Thursday, January 8, 2015

2015: Tips from the I Ching

Hexagram 38 (Opposition)

Dear George,
Every December I gear up for the New Year by checking with the I Ching. Usually I ask what the coming year will bring.  The I Ching, of course, is the ancient Chinese Book of Changes.  Considered a book of divination, it dates back at least as far as the ninth century BC and offers advice about one’s life and world.*  On New Year's Eve I asked the I Ching how I might make 2015 the best year possible.

To consult the I Ching, the individual tosses a set of three coins six times, constructing a sequence of six lines.  Depending on the combination of heads and tails for a given toss, each line is recorded as either broken or unbroken.  The six stacked lines together make up a hexagram (see example above).  The hexagram in turn is subdivided into an upper trigram and a lower trigram.  Each hexagram represents a different life situation.  With six coin tosses, there are 8 trigrams and 64 hexagrams possible.  The text of the I Ching gives an interpretation for each.

The I Ching hexagram for my New Year’s Eve question was No. 38, Kuei (Opposition).   This hexagram is divided into an upper trigram, Li (The Clinging, Flame) and a lower trigram, Tui (The Joyous, Lake).  Flame burns upward, and the lake seeps downward.  These two movements, in direct contrast to each other, represent the phenomenon of opposition.

The I Ching’s “Judgment” for Opposition is: "In small matters, good fortune."  The I Ching notes that when people exist in opposition and estrangement they’re unable to conduct major common undertakings together because their viewpoints diverge too sharply.  In such instances, one shouldn’t be harsh or abrasive because that only escalates the conflict.  Instead, "one should limit oneself to producing gradual effects in small matters."

The I Ching’s “Image” for Hexagram 38 is:

            Above, fire; below, the lake;
            The image of OPPOSITION           
            Thus amid all fellowship
            The superior man retains his individuality.
Fire and water never mingle, but even when they come into contact they retain their own separate natures.  Mature persons, the I Ching notes, never descend into baseness or vulgarity in instances of opposition, but rather preserve their own individuality.

The top line of my hexagram had this meaning:

            Isolated through opposition,
            One sees one's companion as a wagon full of devils.
            First one draws a bow against him,
            Then one lays the bow aside.
            He is not a robber; he will woo at the right time.
            As one goes, rain falls; then good fortune comes.

Isolation, the I Ching suggests, occurs through misunderstanding and is generated by inner conditions more than by external circumstances.  Thus individuals misjudge their best friends, believing them to be as dangerous as a wagon full of devils, and adopt a defensive attitude.  But when they realize their mistake and perceives the other’s good intentions, they lay aside their bow and tension is relieved.  Just as falling rain relieves the sultriness before a thunderstorm, opposition reaches its climax and transforms into its antithesis of union.

I definitely believe that all human relationships involve elements of opposition.  People perceive things from different standpoints and often have contrary goals. Nowadays, I experience opposition most frequently in my and Katja’s married life, at least in part because we’re together much of the time.  Katja and I have always been very different persons.  She‘s more sociable; I’m more introverted.  Katja enjoys the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Saturdays; Patti Page is my favorite singer.  She shops at Saks; I go to Goodwill.  Katja’s dream vacation is a three weeks in Paris; I prefer family vacations.  She’s extravagant; I’m stingy.  Etc., etc.  There are lots of reasons for our divergent styles.  Katja grew up in a big city (Philadelphia) and went to an elite girls’ high school.  Her tastes and preferences lean toward “high culture,” e.g., chamber music, the theater, French literature.  I grew up in a blue-collar town in a rural area where there were more bars and hunting camps than cultural institutions.  I’m much more of a “low culture” guy, enjoying county fairs, camping in the forest, and junior college basketball games.  While we do share areas of communality, e.g., politics, TV and movies, grandparenting, there are numerous areas of our lives where we go our separate ways.  

I thought about my I Ching reading in terms of overcoming opposition in marriage.  The I Ching offers a number of pertinent insights.  The first is that isolation and estrangement are generated more by inner conditions than by actions of the other party.  While it’s natural in conflict situations to attribute problems as due to the other person, the I Ching reminds me that it's my own attitudes that are the immediate source of my irritation.  A second point concerns misperceptions. I do sometimes see Katja as "a wagon full of devils.”  Usually, however, that turns out to be a flawed perception. Third, because we objectively differ in many ways, I should anticipate that we’ll be unable to resolve areas of major conflict, but instead should aim for small-scale change on more minor issues.  Fourth, in conflict situations, it’s important to retain one’s own individuality and pursue one’s own interests.  Finally, the I Ching notes that opposition and conflict can provide the circumstances for creative resolution and increased union.  So my intent for 2015 is to “lay the bow aside.” 

I woke up at 9:00 this morning, and Katja informed me that the upstairs thermostat had dropped to 67 and that she’d called to have the furnace guys come.  That drives me crazy.  I explained that it was zero degrees outside, and the furnace in our brick house can’t keep up with the cold.  Katja was adamant that the furnace was malfunctioning.  Instead of screaming and hollering, I reminded myself that it’s my own stinginess about paying for a service visit that was prompting my angst.  Further, we’ve been disagreeing about the heat for forty years and won’t solve the problem anytime soon.  It’s probably good for the furnace guys to come since they’ll explain the situation to Katja.  I decided to just do my own thing, so I’m finishing up this blog posting.  Good for the I Ching.  2015 is definitely going to be a better year.

*Sources: The I Ching or Book of Changes, The Richard Wilhelm Translation, Pantheon Books, 1961;, "I Ching";, “Rediscovering the I Ching” 

G-mail Comments
-Vicki L (1-17-15): You're an amazing person.  2015 has gotten off to a great start. Happy New year!  Love Sis
-Donna D (1-11):  so good, david.  so wise, mature, helpful.  i'm going to keep this in mind when i'm at work…   donna
-Matthew S (1-8):  Very intelligent response, I dare say. You're paying the heating people to be the bad guys.  Now, unless that results in the purchase of a new $8,000.00 heater, I'd say that's an excellent trade-off.  Matthew

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