"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: I-Ching

constant change . . .

my miniature maidenhair fern plant on the kitchen counter. . .

my miniature maidenhair fern plant on the kitchen counter. . .

The only predictable thing in life is change. Many of us don’t like it. Some of us welcome it. I’m one of the latter.

Maybe because while observing life’s vicissitudes I see patterns that I didn’t notice before. Or, reading books that offer limited points of view that are either-or, black-and-white or some other bilateral nonsense – such as a) if you don’t like it; b) leave.

Being Asian, a student of Taoist thought and reading the I-Ching, Or Book of Changes,  I’ve been introduced to holistic thinking that isn’t bilateral or even 3-Dimensional. It’s not as simple as Western either-or approaches to everything and I highly recommend it as an alternative way to live one’s life. I know it has profoundly impacted my own for the past twenty-five years.

The other day, I consulted the I-Ching about what outcome there might be regarding a family situation that I’m experiencing and I laughed out loud when the line it gave me was number 5 in the Hexagram #12 called “Standstill.” Here it is:
“Standstill is giving way.  Good fortune for the great (wo)man. ‘What if it should fail, what if it should fail? In this way s(he) ties it to a cluster of mulberry shoots.”

The time undergoes a change. The right man/woman, able to restore order, has arrived. Hence ‘Good fortune.’ But such periods of transition are the very times in which we must fear and tremble. Success is assured only through greatest caution, which asks always, “what if it should fail?” When a mulberry bush is cut down, a number of unusually strong shoots sprout from the roots. Hence the image of tying something to a cluster of mulberry shoots is used to symbolize the way of making success certain. Confucius says about this line:

Danger arises when a (wo)man feels secure in h(er) position. Destruction threatens when a wo(man) seeks to preserve h(er) worldly estate. Confusion develops when a (wo)man does not forget danger in h(er) security, nor ruin when (s)he is well established, nor confusion when h(er) affairs are in order. In this way (s)he gains personal safety and is able to protect the empire.”

I guess that says it all. The Universe is here for us to learn from if only we will pay attention to it before it is too late. This reading from the I-Ching has also relieved my feelings of disappointment and replaced them with a neutrality about what the future might bring. And that, my friends, is a really big deal!


“help is on the way”. . .

a hopi yei rainbow man made into a pendant. . .

a hopi yei rainbow man made into a pendant. . .

In the I-Ching, the book suggests entities like the “Helpers” and the “Sage” to whom one can ask for help. This sounds like a simple thing – and for me, one which I have found to be a powerful source of inspiration in difficult times. All it takes is to ask them for help, be open to what occurs/evolves and to thank them when you receive the help that you asked for. Often, an approach will appear that I would never have thought of on my own – and it also feels perfect at the same time.

Along these lines, I was reminded by someone I met recently about the power of the Native American culture and its Spirit World (the Circle of Life.) Years ago when I visited Sedona, Arizona, I read about spirit symbols such as the Yei rainbow man. He embodies a Spirit World helper and appears in various forms in paintings, weavings and in jewelry. Here is an illustration of a Hopi rainbow man made into a pendant.

It is comforting to me that we are not alone in this world to try to solve all our problems by ourselves. How could we? Humans tend to complicate things, it seems to me, while the Universe simplifies things. And asking for help may be the simplest one of all.

“Help is on the way” is not just a platitude for me but an occurrence that enriches my life almost every day. I am very thankful!

“Limitation” . . .

herbs in pots 2

The I-Ching (Wilhelm/Baynes edition, Princeton University Press) says about

“Limitation” Hexagram 60:

The Judgment:  Limitation. Success. Galling Limitation must not be persevered in.

             Limitations are troublesome, but they are effective. If we live economically in normal times, we are prepared for times of want. To be sparing saves us from humiliation. Limitations are also indispensable in the regulation of world conditions. In nature there are fixed limits for summer and winter, day and night, and these limits give the year its meaning. In the same way, economy, by setting fixed limits upon expenditures, acts to preserve property and prevent injury to the people. 

            But in limitation we must observe due measure. If a person should seek to impose galling limitations upon his own nature, it would be injurious. And if a person should go too far in imposing limitations on others, they would rebel. Therefore it is necessary to set limits even upon limitation. 

Six in the fourth place means:  Contented Limitation. Success.

             Every limitation has its value, but a limitation that requires persistent effort entails a cost of too much energy. When, however, the limitation is a natural one (as for example, the limitation by which water flows only downhill), it necessarily leads to success, for then it means a saving of energy. The energy that otherwise would be consumed in a vain struggle with the object, is applied wholly to the benefit of the matter in hand, and success is assured.”



return . . .

"Attain ultimate emptiness of mind; maintain absolute peaceful stillness of body," (Lao-Tzu ~ Dao de Jing) Calligraphy by my late father, Edward C.T. Chao

“Attain ultimate emptiness of mind; maintain absolute peaceful stillness of body,” (Lao-Tzu ~ Dao de Jing) Calligraphy by my late father, Edward C.T. Chao

Some of you may know about my relationship to an ancient book of wisdom called the I-Ching. It has many identities for as many readers: a book of changes about the constant alternation of Yin and Yang in our lives; an oracle which introduces us to the condition of things which our sub-conscious seems to recognize, and for me, an invisible link to help and assistance from the Universe anytime that I consult it. If you’re looking for Helpers from the Universe, they are accessible by using this book. Aside from some Confucian overlay that occurs in the Richard Wilhelm/C.F. Baynes edition, the I-Ching is also considered as a seminal source for Taoist beliefs.

I was first introduced to the I-Ching by someone who appeared out of nowhere to help me close out the move from our family home when I was getting divorced from my first husband. At the time, I was job-less, my children scattered, trying to grow up and go to school while their parents were breaking up. Not to belabor further how exigent things were at the time, the I-Ching Book of Changes became my refuge, an unknown hand of the Universe leading me through that harrowing time. I wrote down all the readings and the lines that sprung out at me as though written especially for that daily circumstance. Many spiral notebooks later and through the years, I became so familiar with the book that I knew many of the lines by heart and most of the hexagrams by number. The I-Ching is a dynamic book, certain hexagrams like “the Marrying Maiden” or “Obstruction” or “Darkening of the Light” making me cringe when I received them. Others, “Taming Power of the Great,” “Possession in Great Measure,” “The Well” and “the Cauldron” were more consoling and uplifting.

So why am I writing about the I-Ching today? Recently, we have experienced a few shocks that occurred outside of our control. And I was thinking about looking for my I-Ching book to do a reading or two as I drove back from my shopping trip the other day.

Yesterday, a big box arrived from one of my cousins, the middle son of my favorite cousin, Pei Fen, who had died earlier in the summer. Packed very carefully with rolled up newspaper emerged a black slipcase boxed set of the I-Ching in two volumes, a Bollingen version that had belonged to Pei Fen and had sold at the time for about $7.50 in 1950.

It was as though the Universe had arranged for this well-bound, oversized version of the I-Ching to arrive on my doorstep as if to say: “Here I am, remember?” I made a brown parchment paper cover for the first volume and taped a copy of the legend on the newly covered back of the book for easier access. Then, I threw a series of six readings for a complex situation that we have been facing and read them aloud for G. and me to digest together. The nuances for each question were clear as day to each of us. It was comforting to receive them as a guide for how to think about moving forward.

This I-Ching return is of great portent for me, especially at this moment. It helped me (might I even say, saved me?) during the worst period in my life twenty or so years ago. It magically reappeared yesterday, thanks to the thoughtful gesture of this gift from my cousin Pei Fen’s house. Thank you, S.! Among Pei-Fen’s last words to me were, “Be happy!”

The timing is perfect. What a consolation it is to be reminded once again that there is help from the Universe, anytime I am open to, and ask for it. I give thanks for these golden threads woven into my life.

dogwood . . .

miniature dwarf red dogwoodI went to an event in a nearby town today and walked by a series of dwarf dogwood trees with unusual small reddish flowers. I picked a small sprig, feeling guilty, because I wanted to research the species when I got home so that we might find a tree or two to plant in our garden.

Dogwood is one of my favorite Spring flowering trees. I grew up in Northern Virginia, and as you may know, dogwood is the official state flower of Virginia. The classic white ones, called Cornus Florida, can be very majestic. We had a very old one with its trunk branching out in the courtyard of an old cottage that we once owned up in Rockport, a seaside town near Gloucester. I don’t care that much for the popular Kousa dogwood because it seems more like an untidy, overgrown shrub rather than a tree with a trunk, and the flowers look like flat petals that just came off an ironing board!

It’s been an interesting week. I am reminded once again how there are lessons to be learned and perspective to be transformed when one tests one’s assumptions amongst unfamiliar people. In the I-Ching, there is a saying where one finally realizes that someone we think is our worst enemy “covered with dirt,” is proven instead to be a friend and not an antagonist after all. Quite a profound realization, especially when it comes from within.

Tonight for dinner, we had sticky rice, tuna sashimi, dipped in a cooled sauce containing organic soy, tamari, sake, mirin and a little dashi. A small thimble of finely grated fresh ginger root and another small thimble of wasabi stood in opposite corners of the sauce dish. Some daikon (white radish) thinly sliced provided a cleansing crunch to the salt. I had some fine leafed kale (lacinato variety) that I chopped into large pieces after removing the center stem. Heated up some rapeseed oil (that I read about in my Japanese Farm house cookery book) sauteed some chopped scallions, added the kale and then turned off the heat so that the kale would not wilt and shrink. A couple of drops of Ohsawa soy and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice dressed the kale as I scraped it out into a bowl. Although it was a simple meal of rice, fish and kale–the condiments added complexity and made all the difference. The piquancy of the finely grated fresh ginger along with the hot wasabi in the fragrant dipping sauce made the tuna sashimi delectable to eat. Not very much of anything really, but a meal that was so good, I could eat it just about every night.

After dinner, I finished sewing on the buttons to the cable cardigan in a sky blue Rowan tweed aran yarn with white flecks that remind me of clouds in the sky or froth on the ocean for my granddaughter, A. I’ll put it in the mail after I wrap it up. I think that’s the seventh sweater or vest I’ve knitted since mid-January.

All in all, not a bad end to a couple of stressful weeks.

red dogwood 2

signs . . .

Sometimes, I find that signs are visual, like a white bird that appeared three weeks ago, flying along the highway next to my car, then fluttering right in front of my windshield before flying off. It seemed like some kind of sign, but different from all the red cardinals which have swooped in front of me and which augured blessings or good fortune, like a pat on the shoulder from the Cosmos that I had encountered before.

Signs also appear in conversation when I find myself recounting something from the past, as I did with my daughters while looking at their aquarium, about how things were so hard twenty years ago and remembering someone who had appeared to help me and who had also given me a book on the I-Ching, my introduction to this Sage which has guided me to where I find myself now. I had searched for that person a few times over that twenty year span with no luck. This time, I came up with information of her married name, which I had forgotten. And for $1.98, I was able to obtain a phone number and three email addresses. When the voicemail message came on the cellphone, I recognized J.’s voice. It was she.

Days later, I had not received a response and wondered if she wanted to be found. That morning, on Saturday, I happened by a store selling futons, used books and clothing in town. On top of a small stack of books was one called, “A Flock of Fools” by Kazuaka Tanahashi. The name was familiar because I had taken a zen calligraphy class of sorts years ago at the Zen Monastery in Tremper, New York. Truth be told, I was turned off by the egotistical attitude of some of the monks during the sesshin sittings and wondered if this was really Zen. Or Zen-like. I realized later they were just being human. Meanwhile, I read Zen writers like Alan Watts, Suzuki, John Tarrant and the Taoist hermit seeker, Red Pine (Bill Porter). My father, before he died, wrote his own translation of the Tao Te Ching which he took from old Chinese texts.

Anyhow, so I chance upon this book which is signed, no less, and carry it home. When I arrive, there is a voicemail from J. saying she had been on a retreat and would love to be back in touch. Our first conversation revealed that she lived in a remote area of redrock country and will be ordained a Zen monk in December. I kid you not. She told me that she had worn a jade pendant that I had given her a long time ago that she hadn’t worn in years, around the same time that I began looking for her again.

Yesterday, someone suggested to me that I think about becoming a mediator. When I heard that, it was a bell-like sign that resonated with me. Back home, I found quite a number of options for mediator training and wrote to J. about it because they conflicted with a visit and a sesshin that I had thought about coming out for a visit at the end of September. Turns out her Zen practice includes mediation and facilitation as core training and that her sensei had also been a Director of Conflict Resolution for the Judiciary system in Utah. And as J. so succinctly notes, conventional mediation is “great for a transactional universe, but leaves a lot on the table in the transformational domain…Training in mediation and facilitation is a part of our formal (and formational) path — required of all the monks. Welcome to the new Shaolin Temple. Our action logic is no-shadows; no-conflict. An interesting evolution in the form of warrior energy.”

So after a long period of stagnation in my life filled with pessimism, exhaustion and oppressiveness, the appearance of the white bird has opened doors to somewhere new. The pace is accelerating as well. My faith in the Cosmos is renewed. Or perhaps its faith in me is refreshed. Either way, I am grateful.

deliverance . . .

water, washing everything clean

I was thinking about how tensions are resolved and remembered this reading from the I-Ching, The Book of Changes (Wilhelm edition.) As some of you know, the I-Ching is a book of wisdom that serves as a foundation of Taoist beliefs. Here are excerpts from Hexagram 40, Deliverance:

“Here the movement goes out of the sphere of danger. The obstacle has been removed, the difficulties are being resolved. Deliverance is not yet achieved; it is just in its beginning, and the hexagram represents its various stages.

This refers to a time in which tensions and complications begin to be eased. At such times we ought to make our way back to ordinary conditions as soon as possible. These periods of sudden change have great importance. Just as rain relieves atmospheric tension, making all the buds burst open, so a time of deliverance from burdensome pressure has a liberating and stimulating effect on life. One thing is important, however: in such times we must not overdo our triumph. The point is not to push on farther than is necessary. Returning to the regular order of life as soon as deliverance is achieved brings good fortune.

A thunderstorm has the effect of clearing the air; the superior person produces a similar effect when dealing with mistakes and sins of men that induce a condition of tension. Through clarity she or he brings deliverance. However, when failings come to light, we do not dwell on them; we simply pass over mistakes, the unintentional transgressions, just as thunder dies away. We forgive misdeeds, the intentional transgressions, just as water washes everything clean.”

A moment worth rejoicing, right?

after the storm . . .

retreat . . .

I have learned an important observation about progressing through life from studying the I-Ching. And that is to be still when it’s time to be still. I think that we all recognize times when movement forward is not happening. Or that a next move is up to someone else or forces that are externally beyond our control. In America, the cultural norm is to think of progress as a straight line trajectory up and away, all the time. But in real life, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, the most appropriate stance we can take is to be still.

Retreat into oneself can be an act of strength, not weakness as often interpreted in the West. Preserving one’s integrity while holding still is one of the most powerful concepts that I have learned from reading about Zen, the Tao-te-Ching and other lessons from the I-Ching. Keeping one’s flame alight, although hidden, is a way to get through situations when everyone around you is not of your kind or who are Read the rest of this entry »

the Dao . . .

I’ve been feeling a little virtuous lately because all week, I’ve been doing scheduled tasks on the actual day that I intended to do them. Most mornings, I eye the “to-do” boxes and move them to the next day or later in the week.

Yesterday, I cleaned up the word document for the first year’s text of the blog. I put together and sent my 2011 tax info to my accountant and mailed it. I didn’t spend any money all day except at the post office. I resisted getting a Dairy Queen cone dipped in chocolate to reward myself for getting my tax stuff done.

Today, I took boxes of books that were congregated downstairs in the entry halls to donate to the Worcester Public Library. I was greeted at the loading dock by friendly and helpful people who thanked me Read the rest of this entry »

fear. . .

blocked by fear

I’ve always had a sense of fear.. . ever since I was young and set in a place where I was alone, not knowing the language of this new land; set apart from the rest of my family once my siblings were born, one after another. It wasn’t just because I was alone a lot of the time. But because it seemed there was no one who understood that I might be afraid, nor asked me anything about it. At the time, I don’t remember thinking or feeling that I was fearful. That recognition didn’t come along until a long time afterwards.

Later in life, I was faced with so much to handle that I knew I had to give it up to a higher power and ask for help (see “eggs in one basket.”) After my divorce and jobless, living in a town where I hardly knew anyone, my Read the rest of this entry »