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Questioning the importance of clear questions

Retro158

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In many guides to the I Ching, there seems to be an emphasis on the importance of the wording of a question. How important is this really? In many Shared Readings, I see helpful comments that go beyond a literal response to the question and address or allude to context or issues beyond the scope of the actual question.

I have received meaningful answers that resonate for me, without a discrete question - or in spite of one. Occasionally, it seems that simply asking for a comment on an issue is effective, without a formal question. Most important seems to be that the question or issue is 'real' for me, 'alive' in some way, but the answer doesn't seem to be limited by my ability, or inability, to capture my question exactly in words.

Curious of others' perspectives on this.
 

dfreed

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In many guides to the I Ching, there seems to be an emphasis on the importance of the wording of a question. How important is this really?

I have received meaningful answers that resonate for me, without a discrete question - or in spite of one.
It seems that right here you have an answer to your question - or at least one answer!

I am of the school that you can ask a 'question' or simply query the Yi in almost any way: ask a really specific question, ask a simple one, make a statement: 'I don't know what to do about ....', or 'oh shit ....' or 'tell me two things I should pay attention to this week'.

This last query / question is one I've sometimes asked - in part because I tend to make my own interpretations of the Yi way too complicated, and I give myself and others TMI (too much information) - so sometimes I consciously cull it down to just a few things that I can hold in my pee-brain as I go through the week. And if I need more, I can always go back and delve into the response again.

A while ago a friend called me. She wanted to consult the Yi about troubles she was having with her daughter, and she then read me a half dozen, really involved (and sometimes convoluted) questions she was considering:
"What if I ask here to move out, but she says no?:​
"How can I tell her what I need to say but not have her resent me?"​
"How can I tell her what I need to say and not have me resent her response?"​
"I want to ask the universe - what's the best way to talk to her, and not have either of us resent the other?' ....​

She had already written all these (and others) down, and I suggested that she just write out, "Tell me what I need to know about what's going on with ...." or something similar.

I believe that working with oracles (including the Yi) means that I will get a correct, meaningful, useful response - but I don't always have to hit the nail exactly on the head to get there.

I adopted this more 'open question' style from Harmen Mesker, a Yi teacher many of us know, have learned from, and studied with. If you're interested, take a look at his YiTube channel - Video No. 3 'how (not) to consult the Yijing' is where he talks about this.

I've seen where people will ask 'about' a situation; e.g. 'tell me about my troubled relationship with my older brother'. But whether spoken or unspoken, people are often (also) asking, 'how' - 'how can I heal my troubled relationship with my older brother' - which is slightly different.

And in our interpretations, we might find we're giving 'facts' about the situation, or advice about how to address the 'facts' of the situation - or both. I tend to go with both, the 'what' and the 'how to' (even if un-asked-for). Sometimes this is fine, sometimes not.

On a related topic, sometimes people will ask a half dozen or more questions at the same time - all about the same issue or person. I like to start with one question (even a more open one), sit with the response for a while, and then see if I need to ask again. Either approach is not necessarily correct nor incorrect, but I find the former can be too confusing for me - especially when you get twelve hexagrams and fourteen moving lines as part of the combined response(s)!

And Looking again at the title of this thread, I don't think a long, detailed, involved question is always a 'clear' question.

Best, D
 
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hilary

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To get really simple-minded about this... to have a good conversation with Yi, you need to know what its answer is talking about. I find the best way to ensure that happens is for me to know what I'm asking it for in the first place.

In practice, this doesn't mean you have to get the wording 'just right', or precise - but you do need to be clear in your own mind. (It's only if you're asking someone else to help with the interpretation that you really need clear wording.)

You can think of an answer as like a map the oracle draws for you, and your question is saying 'Please draw me a map of this.' So you want to know, for instance, whether you're looking at a map of the landscape after you send the email, or a map of the landscape with your best route marked (which might or might not involve sending the email).

Taking care over the question also doesn't mean it has to be long or complicated. David's suggestion, 'What do I need to know about x?' is one of my favourites. 'Help!' is also a complete enquiry. In fact, spending time on the question frequently results in making it much simpler. 'I'm wondering what to do about this relationship, and what she's thinking and how she sees me now, and whether I should send that email and if so whether to keep it formal or make light of things and how people in her generation use emojis...' could become, 'How can I best approach this?' Then you know the answer is not about what she's thinking: it's a map of your best route.

Yi may change the subject a bit with its answer: add advice when you didn't really ask for any, or point out things you weren't asking about ('yes, here is a map of the landscape, and also you have a flat tyre and the brakes are failing'). But having the foundations in place, knowing what you did ask for, actually makes this easier to recognise.

It's possible to consult without getting clear in your own mind first, and then decide once you have the answer what it's about. Some people are surprisingly good at doing this. However, it obviously leaves open more of a possibility that wishful/fearful thinking will bias your interpretation. ('It says someone is being obtuse. Clearly this must be a picture of her!') If you want help from the oracle with something specific, it's well worth spending a few minutes clarifying your question. (One of the first modules of the Yijing Foundations Class is dedicated to finding your question, and so far no-one has complained about this!)

Final note... I like to balance out these clear, specific questions with wide-open ones with hardly any question at all: 'What do I need to be aware of now?'
 

Trojina

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Mickey Mouse was at the well gathering ?
 

hilary

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Mickey Mouse was at the well gathering ?
You know, when I change my signature in a few days, you're going to look completely cuckoo. (This 🎥 is supposed to represent a video camera, but I do see your point.)
 

Trojina

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A video camera ?

A video camera !?

How could that ever represent a video camera ?

It's actually Mickey Mouse with a rose between his teeth. He bought it along to the Well Gathering for Minnie who also attended and had a question about her relationship.

Apologies retro, I will consider your question later. I got thrown off track by Hilary's sudden affiliation with Disney characters.
 
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dfreed

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It's possible to consult without getting clear in your own mind first, .... However, it obviously leaves open more of a possibility that wishful/fearful thinking will bias your interpretation. ('It says someone is being obtuse. Clearly this must be a picture of her!')
A few thoughts ....

* it might be that we're dealing with a confusing situation, or we're very confused ourselves, and 'clarity' is not possible - but I don't think that should preclude us for querying, nor does it preclude us from getting a useful response. Perhaps those are the times we most need to 'consult' the Yi?

* sometimes an open-minded response - full of possibilities - might be exactly what we need.

* and since we're in the realm of possibilities, it is very possible we can have a really clear question and get a really clear response, and gosh darn it - wishful /fearful thinking will still bias our interpretation or our understanding!

Best, D
 

hilary

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* it might be that we're dealing with a confusing situation, or we're very confused ourselves, and 'clarity' is not possible - but I don't think that should preclude us for querying, nor does it preclude us from getting a useful response. Perhaps those are the times we most need to 'consult' the Yi?
Of course we need to consult when confused. But you can be in a confusing situation and still find clarity about what you need to know.
 

dfreed

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You can be in a confusing situation and still find clarity about what you need to know.
Forget about Jung's introduction to Wilhelm's translation, here you have succinctly summarized the purpose for the I Ching and why it's been used all these years! ❤️ :) ❤️ :) :oops: :rolleyes: :love: :LOL:
 

hilary

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I've been thinking about this. On the one hand you have Harmen, saying that all this palaver about getting a clear question is quite unnecessary and you don't really need a question at all: you can just have a situation in mind and start casting. And on the other hand, you have me, writing whole lessons and modules and blog posts about the ins and outs of finding your real question. What is anyone supposed to make of this?

I think, in a way, we are both right. The thing is, we are each right given our own idea of what a Yijing reading is.

I consult the Yi because I think it has something specific to tell me. There is some truth I need to know, and don't know (or don't know I know); something new I need to understand, that the oracle will show me. So - like I said in my first post here - I need to know what its answer is talking about, and to do that, it really helps to know what I'm asking about.

Then I'll engage with the reading as a whole: connecting with the imagery, looking at the structure of relationships it creates and the meaning they create between them. It's like picking up a clear gem and turning it in the light, soaking in all the refractions and colours. Or, to be a bit less poetic, like listening very carefully to a wise teacher who's answering my question. If I want to appreciate all the nuances of the teacher's answer, I'd better remember what I asked.

Harmen's approach is different. My impression is that he consults in order to find something helpful in the answer, but without this idea that it contains a specific message that you need to understand. This means he has a freer, more improvisatory approach to interpretation. He teaches, for instance...
  • you can do a complete reading just with trigram associations; you don't need to worry that you might miss something important by not looking at the words
  • when you do look at the words, a sensible first step is to cross out all the words that don't seem relevant to you. (For instance, if you receive Hexagram 10 and the tiger doesn't seem important, you can cross that out.)
  • if, looking at the words (in translation, that is), you find one whose meaning you don't know, no need to look it up; just make up a meaning for it.
With this way of interpreting, there genuinely isn't any point in a specific question - in fact, I imagine it might be actively unhelpful, narrowing things down too much, too soon. For Harmen, I think someone consulting the oracle is less like a student sitting at the feet of a teacher, more like an artist cutting up a pile of magazines to make a collage: they need a nice big, blank sheet of paper to work on.
 

Liselle

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Urgh, Hilary? ( :sofa: ) I have a lot of trouble with questions sometimes, and it'd be a big relief if they didn't matter, but.


(15 minutes later)... I wrote out a whole justification for "urgh" and ended up thinking who am I to say. (While still doing this :???: and this :brickwall: , I guess.)

I bought the Sorrell's ebook recently, and they ask terrible questions (the form of them, not the substance), and they seem to allow only 1 moving line, and probably some other things you don't particularly endorse, but they interpret them really well. At least the set they put in the book.

But if someone wants to be entirely impressionistic, aren't there oracles that are purposely set up like that? Tea leaves? I have no idea.

What does Harmen do with 10 when he crosses out the tiger? I mean, "tiger" could end up being so metaphorical that it's barely recognizable, but don't you have to start there?
 

hilary

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Harmen sent me a note - which I'm glad of, as better to have his thoughts than my thoughts about his thoughts. Here it is...

when you do look at the words, a sensible first step is to cross out all the words that don't seem relevant to you. (For instance, if you receive Hexagram 10 and the tiger doesn't seem important, you can cross that out.)

Harmen said:
In a way this is true, and at the other hand the word 'relevant' does not capture entirely what I meant in my lessons. It is more a 'feeling' kind of thing - the words that stir your feelings, emotions, aha! erlebnis etc., are more important than the words that don't do anything for you. If these other words really don't do anything for you, it can be okay to put these aside, either temporarily or indefinitely. You should not be forced to give meaning to words or texts that don't do anything for you. So, if the tiger really doesn't do anything for you, but another part of the reading does, or that other part can immediately be linked to your question or situation, it is permissible to put the tiger to sleep. Why do I think this is a valid approach? Well, I have seen it done in a few examples of early Chinese divination. And if they could do it, so can we.
if, looking at the words (in translation, that is), you find one whose meaning you don't know, no need to look it up; just make up a meaning for it.
harmen said:
Again, 'just make up a meaning for it' does not entirely captive what I actually advocate, which is: a word, even though you don't know what it actually refers to, evokes an image, or a feeling, a memory etc. And that is something that you can work with. I even think this meaning can complement the actual meaning of the word when you feel the urge to look it up in a dictionary. But the latter is not a necessity to work with a text or word who's original meaning evades you. Sounds are symbols, and in ancient China, when they didn't know the meaning of a character, they substituted, or supplemented it with another character that sounded the same, looked almost the same, or corresponded with the meaning that the reader thought it had. So, I base this principle on the Chinese practice of tongjiazi 通假字: loan characters, homonyms, homophones, etc. But the most important thing is, that sounds can provoke images, scents, emotions, etc. It is my personal opinion that these experiences should not be ignored, they can be trusted and be used to your advantage.

There. That gives you a more rounded view.

But if someone wants to be entirely impressionistic, aren't there oracles that are purposely set up like that? Tea leaves? I have no idea.

Yes. This is one reason why I will not be teaching anyone to start crossing out words in their answer any time soon.

What does Harmen do with 10 when he crosses out the tiger? I mean, "tiger" could end up being so metaphorical that it's barely recognizable, but don't you have to start there?

I would say yes, you have to start there. A tiger is something important; you need to know where it is. If Yi tells you there is a tiger in the situation, it does not pay to ignore this. Crossing it out won't make it go away.

What can you do with Hexagram 10 minus tiger? Well, you might get something like this:

'Treading a tiger's tail.
It
does not bite people.
Creating success.'

So the reading would be about not biting, or not eating. (And yes, you would in fact entirely and completely miss the point of Hexagram 10... but then, we are assuming Hexagram 10 has a specific point to make, and that it's important not to miss it. For someone who didn't share that basic assumption, it would all be different.)

As for the Sorrells... I think when you have a really good relationship with the oracle, and/or are clear in your own mind what you're asking, you will ask questions that look like a right mess to an outsider but still work perfectly well for you.

For instance, some people can ask a yes/no question, and then naturally and swiftly construe the answer to be answering something different, without even noticing that that's what they've done.

'Should I send the email?'
'33' - 'No, you should not send the email, you should retreat.'
(Answering 'What should I do?')

'Should I send the email?'
'14.5.6 to 43' - 'Yes, you should send the email! Here's how it would work out.'
(Answering 'What if I send the email?')

In practice I think any of us would find those two made-up examples quite straightforward to interpret - only, of course, it's not always quite that straightforward.
 

dfreed

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I think, in a way, we are both right.
Hilary, in my mind, I can't take this notion much further than this - as you have. I'm not implying right or wrong, etc. Only that my sense of this and how I (not Harmen) understand 'asking question' is just - what? maybe more simplistic, or ??? I don't know really, it's just that I believe that how our hearts and minds interact with the Yi (and with the rest of the universe) and how the Yi or any oracle responds and answers us allows for all these types of queries.

Harmen's approach is different.
(I wrote this before Hilary posted the response from Harmen, so what I say here may not be totally relevant, nor correct). I take issue with you here. I think you are presenting your impressions of Harmen's teachings, but he's not here to give 'his side' so we really only have one half of the picture, or more correctly, your impression of one half of the picture. That's not wrong (nor right); it just feels incomplete.

What does Harmen do with 10 when he crosses out the tiger?
If Harmen were here he might answer that, but since he isn't we can only guess, assume, surmise, make up ... what he might do. Perhaps Hilary has more of a sense of this, I don't know. (See Hilary's post with Harmen's words, which might enlighten us about what he would do.)

Regards, D.
 

dfreed

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Harmen sent me a note - which I'm glad of
Thanks for posting this - my comments in #13 crossed with yours in the virtual ethers, so they may not be entirely relevant now. Just disregard them if you need to.
 

hilary

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I have paid careful attention in Harmen's classes, and given some thought to why our approaches are so different. I think I've got the basics right, but it's good to have Harmen's own words to clarify.
 

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Dfreed, agreed - thank you, Harmen, for emailing Hilary, and thank you, Hilary, for posting it. This has become an interesting Saturday.

"erlebnis" = adventure, per Google

I see what Harmen's saying about feelings, memories, and so forth - it's not that you don't teach that, Hilary, you often say (I think) that that's divination happening. You don't go nearly as far with it, though.

Would it be reasonable to pay attention to all of those things, but then also pay attention to the words, and make sure it aligns? If you stop with the impression (say it happens to be favorable), you probably shouldn't ignore the part where Yi explains how it's a pitfall this time.

Then there's the category of one-off readings, like where the hexagrams indicate clock time, or "beat the drum" merely reminds you you're about to leave the house without yours and today is band practice. You really can ignore everything else. But that's probably a pretty small percentage.

Speaking of percentages, I wonder how many people who cast readings are good enough to be Harmens or Sorrells. I bet the overwhelming majority of us would end up down garden paths a lot.
 

hilary

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"erlebnis" = adventure, per Google
Sorry, should have glossed that. Or just 'experience' or 'the Aha! moment'.
I see what Harmen's saying about feelings, memories, and so forth - it's not that you don't teach that, Hilary, you often say (I think) that that's divination happening. You don't go nearly as far with it, though.

Would it be reasonable to pay attention to all of those things, but then also pay attention to the words, and make sure it aligns? If you stop with the impression (say it happens to be favorable), you probably shouldn't ignore the part where Yi explains how it's a pitfall this time.

Then there's the category of one-off readings, like where the hexagrams indicate clock time, or "beat the drum" merely reminds you you're about to leave the house without yours and today is band practice. You really can ignore everything else. But that's probably a pretty small percentage.

I like this - finding grey areas and matters of degree rather than sharp distinctions. Yes, all good points. If I had a favourable impression of the image and Yi said 'pitfall', I would indeed want to take notice of that, in fact I'd think that the gap between my impression and the line's omen was a particular point being made.
Speaking of percentages, I wonder how many people who cast readings are good enough to be Harmens or Sorrells. I bet the overwhelming majority of us would end up down garden paths a lot.
I generally think it's just easier to be simple-minded about this, and get in the habit of knowing what I'm asking for before I ask. That way I can mostly avoid barking up the wrong garden path without a paddle...
 

Liselle

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Harmen said:
Well, I have seen it done in a few examples of early Chinese divination. And if they could do it, so can we.

I've wondered about that from time to time. On the one hand, they were a lot closer to it in all sorts of ways (culture, language, outright creating it), and that has to have helped.

On the other hand, once they created it and set it loose it was the cosmos speaking, and at that point would they have struggled just as much as we do?
 
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rosada

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What is the importance of clear questions?
60.2 - 3.

60. Limitations

Oracle
Measuring, creating success.
Bitter measures do not allow for constancy.

Things need to be articulated to make them more manageable, easier to take in and work with. Such measures, when they grow organically, reflect the natural rhythm of life and allow a fuller participation in its flow. Progress is made in small increments.

Individuals with measure live sustainably and flourish: groups who share measures and standards, who speak the same language, can reach agreements and build trust. But if anyone reacts to the measures as they would to a bitter taste - if they find them too hard to swallow - then they are not sustainable. This isn't a matter of traditions, principle or logic, but of human experience.
-Hilary

60.2
Not going out of the gate from the courtyard.
Pitfall.

3. Difficulty at The Beginning
The superior man brings order out of confusion.
-------
These hexagrams seem to say that the question provides boundaries, limits, which are necessary for focusing, for bringing order out of the vast confusion of possibilities, but one need not stress about making one's wording precisely correct ("bitter measures").
Indeed, 60.2 seems to say the real problem about wording could be that over thinking what to ask and how to ask it might discourage a person from consulting the I Ching at all!
 
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hilary

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I've wondered about that from time to time. On the one hand, they were a lot closer to it in all sorts of ways (culture, language, outright creating it), and that has to have helped.

On the other hand, once they created it and set it loose it was the cosmos speaking, and at that point would they have struggled just as much as we do?
I like 'set it loose'!

I don't think divination was magically easy back then or that the early diviners were necessarily better or worse at it than we are.

Harmen is quite ridiculously knowledgeable about early Chinese divination, and uses it a lot in his own teaching. I go on trial and error my long experience with readings.
What is the importance of clear questions?
60.2 - 3.
...
-------
These hexagrams seem to say that the question provides boundaries, limits, which are necessary for focusing, for bringing order out of the vast confusion of possibilities, but one need not stress about making one's wording precisely correct ("bitter measures").
Indeed, 60.2 seems to say the real problem about wording could be that over thinking what to ask and how to ask it might discourage a person for consulting the I Ching at all.
Actually, 'not going out of the gate from the courtyard' sounds to me like a warning against getting too stuck inside the question: 'I asked about x, so it can't possibly be telling me anything I need to know about y.' Or - another possibility - confining your question 'inside the courtyard,' as it were, by being too specific/narrow or including too many assumptions. 'Why is he deceiving me?' or 'What will be the greatest benefit of buying this?' or 'Why do I always fail?' - making it hard for Yi to show you anything outside the courtyard/question (he isn't deceiving you, there are no benefits to buying this, and you actually have quite a lot of successes you've forgotten about).
 

Retro158

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(I don't yet know how to include a quote from a previous comment, but)

Hilary's last comment on 60.2-3 of 'warning against getting too stuck inside the question' is very helpful - and underlies my original post in the string. It affirms my experience that Yi's response does not need to be limited to the courtyard of words that I begin with.

Perhaps a better descriptive phrase than 'accuracy of the question' (in terms of words) would be 'clarity of the question' (and could include a felt sense or resonance - that may or may not be captured in words.)

This has been a good discussion and I appreciate everyone's input!
 

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What is the importance of clear questions?
60.2 - 3.

60. Limitations

Oracle
Measuring, creating success.
Bitter measures do not allow for constancy.

Things need to be articulated to make them more manageable, easier to take in and work with. Such measures, when they grow organically, reflect the natural rhythm of life and allow a fuller participation in its flow. Progress is made in small increments.

Individuals with measure live sustainably and flourish: groups who share measures and standards, who speak the same language, can reach agreements and build trust. But if anyone reacts to the measures as they would to a bitter taste - if they find them too hard to swallow - then they are not sustainable. This isn't a matter of traditions, principle or logic, but of human experience.
-Hilary

60.2
Not going out of the gate from the courtyard.
Pitfall.

3. Difficulty at The Beginning
The superior man brings order out of confusion.
-------
These hexagrams seem to say that the question provides boundaries, limits, which are necessary for focusing, for bringing order out of the vast confusion of possibilities, but one need not stress about making one's wording precisely correct ("bitter measures").
Indeed, 60.2 seems to say the real problem about wording could be that over thinking what to ask and how to ask it might discourage a person from consulting the I Ching at all!
As I was reading down this thread (again arriving late to the party) I was pondering the Harmen v Hilary approach. I have used both methods and found, in the early days, when I was getting to know my way round divination that questions were an important part of gaining an understanding without my mind travelling down all of the highways and byways.

e.g 'What is the importance of clear questions?' I could start my answer - The importance of clear questions is....... and I could stay focused on a narrow band of thinking that prevented me from being overwhelmed. Some level of clarity was achieved.

As time went on and I became more trusting of my navigation skills I tried simple 'What now?' or 'Help me?' or 'WTF?' ( a dominant enquiry of choice during a difficult part of my life). Here I found a sense of freedom to be able to latch onto important messages / insights into my current situation without fear of having had my monkey-mind ask a question that was not of real importance or targeted to send the consultation away from the crux of the matter. This type of questioning often led me to places / actions that I would not have thought of in a thousand years.

On occassions life situations have been so difficult that I didn't have a clue where I was. Unable to form any question that I trusted I just sat and thought or wrote down a mind map or list of emotions, fears, hopes or dreams, people's names, relationship difficulties or anything else that floated up through the flotsam. Having gained an amorphous pot-porri I sat with a silent intention of maybe 'wellbeing' or 'safety' or 'truth' or similar and cast the oracle. These questionless consultations produced some insightful guidance.

For me now, I still mostly ask questions before I consult. I've built up a series of 'stock wording' or phrases that I can fit in well with, however, as far as I see it it is not the clearness of the question that is important but the inner clarity or the intention that I set with each consultation that brings the biggest rewards. Maybe that is what 60.2 is pointing towards

Good Luck
 

Retro158

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however, as far as I see it it is not the clearness of the question that is important but the inner clarity or the intention that I set with each consultation that brings the biggest rewards.

Well said.
 

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