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.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I have been consulting the I Ching and studying the 64 hexagrams and different authors interpretations of them for over two weeks now. In 2007 I studied the I Ching with a diviner named Hilary Barrett. I found her through her site called Clarity. This time around, when I returned to consulting the I Ching through her free computer program, I discovered that she was including her interpretations of the hexagrams. In fact, her book will be coming out on Amazon sometime soon I hope. I responded positively to her use of language. The names of the hexagrams are somewhat different than the ones I'm used to, but they seemed to work better for me. One very important hexagram, hexagram 15 is normally called Modesty, but she calls it Integrity. Here is her interpretation:

"To experience integrity is like coming face to face with your real self - plain, simple and unadorned. To have integrity is to be whole, at one with yourself and your reality. It means being honest about your own capacities, holding yourself in creative balance with your world and not exaggerating the importance of your role. These qualities enable the noble one to bring whatever work presents itself to completion. Since she is not overly full of herself, she has space for the real world; she isn't hampered by an excess or by a lack of confidence. Since she isn't caught up in a personal story, and doesn't identify her work with her worth, she is free to do what needs to be done and move on."

To have integrity is to also be modest and, according to the philosophy behind the I Ching, this is the basis for all just thoughts and actions. And so, I asked myself, after I read this, if I have integrity and I saw that in part I do and in part I don't. The fact that I don't quite measure up here does have to do with schizophrenia. Lately I've been seeing schizophrenia as an ego imbalance disease. Still, my aspiration is to be balanced, to have a deeply rooted integrity. When I asked the I Ching what would happen if I studied and followed it, I got Integrity. When I asked if I had the capacity to help people with mental illness, I got Gradual Progress into Integrity. This is good news to me.

Studying the I Ching is like learning a new language. For me it is not completely new because I've had contact with it since I was young, but now I've gone through several cycles of moving towards it and away from it. Each time I return, my understanding deepens and yet, even after all these years, I'm still a beginner. I am perhaps an intermediate beginner. I feel this way about my other creative endeavors. As a beginner everything is still new enough to be fresh, but my abilities are limited. Time and practice are required of me if I am to move onto the next level. Like a curious child, I have been asking the I Ching many questions. I choose the questions carefully and then I ask them one at a time with as much earnestness as I can muster. This requires a certain amount of soul searching. But before I can search too far, I need to understand where I am at in the present.

The I Ching has given me the hexagram 47 as a partial definition of my present circumstances. Hilary Barrett has named it Confined, but it has also been called Oppression. Here is part of Hilary's explanation: "The Chinese character for 'Confined' or 'oppressed' shows a tree completely encircled by walls: an image of entrapment and isolation. You are cut off, and cannot reach out to others. The great person finds good fortune in constancy to an inner ideal. This is a supreme test of character: whether you can hold to your purpose when there is no encouragement, no confirmation from outside, but only your own inner resources. The lack of outward signs of progress does not mean that you are wrong, or that the world is wrong. Rather than resenting the walls, concentrate on the life and growth within them."

I do not resent the walls, in fact, I have contributed to creating them. Schizophrenia and isolation usually go together. I have thought of people who suffer from schizophrenia as wounded animals and when an animal is wounded, it withdraws in order to heal. But in that case eventually there comes a time to return to the world. In the case of a tree encircled by walls, the walls must come down or the tree will die, though Hilary creates an image more of a tree surrounded by walls except for the ceiling, because a tree needs light and rain in order to grow and this is more of how I see myself, still reaching towards the light, not totally isolated. My connection to life comes from the creativity I encourage in myself within the walls. I have done this for years.

Another hexagram I've been getting a lot is number 23, Stripping Away. Hilary writes: "The surfaces are cut and sliced away; the old and unviable is stripped back to expose the living core. This inevitable, natural process often feels like a flaying: the more you have invested of yourself in these old things, the more painful it will be. It's no good, at such times, to imagine the future and make plans. You need to bring your energy back to the centre and honour the process: this is a time to be transformed, not to act. Moreover, until the old is so utterly stripped from you that you have no choice but to think in new ways, you will only be able to re-create the old patterns."

Getting rid of the old and establishing the new has been a theme running through my consultations. It's as if I have to begin taking down the walls that surround me, slowly and carefully. The image of flaying is extreme, but it shows that the process is not easy or void of pain and yet in this case it seems to be necessary. For me, the pain comes in as I examine myself. The I Ching sets a high standard to follow and I think I'm prepared now to follow. In the cosmology of the I Ching the lines of the hexagrams represent a social stratification. The lower lines represent the lower classes and the upper lines represent the minister, the king and the sage. It is patriarchal yes, but more than that, it is symbolic of lower versus higher nature. The intent behind the I Ching is to guide and advise individuals on how to seek out their higher natures. The goal, then, is to actually become a wise and just king or sage within the smaller sphere of your life. Inevitably, this is not a smooth journey.

In western culture it is easy to fall into the trap of imagining yourself the hero or heroine or in the case of the I Ching the king, queen or sage. For most of us, the truth is there will be times in our lives when we rise to the level of a king/queen/sage, but more often we will be struggling with keeping our lower natures in check. Though I do believe that there are people out there who can sustain a certain high level of leadership and wisdom. But the I Ching is fluid because our natures are fluid, so we get the chance to play all the roles and you can find yourself landing on any of the lines depending on the nature of your question and the general attitude behind it or based on your history. Also each line can be influenced from negative to positive. Not all kings and ministers are strong and wise and not all lowly officials or peasants are weak and foolish. The main point is that the I Ching gives sometimes praise and other times cautions. Paying attention and giving respect to the warnings can potentially guide you to a stronger, healthier position.

The bottom line basis for paying attention to, respecting and following the I Ching and its philosophy is strict self honesty. In some ways, what I'm stripping away is self-deception in order to get to my true heart and to clear my mind. Self-honesty is a path to integrity. Soul searching is about being honest with yourself about what you want, what you're willing to do to achieve it and about what your personal limitations are. I think I've always inclined towards being an honest person, but because of my illness, I have fallen into delusions that I had a hard time getting out of. So honesty has become a life line to mental health. Now I've trained myself to catch myself more quickly when I begin to slip and that makes all the difference. The I Ching is furthering that ability. It's a tough master, but a just one.

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