Divination as Coaching

Why is Yijing divination
a coaching experience?

Past Hesitations
When I was just starting on my Yijing work, I managed to steer away from using 2 words: divination and coaching. And I had good reasons:

Divination, because it’s often associated with panghuhula – fortune-telling. I have always explained that Yijing is not a hula, in the sense that you are fated on what your fortune will say. Yijing works because you always have the agency, or capability to change the outcome of your choices.

Coaching, because it sounded too exclusive and complex for me at first. As coaching is a USD2.85 billion global industry, it already has its own juggernaut culture and expectations, and I find my work a speck in that universe.

But I have loosened up over the years and embraced these words in my work. I revisited them and contemplated their refreshed meanings.

Divination: NOT Fortune-telling
Sinologists are aware that in China’s long history, Yijing divination is more than just fortune-telling. It was then also a record of ancient history, the origin of all things, and everything else:

Divination was not merely fortune-telling—it came to incorporate philosophy, cosmology, morality, and principles of social order…The earliest surviving records, the oracle bones, recorded royal and
elite divinations; but as literacy became more prevalent, divinations
about personal life began to be set in writing on bamboo or silk, some
of which have been excavated, providing some of the best evidence
we have regarding the hopes and fears of the people of early China.

From Teaching the I Ching by Geoffrey Redmond and Tze-Ki Hon

So when you consult the Yijing, you are not just consulting about your life events and choices. Yijing touches deeply on ancient wisdom that guided people of the past, revealing the cosmic truths of nature, balance and harmony (yinyang) applicable in your life, and its ethical conduct that shapes our relationship with others. Just like it did in Chinese history, every Yijing reading is already a clear record of your life history and personal biography, your state of mind and situation, as pivotal milestones of your life journey.

Divination: Self-Cultivation
During the Song Dynasty, Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi (1130-1200) started to develop the “theme of moral self-cultivation” in studying Confucianism. Surprisingly, sinologist Joseph A. Adler notes:

The theme of moral self-cultivation, especially in the “Neo-Confucian” movement, is likewise often regarded as something akin to contemporary humanistic psychology or “self-help” regimens. Thus neither ritual nor self-cultivation in Confucianism is commonly understood to be essentially religious…

…More important for Zhu Xi, though, was his theory that Yijing divination could be used as a powerful aid in the process of self-cultivation. This was an original “discovery” by Zhu Xi, and one that he took quite seriously.2

from Divination as Spiritual Practice in Song Confucianism

This passage is striking for two things. One, we can surmise that self-cultivation in the Neo-Confucian sense is not really that far from the self-cultivation we all know today. And two, because this self-cultivation we all know is what coaching is all about.

Coaching: Self-Responsibility
Take note of how coaching pioneer Sir John Whitmore described the coaching profession:

Coaching is the only profession whose primary product is self-responsibility, and one which remains non-stigmatised, unlike psychotherapy and spiritual teaching.3

Sir John Whitmore

You can get from this passage a hint of similarity with Neo-Confucian self-cultivation discussed by Adler earlier. However, even if Whitmore had criticized the limitations of psychology and spirituality, he regarded them as primary sources to enrich the practice and impact of coaching.

Whitmore’s colleague and co-creator of GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, Wrap-up/Will) Coaching Model Max Landsberg defined coaching this way:

Coaching aims to enhance the performance and learning ability of others.

It involves giving feedback, but it also includes other techniques such as motivation and effective questioning. And for a manager-coach it includes recognising the coachee’s readiness to undertake a particular task, in terms of both their will and skill.

Overall, the coach is aiming for the coachee to help her- or himself. And it is a dynamic interaction – it does not rely on a one-way flow of telling or instruction.

from The Tao of Coaching

With the work that I do as a decision-making coach, I can easily replace the word “coaching” with “Yijing” in Landsberg’s definition, because he exactly describes what Yijing divination has effectively demonstrated to many clients who have sincerely sought and received its answers.

Despite not using the word “coaching” initially, I have operated on this principle since the beginning of my practice, as I fully understand that Yijing does not spew scary omens and portents that leave people afraid of an uncontrollable fate and future. Yijing as divination shares with coaching the common ground of self-responsibility and self-cultivation. We are not fated on anything, and in that realization we can embody the meaning of Yi 易 itself, which is change.

In my next post, I will attempt to discuss some coaching principles that are intrinsic to my approach to Yijing divination. Please go to this link.


1 Geoffrey Redmond and Tze-Ki Hon. Teaching the I Ching. Oxford University Press (2014)
2 Joseph A. Adler. Divination as Spiritual Practice in Song Confucianism. Presented to the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting (2008)
3 Sir John Whitmore. The Impact of the Inner Game and Sir John Whitmore on Coaching: A Commentary. Annual Review of High Performance Coaching and Consulting. (2009) p.41-44


  1. Shad Schroeder says:

    Some great observations here. I look forward to the next one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rem says:

      Thank you, Shad! Excited to post the next, in a few days.


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