Still struggling to catch up with myself on the Artist’s Way (nearly finished week 8!) But have just directed a stonking gurt show, so probably I’m allowed. Have an inspiring, or possibly cautionary, object instead.
His Dark Materials holds a special place in my heart. Actually, to be honest, quite a painful one, but significant.
Before I met my Buddhist practice, I used the I Ching a lot. For those of you who haven’t come across it, it’s an ancient Chinese form of divination. You ask it what will happen if you take a particular action then you toss some coins, or fiddle with special yarrow sticks (my preferred method ‘cos I was hard core) and it tells you the result of that action by coming up with a pictogram that refers to lines of text in the big book. You can have thousands of different combinations.
The first night I ever used it I got a spooky feeling in the accuracy of its answers, like someone was watching me over my shoulder. Proper goose bumpy.
I can’t remember those early answers, but I do remember getting addicted. I fell into the trap of thinking that there was one perfect way of doing everything (my misinterpretation of the Tao, or Way) and that if I could just get myself into this magical groove, everything would be wonderful forever. As a result I checked it all the time, before going out to a party, before starting a project. The first result of which I have a clear memory was something along the lines of ‘The foolish boy asks too many questions,’ which shut me up for a bit, though not forever.
And yes, looking back, plenty of the messages were too vague to be applied to my life; others could just have been wishful thinking on my part. I can’t say for a fact that anything supernatural was taking place. What follows might be destiny taking its course. Or a tragedy of my own superstitious making.
Because, after a few years of this, I found myself living with my first real girlfriend. Things had been going great, magically in fact, in a way I had almost begun to doubt would ever happen for me. But after a joyful two years the first cracks were showing. Then suddenly I met someone and found myself head over heels. This new young woman was giving me very little encouragement but the fact I was infatuated made me question my current relationship.
So, of course, I asked the I Ching about it, hoping it would encourage me to stay put and ignore the infatuation. ‘The situation bodes disaster, but there is nothing to do but wait’ came the blunt reply. ‘The Leg of the Bed is Split’ was the image, implying that one had to keep pulling at that split, ‘until it reaches even those very close to himself. One has a shaky foundation in one’s personal life.’
I couldn’t believe it. So I asked again (generally a rude thing to do, whether it be to a wise person or a bunch of sticks.) How could I leave her? ‘Tears in floods, sighing & lamenting but bitter regret serves us in good stead. Good fortune will come from this grief.’
I wrote all this down in my I Ching journal.
That night my girlfriend came home. We had dinner. I watched TV for a bit and she went through to read in the bedroom. She came back in to the lounge in tears. She had read the journal.
That night we both sat in different rooms; I was on the couch (which seemed fair enough.) And we both wept. I finally went through and cried in her arms for a bit. I couldn’t find a way to explain that I wasn’t crying because of what we were losing in that moment. I was crying for what we had already lost, for what had ebbed away in the months leading up to that moment, for that which the I Ching had reflected, spiritually or randomly, back at me, but which I had been unwilling to face.
I went away to stay with my folks for a week. While I was there I started to read the Northern Lights Trilogy. When I came back I was on to the final book. And she, along with all of her stuff, was gone. And I sat on what had been our bed, and I read the last book, that deals with two lovers doomed to be separated, that talks of forging our own path, which features the I Ching heavily. And in the world of the heroic, self-determining heroine, Lyra, the I Ching takes the form of an Aleithiometer, the teller of truth.
Some months later I asked the I Ching (because of course, not even this turn of events could fully break my addiction), what should I do to address the deep sense of absence in my life? I had started chanting by this point, but was unconvinced and shopping around, trying anything that would help. ‘Seeing the Truth: The ablution has been made, but not yet the offering.’ Meaning that the ritual was being observed but not yet the full deep commitment one makes in joining a group of believers. I decided to give it a punt.
Well, you know the rest.
I haven’t used the I Ching since. There are times, more often a crisis of the heart rather than work trouble, where I itch to throw the stalks again (I sold them years ago but there are some very detailed simulations on line.) But what it now represents to me is the act of looking for an answer outside myself, asking some external force to tell me what to do. And actually what I need to develop, in my chanting, in my art, is my ability to listen to my self. For as the founder of my form of Buddhism says, ‘Never seek the Gohonzon (the embodiment of the infinite potential inherent in life) outside yourself.’
And, as ever, I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going.