God comes forth in the sign of the Arousing; he brings all things to completion in the sign of the Gentle; he causes creatures to perceive one another in the sign of the Clinging (light); he causes them to serve one another in the sign of the Receptive. He gives them joy in the sign of the Joyous; he battles in the sign of the Creative; he toils in the sign of the Abysmal; he brings them to perfection in the sign of Keeping Still.
– Shuo Koa (Ten Wings)
It furthers one to have somewhere to go
– Hexagram 24
One of the most powerful poems in the English language is Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting. “I am the enemy you killed, my friend” is the devastating line. Two soldiers meet in a place of death, arriving there from World War One trenches. Beyond the horror, free from the madness, there’s no hostility but a resigned claim: you did that.
You can’t heal a problem, Carl Jung said, at the level where it exists. The soldiers fight and kill, then talk philosophically elsewhere. What does the killer say, because someone has killed him. The opening line is weary, sad, stating a futile fact. Imagine what happens next. The killer looks away, looks down, hesitates, feels uncertain, turns back and speaks.
At that time, men were shot for cowardice and not allowed feelings or fear. They were heroes but also disposable commodities serving, as another Owen poem says, “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori.” In Greek tragedy, men leave for war and women are annoyed. This is what’s important they say, meaning family and home. The problem is, home exists because the enemy is destroyed.
Men were told they suffered “nerves” in that most terrible of wars, and given leave for recovery. It might be a hospital or as J.L. Carr wrote about in his short novel, veterans had A Month in the Country. There was kindness, but little understanding. Victor Frankl came later, then Freud, Jung, Reich, Alice Miller, Maslow, Carl Rogers and Gabor Mate. We must have meaning, we have hidden desires, there’s more to it, some of this is sociological, religion is the problem, there are different needs, listening is the answer, then recently and contemporaneously: it’s all about trauma.
You can map subjects onto the I Ching. Upper and lower hexagram lines correspond to conscious and unconscious. Self and other are represented with the lower and upper trigram. The trigrams can be related to primary emotions. A psychologist called Robert Plutchik said there are eight: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. We speak of feeling high and up, feeling or being down, spreading out, and drawing in. Trigrams are the same in this respect, indicators of energy in symbolic moving form.
Partly because of Gabor Mate, there is trauma oriented therapy. The PTSD and CPTSD acronyms need no explanation. Words help, and no one had them 1914-18. With terrorism, Covid, war, economics, extreme weather, the world seems in constant upheaval. We may not live in a war zone, or suffer a flooded home, but we see it and feel it. There are two hexagrams relevant for trauma called Shock and Work On What Has Been Spoiled.
There are different kinds of shock, which the I Ching describes. It might be thunder, as something external and passing. It might be ruinous, as a terrible fact of life. The mind can be shocked, which is one thing, but with the heart it’s different. Shakespeare knew this, and people die because their heart breaks. In Manon des Sources, Cesar Soubeyran cannot endure the reality of what he did to his son. He decides he’s had enough, and will die peacefully in his sleep. We don’t have yogic control, but do inflict heart pressure because of stress.
Shock can be internal, or external. Not always problematic, it’s the arousing too of spring energy (trigram Chen) or a positive psychological insight (trigram Li). Negative effects depend on extremity and duration. Hexagram 51 advises “The superior man sets his life in order / And examines himself” as the best outcome. It’s not guaranteed, which Hemingway expresses in central lines of Farewell to Arms: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.”
The “superior man” or woman means someone who can cope as a matter of attitude but also constitution. Some are stronger than others just as some skilfully write, play football, sing, psychologically listen, better than anyone else. The “superior man” can also refer to a line in the hexagrams, often the fifth, as the wise part of you when the rest is battered.
In the I Ching “shock terrifies for a hundred miles” and there is fear, trembling, danger, and misfortune. “If it has not yet touched one’s own body / But has reached one’s neighbour first / There is no blame” could describe guilt. It’s not your fault the storm happens and you survive. In various books Alice Miller discusses guilt in relation to religious attitude, parenting, how Dostoevsky and Nietzsche thought and wrote. Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, called this The Gestalt Prayer:
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations.
And you’re not in this world to match mine.
You are you, and I am me,
If we find each other, that’s great.
If not, it cannot be helped.
Shock is bodily and the body remembers. The idea traces back to Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen who used body techniques to release emotional pain. Biodynamic massage is the system of Gerda Boyesen focussing on the gut. That’s where, she said, we digest stress and trauma.
“Shock brings ruin / He has not attained the middle” is the I Ching advice. Stay centred, if you can, and it will pass. If you can’t, the situation changes. Hexagram 18 is Work on What Has Been Spoiled. Damage has been done, because it couldn’t be avoided or you weren’t prepared. One of the repeating I Ching themes is noticing the early development of problems and threat.
Surprisingly, there are hexagram references to parental damage. According to Wilhelm: “Nine in the second place means / Setting right what has been spoiled by the mother” and “Nine in the third place means / Setting right what has been spoiled by the father.” Ancient China didn’t have today’s psychology. The lines meant something different, which is now contextualised. People and gender are sometimes literal in the I Ching but are firstly symbolic, as hierarchy for example or yin and yang forces. “Father” and mother” also describe an originating energy which passes down over time.
There are different therapy approaches and the “unconditional positive regard” of Carl Rogers (yin listening) is not always optimal. The change of viewpoint achieved with Neuro-Linguistic Programming (yang intervention) can be useful although it’s a quick process with no relational interaction. The I Ching sometimes advises the opposite to therapy, whereby you act to facilitate internal change. The enquiry returns to the beginning, don’t cry in the trenches, which in less extreme form is cognitive behaviourism.
T.S. Eliot wrote The Wasteland after the shock of the First World War. There was a feeling of what now, what next, after that, and is there anything of consequence. “Then spoke the thunder” is a line near the end of his poem. The thunder is from the Upanishads, and is additionally the I Ching energy of shock. “Shantih, shantih, shantih” is the conclusion.
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