In the last post, we started the discussion with the philosophical understanding that opposition includes complementarity. Each end of any spectrum is only a cycle of movement that includes both extremes.
The last post emphasized that not only is complementarity essential in understanding the roots of interconnected meanings of the I Ching elements, but experientially realizing this understanding is a requirement to immerse one’s person into the connectedness of learning. I am certain the reader has noticed there is an immense difference between experiential learning and learning acquired through books and theory.
When we can take within our being deep concern and curiosity that feeds our inspiration then we engage our whole person into the learning. To reflect on ideas is never enough, any more than thinking about eating will quell our hunger. Genuine learning requires the digestion of awareness. Deep assimilation demands one’s heartfelt being. That said, the ideas expressing the philosophy that complementarity, contradiction and the role of opposition in the “whole” picture are not new concepts. A more in-depth appreciation of these ideas can be searched by reading Mao Tse-Tung’s Theory of Dialectic and Jean-Paul Sartre’s writings and critiques. To what extent these ideas will be detailed in the final book introduction is still uncertain.
In contrast to searching the annals of philosophy, you will learn the wisdom of the ancients by having the thoughts of the Tao penetrate your heart and lift the lights in your eyes.
Learning a new language, especially the sacred languages that were created by the compassion of enlightened minds is a balancing act. Learning is neither a matter of critique as mentioned, but neither is it surrender as in most people’s ideas of faith-based action. People often indicate a desire to abandon themselves to the sacred in an attempt to usurp the wisdom. Instead, you may want to see learning not so much as a taking in or an opening to the symbols as much as what you have to give of your person.
Learning that is heart centered is more like breathing. It is a transformational process of taking in, absorption and then a release. If what we take in does not transform our core then we will stagnate and rigidify our spirit because there will be nothing to give back. All learning requires the three aspects of opening, assimilation and release. In the tantric practices of Buddhism, one opens to the energy of the deity, the light of the energy becomes one with the core of your chakra centers and the practice is completed by releasing through compassion any merit generated by the practice to the suffering of others.
The I Ching (again for those that missed the reference is usually translated as the Book of Changes) is an ancient system of experiential immersion. To live our legacy is to engage life deeply and the I Ching provides a method and a language to live our legacy now. The goal of Shake Hands With Time: Connecting With Our Legacy is to create an alive and interactive book that assists the person to explore their inner dynamics and relations to their life path. Possibly this will be both a book and an interactive app for self exploration. While there are countless writings on the I Ching this project will be special because of its depth of inquiry, the tie into the nuances of the astrological zodiac and its application to the western seekers biases and cultural attitudes and perceptions.
Today we will start to explore the depth and intent of the sacred language expressed in the I Ching and of the seemingly cryptic manner that the language of the I Ching uses to communicate with the spiritual explorer. Hopefully by the end of this post, the reader may appreciate a little of why the I Ching is equated with the notion of a language of the sacred. For example, even the simplest ideas such as the elements of earth and heaven or fire and water are not references to objects but are descriptions for states of change. These states are moments of the whole dynamics of the Tao - the oneness of being.
In order to focus on I Ching language and its mysterious synchronicity of communication to the inquirant, an important goal is to help clarify and appreciate the limits of our experience of time and space. Our normal consciousness operates within the boundaries of a three-dimensional world whereas intuitive openness and our inner awareness stands outside of typical perception. To skip ahead to the punch line is to say up front that the interplay of the energies of light and dark is much more than just the domain of Star Wars. The interplay of these universal forces, the dynamic dance of the living universe, is the deepest core of human conscious evolution. In order to hear the inner sacred language, a searcher must be willing to suspend the constraining logic of simple duality.
One of the main influencers in my life was a man named Jorge Rosner. Jorge was one of the last remaining students of Fritz Perls, the originator of Gestalt Therapy and the Director of the Gestalt Institute of Toronto when I met him. I had the pleasure of being trained by Jorge and spending a half dozen years of friendship before his passing.
Gestalt, especially the experiential based training of Rosner, had a tremendous impact on all participants who could manage the uncertainty and intensity of immersive training. The core essential concept of Gestalt is based upon the notion of figure/ground and the wholeness of awareness that moves naturally toward completion in any one moment of the here and now. The images shown are classic examples that demonstrate the figure and ground relationship. Depending upon what is figural dictates what image you will see. The ability to form a clear figural gestalt (functional whole) is the most significant factor in the ability to maintain awareness and to open up to the possibility of personal change. Without the ability to maintain awareness it is too difficult to summon the inner physiological and emotional resources to commit to new directions.
Gestalt by its very definition turned the therapy world upside down because it said that the whole perception determined the parts that mattered. This observation stood in direct contrast to the prevailing idea that the parts were arranged to determine the whole. The whole as the starting point of identity will take on greater meaning in understanding the utility of the astrological I Ching language. When we can start with the big picture, the elements are seen as dynamic expressions of the whole instead of mechanistic components in need of fixing. As a side note, although I will not be discussing the astrological components in this post, the work of an I Ching original explorer and astrologer named Robin Armstrong, who I have the privilege of calling my friend, will definitely play a large role in the final project.
Let us return momentarily to the classic images of figure and ground relationship. The differentiating factor that Gestalt Therapy brought to the thinking of the perceptual psychologists is the notion that organismic function is a constant balancing act determined by unmet needs. The “unfinished moment” of the organismic field led to perceptual and cognitive formations that attempt to bring the person back to balance. What arises from the ground of undifferentiated perception is the figural gestalt that can address the needs that are pressing for completion.
To unpack this language is to say that we live in a world of the pressure of the most pressing inner need. If I am working to clarify a sentence while writing and then become aware of the need to urinate, I may be able to ignore that need for a while but eventually the need is so figural that I must act. Later if my hunger grows then that need must be addressed. If only everything was as simple as relieving oneself in the washroom or taking a walk into the kitchen.
Physiological awareness is usually quite straightforward until we get to the domain of feelings. Anything that is considered uncomfortable or unwanted falls into the camp of avoidance and denial. After a number of years of successful denial, feeling awareness becomes more of a “numb and dumb” self sense. In this simple and quick overview, the healthy individual has the capacity to bring their unfinished business to figural awareness and has methods of satisfying those needs. People who are stressed and unhealthy or in denial, in many ways cannot create a clear gestalt and therefore cannot meet their needs. They remain stuck because unmet needs keep pressing forward. For example, if a person is angry they will remain so until the issue is resolved, regardless of how much of a smile they force onto their face.
From a social-cultural perspective, the notions of figure and ground also differentiate eastern and western approaches to psycho-spiritual health. The Indian and Asian influences kept their focus upon what can loosely be called cosmic consciousness, the ground of all experience. In contrast, western psychology and even religion focused more on the figure, the standout of individuality and the soul monad of the singularity of each person.
In any language, in particular sacred language, a new level of communication is demanded by the times. The intent of sacred language is to communicate the integration of the cosmic, universal ground of all life with the beauty and uniqueness of every momentary figure. The I Ching was one of the earliest attempts to communicate a system of the deep connectedness between the expression of the moment and the spiritual roots that are the grounded origin of everything. This is what the great thinker Jean Gebser so eloquently demonstrated in his opus titled The Ever Present Origin. Anyone who has the desire to examine and explore the dynamics of “transparent rationality” need look no further than his work. It is transparent in that the rational thought is seen through in a three-dimensional world and rises above the limits of a boundaried consciousness.
The language of the I Ching suspends the consciousness of humanity between the heavens above and the womb of mother earth; between the infinite and the finite; between the unbounded and the particular unique expression of the moment. This is the language for the development of the whole person, the communication of humanities connection to the divine. The Middle Way of Buddhism also reflects the language, symbolism and enlightenment path of conscious potential. Heaven and Earth as symbols of the I Ching are integral expressions. One can not be without the other. Sacred language gives meaning to human conscious existence by providing a pathway to experience the universal origin, through it’s varied and finite forms of expression.
When one contemplates the I Ching, it is the integrative language and symbolism that not only gives spiritual meaning to everyday affairs but most importantly gives a material grasp on our spiritual being. This language is a huge contrast to a religious view that denies our mundane world for a spiritual afterlife. These religious perspectives are undeniable roadblocks to the evolution of human consciousness. Heaven is seen as that place and time where there is no struggle, nothing changes and is eternally blissful. Our mundane world is a hangout, a learning and testing ground to determine our fitness to be spiritually complete in a fanciful dream of tomorrow. If a person does not want to take the path of self-development, then I assume it is best “to be saved”. At least the existential anxiety may find a home of denial.
The Mystery and Limits of Time and Space
The I Ching is said to have existed since at least the time of the legendary Fu Shi (3300BC). The wisdom of this ancestor was expressed through deep observation of life cycles. The movements in the skies, the motions of the planetary lights, the change of the seasons and the changes of light and dark were captured in one symbolic language. These observations will be discussed at greater length in the final introductory chapters.
As we begin this journey of Shake Hands With Time it helps to recognize that there are two levels of reality reflected not only in language but with all aspects of our daily lives. Our normal world comes into our awareness through the extension of our senses. Sights, sounds, touch and smell as a physical experience for all intents and purposes are how we define a finite world. While some may argue that the universe is unbounded or is so big and continually expanding that it is practically infinite, it is irrelevant because we do not live in or experience our daily lives as a theory. We experience our world as having strong boundaries.
Without question, it is truly mind boggling that given the 13.8 billion years that light has traveled to get to us with current telescopic technology it is estimated that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the known universe and within each galaxy there are hundreds of billions of stars. Now for the big rub! What we are seeing accounts for only 5-10 percent of what’s out there. Within any one galaxy, indeed the known universe, the vast majority of its mass is dark matter and dark energy which is the mysterious, unknown glue that binds everything together.
The complete absence of light. Brings new meaning to the possibility that the “children of the light” sentiment of spiritual poetry were biased for we certainly rose from the dark. For certain the balancing act of the light and the dark, much later called yin and yang, is the dance of life. This feeling of immensity is awe inspiring and is a direct experience of humbling under the immensity of heaven. As we will see in details later, our concepts, thoughts, and the tangible world are the energy of dark matter energized by the light; as light moves space is created. This is what is meant when Buddha indicated we are what we think. We will see in the I Ching that the earth element is the unknowable mystery of the womb, the receptive, welcoming of compassion that takes the creative light within.
What can we Learn About this Mystery Called Time
Our daily lives are based on the occasional experience of starry skies and the movement of celestial bodies, but we see the inner walls of our homes, the boundaries of lakes and the change of seasons much more. We live in a sense created, finite bounded world. It is our spiritual task to take on the intent of William Blake’s poem that says, “To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower. Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.” Instead of seeing the mundane as a time to survive and get through, the language of the I Ching communicates our deep unbounded and timeless spiritual heritage as it is expressed in the only way it can, namely through the ever-changing movements of cycles and seasons.
In the psychological worldview, a child first learns about the reality of their body. This is the very grounding of experience. Our body is our connection to the earth principle. The creation of both a permanent self-view and of objects external to our body comes about through the perception of space. Literally, space is created through our relations to our physical being. As a child ages, many interrupts and traumatic events can hinder the comfort a child has with their feelings. Depending upon the severity of disruption one sees many forms of spatial relations breakdown. On the one extreme there is abject claustrophobia and on the other end, space feels far too big as in agoraphobia. In either case, the person is not comfortable with the anxiousness of their body in space. Many people never learn to be comfortable in their own skin; literally comfort with the experience of their feelings in the surrounding space.
The physical comfort of being in our own skin is an important aspect in the later intuitive use of and openness to sacred language. This becomes important as space later becomes imbued with consciousness. Our inner world space is the core of our being, but if it is ignored or the prospect of literally being at one with that inner space conjures up immense anxiety, then spiritual development becomes severely limited.
Ownership of inner space is a requirement to get to the next phase of conscious awareness and the next unfolding of the spiritual path, which is the connection to the awareness of time. Time will remain as objectified and relate only to the movement of spatial object relations until conscious awareness integrates with the origin that is at the root of all phenomena. Sacred language becomes open to intuitive understanding to the degree that time is integral to consciousness and is not just an objectifying of a seemingly external world.
While it is the domain of developmental psychology to examine and experiment with the foundations of cognition and perception, any parent can tell you about their excitement when their baby first organizes spatial elements to recognize mama and dada. Much later in the development process is the explosion into the time recognition of conscious experience. Time and space are probably the deepest mystery of lived experience. If you stop for a moment and close your eyes and take a few deep and slow breaths you can behold a truly infinite world. Within our being are the seeds of unbounded histories. Within our being is the timeless origin. We need to explore this inner world more deeply. The I Ching gives us a consistent methodology and provides the language of wisdom genesis.
Mundane Secular Language
The vast majority of people fill their days listening, watching and talking and in-between these active moments they are thinking about the next moment. Every moment is imbued with the language and values of being tethered to one’s culture. The television is the most obvious example of absorption in the language of words and images. Advertising and media everywhere possess the illusion of life answers in the form of a language. The incessant chatter is often called mindless or mind numbing because our inner world investment in what is being expressed is often non-existent. It is all just too much! Our language of choice is semantic and it is pragmatic. Everyday language attempts to provide linear meaning and life directions and solutions. Language has a subject and an object and a time operator within each sentence. Secular everyday language is an ongoing evolution. It possesses the rules that govern how to communicate with the external world of a finite space and time.
Now imagine a very different world when the phrase was expressed, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” Christian dogma aside, the time when consciousness began to erupt into the journey of language was spawned through awe, inspiration and the depths of creative consciousness. That word was AHHH and AMEN and the sacred syllable of OM and the central vowel of A. This was a language that brought the person in contact with the universal spirit within them. The wisdom of the I Ching teachings is that it retained the focus on what may be loosely called divine language. It is divine in the sense that it starts from an expression of the whole just as we discussed in Gestalt thinking. For people who may be inclined to immediately dismiss these communications as folklores of an unsophisticated time, I can only ask your mental machinery to slow down, have patience and put aside your supposed sophistication. We may have a much higher degree of rationality in our modern times, but we certainly do not express the level of connected wisdom of our ancestors.
Many people who sense the importance of life meaning and consequently their legacy have come across the idea of mantra. Unknowing linguists have debated for centuries whether mantra is meaningful or meaningless. It is said in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions that mantra is the name of God or the energy of a deity. While there are some degrees of truth in these ideas, the deepest unfolding of mantra as the inner world language of the connection of human consciousness to its universal source is poorly communicated. This is where today’s language has lost the expressions of deep connectedness to all of life. Mantra is “the sounding language” that connects our inner world to its ancestral roots. Whereas the secular language of today provides meaning to a finite and bounded outer world, the sacred languages provide experiential connection to an infinite and unbounded cosmos.
Humankind has wanted to be connected since their boot from the Garden, the Judeo-Christian world of pre-time, language and self-reflection. Until next time.