It has long been a mystery to me that the venerable I Ching, the Chinese Book of Change, remains so undervalued and misunderstood. For me, releasing its essence from the weight of culture baggage and prejudice revealed a priceless treasure, akin to the biblical pearl without price.
As psychologist Carl Jung recognized, this compendium of Natural Law is a premier tool used in the quest to make the unconscious conscious. Whereas European philosophers and American thinkers (including the venerable Zach Bush) romanticize nature, assign it a gender and a role (“mother nature”), and speculate all sorts of (excuse me) nonsense from the heart, the ancients understood the dynamics of nature with the accuracy of a detached, scientific eye.
This science has been refined over thousands of years by those who observe the patterns of cyclical change in weather, in nature’s seasons, the seasons of human life, the dynamics of human relationships, and in the rise and fall of civilizations.
Sadly, at one point I gave up. City dwellers who’ve never seen a night sky free of neon interference, who’ve never lived around livestock, or walked down country trails in the blaze of autumn colors simply can’t relate. In the process of being cut off from nature, they’ve been cut off from their inner lives as well. They seem not to suspect the existence of what they’re missing.
So I let it go. That is, until a few days ago, when I came across a remastered Manly P. Hall lecture called The Healing Power of Nature.
The springboard of his talk was Thoreau’s Walden, a book which describes the experiment he called “back to nature.” In Hall’s analysis, I found a very different answer to my earlier question: “How can those who’ve never experienced life in a natural setting relate to Natural Law?”
His conclusion: Even for those raised in an unnatural urban environment, “There are small ways, yet powerful, to ground yourself in Nature’s Way.”
Quite to the contrary of my earlier conclusion, it’s not a lost cause. Far from being irrelevant to those who live in an unnatural world, the Book of Change is actually more vitally important than ever before.
For no environment, however unnatural, can cancel out our essential inner nature. It continues to abide, whether or not we’re consciously aware of its influence.
Working with this book helps reconnect us with that sleeping part of ourselves that’s urgently crying out for attention.
It holds a key to restoring inner awareness, first of the emotional energies that rule us (often tragically) from the unconscious, and then, deeper still, the unchanging source of those dynamics.
The theme of a return to nature is strong in many. In a healthy degree, is present in most. Therefore the story [Walden] continues to intrigue us, although it becomes more and more a utopian vision.
To Thoreau, the story of back to nature is identical with the concept of back to self.
But somewhere, some way, each individual must experience his existence in a true world, a world not fashioned by his own imagery, a world that is not the result of the interlocking of concepts, but a world which has a closeness to the earth, a world of values that are direct, natural, simple and inevitable.
And here’s the conclusion that grabbed my attention:
If we cannot therefore go to this world from our own abodes, then we must bring this world to ourselves.
We must discover it by a code of conduct or a series of internal revelations, so that if nature around us is denied us, nature can still live within us and become the basis of a normalcy and a vitality which can carry us over the doubts and problems of the years.
The code Hall calls for is embodied in the I Ching. Working with it triggers internal revelations just waiting to surface, begging for our attention.
Let me give you just a hint of what’s in store for those who take Hall’s advice.
Here’s an example. In my introduction to The Common Sense Book of Change, I followed Jung’s example. In his introduction to the classic Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching from German to English, he asked the book to introduce itself. He asked what it wanted readers to know, and then elaborated on its response.
So I queried, “What does the Common Sense Book of Change have to offer its readers?” The answer looks like this:
I rest my case.
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Patricia West is author of The Common Sense Book of Change and Two Sides of a Coin: Lao Tze’s Common Sense Way of Change. She’s currently working on The Phoenix Response: Dying To Be Reborn – In the Same Lifetime.