In beginner’s mind we have many possibilities,
but in expert mind there is not much possibility.
...So, if you can keep your beginner's mind
forever, you are Buddha.
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
This is a book for beginners ~ that is, for people with beginner’s mind.
‘Beginner’s mind’ doesn’t mean stupidity, or a lack of depth. It simply means
being as fully present as you were when you first saw the world; with no preconceptions
or projections, just openness, fascination and awe. If you can engage with the Zhouyi ~
and with life itself ~ in this spirit, then you can truly begin to shift your consciousness.
In real terms? You can dive into a joyful communion with all of the challenges,
magic and mundanities of existence.
Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.
Some years ago, I was talking with someone about the idea of honoring
the gua through the turning of the seasons, a path I intend to follow in my next book.
Since we were in the high-summer time of Lammas, which I equate with the energy of wood/wind,
I suggested that a good way to connect with this would be to create prayers of thanks, blessing
and intent and hang them high in the treetops where the wind could take the words
and disperse their essence, in the spirit beloved of Tibetan prayer flags.
With great enthusiasm, my friend grabbed a felt-tip pen
and immediately wrote his prayers on some scraps of spare material,
roughly stitched some string to the top and went off to find a tree.
Meanwhile, though inspired by his direct-action approach,
I thought I’d put a bit more love and care into my prayers.
Really think deeply first about them, and try penning
different versions until I got it just right.
As for the felt-tip, that was obviously inappropriate for anything
hanging long-term in all weathers: I’d get some fabric paint instead.
And it would be even lovelier if the material had some color to it; I’d dig out
my notes on natural dying, something I loved the idea of but hadn’t yet
been successful at, and really work it out this time. Perhaps I could
even sew on beads and feathers and make them really special!
But...other busyness took over, and I never followed through
on all this inspiration. Sometimes I think of what’s left of my friend’s humble,
roughly created prayers, the felt-tip words long washed away but the scraps of fabric
probably still hanging by a thread snagged on a branch somewhere under rain and stars.
This was a great lesson for me on the value of walking your talk even if you stumble;
of not being paralyzed by the need to be perfect. So, with each suggestion made in this book
for connecting with the Zhouyi, with your inner truth and its outer, worldly reflection, I first suggest
how it can be done in the simplest, most pared-down way. Then follow invitations to enrich and deepen
the experience ~with the proviso that if any of it feels ‘too much’, or leads you to decide not to do it
at all until you can ‘do it all’, you just return to the unadorned simplicity of the original idea.
This approach is used throughout Becoming Visionary; I begin by presenting
the bare bones of the Zhouyi so that, if you’re anything like as impatient as I was
when I was given my first book on the I Ching back in the eighties, you can begin forging
your own, unique connection with the Book of Changes as soon as possible.
Inevitably, then, this means that a lot of information is initially absent.
So if you do find questions you'd like answered popping up such as:
“Well, what is this lineage?”
"I’d like to understand more about how a hexagram’s made”
or, “Do you have to ask a question?”
...then just follow the relevant links given in the text.
...though, sometimes, perfect inaction is better than imperfect action.
For me, the quote reversed also contains a teaching, again about the value of simplicity,
just from another perspective. This book contains many concepts and suggestions for various
methods of aligning oneself with, and living more fully from, one’s inner truth.
It has the potential to be a catalyst for transformation and liberation.
Sign above the washing-up bowl at Gaia House in Devon.
It is possible, however, for the personality to simply grasp onto a
new kind of spiritually rationalised activity, which transposes itself over
the issues with which it had previously been occupying itself.
This could mean an expanded ‘things to do’ list
which may include rearranging one’s whole space to enhance
the energy flowing through it, devising a movement which embodies
the energy of water, creating an offering to make at a local piece of waste ground,
or going on an inner journey to connect with your higher self.
This is all hugely positive, of course.
But if you become so overwhelmed by all
these possibilities you are unable to engage with any of them,
or are impelled to become more busy in order to ‘fit it all in’,
it can help to let it all go for as long as necessary
and return to simplicity and stillness,
preferably in nature.
This will open the gateway
between your soul and your everyday self
and allow space within your body for the peace,
clarity and wisdom of the cosmos to inform and enrich your being.
The way forward will then become clear. To pause and just allow your
awareness to expand for a few moments before each action or activity,
as in the tradition of saying grace before a meal, is also
a powerful way of imbuing what follows
with heartfelt presence.
The sixty-four hexagrams of the Zhouyi depicted with symbols inspired
by the ancient and arcane ‘Brilliant Jade Character’ Daoist script.
The I Ching has a five-thousand year old lineage,
and is one of the most revered books in the world. (For more on
the deep roots and the world-view of the Zhouyi, see chapter six)
The Yi’s reputation thus precedes it, which can be why some people never
connect with it: this is a Book so worthy that even the word ‘book’ begins with a capital,
making it sound like something one probably should read, but just might not
get around to because it sounds a bit too much like hard work.
One could not imagine its relevance and profundity,
its humour, its aliveness, without interacting with it, for it
requires this mutual exchange rather than to be merely ‘read’.
The potential benefits of this communion with
the Zhouyi, if engaged in with an open-hearted spirit
of openness, honesty and humility, are boundless.
For the Zhouyi holds a secret: a potent means
of aligning oneself with the Universe, based on the understanding
that cosmic energies are innately harmonious rather than chaotic.
The way to begin building Heaven on Earth is illuminated, one step at a time.
It is not my job, or that of the Zhouyi, though, to convince you of its value.
If, on hearing that there exists an oracle who can answer any question for you
and ~ in so-doing ~ lets you begin to resonate with deep cosmic truths,
you feel disbelief or suspicion, no matter. Perhaps it’s not
for you at this point in your life.
Don’t believe me, or the traditions handed down from ancient times,
or what you read in holy books. Test what I say and prove it by your own experience.
If, on the other hand, you feel awe, wonder and excitement that such
a possibility exists, allied with a great curiosity to test and experience it yourself,
then you’re ready to begin interacting with the Zhouyi rather than just reading about it.
When you have some time guaranteed to be uninterrupted, get out the deck of cards which
came with this book, a journal and a pen. (See chapter six for tips on creating your own journal.)
First clear a space externally: one’s outer space is one’s inner self reflected, and to make a conscious effort
to clarify and harmonise this ~ if only by lighting a candle and a stick of incense and making a space
in front of you ~ affects the energy field beneficially. (See chapter five for more on ritual.)
Now sit in stillness for a time and/or find stillness within sound and movement;
whatever is your chosen method of realizing deeper inner peace, clarity, and wholeness.
introduction to the cards
The front of the cards are purely visual, opening them up to be as
expansive as possible and act as an unprescribed catalyst for imagination
and intuition. The images themselves are largely non-figurative,
allowing your consciousness to make its own connections.
The back of each card depicts one of the Zhouyi’s sixty-four hexagrams. (See
chapter six for the backstory.) Traditionally, hexagrams (the six-line symbol on the back
of each card) and trigrams (the three-line symbol which is doubled to make a
hexagram) are both called gua: I use both terms interchangeably.
(See chapter six for more on hexagrams/gua.)
There is no name or number given on the reverse,
thus allowing you to connect with the image of the gua you’ve
received free from distractions. This also minimises potential confusion
about the gua number, as this book uses a sequence relating to DNA not
used in most interpretations of the Book of Changes ~ also covered
in chapter six. To look up your gua in another book
on the I Ching, simply use their key.
Bear in mind that, though the number of the hexagram may change,
its meaning always remains constant, i.e. lake-over-earth, below, always
embodies that energy, whether numbered ‘three’ or ‘forty-five’.
your first divination
When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current
that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of
when he first made the decision.
After clarifying your inner and outer space, reflect on
what feels like the most burning question in your life right now.
Don’t worry if the question which keeps coming to mind doesn’t
seem ‘big’ enough to be worthy: the very fact that it’s floating around
as an unresolved dilemma in your mind shows that it’s in need of resolution.
Ensure this is not a query which can be answered by a yes or a no, and write it down clearly.
“Should I do this creative project with Theo?”, for example, could be better phrased as
“What would be the probable result of doing this creative project with Theo?”
(See chapter two for more on formulating readings. If you don't yet have a deck
of gua cards then click here to be guided through a traditional coin reading.)
Now hold the deck with your eyes closed.
This is necessary since the cards don’t have a plain back.
Sit in stillness for a minute or two focussing on your question.
Then split the deck at random six times; the card which is topmost
after the sixth split is your answer. Spend a few moments connecting
with the image, seeing if any insights related to your question come to you
before turning it over and looking at the back of the card, similarly seeing
if the depiction of the lines of the hexagram open anything for you,
even if you don’t consciously understand their meaning.
Draw your hexagram in your journal, with the date
and your question written next to it; keeping a record
of your conversation is an essential part of the process.
Lining up your lower or inner gua (the bottom three lines)
with your upper or outer gua (the top three lines) in the
chart below will give you the number of your hexagram.
taking it deeper with changing lines
If you’ve followed all the instructions up til now, you’ve done a basic I Ching reading
and received one of sixty-four combinations of the eight core energies with which
the Zhouyi elucidates unfolding possibilities. If you’re lucky, you may have
read about your gua and felt your question answered...or you may not.
For you’ve yet to add in a whole world of mythical, mystical subtleties
in the form of specific guidance which opens up for you once you embrace
the fact that each of the lines of your gua has the potential to ‘change’,
thus becoming a lens which re-focusses the light
of merged energies in a different way.
For a beginner, though, getting to grips with changing lines
can be daunting. Any of the lines can change, which means a reading
could have four, five, or even all six lines changing ~ and ways to
deal with the ‘issue’ of multiple changing lines is a hot topic
even for experienced users of the Zhouyi.
This is discussed at more length in chapter six,
but for now I’d like to offer you a system which means only one
line is chosen, which also makes the cards more cohesive in themselves.
tapping into tree wisdom
Simply put, after choosing your card, you randomly pick one of seven
marked twigs ~ one for each line plus one unmarked one to give the possibility
of the gua you received being unchanging. There are two main ways to
approach choosing your twigs, which may be better thought of as miniature
wands, for they channel energy in a similar way.
One is to connect deeply within and see which tree calls out to you to
be the one which wants to work with you, that you feel a resonance with.
Once you have chosen your tree ~ or it’s chosen you ~ you can
look into the symbolic meanings enfolding it, gaining a richer
understanding and appreciation of its unique spirit.
The other method, which may feel more apt
if you don’t yet have a tree you resonate deeply with,
is to look into tree symbolism and choose the one
which feels most appropriate for your focus.
Hazel, for example might be consciously chosen for
its rich mythology and traditional association with divination.
Your challenge then is to search out your chosen tree,
and begin cultivating a relationship with it.
Whichever way you’ve chosen, remember to ask first,
give thanks afterwards, and create an offering for your tree as
an exchange for their gift to you (see chapter six for suggestions).
Chanting a mantra, or words of power,as you cut the wands
which will be a central part of your future divinations,
is a potent way to ritualise this magical moment.
Once you’ve trimmed your wands so they’re all roughly the same width
and length (just shorter than the cards is recommended) you just need to
clearly mark each one however you choose. Then, each time you pick a card,
also picking a wand afterwards will give you either one changing line, or none.
After marking a dot on your changing line on the gua image you drew
in your journal (or leaving it how it is if no line is indicated), you can begin by
reading about it in whichever other interpretations you may have. If you don't
yet have any others, here are links to two free online versions to get you started.
A third translation, by LiSe Heyboer, now links in to each gua on the oracle page.
A renowned and illuminating translation,
which has been my trusted companion for many years,
c/o the site of composer and author Akira Rabelais.
Wilhelm's interpretation may appear a little inpenetrable
if you're a beginner, but if you don't connect with it, remember
to check back every so often, as you may find that you reach
a point where its treasures suddenly begin to open up for you.
These two translations read like pithy koans, often touching
the parts other versions fail to reach with their inward-focussed
radical simplicity. The button takes you to a page on Joel Biroco's
fascinating site on the Yi Jing with the download links to
Language of the Lines and The I Ching Oracle on it. As well as
much else of interest on his site, there's an insightful ~ and
entertaining ~ comparative review of I Ching interpretations.
If you had a changing line then, after reading
the specific guidance it gave you, draw another gua in your journal
with this line reversed; if it was broken (yin) it becomes solid (yang) and vice-versa.
For example, water-under-lake, growing through adversity with the first line changing...
...would become lake-under-lake, joy.
If a second gua is received due to having
a changing line, it’s just the general information
about it that is relevant, not any of its lines.
Enjoyed chapter one just how it is?
Or want further clarity on any of it?
Add your feedback and suggestions!
© shenpen chökyi 2013-2014