Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
It's been a long time since I consulted the I Ching, but I did recently. The question at hand was part of a long inquiry into the nature of guidance. I suspect there is something like a compass at my center and at the center of every being. Throwing the I Ching can sometimes unstick the compass needle, allowing it to swing free and indicate a direction to take, or at least a direction in which to look.
The coins yielded two identical trigrams, though formed through different permutations of odd and even, each trigram comprising broken lines topped by an unbroken line. The two trigrams sit one atop the other. Looking at the image I had built I tried to fathom its meaning.
____________ _____ _____ _____ _____ ____________ _____ _____ _____ _____
It looks like mountains, I thought, very Chinese mountains, stretching into a two-dimensional distance, with a canopy of clouds above. Sure enough, the hexagram is called "Keeping Still, Mountain."
Mountains standing close together;
The image of KEEPING STILL.
Thus the superior person
Does not permit her thoughts
To go beyond the situation.
The quality embodied in this trigram surprised me. I was expecting something dynamic—a call to action, a potent interplay of forces. But no, there was just this indication to keep still, whilst remaining alert to erring on the side of stiffness—"the fire when it is smothered turns to acrid smoke that suffocates as it spreads."
I interpret this call to stillness not as an exhortation to passivity but to alacrity. I think it has something to do with what Carlos Castaneda says the shamans of ancient Mexico call "impeccability;" of deeds perfectly appropriate to the needs they fulfill; of no omission and no commission.
Now, more than ever, I feel the imminence of an ordeal, and also the immanence of a fundamental support. This is the quantum view of matter as boundless space, punctuated at great distances by infinitesimal concentrations, held in form by a resilient, pulsing matrix.
The gossamer pattern of matter and its progress through events appears fragile and unreliable, seeming to require manipulation and control to achieve any predictability; and yet, within each subtle formation is a logic, or logos—a vibrational pattern granting an adaptive quasi-permanence, for a time, until the tone passes away and things fall apart.
So many gradations and harmonics of energy thrum through matter and play out all manner of manifestation in time. There is the energy that coheres matter into form, imbuing material with a particular elemental quality; a finer energy allows that material to become elastic, able to retain identity whilst changing form; a still finer energy impregnates the material with vitality; another, automatic activity; and sensitivity; consciousness; creativity; the unitive energy of love; and perhaps finally an energy that transcends all the bounds of existence giving the manifest world a geometric integrity and resilience.
Even in the face of the kaleidoscopic grandeur reliably unfolding in each succeeding moment, I experience an instinctive draw to doubt, a dread of loss or annihilation. Out of the fear springs an impulse to manipulate and control, to make reality conform to an image that the fearful tapeworm calling the shots from my gut finds comforting.
How to be receptive to and allow what is arising both within and in my circumstances, and at the same time to be free to respond: this is the work of life, like Christian in his Pilgrim's Progress (from This World, to That Which Is to Come).
Such a delicious predicament is the hexagram of Keeping Still, Mountain. Jelaluddin Rumi (with the translating help of Coleman Barks) put it this way.
A Chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot where it's boiled.
"Why are you doing this to me?"
The cook knocks him down with the ladle.
"Don't try to jump out.
You think I'm torturing you.
I'm giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.
Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this."