Posts tagged ‘I Ching’

A Spiritual Almanack- July – Dispersion (Brexit)

Hexagram 59 – Huan

hex 59

Wind

over

Water

We live in interesting times. But to some people all times are interesting. As the Zen Monk said, Every day is a good day. Therefore every day is also an interesting day, but this week we have been consumed by an avalanche of serious dislocations – changes of far reaching political significance.

There is a potential revolution in the air, and it seems incredible that it has been put in motion by three Old Etonians, two of them members of the Bullingdon Club. How has this happened?. Clearly it’s not deliberate – a thought out policy or a strategy. It’s more likely a failure of strategy, in fact a colossal blunder, leading to an escalating series of blunders.

Lu Tung-Pin writing in the 9th century, put it like this:

Some people appear on the scene when they should disappear, coming forward when they should withdraw; not knowing how to maintain tranquil silence, not knowing how to watch that fullness does not reach overflowing, they sometimes go awry by impetuosity, sometimes go awry by conceit. Heedless of subtle indications appearing, failing to carefully examine changes when they occur, day by day they proceed along the path to misfortune, regret and humiliation, so that the path of humanity is lost.

Who went awry by impetuosity? David Cameron, when he promised his rebels a referendum. Who went awry from conceit? Boris Johnson, whose ambition knows no bounds. These two ‘leaders’ have now put the UK in danger of a recession and the breakup of the kingdom. It would be a farce if it wasn’t a tragedy for everyone who is not rich – ie 99% of the people who will pay in one way or another for the failure of leadership shown by these tin pot politicians.

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese classic that deals with changes. It’s title translates as The Classic of Changes, and it is a tool that assists in the observation and understanding of the anatomy of events. Hexagram 59- Dispersion– deals with a situation like the one we are living through, when things are falling apart. It’s about a time of disorganisation and disorder, when things separate or scatter. What does it tell us to do so that we can survive through the forthcoming chaos?

The hexagram itself represents the elements wind over water. Water represents the deepest part of our body and therefore of our selves, but water also represents danger, as anyone who has lived through a flood or tsunami knows. The wind is something that penetrates into all places and also disperses things to all points of the compass. The strong and deep emotions and thoughts that have been unleashed by the Referendum are all now dispersing widely, reaching more and more people. These emotions are both positive and negative – anger, resentment and selfishness are there, but so is compassion, openness and affection. Which set of emotions will be given power to thrive? In Nazi Germany it was anger and resentment that were encouraged, and look at the disaster that led to. In our day it must be positive emotions of love and companionship, otherwise we are all lost.

We need a leader with wisdom and foresight to help us get out of this chaos and find a stable footing. In a time of revolution, anything becomes possible. New thoughts can be taken up, new ideas tried. We all must know by now that something is wrong with our society and it needs to be fixed. Surely the Leave vote was in part a protest by millions of people against austerity, against a lack of good jobs, against overpriced housing, insufficient school places and fears for the future of the NHS. At heart this is a protest against a ruling elite that is completely indifferent to their lives, that literally couldn’t care less. If we want peace, if we want good lives, and if we want some happiness then it should be clear what is needed. If it’s broken, we’d better fix it or it’s going to get worse. We have to do what is needed, and that means reversing the gross inequality in our society. It is not difficult to do, it just takes political will, but it will be difficult to get everyone on board the project. People will have to be persuaded that this is the only thing that can really save us. And that is why we need a leader who can make that case.

My late teacher Liu Ming wrote this about Hexagram 59:

You are caught in a very vigorous tide of events, but there is no misfortune. Big changes bring no trouble, because the flow of change is a natural (group) event and not the result of personal (selfish) effort.

A miscalculation provides a chance to go forward. In misunderstanding a situation you experience a small loss. This loss creates an opportunity to recalculate and ultimately succeed.

You are rescued from a dangerous situation. A setback becomes an opportunity to establish security and success.

The changes that the I Ching talks about in Hex 59 are not ones we personally make, but huge changes that come at us swiftly and surprisingly and with overwhelming shape and scale – just like a flood. We know that in a flood many of our possessions will be either swept away or rendered unsalvageable. We know there is no option but to go out and get new ones. But first we have to clean up the mess that the flood has left behind. Well, our flood has passed and if we open our eyes we can see the devastation it has left behind. It is now our task to mend things.

What is the best way to resolve dispersal? We find ourselves at a crossroads. To go along the way we have been going- economically and politically – will continue to create inequality and foster anger, resentment and hatred. In this way we will make society worse and encourage all the negative emotions that have been stirred up. The other way is to change how we order our society, to encourage greater equality and to lose the selfishness that has driven our economy and politics. If we do this then the positive emotions that we want to encourage – the fostering of community and solidarity – can lead us to a better society.

It is a matter of acknowledging the truth of the situation, that austerity and capitalism have created an alienated, unhappy and unhealthy population, and the only answer has to be to stop creating more inequality.

Auden in his poem September 1, 1939 said this,

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die. 

Later in life Auden rejected this poem as being untruthful. But 
reading it now, we can see that he was not only prophetic about 
the devastating horror of the 2nd World War (which started on 
September 1, 1939) but also of the environmental 
crisis that will soon engulf us. 

Remember that Quantum theory says the universe starts 
anew in every instant; another world is possible. 
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July 1, 2016 at 3:06 pm Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack – February: SEEDS

Hexagram 3: Beginning

i_ching_03_chun[1]

Cloud (water)

Over

Thunder

After stillness, action; after rest, movement; after completion: beginning. One yin and one yang make up the entire universe.

In February seeds lie in the ground, but they are not dormant. Within they are beginning to stir, slowly uncurling, starting the long journey to fulfil their mysterious inner potential. But we cannot see their progress; the ground hides them, just as our deepest motives and impulses, the mysterious unseen movers that cause us to move, lie hidden in our psyche.

The Decision of the I Ching Hexagram 3, Beginning says,

The beginning of a tiny sprout.

Sublimely prosperous and smooth.

Favourable to be steadfast and upright.

Do not act lightly.

From the slowly rousing seed, there emerges first a root, which buries itself deep into the soil, and then a tiny seedling appears, a tender shoot which rises up. This first tendril represents new life, and life grows out of two movements – the rise of yang and the descent of yin. The seed surrenders itself to the earth and in turn receives nourishment from it.

In our yoga practise as in life we need to follow both of these dimensions: using gravity to find our own root, and using our prana, our life energy, to rise up. We need to understand how we relate to the ground, how we use the ground. To find our own root is to learn to trust the earth, and to let it really support us, with no holding on to muscle tension. The ground represents elemental power and energy, the power that nurtures and grows. Can we trust it enough to just let go and rest into it?

The seed is the essence of the plant, just as our seeds – our cells and eggs – contain our essence, our inner self. So in this season our being starts to emerge from its hibernation, the life force unfolding towards the light. Seeds are powerhouses of energy, sharply concentrated and attentive foci of action. The smallest plant, soft and pliable, carries tremendous power in its root, the serenely unfolding yang power of the life force. We too have this power within us, but our fears, doubts and anxiety create obstacles that inhibit the release of the intense force of our life energy.

Hexagram 3 is an emblem of this situation: the crashing power of the thunder is damped down by the clouds above. Our tremendous latent power is covered over and inhibited. Before we are able to emerge into our own light we must make a journey back, a reversal into our root so that we can again emerge from it. Paradoxically, we make progress by moving backward, crablike, as the Tao Te Ching tells us,

The Tao moves the other way

The Tao works through weakness

To go back the other way means to return to the root, to the source and origin of our being, where our power lies hidden and sleeping, coiled like the serpent power – Kundalini. Yoga is a means of discovering and releasing this latent energy so that we can use it in daily life. Many of us live too much in our heads so we need to practice bringing our energy down to our base, our fundament. Vanda Scaravelli taught a yoga influenced strongly by using gravity, allowing the natural pull of weight to draw us down to earth, to ground ourself in ourself. When we work on the base – the essential, the fundamental – then we are working with the base chakra, the first power centre of the body. As we allow ourselves to be supported by life, solidly grounded on the earth, comfortable in our own skin, then we are balanced in the root chakra. And the root chakra is the support of all the other chakras.

Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa says:

We connect to the planet through our first chakra, and it’s where we return ourselves back to the earth beneath us. It is at our first chakra that we accept we are even here on earth. It is where we first say ‘yes’ to life.

Once we can unconditionally say ‘yes’ to life we can discover our true self, our true nature, and in doing so we liberate our energy and become free of fear, as the Katha Upanishad tells us,

. When the wise understand that it is only through the Eternal Self that we see, taste, smell, feel, hear, and enjoy, they meditate on this Self and go beyond all suffering. When we are present with our Self, we are beyond fear. And this is our true nature. The Eternal Self lives not only in our hearts but also among the physical elements. It is a boundless power manifesting as life itself, entering every heart, living there among the elements – that is the Eternal Self.

When we lose fear we automatically gain courage, which is why courage is one of Socrates’ cardinal virtues. He did not mean only the bravery of a soldier, but our everyday courage when we strive to overcome our deepest fears. Yoga can be a powerful tool to help us gather our courage, and learn to live in greater freedom. When we are free, we begin to see reality clearly, without the delusion of the past. In such a state, we can see the obstacles that stop us, can grow past our old conditioning, can learn to grow ‘prosperous and smooth’, just like the tiny plants.

As the Zen monk Tiantong Hongshi says,

Everywhere life is sufficient, in its way.

In us life is also sufficient, and we have everything we need within to fulfil our enormous potential. All we have to do is wake up and realise it.

February 1, 2016 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

A SPIRITUAL ALMANAC – JANUARY: SILENCE

I am the secret of silence and the wisdom of the wise. Bhagavad Gita, Ch.10

*******

Hexagram 24: RETURN (FU)

i_ching_24_fu

Earth
over
Thunder

Short days; long nights;
The earth is silent;
Rest in the darkness.

At this time of year the yang energy is renewing itself; it is fragile and needs rest, nurturing and protection. This is a time to examine yourself, refine yourself, cultivate your virtue and master your mind, waiting for the right time to act in the days to come.

Lao Tzu said,

Attain utter emptiness;
Maintain the deepest stillness,
While all creatures rise and fall,
I silently watch their return.

*******

Silence is sacred; silence is our refuge; silence is our peace. Modern life is an assault of sound, a blast of brute noise designed to grab our attention and hold it entranced by sound so that we can be sold things we don’t need. TV commercials, muzak, the constant background hum of cars, trains and planes all distract us away from our inner peace.

Remember that the core of yoga is silence. When you can find that silent space within and stay in it, then you are in tune with yourself and the world: safe, secure and at home within your own skin. In this state you have no need to worry about the quality of your asana positions, or to wonder how someone else is getting along, or to fret about your work or other activities. You merely are. Existence itself is knowledge and bliss wrapped up in one, and you are that – you are one with all.

The earth, too, is silent in January, the generative power sunk deep within the ground. No birds sing, no insects buzz, and life sleeps in hibernation.

In Taoist alchemy this dead of winter represents the utmost quiescence, when real knowledge can emerge from primal emptiness. The alchemists call this the Living Midnight or Lead meets Winter, since winter followed by spring is like midnight followed by dawn, when the culmination of the cold dark yin energy is followed by the rising of the hot light yang energy. Slowly the yang energy emerges from its long winter sleep resting in the ground, and the potential for new life begins again.

It is a turning point in the year’s cycle. When things proceed to the extreme of the deepest darkness, they naturally alternate to the opposite: the dimmest light returns. This is a law of Nature. The time of darkness passes. The winter solstice brings back the banished light. And just as light returns, so we too must also return to our inner light. In the depths of our being we must seek the self, the one, our essence or origin- that ascending force of life.

*******

Prime Minister Pei Hsiu brought his written interpretation of Chan Buddhism for his master Huang Po to read. Huang Po accepted the text but put it aside without opening it, and remained silent. Pei Hsiu waited patiently for the words of his master, but Huang Po stayed silent. His silence lasted for a very long time. It filled the space between the two men and began to fill the entire hall. When the silence seemed loud enough to burst, Huang Po leaned towards the Prime Minister and said sofly, “Understand?”

Consider the meaning of this silence against the words rumbling on this page.

*********
When practicing asanas, or doing Tai Chi Chuan, we enter this meditative state of silence and in that quietness we are able to find our true selves, the inner essence, the kernel of who we really are.

The Person who in movement finds rest, and who understands that movement grows from stillness and rest, sees the light, and finds peace in all his actions. Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 4.

In Chinese the word for mind is hsin, which means the mind/heart. It can literally mean kernel or essence. Mind in a state of quiescence is similar to Christian innocence, the primal mind of humanity before the fruit of knowledge was eaten. To find this mind is to see your original face before you were born.

One secret of a successful life is to find a way to extend this silence into the other parts of life, into the busyness of life away from the yoga mat , where the stresses and conflicts of mundane existence can easily drag us away from our inner peace. Finding inner peace and maintaining inner peace are two separate practices.

*********

Silence is a place of great power. When we find those fleeting moments of silence our meditation can then undo our bodies from the inside, in subtle ways that the asanas cannot reach. The silent state of meditation is a healing state, providing a balance and harmony to all of our existence.

Periods of silence within a relationship indicate trust, love and peace – those moments when we have no need to talk, and are just able to accept the other person as they are – without criticism, judgement or withdrawal.

*******

In silent meditation, we put to rest our worries and cares, but meditation is not the ultimate answer. It is only a raft to get us to the distant shore:

The Master Huai-Jang asked Ma-Tsu, “Why do you sit all day in meditation?” Ma-Tsu answered, “I want to become a Buddha.” Hearing this, the Master picked up a brick and started rubbing it on a stone. “What are you doing?” asked Ma-Tsu. “I am polishing this brick to make a mirror.” “How can you make a mirror by rubbing a brick?” Ma-Tsu asked. “How can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?”

In the end we must return to the activity of life, to the crossroads and the marketplace, and share with others the insights and power we have discovered in meditation:

bull10

Barechested and barefooted he comes into the marketplace.
Muddy and covered in dust – how broadly he grins!
Without resorting to magical powers,
Withered trees begin to bloom.

*******

In the end silence brings us closer to our true nature and to God. It is in that silence that we can be present in the moment.

When we observe our breath we can find silence and stillness at that lovely pause at the end of the in-breath and before the breath turns at the end of the out-breath. These pauses, if we let them, can be our entry into the eternal.

December 31, 2015 at 11:03 pm Leave a comment

My Journals in The 7th Python

I quote extensively from my journals in The 7th Python. I started a journal in 2001 after writing The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations were basically his journal entries, and Professor Pierre Hadot had written in Philosophy As A Way of Life about how the ancients used journals to support their philosophy. Jules Evans in Philosophy For Life explains that daily journals were called hupomnemata in ancient Greece, and that keeping one brought a kind of Socratic dialogue into your intimate daily life. So inspired by Marcus I started to write about the events that happened to me and what I felt about them. I also considered my health, my meditation practice, and other items of personal interest.

When the dispute with the Pythons began, I started to write about those events, and kept going until the resolution of the case in 2013. In the book I decided to use quotes from the journals to show how the legal events were impinging on my inner life. I documented the stress I was undergoing, the financial struggles caused by the dispute, and my changing feelings towards the Pythons. I was also able to track my relation to the Pythons, which is a history of 40 years, from 1973-2013. In the journals I was able to acknowledge how we related to each other during the making of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1973-75, and what it was like during the dispute from 2005-2013. I was able, through the keeping of the journal, to recognise and alter my view of myself in relation to our break-up, which was traumatic for me at the time, and which was a constant psychological scar for many years. This ability, to look at the past through the prism of the present, was really helpful to me. I managed to lose a sense of blame and guilt that I had dragged with me for many years. It was in a sense an act of liberation, brought about by having to confront nakedly the painful events of the past through a new perspective of the present.
Here is an early journal entry:

October 29 2005

Today I read an article about I Ching and Synchronicity, which talked about how synchronicity was a resonance between the physical world – external events and happenings – and the psychic world-internal events and especially the meaning that one takes from the things that happen to you or appear to you.

This got me thinking about my Python problem, an external event dealing with money owed me, and which is providing me with some meaning – ie a lesson or advice about how to deal with life now and in the future. Jung’s archetypes and the I Ching hexagrams both provide symbolic images and ideas that reflect on the inner-outer resonance that is occurring between the mind and the world and provides a depth of spiritual meaning for interpreting the situation that exists. Tonight I will consult the I Ching about this situation and see what it says, but perhaps I need to reflect on the meaning of this problem and why it has happened now. What does it mean for me and what lesson does it hold?

It involves money, and would provide security of income for at least 5 years which will give me confidence to pursue my activities- either film or otherwise. It represents a pot of gold – worldly wealth that can provide benefits- security, confidence, reduction of debt etc. If I do not get this money, then what – am I insecure, lacking confidence? Or will I manage to get along, to keep going, find a way. Is my internal self or essence able to carry on as per normal (natural being) even if this money does not get paid to me. What is more important- your money or your life? When I consider the physical and mental state of my being, the quality of my relationships with others, and my relationship with the external environment, then surely this money is not really the important thing. Your life is good and solid, and means so much more than this cash.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is about values. What is more valuable and what is it important to maintain or to seek? Is it money or is it something else, something more valuable than money, something which has no cash value. If this problem makes you understand about what is truly valuable in your life, and to really appreciate these things in your life, and to give the value and importance far above the cash that you are owed, then you really would learn a valuable lesson, one that too is priceless.

Money has long been a kind of God for you, even a kind of nemesis, because money was very important to your mother and was the ultimate value system when you grew up. Dealing with money, having the right attitude to it has taken you years of inward therapy and it’s no surprise that it is a hefty money problem that you are forced to now face and to deal with in ways that leave you unhurt, still balanced and stable, not angry, not bitter, not full of regrets.

You have to learn the right perspective, how to live without getting what you are owed and not letting it damage your mind and heart. This is the lesson you must learn now and keep for all time.

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November 26, 2015 at 10:32 am Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack- August = Abundance

120px-Iching-hexagram-55_svg

Hexagram 55 FENG

Thunder
Over
Fire

Fullness

Harmony and peace naturally lead to fulfilment.
Those who find harmony and peace in life will surely reap prosperity.

Do not worry
Be like the sun at noon

The image: Flourishing.

“The flowers of the pear tree have gathered and turned to fruit.”
Chen Yi

Nature has performed her miracle and transformed the flowers into fruit. The light and warmth that makes the fruit ripen ripens all of life, filling our bodies and minds with light and warmth, opening us to the truth and goodness of the universe.

Commentary:

When the sun reaches its height
Declining begins.
When the moon attains its fullness,
Waning starts.
The waxing and waning of heaven and earth
Accord with the course of time.

Our bodies, if we allow them to, will naturally stay in tune with nature and its cycles. We are also nature – human nature – and the energy cycles of the universe manifest in us. When there is a full moon we react like the tides with a rush of energy, and the new moon’s darkness contracts the tides and draws us to seek rest.

After a time of fullness and abundance, there is a natural waning and emptying, since things cannot stay full for ever, but they rise and fall just as yin gives way to yang and yang gives way to yin. This is the nature of the universe, a law of life. Yang is the same as the constant expanding force of the universe, while yin is shown in the force of gravity that contracts and holds things in.

After the fulfilment of yang there is always the contraction of yin. The days grow shorter and as night draws in the air grows cooler. But it is important to treasure and enjoy the time of fullness, and not worry about the decline. If we are humble and share our abundant and prosperous times with others, and not try to selfishly hoard them out of fear, then we spread our enjoyment widely, and increase communal harmony. This can create prosperity and abundance in the future. Real abundance means peace and joy, good health, love, the sky and sun, the sea, mountains, all the natural world and its beauties.

Yang and yin, expansion and gravity, are the same dynamics found in the solar system and in our bodies. We experience expansion when we take an inbreath and we feel contraction on the outbreath. In our bodies the rise and fall of the breath reflects the rise and fall of the sun, the moon and all natural dynamic processes.

There is a normal human desire to want the pleasureable and the abundant to continue, and this leads us to try to stop or deny loss and pain. But we need to accept and welcome decline in the same way that we want to have abundance, because profit and loss are two sides of the same yin and yang coin. To be fully human, we need to embrace loss as well as gain, since one cannot exist without the other.

Rabbi Joseph Gelberman tells how his father dealt correctly with loss,

When I was a young boy in Hungary, my father taught me an important lesson. He owned a big department store, and one day while we were at the synagogue, his store was broken into, looted, and set on fire. And to make it worse, he found out it was our neighbours who did it! But it was the Sabbath and on the Sabbath you don’t talk business. So we continued with our prayers.

That night we finally talked about it. He wasn’t the least bit angry.” We have to build the store again. This is our home. What else can we do? If I lose my store and allow my blood pressure to rise, that is paying double. I don’t believe in paying twice.”

The book of Genesis tells this famous story of abundance and decline,

And it came to pass that Pharaoh dreamed; and behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. And behold, seven ears thin and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven rank and full ears.

Pharaoh’s spirit was troubled, and when no one could tell him the meaning of the dream he called Joseph out of the dungeon to interpret it, and Joseph said,

The seven good ears are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind are also seven years, and they shall be seven years of famine. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land.

Joseph interpreted the dream correctly, and he advised Pharaoh to set aside a fifth of the corn from the seven good years so that there would be food available for the people during the seven lean years. We need to do the same. It is something I failed to do when I was in my full earning years.

The Tao Te Ching tell us ‘Don’t try to be full’, and explains how to maintain a sufficient level of fullness, one that does not become over full and therefore topple over into its opposite- emptiness. Chapter 9 says,

Instead of pouring in more
Better stop while you can
Making it sharper
Won’t help it last longer.
Houses full of treasure can never be safe.
The vanity of success
Invites its own failure.
When your work is done, retire
That is the way of heaven

To know when to stop, to know when you have enough, is the key. When it says retire it means do not become possessed and possessive about your work and accomplishments. In other words, practice non-attachment, avoid pride and overdoing things.

If we can purify our heart and mind, and be at one with the divine, then the swings and roundabouts of fullness and emptiness, gain and loss, success and failure, abundance and scarcity will not affect us. If we only desire what we truly need, and are generous in giving away the surplus, then we are always in a state of fulfilment, a state of love naturally filled with compassion, joy, peace and light. Knowing that enough really is enough is true harmony and contentment.

July 21, 2013 at 8:12 am Leave a comment


The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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