Meditation, the daimon muse, and the I Ching
Several thousand people have now downloaded my free e-book A Course in Demonic Creativity: A Writer’s Guide to the Inner Genius (formerly available at Demon Muse, which I have now shut down because of repeated hacks and security breaches). There’s obviously a widespread interest in the idea, experience, and practice of what feels like inner creative communion and collaboration with a guiding muse, daimon, genius, Holy Guardian Angel, pick your metaphor. My personal intuition tells me the whole subject is bound up with the zeitgeist itself, as anybody who has followed this blog for very long will already know.
Something I didn’t talk about in the e-book, but that I’ll probably mention in its possible future reincarnation as a thoroughly expanded and revised version of itself, is the rich and deeply significant connection between this subject and the I Ching. If you’re unfamiliar or only distantly familiar with this classic, civilization-shaping Chinese book of divination and cosmic wisdom, then please hear me when I say that you’re well-advised to become better acquainted with it, because the discipline of learning to consult, interpret, and apply the I Ching to your life, psyche, and circumstances can complement and intensify the Western view of the daimon muse with a powerful alternate inflection.
I speak from long-unfolding personal experience. My own introduction to the I Ching — which, incidentally, you should mentally pronounce not as “eye ching” but as “ee jing” for something approximating correctness — came from a man named Harold Klein. Harold was my boss in the early 1990s when I was member of the video crew that he directed at The Grand Palace, a country music theater in Branson, Missouri. Before coming to Branson, he was Kris Kristofferson’s lighting director on the road for fourteen years. He also toured and did lighting work with The Stray Cats. So he was a deeply creative and artistic man. He was also a child of the 1960s and 70s who was deeply influenced by the countercultural spiritual vibe of that era, and his acquaintance with the I Ching stemmed from that.
One day at work the subject of the I Ching came up between us in conversation somehow. I had read and heard little bits about it many times in my various studies of religion, philosophy, and esotericism, but I really didn’t know all that much about the book, and I told him so.
The next day he brought in his copy of what I now recognize as the standard Wilhelm/Baynes English translation. He spent awhile showing me how to use three coins to cast a hexagram and consult the book for its meaning. (If you’re unfamiliar with what I mean by an I Ching “hexagram,” take a moment to read Hilary Barrett’s brief and excellent introductory article, “What Is the I Ching?“) “I don’t do it very often,” Harold told me in describing his own use of the book as an oracle and life guide. “Some people use it all the time, but I just do it when I’m facing some sort of major life decision.”
Harold made a great impact on me. In fact, I ended up incorporating him, or at least his physical appearance, into one of my stories. The look of Herbert, the director of the sinister and surreal basement theater in my story “The Basement Theater” (published in Divinations of the Deep and my forthcoming To Rouse Leviathan), was modeled directly on him. I think the fact that Harold introduced me to the I Ching and its practical use, and that seven years later I transmuted the image of him into a story about the daimonic dread and awe of feeling inwardly impelled and controlled by an unknowable supernatural force, was no random accident. The muse and genius daemon speaks to each of us personally in all kinds of private and idiosyncratic ways. One of the ways mine spoke to me was through Harold, who was following the promptings and dictates of his own inner guide when he turned me onto the I Ching. Perhaps I’m carrying on the work he was impelled to do by recommending the I Ching to you right now. I’d rather like to think so, not least because five years ago I heard from a couple of mutual acquaintances that Harold had passed away.
In the years since I last saw him, and especially in the past four and five, I’ve found myself gravitating more frequently to the I Ching, to the point where I now count it as one of my major philosophical lodestones and linchpins. For a concrete and accessible example of what I’m talking about when I recommend the book for its value in accessing muse-like guidance, let me direct you to Carol K. Anthony’s reflections on I Ching Hexagram 27, from her classic modern commentary A Guide to the I Ching. This hexagram’s title has been translated variously as “Nourishment,” “The Corners of the Mouth,” “Hungry Mouth,” and “Jaws.” It’s generally associated with giving attention to how we are cultivating and tending our basic life drives and “nourishing” ourselves and others with positive or negative thoughts and speech. In her commentary on it, Ms. Anthony guides the point inward, toward the deepest layers of the psyche, and elicits a major insight about the importance of seeking, finding, and relying upon inner nourishment and guidance of the profoundest sort:
It is said in this hexagram that the great man nourishes and takes care of superior men in order to take care of all men through them. The most important means of obtaining nourishment from the Cosmos is the practice of meditation. Tranquillity is restorative. “The Taming Power of the Great” (See Hex. 26) counsels us to practice self-renewal; this means that daily we should bring ourselves to tranquillity. This is done by cleansing our “Ting” — our inner container for nourishment [see Hex. 50, Ting or “The Cauldron”]. Self-cleansing means to clean all our thoughts and allow mental activity to subside. Creating inner space allows the light force to enter with its restorative effect. Being recharged, we radiate peace to others, strengthening and nourishing what is high and good in them. The creative energy flows through us abundantly, giving rise to creative ideas, correct perceptions, and the Cosmic view. Thus we find the correct solutions to problems. By placing himself in this state, every great writer “invokes the muse,” every inventor sees his invention, and every problem-solver finds the “next step” in solving his problem. Genius is the ability to receive from the Cosmos, not, as our egos keep hoping and insisting, an ability to contrive and think things up. Contriving generally produces only contrivances.
Ms. Anthony also provides further reflections on the I Ching as a guide to meditation in her commentary on Hexagram 52, titled “The Mountain” or “Stillness,” and in an entire appendix titled “I Ching Meditation,” where she begins with the flat statement that “I learned to meditate through suggestions received in my daily I Ching consultations” and proceeds to explain the deep point of her particular method in a manner that directly evokes a muse-like resonance: “I Ching meditation differs from other, well-known meditation practices in that it leads to experiences that consist of images and voices which produce insights.” Ms. Anthony has also written an entire separate book about meditation and the I Ching.
“The discipline of learning to consult, interpret, and apply the I Ching to your life, psyche, and circumstances can complement and intensify the Western view of the daimon muse with a powerful alternate inflection.”
For another reflection on the nexus of the muse and genius daimon with the I Ching, see the gloss and commentary on Hexagram 57 by LiSe Heyboer (one of the wives of the late Dutch artist Anton Heyboer) in her wonderful — and completely free — Yi Jing: Oracle of the Sun. This hexagram is generally translated into English as “The Gentle,” “The Wind,” and “Subtly Penetrating,” and is associated with awareness of the invisible forces that are subtly informing and shaping our inner and outer experience and the world around us. LiSe (who, unlike me, can read Chinese and thus has first-person access to the I Ching’s original language) elicits a related meaning that’s implicit in all of this by presenting the hexagram as “The Seal.” This refers to what she renders as one’s “seal-assignment,” as in the assignment one is given by the cosmos as a royal “seal” in the same manner that ancient rulers used a signet ring to stamp their kingly symbol onto decrees and documents and thus certify their royal authority. As I have explored and explained in A Course in Demonic Creativity, deep creativity for writers and artists isn’t just a matter of “finding ideas” but of accessing a level of whole-life guidance that feels like one’s cosmically given assignment or “fate.” LiSe hits directly on this very thing in her comments on Hexagram 57:
The blueprint or the seal that one carries, decides all what one is or does. It penetrates every action like wind or roots can enter anything. It has no name, often its existence is not even known, but it is always there and directs everything one does or thinks. It decides the way one listens or looks to the world.
The emperor bestowed a seal to those who were able to carry out his ideas, and whom he trusted. The seals one carries inside come from Gods or devils, from parents or heredity, from muses or experiences with nature. Some seals can destroy a life, other seals can influence the world.
The deep point of all these things is brought out with riveting clarity and profundity by Dr. Stephen Karcher, who is both a Jungian scholar (he was Research Director at the Eranos Foundation in Switzerland from 1988 to 1996) and an expert on the I Ching. He’s also a poet. In the 1980s and 90s he was one of the scholars at the center of a major effort to resurrect the original divinatory use and meaning of the I Ching. This represented a departure from the more abstract philosophical approach that had come to reign among Jungians and many others, and some of the results of this project appear not only in Dr. Karcher’s books but in a series of papers collectively titled Yijing Papers: The Foundations (all PDFs), which explore “the origin of the archetypal approach to the Classic of Change that rescues the old divinatory traditions.”
Many of the very titles in this series are inspiring in their own right. For example:
- “Oracle’s Contexts: Gods, Dreams, Shadow, Language“
- “Making Spirits Bright: Divination and the Daimonic Image“
- “Which Way I Fly Is Hell: Divination and the Shadow of the West“
- “Divination, Synchronicity, and Fate“
- “Re-Enchanting the Mind: Reading, Myth, and Mantics“
The abstracts of the first and last items on this list establish the point with palpable poetic and philosophic pungency. From “Oracle’s Context”:
Yijing is a set of oracular statements on human experience, a survey of the daimonic forces shaping our situation. The recognition of this unseen world is the therapeutic act par excellence: “not to learn something but to experience something and be set right.” The oracle’s signifiers are complex networks of meaning that disfigure everyday language to reveal the “God in the disease,” a daimon that the individual must make his/her own through continual creative re-enactment.
And from “Re-Enchanting the Mind”:
Divination and oracular speech reveal a language and a mirror that exists in the liminal realm between rational thought and the fertile chaos of the psyche, what Jung called synchronicity or unus mundus. The widespread interest in this occulted language acts as a strange attractor, drawing us into a place where the Others within have a chance to speak. It is capable of working “a profound transformation of our thought.” The primary purpose of divination is not prediction or problem-solving but re-enchanting the mind, luring it into the realm of the Others and opening a place for them in our imagination.
Again and in sum, I speak from my own personal, extensive, and ongoing experience of learning from all of these things when I recommend getting familiar with the I Ching, both in theory and in practice, if you want to extend, enhance, and deepen your understanding of inspired creativity and all that it entails, not just personally but on a level that engages the personal with the cosmic and universal.