The I Ching is an ancient code expressing laws of nature. This accumulation of Taoist wisdom is not specifically about human nature. It’s about the nature of Nature. We can interpret these expressions, represented as hexagrams, as we would mathematical formulae. The permutations of meaning expressed by the 64 hexagrams of I Ching reveal a subtlety normally beyond our commonplace awareness. Unpacking them permits us to enter the realm of InterBeing, the dynamics of the web of life itself.
The combination of these two hexagrams, Shock and Turning Point, appeared as a response to a specific inquiry about the meaning of Covid-19. Accordingly, my amateur status notwithstanding, and despite stretching the primary application of I Ching beyond personal concerns, I interpret these two hexagrams in two ways: the first as abstract expressions of energetic laws of nature; the second as they imply emotional, rational and spiritual dynamics expressed in action.
The first hexagram is divided into three bi-grams. From the bottom up, the first bi-gram demonstrates a strong yang (solid) line lifting upward and outward. The implication of this yang force is that instinct arising deep in somatic being drive one’s perspective and one’s actions. Instincts are strong, yes, but may also be fearful and restricted by tradition. There is certainly a character of cultivation, creation and accomplishment here. Yet the energy of this basic yang impulse also overlooks the higher aspirations of production, benefitting others beyond one’s narrowly defined group.
Likewise, the yang line in the middle bi-gram has a strong character of restricting the free flow of what is rising from those instinctual drives. This yang line is like a closed gate, turned toward the first bi-gram than the third. In other words, generosity, vulnerability and more expansive views of the world, not strictly limiting oneself to the instinctual self or to one’s immediate group, with a capacity to look beyond reflexive fear are far more desirable and congruent with the open and accessible upper tri-gram.
Hence, we are given opposing ways to respond to the shock of having our worldview shaken or even destroyed by COVID-19. The questions framed by this reading relate to different planes of perception. On the physical plane, what our bodies know doesn’t require interpretation. On the rational level, we have to choose which direction we will turn for relationship, comfort and collaboration. In the realm of imagination and intuition, we explore and gain insight into the qualities of relationship providing fulfillment, direction, challenge and expansion.
The key emotion connecting all of these questions seems to be vulnerability—a sense that by remaining open–or, opening the gate in the middle bi-gram, as it were, shown in the second hexagram–to uncomfortable conditions and fearlessly sharing personal truth, we will discover the answers to every other question. We will also find the formation of relationships a natural and effortless process leading to those answers.
Covid-19 is stripping most of us—though evidence suggests that we can exclude the banking, investment, CEO class and most politicians–of all pretense. The superficialities of life are being stripped away. We are in deepening shock as the multiple vulnerabilities of our society are exposed. Yet the cultivation of relational acts of resilience are already rising broadly and creatively.
Hexagram #51—The Arousing (Shock)–changing to Hexagram 24–Turning Point demonstrates a strong shift to a more open, congruent and dynamic relationship arising from a clear-minded and unobstructed manifestation of our highest ideals in material actions. The shock of dealing directly with the threat of a potentially deadly illness is, ironically, galvanizing us to engage with the world in restorative and resilient action. This is our Turning Point, but it won’t be fast or short. A period of gestation is required, a time to gather strength and durability.
Much is being written about the ways people respond to the rolling disaster of bad news about the climate, all of which contribute to an increasingly dire prospect of a future radically disrupted from the version of Modernity we’ve enjoyed in the past. As if climate predictions alone weren’t enough of a terminal diagnosis? Covid-19 as well as future pandemics, including drug-resistant bacteria, add to a high-risk future. They may not portend catastrophe, but at the very least they undermine the sense of security we might have enjoyed as a species.
These hexagrams demonstrate that while Shock may describe the initial impact of bad news, the more fundamental impact of our current predicament is one of removing the last remaining shreds of complacency, casting us deeper into the turbulence of uncertainty and portending a volatile future. New pieces of the picture of a future beyond our control come in the form of new reports, news stories, scientific proclamations, new aspects of how natural is responding to the human-driven distortions of our world.
One might even say anyone paying attention to the news is now in perpetual, unexpected and deepening shock. We are all in various degrees of trauma, desperation, grief, panic, denial, exhaustion, rationalization or hopelessness, all of which together may be categorized as stagnation,….while, curiously, we may even simultaneously claim a sustaining determination or unbreakable resolve.
There is no safe haven. Further shock either drives us deeper underground into an insulated and isolated cavern of despair—or—awakens us to a Turning Point, casting aside what has not been working, yielding an even greater resolve to seek partners, to nurture intimacy, to repair and restore what can be salvaged from the wreckage, to identify and adhere to vital principles to guide our actions now.
Each of these shocks reinforces and underscores the mutability of nature—and our mutability within nature. They are messages reminding us that WE must find the capacity to change and to quicken the pace of change to meet the conditions unfolding before us. This is no longer about ‘fixing’ anything. The greatest shock of all is the accumulation of news telling us the possibility of fixing the dramatic unfolding of catastrophe on multiple fronts is slipping through our fingers.
Now is the time for adaptation—and not in a superficial way. Adaptation is what we can call the nature of the change we seek. The Deep Adaptation Agenda arrives as a decision to use the shocks we are receiving as fuel, to fully feel them, to permit ourselves to remain vulnerable to them, to restore a new freedom, to restore movement, to gather and direct our energies to drive more creative and innovative responses to the blows now being delivered to Modernity in rapid succession.