This is part fifteen of a series about the use of the Yijing in clinical practice of Chinese medicine.
Part 15 : The Delicate Art of Divination-at-a-Distance
Last post we discussed divining as part of a clinical encounter. We saw how casting the Yi for someone present is more an act of mutual exploration than it is passing guidance down from on high. By opening the oracle with the subject present, you share the work and play of interpretation with the patient. The answers are reached through this dance.
Today we look at divining on someone’s behalf, without them present
This might be in a medical context—to clarify a treatment direction, or fine-tune a formula—or any of the various non-medical scenarios where divination comes in handy. Whatever the case may be, doing a divination for someone is a trickier business than divining with them there at hand.
Why? Because it’s easier to go astray on one’s own, without the moderating influence of another person. It’s all too easy to grasp onto a particular interpretive strand and run with it, to the exclusion of many other possibilities. More dangerously, the oracle can become an excuse for telling someone what we already have decided they need to hear. We have to watch ourselves—invoking Hexagram 20 Guan—and be sure that interpretation does not distort into projection.
Luckily, the Yi itself will tend to keep us honest, if we have ears to hear it. When we’re somehow out of line, the oracle will tell us so—but we may not realize the guidance coming through applies to us rather than the client. Actually, in the weird synchronous way of these things, the Yi generally manages to tell us what we need to hear at the same time that it provides an answer for the client.
Here’s an example of this:
I recently had Hexagram 12 and 20 come up in the first cast as I was divining for a friend. I was already feeling that this friend could stand to work on boundaries, specifically on not overwhelming people with a flood of words. Hexagrams 12 and 20 seemed to confirm this: 12 Pi resonates with the Bladder and the theme of saying ‘no,’ calling a stop; while Hexagram 20 Guan goes with the Kidney and has themes of scrupulousness and conservation of energy. So what went wrong? It’s not that I was incorrect to bring up these themes with him. But I didn’t see that Hexagram 12 and 20 just as well applied to me. I had made the error of sitting on the divinatory high horse and telling him ‘what he needed to hear.’ There was condescension implicit in the whole approach. So, applied to me, Hexagram 12 and 20 could be read as “stop and check yourself first. Have humility. Be careful what you say.” Instead I plunged ahead and, even as he acknowledged there was something for him to work with in the message, I sowed a subtle resentment that we had to go back and work out. (Ultimately, this process deepened our friendship, and reminded me that the therapeutic model I’m interested in is one of mutual recovery: we’re all in this together.)
To help us avoid wrangling with the likes of these nasties, put the following principles into play:
– Put yourself in order first.
Don’t divine when you’re feeling out of sorts, muddled, or distracted. Do what you need to do to make yourself clear, present and receptive.
-Don’t ask unless you’re ready for an answer.
This one’s self-explanatory. You have to be ready for some uncomfortable truths.
-Treat the oracle like a wise elder.
This means be patient; listen closely; approach with respect; and don’t assume the Yi is answering your exact question. In fact it loves to answer “questions we had lacked the wit to ask” (as poet James Merrill puts it in his epic Ouija board poem The Changing Light at Sandover).
-Find your edge, then ask to go beyond it.
Do your homework by coming to the edge of what you know about the situation. Find the place where your understanding falters—then turn it over to the oracle.
-Know that you don’t know.
There’s always room for a different interpretation, and the more certain you are of yours, the more likely you’ve already fallen into the trap of arrogance. (Stop, do not pass go, do not collect $200…). Instead, be willing to look foolish.
-Remember that one answer doesn’t preclude another.
Often the oracle will condense an amazing amount into a single symbol or pair of symbols. Stay with them to milk out as much meaning as you can—and then return later to find you can appreciate angles that were hidden at first.
-When in doubt, admit it.
Don’t pretend to have the or even a right interpretation when things just aren’t clicking. Instead, present the bare-bones symbols to the client for them to make of what they will. (“I don’t know quite what to make of hexagram X here, but the image is of . . .”)
-Trust and stay with the tension.
Not understanding what the Yi is saying is part of the process. Don’t despair that “it’s not working,” unless you yourself are in a non-conducive state (see #1 above). Even if the symbols don’t seem to be making sense, stay with them, play with them, let them work on you. If necessary, move on and come back to them later. Maybe you’re being asked to consider an aspect of a hexagram you’ve never recognized before. Maybe there’s something very specifically relevant in the changing line texts. Maybe the Yi is making a pun, and getting it will make everything snap into focus. The point is there are many possibilities. And that’s what makes this work fun.