This is part two of a series by Jonathan Edwards on the clinical use of the Yijing in Chinese medicine.
Part 2 – The First Two Hurdles to Successful Divination in the Clinic
Today we’ve got a little double-header.
Last time we introduced the idea that divination, and in particular the Yijing, might be useful in the clinic. Not just useful, in fact, but potent and transformative, as the oracle itself suggested when we asked the Yi about its own clinical potential (Hexagrams 31 and 49).
However, there are some hurdles standing between most of us and clinical divination.
The first one is sheer disbelief. We addressed it, briefly, last time. Because c’mon—or as we like to say in NYC, geddouttaheah! What’s a bunch of coin flips have to do with my health? etc. From a certain perspective—which happens to be the dominant one in our reductionist-materialist society—the whole idea of clinical divination sounds preposterous.
Indeed, it can be tough to convince the skeptical mind that a random process can yield meaningful information.
Even as halfway-down-the-rabbit hole CM folk, our inner skeptics are apt to speak up. No problem—as long as that skeptical perspective doesn’t cause you to close your mind to the possibility that something really interesting is happening. I suggest bargaining with your inner skeptic, telling him you’re just going to try entertaining these ideas and reserve judgement for now. See where it takes you.
The fact is clinical divination is something of a radical idea—at least in the etymological sense: from Latin radix, root. A return to divination as part of clinical practice represents a drastic shift back towards the ancient substratum of our medicine. (The Yijing is older even the Neijing, and its language more primal and purely symbolic than even archaic Chinese characters such as the oracle bone script.) I happen to believe the time is ripe for such a return to our roots. I also realize that for some, this will represent a huge leap backwards into the hazy realm of superstition and magic.
So, up for a little magic? Good! I hoped so.
Once you’re resolved to suspend your disbelief and go for the ride, the next obstacle is the centuries encrusted between you and this ancient oracle. Like most people, even most CM nerds, you may not know Chinese characters, let alone esoteric Chinese proto-characters and what appear to be bits of bar code. Like many people, you may feel the Yijing is something to be approached through intermediary texts and commentators, and that it’s hopeless to try and interpret its signs directly.
This is the hurdle we’re going to get to work on next. Because a direct, living relationship with the Yi is the whole point—the crux of the biscuit (in Zappa’s immortal phrase). All those commentaries exist in part because so many people over the centuries have been excited about the Yijing and wanted to share their enthusiasm. We don’t want to make the mistake of focusing on all the telescopes people made, when we could be using them to get a good look at the heavenly bodies. Or, to try on some other metaphors for a moment, the commentaries are a ladder we let go of once we’ve reached the ledge, and a crutch we kick away before we forget how to walk on our own.
Even if you’re a complete stranger to it, a living relationship with the Yi is not as far off as you might imagine. To get started you’ll need a basic understanding of the structure of the Yi, the grammar of its language. From there it’s quite easy to fill in a few basic words of vocabulary, and pretty soon you’re conversing.
We’ll get into the meat of this grammar business soon enough—it’ll be more fun than it sounds, I think. But for the second half of today’s post, we’re going to take a step back and ask what we’re really about here. What are we expecting to get out of this whole clinical divination endeavor? Better yet, what are we hoping to be able to give?
To answer ‘what is the role of divination in the clinic,’ we begin with what it is NOT.
Divination is NOT another tool in our hands, to be deployed simply as we see fit. It is more like a door through which wisdom comes to guide us. The door to the inner sage, say. To make effective use of this portal, we have to be open to whatever comes through it. As diviners, it’s our responsibility to listen even when it’s uncomfortable, even when we don’t want to hear what’s being said; to try our best to understand; and to faithfully pass along the messages as appropriate. Divination demands humility and respect.
However powerful and seemingly magical divination can be, it is NOT a substitute for fundamental clinical tools or skills.
It’s true that facility with the Yi might help make up for a deficit in other areas, just as skillful pulse diagnosis might obviate the need to stare too hard at the map of the Caucacus region on someone’s tongue. But divination is one means amongst many of gathering useful symbolic information. It’s not a shortcut.
So what is it?
Divination is a powerful technique that can take us beyond our usual limits. But first we have to rub up against those limits, finding the fertile edges where things get interesting. So, as a rule, first we do our best work. Then we divine to take us even further.
Divination is a compass that can guide us and our patients towards realizing our potential in health, business, relationship, and life.
It can help us discern what mountain to head towards, or what’s behind door #2, or simply how not to trip over our own feet as we head through it. It’s up to us to ask the right questions—and then to listen well.
Now, if the answers are out there waiting, why not start by asking yourself the all-important question: “what questions should I be asking?”
Next time we’ll learn and play some non-technical divination games as an amuse bouche—while whetting our appetites for the hexagrams to come.