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Blog post: For the first time

hilary

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For the first time

roe deer fawn with ears pricked
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.
 

Liselle

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I've been using the commentary-free version a lot, and I like it. Very simple, no distraction... removing temptation altogether is quite helpful!

As Hilary says, it's a good place to start, at least, to make sure of looking at it. Making myself get used to reading it was a difficult but important step, back whenever. (Given a choice between verse and prose, guess what I'll always gravitate to unless I force myself... am not a natural poetry person...)
 
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Liselle

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Ha ha! For a minute I thought that was Tohpol's hare-y profile picture
1624803721564.png

But it's not, it's not even a rabbit, it's a baby roe deer!



(Article says the male of the species is a roebuck. Americans will recognize that...
1624804560707.png
)
 

dfreed

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Thanks Hilary. I'll have to dig in more to what you shared here, but a few initial 'reaction' thoughts:

I've also viewed a number of Youtube 'reaction videos', mostly by young Black Americans, sometimes listening to music that I've been familar with for years - but they are hearing for the first time: 'White Room' by Cream; The Weight' by The Band, blues by Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc. And they are almost always delighted and surprised by what they're hearing!

(I agree with this guy, this song - and Pops Staples' (2014-2020) singing gives me goose-bumps, along with a few tears!)

I was just reading an interview with composer, artist, and Yi user John Cage where he said he preferred live music over recorded or even amplified (live) music, because the audience doesn't just 'hear' the instruments or voices (or sounds), but we can also sense that they're coming from different - and unique - directions.

I sense there's something - not yet fully explored - here (or heard?) about the Yi: maybe that each time we get a line, or hexagram, or image, or trigram ... that it's coming to us from a unique place - and that we in turn can hear - or glean - something unique in it?

Best, D
 
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hilary

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I sense there's something - not yet fully explored - here (or heard?) about the Yi: maybe that each time we get a line, or hexagram, or image, or trigram ... that it's coming to us from a unique place - and that we in turn can hear - or glean - something unique in it?
Something like that, yes. This reading's been cast - I don't know - hundreds of thousands of times before? And this is also the first time it's ever been cast in response to you asking this question. 'First time hearing...'

My favourite Beethoven reaction video saw the listener having to turn the music off before the end of the first movement because he was emotionally overloaded, couldn't take any more. I don't think he knew there were another 3 movements to go.
 

my_key

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Something like that, yes. This reading's been cast - I don't know - hundreds of thousands of times before? And this is also the first time it's ever been cast in response to you asking this question. 'First time hearing...'

Approaching the reading 'with innocent ears' seems an excellent maxim. If we know that it's playing the same 6 notes as we have heard before but recognise that there may be a new rendition that will give us a different life forming insight then we are 'first time hearing'. If we miss the newly offered emotional, intuitive and fresh sparks of inspiration in the reading then we have not fully honoured Yi.

Most people have heard the Sound of Silence. Lets cast those coins again.

 
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