A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Unsettled

A friend of mine who has been a Born-Again Christian for over 25 years picked me up at the airport yesterday evening. Normally he doesn't press his religious views but last night on the ride home, he did. He asked me an innocuous question, what my parents had given me for Christmas. I said my Mom had given me a bunch of books. Included were one book about Islam and another a short story collection by Middle Eastern writers. I said that I appreciated getting books about the Middle East because I'm still woefully ignorant about that area of the world. I mentioned the Iraqi War and how I felt it was especially important now to broaden my understanding. It was all this that triggered Richard to start talking about how the wars in the Middle East are harbingers for the coming of the Antichrist and how there will never be peace in that part of the world and if there were a charismatic leader who created peace, he (she?) would be the Antichrist. It was hard for me to get around the parallel idea that peace could actually be seen as a bad thing. He went on to say that people are essentially bad which is something I do not believe at all. But I didn't contradict him. I just let him get his ideas out and tried to remain open-minded. He is my friend but not a close friend and much to my relief he was willing to drive me home and I just do not feel confident enough at this point in my recovery to start arguing with anyone face to face. It is no exageration to say that I am quite ignorant, at least for now (I'm working on it). I knew he was refering to Revelations but I do not remember much about the Bible. This is probably an emotional reaction to having considered the possibility that I could be Jesus Christ when I was still very ill. I've blocked the Bible out of my system. So I asked him to tell me about the Revelations but he wouldn't. Instead he scolded me and told me to read them for myself.

The irony is that we both believe in God. I pray on and off throughout my waking hours, mostly small prayers but prayers nonetheless. In my way, I do believe in "intelligent design" encoded in all things, living and non living. But I do not believe in fundamentalism from any religion. Books (including the I Ching) are made by mankind, not God(s) and are subject to all kinds of fallacies. I do not believe that any book is the infallible Truth for All People. I love humanity's diversity and would never want just one interpretation of nearly anything. I do believe (and it is my personal belief) that we are all born innocent and good and that we learn negative behavior through imitation. But that very imitation is responsible for all the human wonders in the world. Back to yin and yang and the desire for balance. We thrive on antonyms and synonyms, that's how we are able to think, reflect and discern. When it comes to value judgements few things are all good or all bad though many people view the world this way. In truth, as I see it, there's always a mixture of elements, a little (or a lot of) yin in the yang and visa-versa. It's our challenge to decide for ourselves what we believe is good and bad and how to follow the good in our lives.

Richard believes that mankind's essential sinfulness is the reason for war and violence in the world. I believe it's due more to cultural pig headedness and vendettas and yes, a basic learned and codified immaturity, a refusal to grow up and get beyond conflicts. I think war and violence define true insanity and are way too accepted by many countries and people. There is no excuse for murder, which is what war is all about. And yet people make all kinds of excuses for it. I've thought several times, what if there were a global boycott on violence? What if the numbers of people willing to be violent for one cause or another dropped drastically? What if it was no longer acceptable to be violent? No longer politically correct to wage war? What if peace were more desirable than just about anything?

I survived domestic violence for over five years. I know how devastating and distorting and manipulative violence can be especially when it's personal. It becomes a cyclical, psychological disease. Once accepted it takes root and destroys the foundation of love and fraternity. The only way to stop it is to practice non violent protest. If that doesn't work you have to leave the situation, even if it means leaving your home. Then you can organize your support and maybe make sorely needed changes. I believe peace is possible but the violence in people must be seen as a physical addiction. Someone who's been violent will have to work to eradicate it. There is no simple answer. An abuser must acknowledge the abuse and foster behaviors that counteract it. If they let up on self-honesty, which is a discinpline for every single one of us, they revert to old behaviors and the cycle continues. People are so ready to label some behaviors as signs of mental illness. Why not label violence, all violence, as a form of mental illness. We are our greatest predators. This has got to stop.

And so some of Richard's talk about the fight between Satan and Jesus/God and man's inherent sinfulness, and the coming of the Antichrist made me feel unsettled, mostly because I didn't feel I was able to express myself to him on the spot and so I held my discomfort in and waited the situation out. I truly wanted to remain open minded but I couldn't risk getting pulled into what I now see as another form of mental illness, fudamentalism. I've been to that place of absolutes and it is neither just nor true that I can see. The Middle Way is extremely important. I think it always has been.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

From Florida

I've been here with my parents and brother for a little over a week and all's gone smoothly but I'm missing home and my two cats. Here there is cleanliness and order. Here there is communal living. Two things clearly absent from my home life and yet I have become a reclusive creature, used to my own space, my own rhythm. Not that I wouldn't like to live in a clean and ordered house or wouldn't like to see more of my parents, but I also want a measure of independence. I'm capable of living with my parents for a couple of weeks, beyond that I need to have alone time.

For now, I hide behind my MacBook laptop (which I just got a month and a half ago and love). I'm amazed at how much time I spend on the computer and it doesn't seem to bother my family at all. For a little under a week I've had an encyclopedia for the Mac and I've been soaking up information, images, sound. I'm only now starting to appreciate how much I can do though I'm lightyears behind most computer junkies. How the world is changing! I just learned today about podcasts and that they're free and plentiful (though I don't have an ipod but I do have iTunes). I've been an artistic dilettante for most of my life but what I've only just returned to is songwriting and singing. Before I got sick I had been making up my own songs for several years. The Spring and Summer that I first got sick I wrote and recorded a lot of songs, but soon the voices were attacking my songwriting and I stopped. It amazes me to think that that was eight years ago. I decided to return to songwriting after writing to Pam about wanting to dedicate myself to one art instead of spreading myself thin in many arts. She asked me which art form had most deeply affected me and I knew right away that it was music. Then she told me to focus on just that.

Before I came down here I did finish an old song and write a new one but unfortunately I got a bad cold/cough that wouldn't go away and I couldn't sing. I'm only now just getting over it, so I should be in good shape when I return home next week and I will continue with what I've started. The MacBook has a music program called GarageBand where you can create your own songs. I've been studying that for the last couple of days, but I'm very new to all this technology. I have an 8 track cassette recorder I bought eleven years ago but even with that I only know the basics. So I have to get myself in gear and start a daily program of study and practice. I'm glad to have a focus again.

My voices have been very quiet during this trip which is a relief. I remember other visits here where I was literally out of my mind, where I needed to talk to myself to get through the hard times. Now, the voices are more loving but just a month ago I was falling into delusion again. Consulting the I Ching helped me to get out of its grip; it redirected me towards a healthier balance. The anti-psychotic meds have vastly improved the quality of my life despite minor setbacks and I'm very grateful not to be living in the era of mandatory asylum stays with little effective treatment. At least now a days there's hope for if not full recovery then enough of a recovery to live independently. It's not perfect by any means but it's much more humane.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pam's blog

I was inspired to start this blog because of an online friend of mine: Pamela Spiro Wagner. Her blog is called WAGblog and the address is http://www.schizophrenia.com/pam/ She and her sister wrote a book called DIVIDED MINDS: Twin Sisters And Their Journey Through Schizophrenia. She is also a fine and dedicated poet. Please check out her website and her book.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Aging

I apologize for not posting for a week. It's the holiday season and I was preparing to visit my parents in Florida. Traveling unnerves me now more than when I was younger. I'm not too happy with plane flights even though I know they're safer than traveling by car. And this time my brother and I missed our connecting flight due to bad weather and had to stay in the airport for over twelve hours till we could board another plane. Though I must say that on the whole I haven't had too many problems when traveling, so I have to count my blessings.

My parents retired to Florida in 1989. Initially they lived on Sanibel Island but now live in a retirement community in Fort Myers. It's quite an upscale place with tons of healthcare options. At first I was a bit dismayed by how old everyone appeared to be, not wanting to acknowledge that my parents, too, were now old. Then I began to become more familiar with the faces and the rhythms of the place and just felt so grateful that my parents were safe and well taken care of. I don't get to see my parents very often, between two and four times a year, so I value the time I spend with them. These last few trips I've brought along a tape recorder to record conversations, so that I'll have something of my parents (and uncle) when they are no longer here (that is if I survive them, for who knows?). I can't quite accept mortality yet either theirs or my own and have not encountered human death and illness much in my lifetime (knock wood, as my mother would say). I have experienced the illness and death of beloved cats, but that's as close as I've gotten. And that's close enough for pets are like children, innocent and undeserving of illness (though no one really is deserving of illness).

Schizophrenia struck me at age 36 and ushered me into middle age, so now I am not just encountering my parents aging but my own aging as well. The anti-psychotic meds have made me put on weight, my hair is starting to thin, my skin is no longer as smooth and supple as it once was. Now when I look in the mirror I smile at myself with tolerance for my growing physical imperfections. My tolerance has grown from having survived such horrible experiences and because I know life could be much worse because it already has been. I've survived and I've cultivated an attitude of gratitude which has served me well. Even so, there is this touch of nostalgia, this feeling of regret for all the missed opportunities of my youth and young adulthood. Like most people I think "If only I had known then what I know now...". And if only I could start over again. But I still have some optimism, I still believe I can start over again, just from an older (wiser?) perspective and that hope enriches my life, gives me something to hold onto.

It is wisdom not to fight the aging process, but to go with the flow or as the I Ching would say be like water, non resisting. Many people come to such grief because they want to stay 25 or 30 forever. We live in a world that idolizes youth and shuns middle to old age. To me, that is deeply rooted immaturity. Survival should engender a deep respect and not dismissal. It was respect I felt towards my mother's mother when she was in her 80's and 90's. I didn't care that she was covered in wrinkles, that she couldn't see or hear well, that she was small and delicate; I respected her for just living as long as she did. I saw it as a great accomplishment and aspired to follow her. And now, it is my parents that I hope to follow. The focus in my family has been to value people and each other for being good people and not for youth and beauty. Youth and beauty are wonderful too but ever so temporary. They are not things to base one's life upon.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

More On My Family

I never met my father's father. Handsome and charming, he was the next to youngest child in a relatively large Irish Catholic family. He also was an alcoholic and a compulsive gambler. He tried to make a living as a salesman but I think it was really my grandmother who was the breadwinner. Though she dropped out of high school her senior year, she wound up becoming a very respectable social worker.

My father later took up genealogy as a hobby and could tell me and my brother the history of both his and my mother's family but rarely would he speak about his father of what it was like growing up in a dysfunctional family. I would try to ask him point blank questions but he would still answer rather generally and sadly. I didn't press him on it because I didn't want to hurt him. It's not that my father was fragile exactly but I always sensed that he could be if pressed too hard. All I knew was that something bad had happened to my father and his mother but it wasn't to be talked about. But despite his scholastic successes (graduating with high honors from Columbia University and Columbia University's law school) and his eventual career success as a corporate advertising lawyer, he couldn't stop that dysfunction from creeping into his own household.

My parents got married in the early 1950's and sensibly waited six years before they had a child together. My brother was born on my father's birthday. And this is where life started to get a bit hard because my brother very soon showed signs of having emotional problems. Despite being a very bright child, he didn't learn to read for many years. He went to a progressive private school and managed to get by playing chess and learning the art of debate but his grades were erratic even after he learned how to read. And during this time he was dragged to various therapists which he derogatorily referred to as "shrinks".

I was born three years and nine months after my brother. I was an "unplanned" birth. Starting in kindergarten I went to public school. I must have been psychologically tested too but the results were "normal" and so I began my "normal" childhood. I went to school less than two blocks away from home. Around most people I was pretty shy. I sucked my thumb till I was seven. I even had a Lionus blanket which was really a folded sheet that I called my "thing". My mother wound up secretly throwing it away to stop me from sucking my thumb. I also wet the bed on occasion. I can still remember my mother's annoyed but dutiful response when I would knock on my parent's door. After changing my sheets, she would lie on the other twin bed until I fell asleep. Nonetheless, I did well in school and had a circle of friends and so my parents' attention was more focused on my brother.

Meanwhile it was the 1960's in New York City and my brother rapidly became a hippy kid. My parents were too old or set in their ways to become hippies but they were politically active as liberal democrats on the neighborhood level and so had some affinity with it. My brother began experimenting with drugs with his friends when he was nine and he soaked up the music scene through the radio, records and some music performances. Music became a lifelong passion of his (along with soccer and politics). My parents were very straight and clueless about my brother's drug use and I was too young to understand. So my brother appeared "moody" when he was really just buzzed on something. He kept his secret and this isolated him from within the family.

From the beginning he was not happy that I arrived on the scene, but, though he could be quite mean to me at times, at other times he was tolerant, even playful. He and his friends had so much fun reading MAD magazine aloud and fooling around with a tape recorder and playing outside on the street that I would often tag along wanting to be part of the fun. My brother wouldn't allow it and after that I kept my distance from him and his friends.

I was also a bit of a hippy kid wearing bell bottom pants and garish tops, walking barefoot with friends in the neighborhood. I listened to my brother's records and fell in love with John Lennon. The Beatles probably marked the beginning of my tendency towards romantic fixations even at the tender age of seven. I went on to have crushes on different boys in my class but was still too shy to make any advances, though some of the boys did chase me (and my friends) in the school yard during recess.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

I Ching Dualism

The duality of yin and yang and the superior and inferior are related but not the same and this is where some confusion begins. Yin and yang refer most specifically to a transcendental view of earth (yin) and heaven (yang) where each is the complement to the other. Though heaven naturally has the more positive overtones, earth is also extremely worthy and even necessary to heaven. They fit together like the yin/yang symbol. There's always a little of one in the other and they are in flux continually.

The duality of superior and inferior is closer to the Christian duality of heaven and hell. It is a duality with a judgement attached to it as part of its particular meaning. Thus, heaven and superior are always "good" and hell and inferior are always "bad". There is none of the natural give and take of heaven and earth or yin and yang. (An aside: if heaven always comes before earth, shouldn't yang come before yin? Why doesn't it?)

The I Ching regularly talks about what the superior person does or doesn't do (and superior persons are usually associated with kings, rulers and ministers). The superior man is a symbol for one's ideal self or the ideal self in another. The inferior man is a symbol for all that is flawed in oneself or in others. For most people, to be superior is desired, while to be inferior is not, but, as people who consult the I Ching know, often it shows our inferior sides as well as our superior sides. We are always a mixture. But the I Ching intelligently defines the two extremes to make the lessons in each hexagram resonate and to give the questioner a choice. Will she follow her higher instincts or her lower instincts?

When trying to decipher the I Ching one has a whole cast of characters: the sage, the superior man, the inferior man, the king or ruler, the minister, the members of the archetypal family, potential brides, thieves, soldiers, etc... But the main dichotomy and tension remains between the superior man and the inferior man. The superior man does not need the inferior man the way yin needs yang and visa-versa, but the superior man must always act with justice towards the inferior man and not be too extreme in punishments unless it's unavoidable. Confucius in his Analects goes into more detail about what the superior man stands for and how the inferior man stands in contrast but it remains clear the difference between the two from the start once you read the I Ching.

A friend of mine asked, yes, but how does schzophrenia fit in with all of this? Does the inferior man represent schizophrenia? The truth is, I don't know but I believe it can (though for people without schizophrenia the inferior man would just represent their own or others lower natures). A mind out of balance is a mind where the inferior elements of bias, pride, manipulation, mendacity, doubt, greed, etc...have too much control over one's essential (that is virtuous) nature. My voices have been all those qualities nearly to a caricatured point, whereas I am good though plain in comparison. And I have found this with other schizophrenics, the illness is negative but the person is not. They are two separate phenomena.

When I was in therapy, my therapist actively encouraged me to separate myself from the illness, to stand apart from it. And this is part of what the I Ching does also. It tries to separate the positive from the negative. It encourages you to follow the example of the superior man, to even naturally identify with the superior man even if you're far from that ideal because the point of the whole book is to teach those who approach it to actually become superior people. That is why Confucius valued the book as much as he did and wished he had begun studying it sooner. It is a blueprint for ethics.

Having said this, I want to stress that I don't believe that the I Ching can be the sole treatment for a schizophrenic. Before I began taking the anti-psychotic medicines I could not approach it with balance and I'm sure others in similar situations wouldn't be able to either, but in conjunction with taking the medicine and after having had or continuing to have therapy, I see it as a therapeutic tool. For some. It's just another avenue to explore. There are no guarantees that it will be effective but if one is relatively stable I don't see that it can be hurtful. All I know is that it is helping me and that I'd like to study it further. I've recently joined an online community for those who regularly consult the I Ching and I have met at least one person who has found it beneficial for their particular psychological problem. I'm hoping to find others.

Beyond its therapeutic value, I find the I Ching fascinating in its own right. It's another, still fresh view on life from a Chinese perspective and it contains much wisdom.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Schizophrenia

I began hearing voices in my mid twenties but the voices were mostly beneficial voices. They were guides, teachers and friends. It wasn't until a little after I turned thirty six that the voices became intrusive and manipulative. About a year before that point the beneficial voices instructed me to study and follow the I Ching. I did this and learned about being modest and patient and persevering. All this served me well when I finally did succumb to sickness, though nothing could prepare me for the onslaught of schizophrenia. In the beginning of the illness the I Ching guided me but soon I was too sick to consult it and set it aside. Only recently have I been well enough to return to it. When I've asked the I Ching to define schizophrenia the reply has been that I must wait for the definition, that there is no easy answer. And, of course, having lived through it and with it, I know this.

Schizophrenia affects over 45 million people worldwide and yet each schizophrenic is unique. This makes an in-depth definition of it very difficult to achieve. Even the word schizo-phrenia (to split+mind) is not anywhere near an accurate definition. Based on my experience the mind does not split but instead becomes overwhelmed by ideas and images and voices. The reality that was changes into hyper-realism. The elements of reality are still there but there are also exaggerations and distortions, so many to the point where wrong assumptions become the standard way of assessing life. For a recovering schizophrenic (and I believe recovery is possible) the need for a "reality check" is a general prescription to prevent relapse.

My initial diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia late onset. As it turns out that diagnosis was not set in stone. The paranoia lasted for three years during which time i was not always compliant with taking the anti-psychotic medications. But after the third breakdown in three years, I somehow became ready to end the most major of my delusions and with that decided to begin taking the medicine faithfully. it wasn't a magic cure but the paranoia began to recede and the general delusions began to fade, not completely, but enough to continue a relatively "normal" existence.

Today I still hear voices. By the scientific community these are referred to as audio hallucinations. I think, like the word schizophrenia, this is another misnomer. The definition of hallucination is "an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present". That's like saying thinking is a hallucination. The voices ARE heard, what differentiates them from mere thoughts is that they feel as if they do not originate from oneself. These are thoughts that occur spontaneously with no censor or superego to stop them from coming forward. During times of active psychosis they have their own independent personalities, not quite as defined as in dissociated personalities, but similar nonetheless.

In terms of understanding schizophrenia using the I Ching, Carol K. Anthony in her book THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE I CHING describes two important elements: the Superior Man and the Inferiors (or Inferior Man). One of the purposes of the I Ching is to act as a guide towards improving ourselves so that we can become more firmly the Superior Man (or Woman). The Superior Man is our highest self: benevolent, just, courteous, knowledgeable and truthful whereas the Inferior Man is our "ego-self-image": defensive, proud, controlling and generally negative. Ms Anthony writes: "As long as the inferior man rules within us, an inner conflict, or 'war,' is set off within our personality; our superior man is held captive by our inferior man. Until we restore order, our personality remains fundamentally split. The inferior man may hold the superior man captive for a long time, but, as long as a person is alive, both potentials exist within him...The work of self-development is to resolve all internal rifts, restoring the personality to wholeness, or oneness, in harmony with the Tao. The causes of illness that have their roots in internal conflict, gradually abate and become eradicated; the person is restored to health and well-being." (pp 30-31)

This restoration is a gradual process based on truthfulness and devotion. It does not come easily, as the ego would have it. It takes perseverance during the hard times and caution during the good times; it takes striving to create a balance at all times. For all of us, those with mental illness and those without, there is this ever present dynamic between following the good and following the bad within ourselves. The image that comes to mind is that of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both whispering into our ears. It's up to us to choose and choose wisely. For me, the I Ching creates a framework and a starting point, a way to make sense out of nonsense and to begin to heal the illness with which I continue to live.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Apprenticeship

I try to start each day consulting the I Ching, often just asking for general guidance. I'm leery of asking too many self-centered questions about the future and prefer to have the Sage direct me as he/she will. Sometimes I receive a hexagram with no moving lines. This is what happened today. I asked for guidance about writing this blog and received Hexagram 29, The Abysmal (Water). Here, abysmal means deep and not awful. It is a double trigram with each trigram (three lines) representing water and there is an indication of danger. There is also advice on getting out of danger by being like water, taking the path of least resistence and going with the flow of things. I have about six translations of the I Ching and I read each interpretation of The Abysmal, also called The Abyss or Mastering Pitfalls. The concept of danger here refers not so much to an external danger but more to an internal danger of losing one's way. Another concern of this hexagram is proper learning and proper teaching: "Teaching is a matter of receiving from forebears and educating successors. It is very urgent and necessary. If instruction is unclear, people will be misled as to the course they should pursue. One can develop others only if one learns how to teach, which involves searching out the profound and the recondite and clarifying that which is obscure." (The Taoist I Ching, Cleary, p.264)

Searching out the profound and clarifying the obscure, certainly I wish to do this but my station is quite low. I am a student but as a student I want to try to pass on what I've experienced and learned...and that leads to being a lay teacher. The philosophy of the I Ching is teaching me that we are all students and teachers. Any communication is a means of learning and teaching. We all want to touch the profound and relay it. Hence, here I am trying to follow this path. It is an attempt at transformation, a desire to change from an inferior person (self-centered) to a superior person (other centered). It is an attempt to move closer to the mysterious higher power (God, the Sage) and to be enriched by the proximity, enriched to the point of helping other people directly and indirectly as a natural part of life.

I believe we should all desire to be superior people, as in virtuous people. But before we (or I ) can approach that, we have to take a good long look at the ways in which we are are not superior. Self-honesty first and then self-understanding are important markers along this path. This is what the I Ching addresses, a means towards self-improvement, a self-improvement that will benefit many even beyond one's circle of family and friends. We should aspire to be the best we can be whether we're in a small view or a wide view, a microcosm or a macrocosm. This duality between small and large is important because it is manifest in our world. The yin and the yang, earth and heaven, sun and moon. Yes, we are small but we are also intimately connected to the large and, at times, we can reflect this largeness.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Origins

You might be wondering what the deal is with Yin and Yang but to get to that I have to dig up some of my roots. I grew up a New Yorker (not Chinese or a Chinese New Yorker), an Irish American who didn't consider her Irish heritage until she began a relationship with another Irish American who did, vociferously. My parents, who grew up Irish Catholic nevertheless did not become Catholic. In fact, they hated it and jettisoned it as soon as they were old enough to think for themselves. They became intellectual, humanitarian atheists.

My family is a small one. My father was an only child and my mother had one younger brother. My parents' first born was a boy and I arrived nearly four years later and that was it. The nuclear family of four--mother, father, brother, sister (me). When I was young the only church I ever went to very occasionally was the Brooklyn Heights Unitarian Church, usually for the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. A beautiful church but foreign to me. I asked my mother why we stopped going to that church and she said when I was four years old I lay down in front of the church doors and refused to budge. It wasn't the church service that I had minded so much, it was the place where all the little kids got to go while the grown-ups socialized. This particular place, a room without windows where cookies and juice were served, had a bully, the minister's daughter. I guess I must have become a temporary target for her and I decided never to return.

But the reason why we stopped going was more basic: we moved. There was no Unitarian church to go to and my parents had no interest in raising their children Christian anyway. They had mostly Jewish, intellectual, humanitarian friends and I became friends with some of their daughters and learned more about Judaism than I did about Christianity, at least in terms of the ambiance of some of their sacred holidays. But that didn't stick with me. One of my close friends during high school (who was a Chinese Canadian New Yorker) wanted to distance herself from her Chinese heritage by becoming enraptured with Christianity, especially after reading Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Me, nada. Even when I went to Barnard College and began studying Christian Art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, even after I took a class at Columbia on the history of Christianity, I still was not into it heart wise. I found it and the history fascinating at the time but I didn't become a Christian. But I wasn't an atheist either. For a long time I believed something greater than me existed for all of us, but I couldn't define it. How did I come to believe? Well, of all things, through Tarot cards.

I bought a pack of Tarot cards when I was twelve. It sort of fit in well with my pre-teen angst and I treated it seriously. I didn't consult them a lot but when I did there were always too many coincidences and too much sense to ignore the possibility that something pretty amazing was going on. It was confirmation of a higher power at work to me. Yes, I was at an impressionable age but the idea of it stuck with me. I eventually graduated to the I Ching. I remember lighting incense and prostrating myself three times before I consulted the oracle. I knew one thing early on, I didn't want to abuse the privilege I seemed to have with the occult. But really, though it was a privilege to commune with a higher power this way, I also didn't think that I was particularly psychic, just willing and that anyone could have similar experiences as mine.

Despite this confirmation to me of a higher power, I did not let it rule my life and many years would go by before I resumed. For me, the Tarot cards are a less extensive way of reaching towards a higher power than the I Ching. More emotional and because of its many images, more visceral. Also more subjective and open to misinterpretation. So, I'm cautious when I do Tarot card readings. On the other hand, the I Ching, which is much older than the Tarot dating to even five thousand years ago, is an actual oracle book you consult with 64 hexagrams. A hexagram is made up of six parallel broken (yin) or unbroken (yang) lines. On top of the general commentary for each hexagram there is commentary for each line. A line is only read if it is "moving", that is changing from broken to unbroken or visa-versa. These moving lines change the initial hexagram into another hexagram and after that the consultation is over. To find the response you have to go to the I Ching (The Book of Changes) and study the passages indicated. There are also multiple translations of the I Ching and thus multiple interpretations. All this means that while the consultations takes mere minutes using three coins (heads = yang and tails = yin), the actual understanding comes only after serious study of the book(s) and this may take hours. And why dedicate so much time to divination and to study of ancient texts? Because it is based on a careful philosophy. It is not so much trying to seek knowledge of the future as trying to begin a spiritual path, trying to become a "Superior Man" (though these days it should probably read Superior Person). A superior man is someone who is righteous: benevolent, just, courteous, knowledgeable and truthful. A person who believes in God (referred to as "The Sage" in the I Ching) and who knows his/her place under God and tries to always follow the truth or heaven's will with modesty and patience.

The duality of yin and yang is different from the Christian duality of heaven and hell. Instead of hell you have yin. Very generally yin represents earth, the receptive, the dark, the feminine whereas yang represents heaven, the creative, the light and masculine. Is this a sexist view of the world? No, not really, it's the dualistic view of the world. In the yin/yang symbol there are equal parts of white and black with a touch of the opposite like an eye within the organic shape. The two shapes fit into each other perfectly and form a circle. The implication is one of the importance of balance as a means to harmony and the sense that life is a continuous circle and exchange of positive and negative (but not always bad) elements. Yes, the philosophy of the I Ching embraces the concept that there are positive and negative forces and that war is sometimes called for and certainly defense, but it puts even more emphasis on following a spiritual quest to become a superior person. Morality is a key stance of the I Ching. And truthfulness is the basis for every virtue. What troubles we encounter are just a part of the learning process and can be directed towards the good in every instance if one is willing and respectful. The I Ching gives a dynamic base from which to deepen one's faith in the greater good, in oneself and others. It requires a lot but also gives a great deal.

Though I 've studied the I Ching on and off for several years, I am only now beginning a serious study of it and this is part of what I want to write about in this blog. And Yin and Yang as the principle of duality seems to be a good jumping off point for a whole range of topics.

Thus ends my first blog entry.