7 min read
Let the I Ching Guide You Through Uncertainty
We live in an age of high anxiety, perhaps higher than ever during a pandemic. Humans have always had plenty of reasons to feel insecure, but things seem qualitatively different now. Rapid change, and the uncertainty that accompanies it, have accelerated to chaotic levels. As of this writing, during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and massive social justice demonstrations, we are collectively experiencing fears of a cascading health and economic catastrophe while worrying for a rise in infections among protestors. The pandemic is both slowing us down and accelerating change in new—and hopefully healthier—ways.
Rapidly shifting conditions require new strategies while they offer new opportunities. In the process, we are challenged, as always, to make beneficial choices and skillful decisions. This is where an authentic divination system like the I Ching can help us on an individual level.
Responsible decision-making is arguably the single most important human activity, but it is stressful. We are the only species that can visualize different possible outcomes following from different choices we might make. The quality and good timing of our decisions determines, more than anything else we can do, our success and happiness in life, our ability to survive and hopefully thrive through the cultivation of empathy and a higher more inclusive consciousness.
Even though human beings have this amazing capacity, decision-making is risky and we are not very good at it. We can so easily be too emotional and impulsive or, conversely, overly analytical and procrastinating. So, what can we do to make life's pivotal decisions more wisely? How can we be smarter about it? The I Ching can help us approach decision-making with calm intention, while gaining more insight into the potential directions you can go. The I Ching is an amazing tool for intuitive decision-making, but what’s wrong with good old-fashioned logic and rational information analysis?
Ever since the Renaissance in the 1600s, the western world has glorified reason and looked to scientific rationalism for the solution to most problems. The assumption was: sufficient data in, good answers out. With the recent dawning of the Information Age—with instant access to virtually unlimited data—it was surmised that logical decision-making would become easier as well as more convenient.
Well, think again. In the process of weighing pros and cons, analyzing statistics, applying probability theory, or toying with computer models, logical analysis is only as good as the quality of the information available. And there's the rub.
We've got too much information, and it's become virtually impossible to differentiate the reliable from the fake. And even the information we accept as true now has a shorter shelf life, because rapid change makes current information obsolete, and more quickly than ever. We have to stay on our toes. Logical decision-makers often put off decisions while awaiting more information, making themselves liable to miss increasingly short-lived windows of opportunity. Good and timely decisions are a balancing act and an art. So how do we determine which portions of available information are true or meaningful so that we can make the decisions that need to be made? The answer is not to be found in our minds, but in our hearts, in our intuition.
Good decision-making is more an art than a science. Having harnessed powerful computers and artificial intelligence—the ultimate models of left-brain processing—we have become aware of the limitations of left-brained information processing and we are beginning to appreciate a mode of perceiving that is more holistic, that sometimes approaches mystical realization, such as we can get from an I Ching reading.
Since the revelations of quantum physics a century ago, the perceived gap between the empirical and the mystical has been closing. Major credit for bringing these two camps within hailing distance goes to the Swiss-born father of depth psychology, Carl Jung, who introduced the West to the idea of meaningful coincidence, or "synchronicity"—one of the most practical mystical concepts ever, which depends so entirely on intuitive intelligence in order to be useful.
Jung's work in general provides a backdrop for any serious exploration of intuition. He fearlessly explored the territory connecting scientific inquiry with a person's inner experience, including what he recognized as a spiritual dimension of consciousness (in deference to scientific nomenclature, he called it the Collective Unconscious). He highlighted the importance of symbolism for psychology—suggesting that symbols point to a deeper truth—and counseled us to interpret and learn from our own unique set of inherited or adopted archetypes.
In a 1952 essay entitled "Synchronicity, An Acausal Connecting Principle," Jung contrasted the western mindset—influenced by early Greek philosophers who focused on logical details—with the eastern perspective, which focused on the whole big picture, with each part and every detail sharing the qualities of the whole gestalt. Jung’s essay was derived from his introduction to the first mass produced version of the I Ching, the translation by Richard Wilhem and Cary Baynes.
To Jung, the eastern approach that transcended mere logic better described the mysterious workings of the human psyche. It also provided a more contemplative and holistic viewpoint. Jung pointed to a power of discernment that can take advantage of "the irrational functions of consciousness … that is, sensation AND intuition."
When it comes to making skillful decisions, the question arises: Should we just trust whatever feelings come up? Or are there systematic ways to go deeper and access intuitive intelligence? Fortunately, a number of people—including prominent scientists and business leaders—have rediscovered the ancient Chinese technology for intuitive decision-making and creativity: the I Ching.
The I Ching, since its Western revival in the 1960s, has been dismissed as “new age” in the popular media. It is, however, anything but new—having been used by emperors, sages, and ordinary people in China for over 3000 years. Today, this oracle is more and more commonly put to practical use by creative counselors and their more highly aware clients.
Jung was enchanted with the I Ching due to the way it seemed to put individual psychological elements in context, as part of a seamless whole. "There is no need of any criteria which imposes conditions and restricts the wholeness of the natural process… In the I Ching, the coins fall just as happens to suit them."
Traditionally when a person consulted the I Ching, they drew sticks or tossed coins and recorded the results as a 6-line pattern called a hexagram,which was then interpreted from a book. Now there are online readings, a Visionary I Ching app, and our latest production: the Visionary I Ching Deck featuring 64 beautifully illustrated cards with original watercolors by Joan Larimore, along with a booklet of interpretations. But regardless of the format you use to derive a hexagram reading, you may wonder how any sort of truth could be divined from seeming happenstance.
Two Chinese sages, King Wen and the Duke of Chou, devised the I Ching oracle some 4,000 years ago to strengthen the connection between the psychic and the material realms. An individual seeking insight and advice approaches the I Ching prepared to resonate inwardly with one of its sixty-four archetypal patterns. As Jung put it, the I Ching oracle interprets an “inner unconscious knowledge that corresponds to the state of consciousness at the moment.” In other words, it stimulates our intuitive intelligence.
Intuition exists outside the stream of ordinary thinking consciousness and can present itself in many ways—from a vague hunch to a fully developed vision. It may arrive as a mathematical equation, as an invention or as simply a hunch about the best path to take. And so it is that an answer to a long-unsolved quandary can seem to just pop into our heads. But events oozing with connective portent that have no apparent causal relationship are hardly random. Something in the external world triggered inner knowledge, and the two realities intersect within our working mind. The I Ching offers us a way to reliably produce this phenomenon of meaningful coincidence.
Not only did the I Ching fascinate psychologist Carl Jung, it also attracted the attention of his fellow scientists, the famous physicists Werner Heisenberg and Albert Einstein. Heisenberg, discoverer of the Uncertainty Principle, even had the yin-yang symbol representing the binary polarity of the I Ching's 64 patterns added to his family's coat-of-arms.
A more recent example from the world of business is an old friend of mine, Paul Wenner, a successful entrepreneur who had a cause. In 1985, he founded Gardenburger, Inc. to provide a healthy vegetarian fast-food alternative. Much sweat equity and thousands of decisions later, Gardenburger rose to become the world's fastest growth stock in 1994. Today Paul is a multimillionaire, the author of a major book on vegetarianism and a booklet entitled Ten Secrets to Success.
A surprising number of people in the Western world use the I Ching at work as well as at home. Years ago, I consulted the I Ching often, as the single parent of a teenage boy! The I Ching software program named Synchronicity—developed by my first company, Visionary Software—was surprisingly popular in the business world when it first came out. One customer said he was able to close a three-million-dollar because of using the I Ching program to reorient himself during lengthy negotiations. He consulted the oracle on his PC before every meeting, to center himself and stimulate his intuition. The I Ching is a great way to prepare for negotiations and support critical decision-making—whether with a potential business partner … or a teenager testing boundaries.
This age of massive uncertainty we’re living through is stimulating greater fear and anxiety every day, leading to confusion, mistrust, cynicism, stress and plenty of bad decisions. It is no wonder we seek answers that can guide us through the morass of misinformation and propaganda. Parched for guidance and wisdom, it continues to be my intention to help people realize how tools of ancient wisdom like the I Ching can provide clarity, increased insight, and wisdom, while supporting our most important skill—intuitive, timely and wise decision-making. By helping me do this since I was 19 years old, the I Ching has enriched my life in every aspect.
Paul O’Brien (‘Paulo’) is the author of Visionary I Ching Cards, a beautiful new way to consult the ancient oracle, based on his “Visionary I Ching” ebook and “Visionary I Ching Oracle” App.
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