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‘DIY’ tips for I Ching divination

Yi, emotions and decisions

Yi, emotions and decisions

How often have you heard someone say they need to consult with Yi (and perhaps need help with the interpretation) because they’re ‘too subjective’ or ‘too emotionally involved’ with the topic?

In a way, that can be true. We can be too close to something, too caught up in its ins-and-outs, and need to step back to find space to see the situation from a new angle. That’s something readings help with. Remembering Yi’s response to, ‘What do we give, when we give a reading?’ – 34.1.2.3.4 to 2 – it seems to me that this is what happens at line 4 –

‘Constancy, good fortune.
Regrets vanish.
The hedge broken through, no entanglement.
Vigour in the axle straps of a great cart.’

– when we break through and are no longer trapped inside those thought-hedges that block most of the world from sight.

However, what we’re escaping here is not emotional involvement; in fact, the idea that emotion gets in the way of taking decisions turns out to be exactly wrong.

There have been famous medical cases of people with brain injuries that left their rational intelligence perfectly intact, while they lost the capacity to feel emotion: people who, in effect, are compelled to take decisions without emotional involvement. They either make atrociously bad decisions or make none at all.

An anecdote from a case history: a man with this type of brain damage is offered a choice of two dates for his next appointment. He pulls out his diary and begins enumerating the pros and cons of each option, lucidly and in detail. Thirty minutes later, he is still weighing the pros and cons; finally, the doctor tells him which day to come, and he says, ‘OK, fine’ and leaves.

So for this man stuck in an endless loop of ‘on the one hand… on the other hand…’ the problem was a lack of subjectivity. His situation is extreme, and tragic – but I think still has something in common with the kind of indecision we bring to the oracle.

To look at this from the opposite direction for a moment, think of that commonly-taught way of motivating yourself by tapping into the emotion associated with the end result. You vividly imagine attaining your end result, deliberately become aware of its full emotional impact, then connect that emotional state to the work you need to do today. Emotional involvement gives you the power to break through the hedge and get started.

And… I think readings, especially readings about decisions, work in a similar – if subtler – way. From what I’ve seen of how people struggle, where we get stuck and how we get unstuck, readings don’t work like a list of pros and cons. Instead, we ask ‘What about doing this?’ ‘What about doing that instead?’ and Yi says, ‘Here is what that would be like.’ It gives you a picture of the experience, something you can imagine yourself living, so you know how it feels.

Sometimes, of course, it also tells you that what you’re contemplating is objectively a good or bad idea (good fortune, pitfall…), but often the reading experience is more completely subjective than you might realise at the time.

This is something that’s easier to see when you watch other people respond to their readings. Someone might be discouraged by Hexagram 46, Pushing Upward (‘Do not worry, set forth to the south, good fortune!’) because they can’t face the prospect of a long, step-by-step climb. Someone else might welcome Hexagram 44, Coupling (‘Do not marry this woman!’), because they enjoy risk and uncertainty. Hexagram 29, the Repeating Chasms, might be greeted with ‘No, not that again!’ or ‘Yes, that’s how deeply I’m committed to this.’ And in each case, that unique and wholly subjective emotional response is what makes a decision possible.

In other words… Yi isn’t a way to become less emotionally involved; it’s more like the opposite. It gives us a clear and direct emotional connection to our reality, so we can rediscover the capacity to choose.

Identical doors in a grey wall

What do you give, when you give a reading?

What do you give, when you give a reading?
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