A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

I Ching Dualism

The duality of yin and yang and the superior and inferior are related but not the same and this is where some confusion begins. Yin and yang refer most specifically to a transcendental view of earth (yin) and heaven (yang) where each is the complement to the other. Though heaven naturally has the more positive overtones, earth is also extremely worthy and even necessary to heaven. They fit together like the yin/yang symbol. There's always a little of one in the other and they are in flux continually.

The duality of superior and inferior is closer to the Christian duality of heaven and hell. It is a duality with a judgement attached to it as part of its particular meaning. Thus, heaven and superior are always "good" and hell and inferior are always "bad". There is none of the natural give and take of heaven and earth or yin and yang. (An aside: if heaven always comes before earth, shouldn't yang come before yin? Why doesn't it?)

The I Ching regularly talks about what the superior person does or doesn't do (and superior persons are usually associated with kings, rulers and ministers). The superior man is a symbol for one's ideal self or the ideal self in another. The inferior man is a symbol for all that is flawed in oneself or in others. For most people, to be superior is desired, while to be inferior is not, but, as people who consult the I Ching know, often it shows our inferior sides as well as our superior sides. We are always a mixture. But the I Ching intelligently defines the two extremes to make the lessons in each hexagram resonate and to give the questioner a choice. Will she follow her higher instincts or her lower instincts?

When trying to decipher the I Ching one has a whole cast of characters: the sage, the superior man, the inferior man, the king or ruler, the minister, the members of the archetypal family, potential brides, thieves, soldiers, etc... But the main dichotomy and tension remains between the superior man and the inferior man. The superior man does not need the inferior man the way yin needs yang and visa-versa, but the superior man must always act with justice towards the inferior man and not be too extreme in punishments unless it's unavoidable. Confucius in his Analects goes into more detail about what the superior man stands for and how the inferior man stands in contrast but it remains clear the difference between the two from the start once you read the I Ching.

A friend of mine asked, yes, but how does schzophrenia fit in with all of this? Does the inferior man represent schizophrenia? The truth is, I don't know but I believe it can (though for people without schizophrenia the inferior man would just represent their own or others lower natures). A mind out of balance is a mind where the inferior elements of bias, pride, manipulation, mendacity, doubt, greed, etc...have too much control over one's essential (that is virtuous) nature. My voices have been all those qualities nearly to a caricatured point, whereas I am good though plain in comparison. And I have found this with other schizophrenics, the illness is negative but the person is not. They are two separate phenomena.

When I was in therapy, my therapist actively encouraged me to separate myself from the illness, to stand apart from it. And this is part of what the I Ching does also. It tries to separate the positive from the negative. It encourages you to follow the example of the superior man, to even naturally identify with the superior man even if you're far from that ideal because the point of the whole book is to teach those who approach it to actually become superior people. That is why Confucius valued the book as much as he did and wished he had begun studying it sooner. It is a blueprint for ethics.

Having said this, I want to stress that I don't believe that the I Ching can be the sole treatment for a schizophrenic. Before I began taking the anti-psychotic medicines I could not approach it with balance and I'm sure others in similar situations wouldn't be able to either, but in conjunction with taking the medicine and after having had or continuing to have therapy, I see it as a therapeutic tool. For some. It's just another avenue to explore. There are no guarantees that it will be effective but if one is relatively stable I don't see that it can be hurtful. All I know is that it is helping me and that I'd like to study it further. I've recently joined an online community for those who regularly consult the I Ching and I have met at least one person who has found it beneficial for their particular psychological problem. I'm hoping to find others.

Beyond its therapeutic value, I find the I Ching fascinating in its own right. It's another, still fresh view on life from a Chinese perspective and it contains much wisdom.

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