This is part three of a series by Jonathan Edwards on the clinical use of the Yijing in Chinese medicine.
Part 3 – The Everyday Oracle
Welcome to part three of this series on divination as clinical skill. This week we take a scenic detour from the Yijing: we’re going to practice some simple, live divinatory techniques that don’t require any specialized knowledge.
Why this hexagram-free detour?
In the Yijing there are 4,096 possible readings single-cast readings.
If you then add in the multiple layers of meaning in each hexagram, interpretation can get pretty involved. It helps to have the blade of intuition well-honed by the time you encounter groups of hexagrams.
To help sharpen your intuition, here’s a simple and powerful method for “provoking an omen” (Robert Moss’ term). Think of this technique as the “everyday oracle.”
The idea is to set your question or topic, with the understanding that the next notable thing that happens (something entering your visual field, a sudden noise, etc.) holds the answer. Like most things divinatory, it sounds absurd.
But why not give it a shot?
As with oracles, though, the everyday oracle functions best when there’s some skin in the game.
If you want to get something out, you’ve got to put something in, to take some risks. So dig deep for a meaningful question, perhaps one you’ve been wrestling with, or one you haven’t quite been able to articulate. It should be something that you don’t already know the answer to, not quite. And something you’re willing to hear the answer to, or at least an answer. Put these criteria together, and you’ve got yourself a juicy question. (When in doubt, relationship questions are usually a juicy bet—or whatever it is that makes you a bit nervous to to ask about)
A word about phrasing the question—while there’s an art to asking the right question, there’s just as much of an art to listening to an answer to the question you should have asked. In other words, sometimes the guidance you need to hear comes through irrespective of the specifics of your query. To open yourself to these kinds of responses, it can be helpful to ask open-ended “what about” questions (“what about prospects with so-and-so”) or simply to request guidance on a given topic.
If you do go more specific, be careful that the way you put the question doesn’t overly constrain the response: some questions have no right answers (the innocent man faced with “did you commit the murder before or after dinner?”).
Once you’ve got your question, you’re ready to consult the oracle.
Take a moment to orient yourself, feet on the ground, crown to the heavens, and then ask for guidance with clear intention, holding the question in mind. And then wait, and watch.
Just when you start to feel ridiculous, be ready: you’ll feel it when the answer comes. You might not understand it to begin with, but you’ll see or hear something that registers as ‘for you.’ Make note of any details that seem like they might be relevant.
Then get out the interpretive sword and see what you come up with.
If you’re drawing a blank, writing or talking through it can help. Work it enough, and you’ll crack the nut and get to the nourishing symbolic tidbit inside. Sometimes it’s a ‘wow’ kind of nut, and sometimes an ‘uh-huh!’ kind of nut, and sometimes a major ‘LOL!’ nut. Let no one say that Life, The Universe and Everything have no sense of humor.
It’s notoriously hard to convey moments of personal significance—much is lost in translation, and what one person’s meaningful coincidence becomes just a coincidence in the eyes of a dispassionate observer. Experiencing such moments oneself is a whole different story, of course. Yet despite the futility of communicating our numinous moments, we come back again and again to language and do our best to connect through its web.
Here then is a personal example of how the everyday oracle can work.
Background: this one comes from a time when I was wrestling with issues of identity and vocation. Things were shifting rapidly and I was struggling to orient myself. I was also taking myself rather too seriously. But to be fair, some pretty crazy stuff had been happening. As part of my response to it all I had started training in martial arts, just getting thrashed every week.
Miserably, I felt like I was in boot camp. I didn’t want to be a soldier, though. Wasn’t I supposed to be becoming a healer? Help!
So there I am, mid Saturn return, driving in the Columbia gorge along I-84 West with these angsty questions roiling in my mind: “what the hell is going on in my life?” “What am I supposed to be becoming?” I decide I need an answer—now. I make this known to the ether through intense concentration and suitably wrinkled brow. I keep driving, eyes peeled. A mile goes by, then two. Nothing. Same overcast skies, same trees, same cars. A state recreation area comes up, and I decide to pull off. Maybe my answer’s waiting for me by the fabled banks of the Columbia. But there’s not much along the trail, and nothing doing at the riverside. The world has never seemed so devoid of symbolic content.
Feeling silly and let-down, I get back in my long-suffering Honda and merge back onto the interstate—and right into the middle of my answer.
Ahead of me are all sorts of army-green hummers and, I don’t know what to call them, heavy duty personnel transport vehicles, maybe. Same behind me. What the. . . ? I’m in the middle of a huge bleeping army convoy. It’s an answer all right, speaking to discipline, to being part of a team on a mission. But it’s not the answer I wanted to hear—until I glance into the rearview and see the red-and-white medic’s cross above the windshield of the vehicle behind me. Ohhhh. . .
Relieved, I sigh, and crack a smile. I guess even a medic has to go through boot camp with everyone else.
There’s an indefinable relief that comes with having the right image for a situation: at least you now know what you’re dealing with. I may not have wanted to be getting my ass kicked in basic training, but I gained a sense of why I had to go through it and how it fit into the larger story of my life.
And that’s exactly what divination can offer: glimpses of the “story trying to live its way out of us,” as mythologist Michael Meade puts it: the “story sewn in the linings of the soul before birth.”
A beautiful quirk of the diviner’s art is that these sacred questions of life purpose and deeper meaning seem to be most accessible through play.
Suzuki Roshi: “What we are doing here is so important, we better not take it too seriously!”
The golden threads of meaning—the fateful threads of wyrd—can be slippery and elude too coarse a touch. Being themselves magical, they respond best to a bit of magic, in the form laughter and playfulness. When we divine, we tap into lila, the divinely playful nature of consciousness as it dances life into existence in the only dance there is.
Before we leave off for today, here’s one more divination game with which to sharpen your intuitive faculty: a random image generating website.
My go-to is mangle.ca (despite its high quotient of Vladimir Putin pics). How does it work? Simple. Tune in, focus on your question, and hit the button. Your answer is in the images that appear. As a rule I consider the three uppermost images as relevant, and the game becomes how assemble the pieces into a coherent message.
Try it—just not at work or at school! Random images means anything is liable to appear on-screen.