The narrative of my dialogues with author Morris Berman seems to have taken a perplexing turn. In one recent exchange I had asked what he thought we should be doing, given that we had backed ourselves into a corner in Iraq, and there were no good options left. I resonated deeply with his response--that we should be doing exactly the opposite of what we are doing, i.e. apologizing to the Islamic world for all the harm we have inflicted and offering restitution --because this is exactly what I feel too.
I was prompted at that point to send him an essay of mine, one written in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I was trying in my own way to make sense of what had happened to our country on that day. The essay contained several readings I did at the time from the I Ching, and as I explained then, whenever a difficult situation arises requiring a series of correct choices, I often find myself consulting the I Ching, an ancient Chinese Book of Changes that Jung famously used for over thirty years to gain insight and spiritual guidance. Jung considered that when he consulted the I Ching, it was as if a live voice were speaking to him and giving answers. Many people (as I wrote in the essay) might consider that it is intellectually primitive to believe the world is infused with a spiritual presence that is communicating with you and guiding you in some conscious, intelligent way. Indeed, contemporary culture is maintained by convincing us that nothing is out there. But this has not been my experience. Over many years of using the I Ching, I have found it to be an inexplicably reliable guide for creating changes in consciousness that separate me from my habitual reactions. When I threw the coins that day asking for some enlightenment about the meaning of the 9/11 attack, I got the hexagram of “Modesty,” with the following added line at the top:
"Chastising the capital city indeed. Punishing expedition, a rectifying move. To be in accord with the time, you are told to be humble. It is favorable to set armies marching to chastise one’s own city and one’s own country. When enmity arises nothing is easier than to lay the blame on another. Only through having the courage to marshall one's armies against oneself, will something forceful really be achieved. Modesty does not allow for anger, self-righteousness, pride, or self-pity. The superior person stands guard against his own inferior elements. The time calls for self-discipline. Do not place the blame on others. Do not indulge in extremes of any sort. Be modest about your part in the process."
I was completely unprepared for Berman's response--virtually ridiculing my use of this ancient Chinese wisdom text for information in such a context. I had mistakenly thought he would find it interesting that the I Ching was so prescient about what he himself refers to in "Dark Ages America" as "the roads not taken." Obviously at the time, the U.S. did not choose (not then, not now) to look into its own provocative foreign policy actions that had led up to the catastrophic strike on the WTC by suicide bombers. Instead we forged ahead into angry, self-righteous, and prideful retaliation. Berman responded:
"As for the Ching: what voice do you think it's channeling, exactly? There's some cosmic database out there, the Akashic records? Yer serious? Are we really going to start believing in oracles as reliable guides to the future? You probably would have thought *any* hexagram was on the mark; I mean, they all have something to say. Time for reality, kid: study record of US foreign policy in the Middle East--quite a lot more reliable. As for the economy--it was entering the skids prior to 9/11 (check out my Twilight book, written in the late 90s). Issue is the consumer economy, overspending, huge trade deficit and debt to China and EU, etc etc. Yer a smart cookie; keep yer feet on the ground here. No need to add God to social science, when social science alone makes the future pretty clear at this pt. "
I wrote back to say that I was dead serious--that the I Ching, when it works, is just another way of tapping information to get a picture of the energy dynamics of the present moment. It encapsulates a situation, and offers guidance as to whether it is a time to advance or to retreat. When it works, the I Ching can change your consciousness quickly, bringing sudden clarity to an otherwise confusing situation.
"Don' know what to say, kid," Berman wrote me back, "you believe in the bogeyman and in an oracle as a guide to history. I can understand using it to solve personal issues, but as for the rest of the world...Oh well...you are aware (see the Twilight book) that as Rome collapsed, its intellectual class went in a similar direction, yes?"
Kid? The bogeyman? Who is "kidding" who here? I'm probably making a bad situation even worse by asking Virgil to check this out for me. But sometimes it is necessary to cross strange bridges. These comments came, after all, from the man who wrote "The Re-enchantment of the World." Whatever happened to the old enchanter, the "father-shaman," the magus?
"One could say," Virgil tells me in his most languorously experimental voice, "that knowledge by direct transmission (or divination) defies the laws of post-Aristotelian logic and reasoned intelligence and can therefore disconcert some people. However, there must be a kind of dialogue of the deaf going on right now between you and this particular senor, who is acting like a profound taboo has just been violated. It reminds me of the mummy."
The mummy! What mummy?
"The mummy who still thinks he's inside a pyramid, but he's actually inside a museum in Ohio."
If you happen to believe that using the I Ching in times of great emotional crisis disturbs the natural order of the world, try talking things over with a druid-talking alligator with attitude, whose head is always upside down when he looks at things, and whose eyes are a magnet that makes everything coalesce.