I unintentionally did something quite mean this afternoon.
I drove my ever-loyal and loving scent hound, a three-year-old basset named Gilligan, out of the house today because I had to do a I-Ching divination, and I burned an entire chypre incense cone in my office to help me relax and center my mind. The smell engulfed the entire house and the poor boy just could not stand being in the house and had to seek refuge outside for a couple of hours.
While I felt a bit guilty for causing such malodorous offense, I needed the guidance of the I Ching, and it was too cold to be doing divination outside. He, on the other hand, was a dog who liked roaming outside, sniffing at dirt and dead clumps of things which, I hasten to point out, had to be far worse than the scent of chypre incense.
So it was that I gathered my three coins and cleared the table for a session with the venerable I Ching. After a few quick tosses of the coins, I got my answer.
Hexagram 26 – Ta Ch’u – The Taming Power of the Great.
What situation would make me drive my poor dog out of the house in the middle of winter? Only a major family crisis, that’s what. Let me tell you, when one is faced with a stubborn and irascible parent who is also facing long-term illness, it can be very difficult to deal with, and I had been dealing with it for over a month. The energy drain is enormous, and the responsibilities almost overwhelming, but that aspect, I could deal with. I was faced with a much more serious issue.
I needed the I Ching’s help to determine what I can do in a situation where a parent is acting quite badly out of frustration at being in a very helpless and dependent situation, and what I could do to keep that parent from alienating all those around her who were responsible for her care, including her professional caregivers.
My answer was not very comforting, but here is what it is, in a nutshell, as translated by Richard Wilhelm.
The Taming Power of the Great.
Not eating at home brings good fortune
It furthers one to cross the great water.
Heaven with the mountain;
The image of the Taming Power of the Great
Thus the superior man acquaints himself with many sayings of antiquity
And many deeds of the past,
In order the strength his character thereby
The hexagram has a three-fold meaning, expressing different aspects of the concept “holding firm.” Heaven with the mountain gives the idea of holding firm in the sense of holding together; the trigram Ken, which holds the trigram Ch’ien still, gives the idea of holding firm in the sense of holding back; the third idea is that of holding firm in the sense of carrying and nourishing This last is suggested by the fact that a strong line at the top, which is the ruler of the hexagram, is honored and tended as a sage. The third of these meanings also attaches specifically to this strong line at the top, which represents the sage.
In the words and deeds of the past there lies hidden a treasure that men may use to strengthen and elevate their own characters. The way to study the past is not to confine oneself to mere knowledge of history but, through application of this knowledge, to give actuality to the past.
The first thing I noticed was that there were three aspects to this divination which focused on the concept of Holding Firm.
1. Holding together.
2. Holding back.
3. Carry and Nourish.
The I Ching actually gave me three answers to the one question that I asked. These three answers also address the actions of the past, present, and future of the situation. Furthermore, I Ching also showed me HOW to deal with the entirety of the situation, and how to get through the crisis intact. That was amazingly elegant and quite efficient, I might add.
I sat there and mulled over these three aspects of Holding Firm. At various times during the month-long crisis, I had been trying to hold things together and care for my parent as best as I could. Unfortunately, even with much encouragement and firm clarity on my part, her negativity and ill-mannered actions continued unabated. Hoping for a different tack, I thought perhaps I Ching might be able to give me an alternative direction or different method to the madness.
1. I was told to continue and Hold Firm to the path and the actions that I had been taking, and that through keeping still, the powers of character are so strengthened that a daily renewal takes place. Let me tell you, she is so negative and has such a bad attitude about everything, it is exhausting to the extreme to even spend three straight hours per day with her. By the time I am ready to go home, I am so tired and overwhelmed that it takes me almost an entire night and day to recover my usual zest and zeal for life, upon which point, it is time yet again to go visit and take care of her daily needs.
So when the I Ching suggested that I Keep Still to allow for a daily renewal, I took that to mean sit my butt down and meditate for a certain amount of time each day so that I can renew my inner self. Having been a Taobabe for awhile now, I had known that meditation would work, but ever since the health crisis hit my family, I have not had the time or inclination to do a daily meditation. This daily meditation had to start, and pronto because Holding Together was aimed, not at her, but at me. I had to Hold myself Together on a daily basis so that I could handle the situation from a calm and strong position.
2. Holding back was something that I had to also do. Because she was not feeling well, she continually harped on and on about her misfortune and how badly everything was going in her life. Sometimes, I was quite brusque with her because I felt that I had to halt the internal spiraling downward of her spirit. I have to learn how to hold back some of my own frustrations, because at this point in her life, I cannot change her actions. I can only change my own actions because the firm ascends and honors the worthy. He is able to keep strength still; this is great correctness.
This is very clear direction. There is no ambivalence here. By rising to the occasion, I honor her worth as a parent. By keeping myself still, I keep her still. I have to hold back my urge to try to change how she acted because only by doing so will I be able to maintain my calm and strong position. In maintaining my calm and strong position, it is the catalyst which will correct her behaviors. Notice that so far, two of the three answers had nothing to do with her and everything to do with me. Onward then, to the third answer.
3. The third is obvious. I not only need to carry her and nourish her, I need to carry myself and nourish myself. The I Ching said, since the worthy are honored, it is an advantage not to eat at home. Such a man is in harmony with heaven; therefore, even great and difficult undertakings, such as crossing the great waters, succeed.
I had to laugh out loud at the ‘not eating at home’ part because ties in perfectly with the situation I am currently faced with. You see, I go see her between the hours of 5:30pm and 8pm every day because I want to make sure she eats her dinner and is settled in for the night. As with most elderly patients who are slowly sinking into dementia, she is quite normal and happy in the morning. However, by about five in the evening, she twilights and becomes quite confused.
Since the daily visit hits my evening meal time, I usually just grab a snack quickly before I leave, and then snack on something small after I get home. It has wrecked havoc with my regularly scheduled meal times and makes me tired and out of sorts because I am missing an important meal every day. I Ching knows this, for some strange reason, and is telling me to NOT EAT AT HOME!!!! Lucky for me, the option to eat with my parent is available, and I think that I will pursue this strong suggestion from the I Ching and eat dinner with my parent.
If eating with her is considered being in harmony with heaven and will allow for this situation to become successful, then by all means, let’s do it! I’m pretty sure I can handle nursing home food for as long as it takes to carry her through this crisis.