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, 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.