are videos of people hearing Beethoven 5 for the first time in their lives, as adults – and of course, they’re pretty much knocked out of their seats by the emotional intensity of it. Witnessing this felt quite special: this, I realised, is how that music is meant to be heard; this is how it works; this is what it does.

So this got me wondering about meeting the Oracle for the first time – and whether we can keep on meeting it as if for the first time.

Many of us will remember that – not necessarily our first reading, but the first moment of realisation: ‘Wait a moment, this book is talking to me.’ You thought you were going to read a book, but now who’s reading whom? The jolt of it, the immediacy of being spoken to, shakes our foundations.

Even as we get familiar with Yi, get into the habit of chatting with it as with an old friend, I think we need to keep this ‘Wait a moment…’ experience – the sense of awe.

How to recapture that? I don’t think we need to clutter the reading experience with a lot of ceremony; we just need ways of experiencing the answer more directly.

For instance…

Reading it as if it were a text message you’d been sent, or like a poem…
…and like a poem or a letter, reading it out loud. (‘What best to do?’ ‘Retreat creates success.’)

Noticing anything surprising in what it says. We know Hexagram 41 begins, ‘Decreasing, there is truth and confidence,’ but a moment’s pause shows this is really quite odd. Sun – harm, weakening, decrease – comes with trust? Wouldn’t you expect it to be the opposite?

This same simple, ‘hearing what it says’ approach will often get you noticing new things, or feeling the atmosphere of a hexagram or line more strongly (the relaxation of 24, the intensity of 45, the dithering of 31.4…).

The key is to read the text as a whole, with its own inner flow and logic, instead of as a string of discrete little formulae about success, fruitfulness, rivers and so on. For example, think of the longest Oracle text, Hexagram 2 –

‘Earth. Origin of success, fruitful with a mare’s constancy.
A noble young one has somewhere to go.
Leading the way, goes astray. Following behind, gains a master.
Fruitful in the south and west, gaining partners.
In the east and north, losing partners.
Tranquil constancy, good fortune.’

We might naturally want to break that down into bite-sized pieces to interpret – I know I did for years. But if instead you read it as a whole, you might hear a single story of a noble young one, with his good mare, heading out in search of friendship and a place to serve, getting lost, finding his way, exploring all four points of the compass, and settling peacefully.

If you’re very familiar with the text, hearing it afresh can be tricky; you need ways to ‘defamiliarise’ it. One way to do this is to find a different translation – or if you know another language, find a translation in that language. Or, of course, you could start tackling the original Chinese!

‘De-compartmentalising’ helps, too. We’re used to thinking about trigrams when we read the Image text, and thinking about the sequence of hexagrams when we read the Sequence text. How about looking at the Oracle (Judgement) text itself through those lenses, trigrams and sequence? How does

‘Nourishment: constancy brings good fortune.
See the jaws,
Your own quest for something real to fill your mouth.’

reflect the action of thunder below the mountains? Or if you read it after the Oracle of 26, what story might it tell?

‘Great taming,
Constancy bears fruit.
Not eating at home, good fortune.
Fruitful to cross the great river.’
‘Nourishment: constancy brings good fortune.
See the jaws,
Your own quest for something real to fill your mouth.’

To begin this kind of exploration, you first need to pretend the commentary doesn’t exist. (The most recent update of the Resonance Journal makes this easier: we added in a copy of my translation with no commentary.)

Actually, to experience that uncanny immediacy of Yi speaking, a good first step is always to forget the commentary. Conversations don’t normally come with commentary, after all – and each reading is a new conversation.

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