The I Ching and Emotions

Audio Narrated by Peter Fritz Walter

The I Ching has often been found to be too Confucian in its overall attitude toward life. However, we should be careful using such statements. The I Ching has existed long before Confucius, and when scholars state that the I Ching was Confucian in some way, they speak about the interpretation of the wisdom book, not about the original text that is written in a poetic language.

While it is true that Confucian philosophy puts high stress upon restraining emotions, I cannot make out this bias in the original text of the I Ching. But again, excess should in any case be avoided. To repeat what I said above,being excessively emotionalwould run counter to the I Ching’s general stress upon balance and harmony.

With this general knowledge in mind, let us see how the I Ching’s stance would be regarding anger, the quintessential hot emotion. Let me first clarify that anger surely is not a negative emotion, as so many religions and philosophies declare. Anger shows us where we do not bestow enough latitude upon ourselves. We may respect others, and the whole world, but often we lack self-respect.

The I Ching does not advise against emotions, but it recommends to stay centered despite of emotions. Even in the midst of my anger, I can make sure to not insult anybody, and to guard against over-reacting. And perhaps most importantly, I can accept my anger and refuse to fight against it. In situations of anger, when I asked the I Ching what to do, it recommended to simply leave the place and change the environment. And the anger was gone on the spot when I had turned my back to the place where I had been angry.

When you see that anger signals us a certain change in behavior, in attitude, or in direction, you see that it is actually a very useful emotion.

The I Ching, when you ask it for help in a situation of anger, will not advice you to handle your anger well: it will directly go to the cause and look at what in the first place caused your anger.

And it will tell you what you should do to change the situation so that further anger is avoided. And here you can see how fundamentally different the I Ching is when you compare it with religious scriptures such as the Torah, the Bible or the Koran.

In these scriptures, anger is invariably declared to be a very destructive emotion and the only thing these books do about it is to admonish us to not be angry. But that is stupid because it not only is ineffective, but it completely disregards the higher logic of life that has given us emotions with a purpose, and with a good reason: all our hot emotions are signals that trigger change!

Much to the contrary to religious texts, I argue that the lack of emotions is worse than the presence of emotions. I mean with lack of emotions, boredom. Boredom is the worst that can happen to you.

It is worse than imprisonment, malady and death. It is a real plague. Boredom is the result of losing your soul or being disconnected from your soul. It is an absolutely unnatural condition, while I know that most young people today think that it was a normal condition of modern life. It may be a normal condition of modern life, but this only proves that modern life is a perversion of real life. In real life, there is no boredom.

The I Ching does not talk explicitly about boredom. It does not use that word. And when you think about it, there might be a reason for it.

The I Ching seems to handle boredom in The Undeveloped One (4), a hexagram that concerns education and self-education.

The guiding advice of this hexagram is:

Go ahead to enlighten undeveloped ones, but it should be the undeveloped one who makes the request, not the teacher. He should approach with sincerity. (Id., 238)

The 4th line reads:

Stubborn and ignorant, one is helpless. (Id., 241)

The I Ching holds education in high regard. It seems to suggest that every true and lasting success if based upon proper education, and that education means a constant effort and commitment to learning.

Many parents experience their adolescent children being bored, and see daily how destructive this condition is for their children, and even for the whole family.

That this happens is in most cases not the fault of teachers but of highly boring curricula. And boring curricula, in turn, are the outcome of a lack of care, of commitment from the side of politicians and policy makers; they show a deep lack of creativity. Most schools are not the fruit of love and care for children, but the inevitable result of child neglect. Education is always given the last priority in budget considerations, while it is of the first and foremost importance for the future of society.

If you are in this position as a parent, you should try all to help your children lead more meaningful existences. To leave it over to schools and school administration boards to educate your children shows more than all that you neglect your children, that you imprison them in institutions that have no regard for the soul of the child, and his or her individual destiny.

To revolt against it does not lead to alternatives as long as parents don’t stick together and pressure politicians and educational authorities to take action for changing things positively in the future. To make your children’s lives more meaningful implies first of all that you make your own life more meaningful, and that then you share as much as possible of your meaningful life with your children.

You may have plenty of money but your day-to-day reality may look devoid of meaningful moments and appear dull and repetitive. I have known children of artists who were quite poor but who shared with their children truly meaningful existences. I found the children invariably to be mature, happy, autonomous and intelligent, and they were very gentle and considerate in their relationships with others.

It seems to me today that there is nothing more important in life than our soul being nourished with meaning. Nothing in our materialistic modern societies can compensate for our collective lack of meaning as a culture. Where are the cultural and religious foundations that give us meaning? It seems that we have lost them, or that anyway, when they seemed to exist in the past, they may have been a part of a rather oppressive cultural system?

I found meaning in my own life only after rejecting many of the false beliefs that I saw the majority of my colleagues in school and university were holding. They believed in a one-pointed form of success that consisted of becoming wealthy, having a family, and a secure job. That was it. When I was bored in my class as a law practitioner, and instead learnt English, my colleagues looked at me strangely and asked me, flabbergasted:

—Why the hell are you learning English? What is this good for? Are you not interested to spend your life where you were born?

I replied that under the circumstances I was not sure where I was going to spend my life, where I was going to find a meaningful profession, as I knew that the law profession was not what I really liked. I further told them that I was doing a masters degree in European Integration for a career in the European Community, and they found me ‘crazy.’

And indeed, I did not know what I really wanted, in my younger years, and I had to wait for many years to pass to have clarity in this respect. Believe it or not, only twenty years later I got an idea what I wanted, and only thirty years later I began to realize it. Perhaps I went the hard way, or, as an astrologer once put it, I had to slow down my spin and become more single-focused. That was very hard for me as I was interested in so many things.

And yet, simply looking at what I liked to do in school, I could have seen very early what it was. But I did all and everything to look away from myself, took others as examples, wanting to be like this famous artist or that interesting writer, or again wanted to live like a saint, or a Gandhi, or engage in philanthropy, or change the world as a revolutionary. And when sitting at the piano, I just wanted to mesmerize my audience with sounds they have never heard before.

Astrology helped me tremendously on my way from the periphery to my center, my true being, avoiding the pitfalls of certain karmic conditions that made me overlook myself constantly.

I was reading books about overcoming the ego, and yet I had no ego, and thus all these books were not written for me. I needed twenty years to find out that I was hardly ever thinking of myself and that others, and their lives, had a much too important place in my life. I was in fact concerned too much about others instead about myself, while I realized that most people were spinning in the opposite sense. They only had themselves in mind, and others were for them something to keep up with, at best.

I would not say that per se, when you are rich, you are more at pains to realize meaning in your life. To say that poor people have a richer life on a soul-level is a nice illusion that I was holding for many years. I think that this dream alleviated me the pain to accept that human life on earth is ingrained with misery.

The problem with being poor is that when I work too hard to join both ends, I have no time for myself. The problem with being rich is that when I have too much time for myself, and for maintaining comfort and safety on a daily level, I am too much concerned about myself and life may appear to me as a mere reflection of myself. And then I miss meaning because I reduce life to what appears to be my own boundaries, the bounds of my ego. I then also tend to exclude others from my ego-centered world, or give them a place at the periphery only, instead of letting their soul-being penetrate and enrich me.

I do not say that when we are rich, we are per se more materialistic, while this is a tenor that goes through almost all religious scriptures. I believe rather in the contrary and my life experience confirmed me in that view. The moment I had sold the bothersome family property and put the money in the bank, I felt free of all sorrow and began to eventually focus on what I felt was giving meaning to my life. Never before had I felt such a deep inner peace! I was beginning to pray every day for guidance to engage in the profession I was really talented for, and to enrich other people’s lives with my gifts and talents.

In my experience, tabula rasa thinking, the idea that you can start from page zero, does not really bring progress. When you create without a foundation, you risk to be off-track, off-soul, so to say. Tradition is not a trap, but a pool, a pool for creative development. This is, for example, how Maurice Béjart, the famous French choreographer, described his artistic paradigm.

Béjart, being known as a culture-destroyer, was in reality a culture-builder. He was very conscious of the tradition he was building his art upon, and he admired it and studied it with incredible diligence and unending commitment.

He was, like Picasso, a master in the tradition that had born him to be what he was. But he went beyond that mastership and explored into the unknown. This requires not only a lot of courage, but also a lot of modesty. You are not sure you will be the star because you create novelty. You build a new universe and you cannot know who or what will be the center of that universe. It’s perhaps not you, the creator of it, but a star that is better qualified than you to parent and develop what you have given birth to? This is what life teaches us, and when you consider this reality, you might be humbled.

When you study the biographies of creators, you see that they gravitated around their mission as planets gravitate around the sun. They might have done little jobs for joining ends, but you will not see a painter ending up as a car manufacturer or a pilot. And if he does, you can be sure that the painter in him was not really gifted for his art, because otherwise he would have been more committed to his art than just ‘getting a job.’

I believe that what we are naturally gifted for is like a magnetic field that attracts all that is needed for realizing that gift. But of course, you can use your willpower also for halting when you’ve made half of the way, jumping from a bridge and destroying not only your mission, but also yourself. Human history abounds of this kind of stories, and that again might humble us to acknowledge that nothing is given over to fulfillment when it is not cared for, but taken for granted. This is one of the pitfalls wealth might represent for you. You may begin taking things for granted, success for granted, fulfilled love for granted, and happiness for granted. And then you are off-the-road again and life will teach you that instead of being at an advanced stage of development, you are again in the starting holes.

My mother having been suicidal early in her youth, was not less suicidal once she inherited the family fortune and was rich and comfortable. She was not happy before, and she was not happy thereafter. She had not learnt to be happy. She had taken all and everything for granted, and yet was longing for one single true and fulfilled relationship with a man. But life did not give it to her, probably because she did herself not really commit to this longing.

Truly, life is more beautiful and more exciting when we are hungry, and the most part of the magic is gone when we are satiated! It might be more difficult to attract your soul mate when your thoughts are constantly gravitating around trivial matters, or when you are absorbed in your worries and lose a lot of energy because of sorrow.

Tabula rasa thinking means that you cut off the Ariadne thread that led you to the point where you are now, and try instead to explore the labyrinth of life without a guide. It’s more difficult, and there is a certain chance that you do something that is not really connected with your soul.

The I Ching teaches that every true progress is gradual. Gradual progress means that we build upon what we built before, and so forth.

One step after the other, one brick upon another. No matter how slow we are, as long as we remain focused and committed, we do make progress.