Leaving the kingdom is hard. Just getting a sense of direction is tricky when you are surrounded by circular glass walls. You can get so turned around. Amidst a sea of empty desks my focus settles on a pencil holder and I think to myself, does anyone use pencils anymore? No, not here.
Out in the daylight is a giant green field, and what looks like a castle or large house sitting at the top of the hill. What a view! It looks so vibrant, but I am not sure how to get there. So I just start walking. The hill is a challenge, but I notice I am moving forward anyway.
Suddenly we are at a lunch party, having a good time, chatting and eating sandwiches. But I want to go home now, and I don’t have my car. So I borrow a bicycle and start riding along what I thought was a familiar trail, only to realize that I am lost.
Still, I continue. Now the trail is narrow and foggy with a steep incline and I start to feel concerned. It is beginning to get dark. A man appears. He is an older man, somewhat professorial, and he has a warning for me.
“This is a dangerous trail,” he says. “You should go back.”
But I know I can’t. I just need a different set of wheels. So I retreat temporarily on my bicycle and go back to look for my car.
It is unclear when the I Ching, or Book of Changes was actually written, but some accounts trace its origins back to the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. Richard Wilhelm, who translated the I Ching from Chinese into German in 1924, said that in Chinese literature, four holy men are cited as the book’s authors: Fu His, King Wen, the Duke of Chou, and Confucius. Regarded by many as one of the most treasured parts of the Chinese tradition, the wisdom of the I Ching provides the foundation for both Confucianism and Taoist philosophy.
I am explaining all of this to a friend of mine, because I think the I Ching is a fascinating and rich text. Not only because of the ancient language it uses, but because it helps focus your attention on a problem by offering uncommon insights along with some very practical advice about conduct. It helps me by providing some timeless wisdom and philosophy to ponder as I contemplate the here and now. And I like the transformative nature of the wisdom contained in this book because when you are trying to solve a problem, Yin and Yang principals can trade places in a heartbeat. And so it is in life.
The challenge for me always has to do with how to interpret the advice that the I Ching provides, because it is bound to a culture, place, and time so remote from the world I live in today. Still, I find that it gives me something new to think about, and when I am working on a problem, I like that. One of my favorite expressions from the I Ching is “perseverance furthers.”
The text is arranged into 64 hexagrams that are composed of two trigrams each. When consulting the I Ching with a question, the ancient practice sought divination through the use of yarrow stalks (who has those?). The alternative, modern method is to toss three coins, six times. The coins must be of the same type, like nickels, and have clearly identifiable marks to indicate heads and tails.
Heads and tails are assigned different numbers (heads=2, tails=3) so that each toss of the coins can add up to a combination of 6, 7, 8, or 9. These numbers correspond to Yin and Yang lines, and it is the number and sequence of the coin tosses that creates the hexagram in response to the question that was posed.
This morning I threw the coins. Hexagram 61 is Inner Truth.
That was my answer. I can’t tell you the question however. That would be just too personal.
[For more on the I Ching, read my related essay.]
Night and Day is an online journal that contrasts my dreams with my daytime activities. I refer to these posts as episodes because I only recall my dreams sporadically, and because they are at best loosely connected to my days.