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

Tag: Richard Wilhelm

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.

toeing the tao. . .

So what does it mean to live a taoist life? I added a new tagline to begin the new year: “one woman’s (taoist) way of life.”

Here’s how it happened. . .

While the bottom was falling out of my life over twenty-five years ago (see eggs in one basket), someone gave me the Book of Changes, or the I-Ching, translated by Richard Wilhelm. At first, I thought it was an Oracle book, readings sought by tossing coins to focus on hexagrams that might shed light and wisdom on conundrums facing me when there seemed to be no answers in sight.

I read a lot about the I-Ching and I read the book itself a lot by throwing hexagrams and writing down in spiral notebooks all the words that were intuitively meaningful to me so that I might be able to piece together what it seemed to be saying to me about my very uncertain future.

Over time, as I filled up notebook after notebook of what the hexagrams were relating to me, I began to see a pattern emerge:

a) my questions were often too specific because I was in a rush to learn what might happen to me (yes or no questions about what to do next) so I learned to form broader and more open-ended questions, such as: “what would be helpful for me to know, or understand in such-and-such a situation?” rather than, “will this or that happen?”

b) the majority of the time, I found that I missed nuances or misinterpreted unfavorableness for favorable outcomes that I hoped would come true. In hindsight, the misinterpretations contained some ambiguity to the situation, or some ambivalency within myself that I did not want to admit or to look at.

c) sometimes the I-Ching would ignore my question altogether. And instead, tell me what I really needed to know, even if I didn’t want to ask about a particular situation.

I found that consulting the I-Ching was the equivalent to accessing one’s inner wisdom, one’s higher self and the wisdom of the Cosmos, the Sage, or whatever higher power you believe or don’t believe exists in the Universe.

And because the I-Ching is the foundation of Taoism, with quite a bit of Confucian overlay in the Wilhelm edition, I started to read about the difference between these two ancient Chinese kinds of thought.

In a nutshell, Confucian thought values society over the individual and emphasizes the importance for the individual to be acceptable and recognized by the society in order to be worthwhile. In other words, you are defined only by the judgment and alliance with what others tell you to be or do. In some ways, I find Confucianism more like “Confuse-em ism” because who one becomes is interchangeable with what one thinks others expects of them, rather than being true to oneself. Importance in the community and what others think of you supercedes what you might want to be or do.

Taoism is the individual finding your own way–like Lao Tsu and the Tao te Ching writings in which whatever you do is to do nothing and to want nothing but to be yourself without attachment. Taoist hermits are reclusive and live in the moment for its own sake.

So, toeing the Tao is a way to describe letting one’s energy roam and attract like energy in synchronicity and serendipity. Something like the energy of writing about this here in today’s post.

Postscript: tonight, a new friend wrote to me about purchasing a book on the I-Ching and a number of other chance happenings, asking me what I thought the significance might be to them. My immediate reaction was to suggest that she learn how to consult the I-Ching hexagrams, and to utilize the events as a way of accessing this ancient book of wisdom. I hope that she will try it out. It is a good way to begin, and how it began for me years ago. So I wish her well. And you too.