Asking the Yijing
Why should you ask the Yijing
questions that matter to you?
Yes, You Can Still Ask A Question
I discussed in the previous post that you don’t need a question in consulting Yijing. But remember, this is not an absolute rule. In my reading practice, I often start with Step 1 Inquiry, which is mainly about clarifying the question. So you can still – and always – ask a question. I ended the previous post with a promise of dedicating a new post on how to ask and craft a question.
This post serves as Part 1, starting first with why you should ask questions to Yijing. Part 2 will be on how to craft your question.
What’s A Question For?
Here is Yijing teacher Hilary Barrett’s simple yet important explanation of why we need to ask Yijing a question:
Your chosen question starts your conversation with the oracle, and it defines what you will hear in the response. Not that it limits what Yi can say – far from it – but it affects what you are listening for1
For a conversationalist like me, this makes so much sense. I have had great conversations with acquaintances, who later became my good friends, all because we started our exchange with an interesting question. As a facilitator of small group classes, part of my objective is to design a good question, one that will stimulate curiosity and wonder, and a string of amazing stories to listen to.
The Question as Listening Tool
Since a question is a “quest” for answers, the one who asks it has one crucial responsibility: to listen. Without listening closely, it’s hard to make sense of the answers, even if answers are well-expressed and readily available. Those who are in the business of listening – interviewers, journalists, counselors, therapists, facilitators – know this fact well enough for them to be effective in their jobs. Interestingly, graphic facilitator Anthony Weeks, who refers to himself as The Public Listener, defines listening in this way:
“Listening is an intention and a choice. It is also a competency and a skill…We need a more sophisticated vocabulary to describe listening so that we can better understand the universe of listening and our place in it.Anthony Weeks, from his website thepubliclistener.com
Just like what Hilary mentioned, the question you ask Yijing affects the way you listen to the reading and its insights. So asking a question expresses your intention and choice to start a conversation with the oracle. Carl Jung, who has used the Yijing in his 40-year practice, went even further:
In accordance with the way my question was phrased, the text of the hexagram must be regarded as though the I Ching itself were the speaking person.2Carl Jung, from his Foreword in Wilhelm/Baynes version
I suppose if we don’t listen with full attention to the one speaking to us, then it spoils the conversation, and we hardly get an engaging response. Just like someone we talk to, we can treat Yijing in the same manner.
When I first got introduced to Yijing in 2007, I rarely consulted it except for experiencing an intensely emotional issue. This is true for many of my clients who have taken reading sessions with me. Yijing translator Rudolf Ritsema, in his early translation co-authored with Stephen Karcher, spoke about this similar emotional urge:
The urge to consult the Oracle arises when you feel entangled with something that evades the usual methods of problem-solving. Resistance, reluctance, anxiety, strong desire, the sense of something hidden or confusing, the need for more information, the sense of an important opportunity, the need to feel in contact with something larger than yourself all indicate that you need to see-behind or see-through the situation.3Rudolf Ritsema and Stephen Karcher
I felt these emotions myself. I have observed the same emotions in other people, whether they have tried Yijing or not. If you have current questions that drive you to feel any of these emotions, then they are good candidates for a Yijing reading.
Immersing in the Question
Before you really begin phrasing the exact question, Hilary suggests immersing in it at first, giving as much time to recognize one’s emotions and reflections on your personal inquiry. Yijing translator Stephen Karcher has a reasonable approach as well:
Search out the feelings, images and experiences involved. Articulate what you feel and think about things, what you know and what you do not know. Look for relevant memories and experiences, hopes and fears, dreams and desires. Simply try to see what is there, no matter how contradictory. This will establish a field of associations.4Stephen Karcher
The last line in Karcher’s passage tends to be the entire string that holds all the psychological beads important in the inquiry. With that said, this field of association is where synchronistic symbolisms and meanings will all intersect and light up as revelatory answers to the question itself.
Though you can always read the Yijing without asking a question (which I also always do), that does not exactly contradict the necessity of asking a question. Asking a question can serve a purpose not about getting the right or clear answer (since a question-less reading provides that as well), but to help you, the querent, to open yourself up and prepare in the process of listening and receiving.
Because asking the Yijing is not just the question you write down, nor about the answers you receive, but it is about how ready and willing you are to experience Yijing so you can find the clarity you all need.
After that, then we begin to craft your question in the next post.
1 Hilary Barrett, I Ching: Walking Your Path, Creating Your Future. Arcturus (2015) p.17
2 Carl Jung from his Foreword in I Ching: Book of Changes Richard Wilhelm and Cary Baynes (1963)
3 Rudolf Ritsema and Stephen Karcher, The I Ching: The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change. The First Complete Translation with Concordance. Barnes and Nobles (1994)
4 Stephen Karcher, Total I Ching: Myths for Change. Piatkus (2003)