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Blog post: Skip or symphony

hilary

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Skip or symphony

filled skip and dark forest
Lately, I’ve been noticing differences between approaches to the Yi. We might describe what we do in the same words – we all ‘consult the oracle’ – but what actually happens next is not at all the same thing. And I think these differences come down to how we conceive of the oracle we’re consulting.

What is the Yijing, anyway?

The Yijing is (not) a skip​


For some, I think it’s basically a skip. You can tell, because their readings are like dumpster diving. Look into the depths of the skip with something in mind – maybe you want to build some raised beds and paths in your garden. And then the magic happens: you see what you need! Some lumber, or some paving slabs, or some crates you could take apart and reuse. Perfect!

Obviously, you will ignore most of the skip’s contents, as most of it won’t be relevant to you. You won’t climb into the skip to meditate on its contents; you won’t spend time contemplating the broken TV or that very dodgy-looking sofa, trying to understand why they’re there or how they’re meant to fit into your gardening plans. That would be ridiculous. It’s a skip – full of stuff that got chucked in at random – so the skill is to be able to see what you need. Learn that skill, and the skip-Yi becomes a really useful tool.



Yi for me is… harder to describe. Here are two stories to give you an idea.

It’s an ecosystem​


As a teenager on my way to visit my great uncle Bill, I saw a field covered in starlings, with house martins darting to and fro above them. I watched this for a while, with no idea what was going on. Happily, I could ask Bill, who explained that the cranefly larvae were emerging. The starlings feasted on them on the ground, and the martins snatched them out of the air.

The birds were gathering for a reason, whether I understood it or not. Everything is connected. Bill was a naturalist who had loved, watched and learned from the countryside around him all his life, and so he could see what was there.

It’s a symphony​


Elgar was a great symphonist – not just for his melodies, harmonies and musical architecture, but especially for his orchestration: a real musician’s musician, who understood orchestras and how they work from the inside. So his music is exquisitely well orchestrated: everything is idiomatic; everything is clear.

And yet a bright young thing was able to point out to Elgar where he’d slipped up: he’d written an entry for a woodwind player that was going to be completely inaudible – utterly drowned out by the rest of the orchestra.

Elgar simply pointed to what came next: a big solo for that same player. He’d written the inaudible entry to give them a chance to warm up.

Every note of the symphony is there for a reason, because the composer knew what he was doing. If each musician pays careful attention, gives all their skill to playing everything he wrote, the audience will hear something beautiful.

For example…?​


Of course, it’s no use just to make blanket assertions about what the Yijing is. We need some examples – and I’ll be posting about some of my favourites over the next few weeks.

photo of a full skip with dark forest in the background
 

Trojina

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The Yijing is (not) a skip​





Yi is not a fork lift truck either


It’s a skip – full of stuff that got chucked in at random – so the skill is to be able to see what you need. Learn that skill, and the skip-Yi becomes a really useful tool.

Yeah Yi is not a tool and so any idea of skill as in skill in using or operating a tool doesn't apply. We don't operate Yi and in the end I think we only learn to understand Yi through Yi. That's not to say other people can't teach us a lot but they can never teach us wholly for that we must go to Yi.
 
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hilary

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Yi is not a fork lift truck either
:biggrin:

Maybe we need to start compiling a list?
Yeah Yi is not a tool and so any idea of skill as in skill in using or operating a tool doesn't apply.
Yes.. the 'really useful tool' part was not exactly meant to be positive. Though if all you want is a tool, then readings done this way can be one.
in the end I think we only learn to understand Yi through Yi. That's not to say other people can't teach us a lot but they can never teach us wholly for that we must go to Yi.
Also yes. That is, as a teacher ultimately all you can do is jump around saying, 'Look at that, listen to this, how does that feel? what does that say to you?' and so on. You can show people what to look at, and some ways of looking, but the actual experience of hearing it speak is not something you can impart.
 

Trojina

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Not a skip
Not a fork lift truck

Not anything that isn't a living intelligence. As soon as we think it's less than that we get to 'operating' it.

However it's notable the way one thinks of what Yi is doesn't really impact upon getting answers. Yi goes on answering regardless of whether one thinks it's a fork lift truck, a plastic potato masher or a Rorschach inkblot test.


The skip people still get answers as you know. I don't think lack of respect, which I think is what you imply the skip people lack, impacts on being answered. Yi is generous like that, you aren't required to believe anything to be given answers. What you do with them is another matter.


As far as I'm concerned Yi is alive. I don't know where or how it can be but it is. That means regardless of who is saying what about it it still works. People can do Yi a service by uncovering more in translation, more in interpretation and pattern and so on but they can never own, nor wholly teach it because it's alive. I can introduce you to a living being but I can't teach you a living being. That would be like saying 'I can teach you this horse'. One can teach lots of things about the horse but we cannot teach another person the horse.


I see what you mean about the symphony and the eco system in terms of comparing Yi to those hugely intelligent and intricate systems but I think aliveness, consciousness is factor behind both. It's the aliveness that drives the eco system, the living intelligence of the eco system, the living intelligence of the composer.



Now if we are addressing something that is alive, well it's a whole other level to making logical decisions about what we think Yi is saying by analysing text and so on. We do still have to make those decisions of course but it's also our consciousness meeting Yi consciousness. I think that's the very heart of divination. I think divining is about meeting and that is very 10ish and even 44ish too I want to say.
 
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hilary

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Yes.

I do like 'I can teach you this horse.'

That's very much what I was driving at. It's alive, hence you respect it. But if you don't perceive it as alive, respecting it would be ludicrous, nonsensical, would make as much sense as meditating on skip contents.

Change of analogy:

'Whom should I vote for?'
'The Tories have been a disaster, but the opposition manifesto is inspiring.'
'Well, the word that really resonated for me in your answer was "Tories", so I'll vote for them,' or 'Since you were gesticulating with your right hand as you said that, I'll vote Tory.'

That is clearly rude and disrespectful of the person you asked.

But suppose instead you flipped open a novel at random, and the words on the page included 'elaborate' and 'story' and 'redolent'. You might count 'labor' and 'red' as a majority for Labour and vote that way, but if 'story' jumps out at you instead and you vote for Boris, no-one is going to say you showed shameful disrespect for the novel.

(This example would work better with 'Yellow Pages' than 'novel', but I can't think of three words that might plausibly appear in the Yellow Pages and contain the relevant letters.)

So yes, it comes down to 'Yi is alive, Yi is a person.' Or possibly 'what speaks through Yi is a person.' If there is no 'speaking' happening (no consciousness communicating a message, no intention), there's nothing to respect in the first place, and no earthly reason not to go with what helps and discard the rest. There's no disrespect happening, no deliberately ignoring/avoiding the meaning: those ideas are all just projections.

...

I don't think that lot can be communicated - you either experience it as alive, or you don't.

What I can talk about is the beauty and order of how the Yi is made - like an ecosystem/ symphony/ living organism. Hopefully that hints at how much someone is missing if they go for the dumpster-diving approach. So... 6 small draft posts are waiting for me to write them up and publish them.

...

I've seen 44 referring to meeting Yi, especially as perceived by a rational individual who has no idea what to make of your desire to have serious conversations with a magic book.
 

Liselle

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I wonder if it's kind of about hexagram 50?

I agree there's a consciousness behind this. But it speaks through an interconnected web of little verses written down on paper by humans, and that's quite tool-like, I think. (Very inspired, too, but all tools are inspired. Tool use was a milestone in human development; scientists watch for it in animals to assess their intelligence and creativity.)

Yi's been known to describe itself with hexagram 48. The Source, but also The Well, the book, the means to reach the source. No one needs a well for its own sake; its point is to get the water. So it's also very tool-like, having to be conceived of, built, and maintained by humans for a purpose.

Water is also quite tool-like. It has many uses: supporting life, washing, a source of power, etc. etc. If it didn't do any of those things, no one would care about it.

49 - we have water, so what do we do with it, how could it change things? Trying it on for size. What do we like about it (drinking, growing things), what don't we like (drowning, leaky roofs). Sort of like teenagers try out various ways of being grown-ups, some stick, some don't.

50 - with the things that stick, refining them, consolidating, building a life, a civilization, a culture. You need a good vessel to do that - also a tool.

Tools are good things, in other words, but only for what you do with them. Do they change you, can you make something precious with them, can you get to the top of hexagram 50. If you get stuck at any point before that, your tools haven't been used to their highest potential.

I wonder if that's what Hilary's trying to help us with, getting to the top of 50, sort of the pinnacle of refinement. It needs inspiration and skill at every step. Skills can be taught, but they also need practice. Inspiration can't be taught, but it can be fed. It's everything coming together.
 
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Trojina

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I wonder if that's what Hilary's trying to help us with, getting to the top of 50, sort of the pinnacle of refinement. It needs inspiration and skill at every step. Skills can be taught, but they also need practice. Inspiration can't be taught, but it can be fed. It's everything coming together.


It's probably important to remember Hilary isn't standing above 'us' looking down from a great height with infinitely more wisdom than any of us mere mortals. You're writing as if the blog is only to educate 'us', I see it more as an expression of her personal view. For me this isn't about Hilary trying to help me with anything because that's not true for me, might be for you. I wasn't looking for help when I read this anymore than I'd be looking for help with any other article. To be frank I don't think I need help with this. I'm very interested to read Hilary's blogs but I'm not a struggling child trying to grasp concepts way beyond my ken or anything like that. I'm not struggling to understand the blog post, I think I can converse about it without being reduced to an 'us' that stands beneath the ultimate voice of wisdom. I should think you can too.
 
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Trojina

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A tool is wielded by us for an intended function for our use, our purposes. We don't go to tools for greater wisdom and perspective, we operate tools, we tell them what to do. One can quibble on the semantics of the word 'tool' but that was my meaning in my Blog. However this is not my blog it's Hilary's blog so perhaps the tool thing should be left aside given it is not the topic of the blog.

You could of course argue that Yi is actually a skip and all the ways it could rightfully be perceived as a skip.
 

hilary

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It's probably important to remember Hilary isn't standing above 'us' looking down from a great height with infinitely more wisdom than any of us mere mortals.
Hmph.

(I can't seem to find an emoji to express my superiority; will have to delegate that to an acolyte.)

I agree there's a consciousness behind this. But it speaks through an interconnected web of little verses written down on paper by humans, and that's quite tool-like, I think. (Very inspired, too, but all tools are inspired. Tool use was a milestone in human development; scientists watch for it in animals to assess their intelligence and creativity.)
Yes, I see what you mean about tools. Languages are tools, a 'cello is a tool, in a way; no need to abolish the concept. Only the 'interconnected web of little verses (and gua) written down on paper (well, bamboo to start with) by humans' seems simultaneously like a) Yi and b) the organism/ body Yi uses to speak.

But now I'm getting into angels-on-the-head-of-a-hexagram territory, which doesn't feed anyone's inspiration. I'd better go and do some more class planning.
 

irfan

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Hilary, very interesting blog post! During our zoom chat about the RFO class the other night, we briefly talked about the approach adopted by some teachers and commentators and your issues with them, so I have a feeling that I know what inspired it.

I'm surprised at how I hardly ever think about the question of what the Yi actually is, and I don't have a strong opinion. I did chuckle over Bradford's comment somewhere in his introductory section that it's worth remembering that the Yi is in fact a book and that it was written by people. But that in itself doesn't prove anything either way. It's quite possible that a book could come to life, take on life, or channel something conscious. You could also say that many other books, particularly old classics, are also alive and conscious.

I remember many years ago, being taken to see a small mountain in South Sulawesi (Indonesia) that is regarded as a powerful conscious entity. I sat there, looking at it, wondering how to make sense of the idea. And then I had a flash that it only really made sense if you accepted the idea that all mountains (and lakes, trees, rivers and practically everything else) were also conscious and living, but this one happened to be a particularly strong and powerful one. If all the others were just dead lumps of rock, then I found it hard to accept that one of them could be entirely different in nature. I think I feel the same about the Yi.

But I still don't think it matters that much. I have a friend who is a great enthusiast for the "secular dharma" movement, a very rational, non-religious stream of Buddhism (he'd probably kill me for capitalizing that word!). He has an almost mystical attachment to materialism, with a passion for cerebral cortexes and evolutionary biology. I talked to him about the Yi a bit, and his mouth started turning down at the corners and he got a nasty smile in his eyes. So I said, just try it. Consult and see what happens. Free associate. He came back a day later and said, hmm, yes, I could get an interesting story out of it. I can see how it might be fun. If that's how he views the world, then fine. If he stuck to it (he won't!), then I'm sure he could get just as much out of his readings as anyone who believed they were engaged with a living entity.
 

hilary

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This is very much what I would have said until a month or so ago: that it doesn't remotely matter what you believe about the Yijing or anything else, it will work anyway. And it will. I did my first readings fully expecting just a Rorschach blot of an answer, and now look what happened.

Also, I'm naturally leery of exalting the Yijing to the position of 'The Sage' and treating it with breathless reverence. That doesn't seem to lead to particularly helpful readings, either - maybe principally because it means doing so very few of them. It's a book, written by people, indeed, and it is not your guru.

So yes - no beliefs required. Only lately I've noticed that our underlying sense of what the Yi is - not even anything so clearly defined as a conscious belief - will affect our approach, and this in turn affects what you can and can't receive from a reading.

Then I start worrying about people whose first encounters with Yi are with the dumpster-diving approach: will they ever get past that and have a chance to enjoy what it really is? But probably I should trust the oracle more, worry less, and just write some more blog posts.
 

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