John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

- I Ching -

Illustrated I Ching

Some psychologists think that powerful self-insights and transformations of the psyche require psychotherapy and a psychotherapist. Of course, this isn't true. As a matter fact, the business of knowing and healing thyself has been around several thousand years before anyone joined together the words "psyche" and "therapy" - long before there was even the science of psychology or western science itself.

To help my students appreciate the big picture of self-insight and change, I let them experiment with the I Ching, or "Book of Changes." The I Ching is one of the cornerstone texts of Chinese Taoism. It consists of 64 "hexagrams," each hexagram being an image/symbol that applies to a specific but complex social, psychological, and/or spiritual situation. You consult the I Ching as if it were a wise advisor and oracle. After posing a question about an issue or situation in your life, you toss coins or "randomly" sort short sticks, with the resulting configuration pointing you to the corresponding hexagram in the I Ching. The hexagram will help clarify your current situation and state of mind, predict the future outcome, as well as offer advice.

Sounds very mystical, illogical, and non-scientific?.... Yes, indeed. That's the whole point. It's a very non-western approach to self understanding and change. To help skeptical students (curiously, there aren't very many) take the exercise more seriously, I point out a few interesting facts about the I Ching. On his deathbed, Confucius, probably one of the greatest minds in human history, expressed his wish that he could live another 50 years so that he could devote that time to studying the I Ching. Inspired by the mathematical structure of the I Ching, the German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz invented the binary system, which was a major contribution to computer science, and eventually resulted in the fact that you are at this very moment reading this sentence. Carl Jung also was fascinating by the I Ching, and proposed "synchronicity" as the acausal mechanism by which one's mind, the coins or sticks, and the hexagrams become interconnected.

The definitive factor convincing my students of the I Ching's validity is that it is can be amazingly accurate. After completing the exercise, many (but not all) students are impressed with its insight and advice concerning the problem they posed to it. Actually, students tend to fall into one of three categories: (1) those who aren't sure about what the I Ching tells them, (2) those who find the I Ching results to be rather accurate and helpful, and, (3) those who are astonished, and a bit spooked out, by how accurate the I Ching is.

Many bookstores carry some excellent workbooks for using the I Ching, such as R.L. Wing's THE ILLUSTRATED I CHING. If you decide to use the I Ching with your students, I would recommend your getting one of these simplified translations. While the classic translations of the I Ching (such as the Wilhelm/Baynes edition) are the definitive works, they are probably too abstruse for most students to understand.

For those who are interested in this topic, I'll mention here that my book Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Eastern Thought contains a chapter in which I apply the I Ching symbols as tools for understanding psychotherapy.

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