Thursday, April 19, 2012

What is peace? (hexagram 11)

Is peace a quiet state?  Most of us think of it that way, as an absence of conflict.  And surely some types of peace are related to quietude and harmony.

China and the Chinese peoples had experienced very little peace at the time of the creation of the core text of the Changes, when the Zhou Dynasty replaced the Shang. Ensuing centuries also saw far more wars, on the frontiers and within the state, than times of unity.  Perhaps that is why the Chinese language has many words for peace, not just one.  English does not make it easy to distinguish between them.

The Peace (Hexagram 11) that is described in the Zhouyi is not necessarily a quiet state, since the image of it is Earth above Sky:

Earth and sky interact: the image of peace.
Thus the queen guides the natural forces of both sky and earth, assisting them into harmony by gathering the people to her right and left. (93)

These words suggest that those who assembled the Changes recognized interaction as essential to true peace. And interaction is impossible to avoid when high and low are just where we do not expect them to be.  This kind of peace is not comfortable or easy to navigate.  It forces us to recognize that change is natural, normal, and perpetual.  Nature itself has constant patterns:  autumn follows summer, spring follows winter.  But these great constants are constantly varied and never fully predictable.

In the same way, real learning is unpredictable.  It does not always arrive in a classroom, from a person designated as a teacher.  Instead, possibilities for learning arrive daily, often in the form of irritations which challenge us to revise our preconceptions and force us to adapt to the world as it is, not as we wish it were.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thought for the day: regrets

Hexagram 6, Strife, says:
If you are sincere in your regrets, take the middle way, and you will have good fortune. . . .(Original I ching, p 79)

As many of us progress through times of change, chosen or not, we face regrets old and new. Often we see old flaws in our behavior with disturbing awareness of how wounding we may have been to others. It can be sickening to realize that we are not who we thought. We may feel like we are a 'terrible two' again, or back in the worst awkwardnesses of adolescence.

Actually this is a step forward, a preliminary to needed change. As we recognize Strife we may have created, it is natural to feel revulsion, but we must guard against extremism within ourselves and 'take the middle way,' as this hexagram suggests. It is time not for radical amends but for consulting with others who are wiser. It is time for cautious baby steps forward, as we learn new ways to walk and talk. Otherwise, we are just more likely to increase the strife, not escape it.

In today's New York Times, Jane Brody looks back on her first two years as a widow, and looks ahead as she recognizes the need to forge new connections with others, simply to stay healthy. It's a wonderful column, useful for many of us. I believe it shows the fruits of her years of strife following the death of her husband, and her wise and timely move towards beginning a new stage of building. It's also a good reminder to those of us in the first or second year of a major change, that we need not make every change in the first year!

As this hexagram's image says,
"The sky with water pouring down: the image of strife.
You should take on a new direction only after a careful consideration of the beginnings." (80).

In ancient China, there was little stone or wood for building, so the foundations were often of earth tamped hard within forms. Made during dry spells, such foundations could last for centuries. But attempting to do so in the middle of a downpour was simply an exercise in futility, as the fine soil simply washed away.
When water gushes from the sky or we feel swamped by regrets, it is a time to observe, consult, and seek a middle way. The time to build anew will come, but first we must get through this time, of Strife.

Monday, March 26, 2012


This blog is devoted to discussions of the core text of the Book of Changes, the Zhouyi.(pronounced Joey) and especially to readers of the Original I ching: an Authentic Translation of the Book of Changes Based on Recent Discoveries (Tuttle, 2011).

I plan to post at least once a week, and welcome your responses, thoughts, and queries.

I hope we can build a community of shared inquiry and knowledge.

Margaret Pearson